Friday, August 21, 2009

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi freed by Scottish Government

So, they let Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi go.

On the one hand you have the fact that had he been any other prisoner then he would almost certainly have been released, given that he has terminal cancer. On the other hand, he killed 270 people in a hideous, cynical mass-murder the like of which the world has rarely seen. Well, I understand about compassion, but surely this must also apply to the families of the bereaved as well as the murderer and I simply cannot see the basis on which the decision to release was made. Releasing this man will have caused deep pain to hundreds of people, the more so because of the predictable street party of his arrival. It is all very well for Alex Salmond to now say that public celebrations in Libya are 'inappropriate', but what did he expect? His words just make him seem foolish and out of his depth at his administration's first real foray into international relations. Was the welfare of one murderer worth the hurt to so many people and the damage done to Scotland's reputation in the US and elsewhere? It takes a great degree of moral certainty on someone's part to think that might be the case. One wonders who is looking in the mirror today and burnishing their ego on being on such a higher moral plane than most of the rest of us, because that is what I suspect is going on. Certainly no rational process would have led to the release of someone like al-Megrahi. In fact a rational process would probably have led to a last cigarette and a blindfold instead of a prison cell.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Election Prediction

From Electoral Calculus:
A new prediction has been posted on 16 August 2009 at

www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/

During July, the support for all three major parties has increased as support for
minor parties decreased by 4%. But the relative positions of the major parties has
remained fairly stable with the Conservatives continuing to have a big lead over Labour. ICM (Guardian) has a 14% lead (up from 12%), Populus (Times) sees a 12% lead (unchanged), Ipsos-MORI has 16% (down from 17%). ComRes (Independent) has 18% (up from 11%), and YouGov (Daily Telegraph) has 14% (down from 16%).

Overall, the Conservative lead is 14%, which is unchanged from last month.

The current national prediction is that the Conservatives will have a majority of 72 seats, winning 361 seats (+7 seats since 7 July 2009).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Internet Piracy clampdown after Mandelson's nice lunch

I have just bought a DVD box set, which is loaded with dire threats against video piracy and copyright notices you can't skip past. The effect is very irritating and conveys the very strong impression that the DVD publisher regards me as a criminal. It is also characteristic of the industry approach to piracy, which is to threaten and then victimise their own customers. What is surprising is that they think this will actually work. Don't get me wrong, information piracy is deeply wrong and no-one should engage in it, but if you actually want to prevent it then assuming all of your customers are evil is clearly not the way to go. It doesn't work because it weakens the moral position against piracy and it doesn't work because it is far behind the pirates in technology terms. Continuing with the theme of attacking their own customers, according to the Sunday Times industry figure David Geffen has told Lord Mandelson that Internet Service Providers need powers to identify video pirates and then cut off their internet access. The plan is to to criminalise the six million or so British citizens who make illegal downloads, which is at least consistent with an industry that hates its own customers. So, the moral distinction between the pirates and an industry that seems to regard Orwell's 1984 as a guidebook becomes further blurred and, worse still, it wouldn't even work. I am not going to discuss the technical issues here, suffice to say the trend of the mass entertainment industry running five years behind internet technology continues.

New Labour has a dismal track record when it comes to civil liberties and workable IT solutions, so I think that Geffen's urgings will probably fall on fertile ground. Hopefully, the Conservatives will demand a rather higher standard of policy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Spying is good says Sir Christopher Rose

Daily Telegraph letters today included the following:

SIR – It is unfortunate that you repeated (Leading article, August 10) the criticism of local authorities for using their Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act covert surveillance powers against dog fouling. This is, at best, a half truth.

It is unlikely that the use of those powers would be necessary or proportionate in relation to fouling a pavement. But fouling a children’s playground is much more serious, as dog excrement contains a parasite which can cause blindness in children.

I suspect that many people would welcome the use of these powers to reduce that risk.

Sir Christopher Rose
Chief Surveillance Commissioner
London SW1


Check out the signature. Sir Christopher Rose's job is to make sure the large number of agencies who made the more than half million communications intercept requests and engaged in other surveillance activities stay within the law. On the evidence of this letter he brings the wrong sort of enthusiasm to his role, arguing that surveillance by Councils for trivial reasons is absolutely fine. Now, a standard method to try and justify the unjustifiable is to suggest a lurid risk, usually involving children, that can only be mitigated by an extreme but sadly necessary course of action. There are two components to a risk: threat, what might happen, and probability, how likely it is to happen. Because probability is poorly understood by many people, I give you the National Lottery, then the risks can often be wildly overestimated especially when someone wants to support a weak argument. What is the chance of a child going blind from dog excrement? The answer is very, very small. In fact, based on the 2003 figures the chance of someone being diagnosed with the damaging infection at all was a tiny 0.0037%, and many people so diagnosed have only mild symptoms. So, while dog owners clearly should clean up after their pets, this cannot possibly justify the use of covert surveillance. In fact if you use Sir Christopher's line of argument that even a very small chance of public harm justifies spying on the public then all of us should be watched all of the time. Given that is almost what this country has come to he must be pretty happy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sporting Village in the news

BBC coverage here.

John Baron MP presses Planning Inspectorate over Western Road Development

MP complains of over-development and traffic problems

John Baron MP continues his opposition to the proposed development at 43 Western Road, Billericay, and has written to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol asking him to turn down the developers appeal against the Council’s decision to refuse planning permission.

John said:
Having visited the site, I do feel that the proposal to build 12 apartments represents overdevelopment and will be totally out of keeping with the surrounding area. I also believe that such a development would result in traffic problems, as the approach is difficult.

In general, I am concerned about the wider problem of overdevelopment in residential areas which I believe is totally unfair on local residents.

I also believe there is something undemocratic about decisions regarding residential developments being made by outside organisations such as The Planning Inspectorate in Bristol or the Government. Local residents should have the final say, given they have to live with the decision.

If you know this site then you know it has a long and complex planning history. Basildon Council Planning Committees have repeatedly rejected plans for large flatted development in an ordinary residential street, but it does appear that this saga is set to continue.

Obama, Healthcare, Hannan and the NHS

There is a frenetic debate going on the the US on healthcare. This was a key part of President Obama's election campaign, particularly addressing the problem of tens of millions of Americans who lack health insurance. But it is proving a very divisive issue, because while it is anything but equal the US healthcare system is oriented towards excellence and if you get treatment then the statistics for outcomes are some of the best in the world. Those opposing the President are using the NHS as an example of what not to do, and this has been reinforced by Daniel Hannan MEP's criticism of the service. In turn that has been used by the Labour Party as political ammunition against the Conservatives despite the fact that Mr. Hannan has no brief for healthcare whatsoever.

Let us try and reduce the argument to its fundamentals. In the US enormous numbers of people either have no access to decent healthcare or are bankrupted by trying to pay for it. This cannot stand in a developed country and President Obama is right to address the issue. That does not mean that his proposed solution is automatically perfect though, but critics at least must acknowledge that there is a problem and join a debate on fixing it. Pretending that the current system is fair an reasonable is ridiculous. Moving on to the the NHS, this is a vast organisation and has many successes against a much smaller number of failures. Speaking personally, I have had nothing but exemplary care for my serious health issues, but that does not mean that the system could not be improved. In particular the Labour government has returned to a very centralised model and that does not work for anything particularly well, be it tractor production or making people well. Conservatives would keep to the principles of the NHS but move the service on to the 21st century. That is what John Major's government was doing in reforms stopped by Labour, so there is a lost decade of reform to make up there. Daniel Hannan has made some measured criticism of the NHS, but this has been blown out of proportion by parties in the US who find it useful to portray the NHS as a disaster and Labour in the UK, who are desperate for anything that might damage their opponents. Daniel Hannan tries to put his comments into context here.

This whole row typifies the problem with the healthcare debate in the UK. Because health is so important and affects, well, everyone it is easy to replace rational debate with emotive nonsense that improves the lives of patients not one jot. Suggest change and Labour politicians in particular will try and shift the argument to who cares the most as opposed to who will make people live longer. Frankly, I would rather be alive than know our leaders really, really do care.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reality of War in Afghanistan

This country is at war in Afghanistan. It is a war that we have stumbled into, led by a government that subscribes to the worst of liberal woolly thinking on military matters, but it is a war nonetheless. In April 2006 then defence secretary John Reid said:
We're in the south to help and protect the Afghan people to reconstruct their economy and democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years time without firing one shot.
This neatly sums up the attitude that put our soldiers into battle with too few numbers, too few helicopters and vehicles that shreded when struck by a bomb blast. There is a sort of left-establishment consensus that force achieves nothing and that wars against guerilla armies are unwinnable anyway. So, Reid and Brown committed our soldiers in the hope that they would spend their time building schools and handing out aid parcels and they thought that inadequate forces didn't matter because war doesn't work, so why resource it properly?

Meanwhile, reality is a little different. First of all, while war is concentrated horror and any sane nation must apply itself to the avoidance of conflict, it can be an effective tool of foreign policy. There are plenty of military actions that when the ghastly tally of death and loss has been made it still has been as the right thing to do. World War Two is the classic example, but more recently the Falklands and British intervention in Sierra Leone fall into that category. Moreover, guerilla armies are often on the losing side in conflicts, lately the Tamil Tigers have been defeated and the insurgency in Iraq has retreated into occasional urban terrorism. Any casual reader of Afghan history would have figured out that foreign intervention was likely to cause a very violent response in the south of that country and anyone with common sense would realise that aid could not be effectively delivered to the Afghan population unless they were guaranteed security. A government with a grip on reality would either have kept British soldiers out of Afghanistan or provided enough military power to win the inevitable conflict quickly. Instead Brown and Reid decided on military intervention without enough strength to win the war. The result has been a military stalemate and a ghastly procession of coffins back through RAF Lyneham.

The government and the nation needs to decide where we go from here. We should fight like we want to win, or we should get out. Anything else is a betrayal of our brave fighting men and women.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

A127 Signs & Pub Landlords

We have a project, Basildon Council that is, to improve the signs and add features to the Basildon stretch of the A127. The project has come from our business community, who are not well-served by the road signs that we currently have, and is being paid for by the Homes and Community Agency. Now the reason why the HCA is involved is because Basildon's business community is very large and very significant, with 45000 people employed in what we call the A127 corridor. So, the success of Basildon's business has a huge effect on Essex, where Basildon is 20% of the County's entire economy. Making Basildon's business areas as good-looking and efficient as possible is therefore a very worthwhile aim, because in the final analysis that equates to jobs, both keeping them during the recession and growing them as we come out of it.

All right you are thinking but so what, oh and what is the pub landlord thing? Well, it is this, one of our Councillors was harangued by a pub landlord about this project, and I have had some similar feedback from Basildon District residents. The cause of the excitement appears to be the large 'Basildon' sign that we are thinking of sticking next to the main turn off from the A127 in the large letter style of the famous Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. Objections seem to start from people not knowing why we are doing this and then move on to thinking that money is being wasted on the whole exercise. Well, it is about jobs, and it is probably worth mentioning that the business community is 100% behind the project. Also, this isn't Basildon taxpayers' money, and no, we can't spend it on anything else. Government departments don't give you cheques for £70000 for you to use on anything that you fancy. You build a specific proposal, and if they think it is worthwhile you get the cash.

Let me reassure Basildon District's pub landlords. This is really worth doing. I want Basildon's people in work, and when we come out of recession, I want even more business in Basildon. This is part of doing just that.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Works in Basildon Town Centre

Good news, a flurry of activity in Basildon Town Centre. The Council is starting on cleaning and repairs to the iconic Mother and Child fountain, new lighting, and the lift to High Pavement. If you live in Basildon then this makes sense to you. If you don't then the point is a local Council taking responsibility for its largest town centre and doing very necessary works to maintain its essential appeal and competitiveness. Basildon Town Centre is doing relatively well in this recession, but that doesn't mean there aren't any empty shops and we have to ensure that as and when there is an economic upturn that they are filled again. I have encountered some who think that such things should be left to private business and the market. However, that is a silly position when you are able to do something to improve an aspect of your community, which is at least one of the things that Council's should be about.