Saturday, September 26, 2009

Water on the Moon

Spacecraft have confirmed that there is water on the moon, both in ice form, but also in the regolith, or moondust. So what? you are probably thinking, and what has that got to do with politics? All right, space policy is not very high on the political agenda, but there are signs that this might be changing, with some limited debate on the UK joining the manned space exploration effort. Certainly, there is no argument about the importance of space, at least in terms of Earth's orbit. Satellites are now integral to everything from communications to navigation. Hell, my phone has GPS. The fact is that space policy is increasing in importance and that in the very long term it could have a strategic significance similar to deep ocean exploration by European powers in the renaissance.

Water on the moon is important because the two basic materials needed to support human life are energy and water. Energy is abundant on the moon in the form of direct and continuous sunlight. Water means that oxygen for air can be electrolysed and food produced, without total dependency on supplies from Earth, which is critical given the mass limitations of current rocket technology. Basically, water on the moon means that a moonbase and economic exploitation of the moon becomes much more practical.

What is astonishing is that the Apollo astronauts also found water, but NASA thought that was due to contamination and so announced that the moon was completely dry. I do wonder if that mistake had some effect on US space policy. If NASA had got that right and so the moon had seemed more interesting, would the Apollo programme still have been halted? That makes an interesting road not taken at least.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Daniel Finkelstein on saving the Labour Party

Daniel Finkelstein, who I met when we both did the Conservative Candidate's board, has written an excellent article on how to save the Labour Party. It is spot on in every regard, and it is very much at odds with what Labour is actually doing.

I really liked this bit:
Advising Labour on how to improve its position without advising it to get rid of Mr Brown is like advising someone how to deal with their cheesy feet problem without advising them to stop wearing shoes made out of brie.
There have been many hundreds of thousands of words written about Gordon Brown and the Labour leadership, but I return to my usual theme. There is no theory of organisational leadership, none, that suggests that there is any benefit in keeping a failing leader in post. Different poll ratings for possible alternative leaders or worries about the length of the leadership election process are all irrelevant. What is comes down to is if the man at the top can to the job, or not. If not, then he should go and go quickly.

Even assuming the Labour party is not inclined to follow that advice, Daniel's article is still very well worth a read.

LSC funding and New Campus Basildon

Basildon underperforms in further education. This is not a matter of opinion, rather a matter of fact, sadly written in the statistics for educational outcomes. So, some of our 16-19 year-olds are not getting the futures that they deserve, and that is a tragedy. There was a solution though, a £90m brand-new college in Basildon Town Centre, run by a consortium of existing educational establishments that would bring a first-class education to thousands of our young people. The money was coming from the national Learning and Skills Council, and the hugely successful New Campus Basildon pilot had already been established in the Icon building.

Now, the troubles with the LSC are now old news in that they promised vastly more capital to projects up and down the country than they actually had. So, it has all come to a halt and we have to recognise that this Biblical level of incompetence has put paid to our most ambitious plans for the education of our young people. They have been comprehensively betrayed by a combination of a stumbling quango and an indifferent Labour government, who both seem to have missed the point that these young adults are our future. We have to provide for them, because one day they will be running the world, and we need them to run it well. We aren't giving up though. Our local education providers, and the local LSC to be fair, are doing their best and Basildon Council will also do what it can. We clearly need an alternative plan for our young people's education, and we are going to have one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brown snubbed by Obama

This morning, I mentioned to my wife that Gordon Brown had failed to have a one to one meeting with President Obama at the UN. Her reaction was 'well, what did he expect?' followed by a few choice words on the idiocy of the Brown circle. As we know, Gordon Brown presided over the release of the Lockerbie bomber. He claimed that it was all the Scottish Government's doing and nothing to do with him, but the reality is that if Edinburgh had thought that they wouldn't have the tacit support of London then Al Megrahi would still be breathing the air of bonny Scotland. Releasing him was always going to cause a political row and the Scottish Government would not risk Labour, their main electoral rivals, making political capital at their expense on an issue like this that speaks to their basic competence in government. Grown-ups didn't take much time to figure this out, including President Obama, who probably didn't like being taken for a fool in addition to watching the release of a terrorist murderer of 200 US citizens. In fact, being seen with Brown could have been taken as an endorsement the terrorist release, and the President wasn't going to do that.

It is one thing to make a choice and accept the consequences, but it is quite another to make a choice oblivious to the likely fallout. One is principled, the other is idiotic.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Time to arm Military Padres in Afghanistan

Interesting article in the Mail, on a request by military padres to be armed during the current war in Afghanistan. Apparently medics and chaplins have already removed their red cross armbands, because the Taliban do not respect the Geneva Convention and so use such things as targets. Now the Royal Marine chaplins want weapons to both protect themselves and to provide a last option in case of capture. The subject is under discussion in the Ministry of Defence, but surely if there ever was a subject for a quick decision then this is it. Other countries arm their chaplins, the men on the ground want it, what's to discuss? Do we have to wait for some horror story to get Bob Ainsworth moving? Unfortunately, that's how it usually seems to go.

Where have Basildon's flags gone?

Some people in Basildon District may have noticed that the Union Flag and the Cross of St. George have disappeared from their customary place over the Civic Centre. Do not be alarmed, the Conservative Council's policy of flying the flags has not changed, it is just that the flagpoles need a bit of work. So, when the contractors have finished a few bits and pieces both flags will be restored to their rightful place. We are also taking the opportunity to get them cleaned.

It is a mystery to me why other public buildings are not similarly adorned with our national flags. In the US, for example, you cannot move without seeing a Stars and Stripes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brown's line on cuts collapses

The headline on Evening Standard kiosks this evening was 'Labour's secret plan for cuts'. This, and the associated coverage marks the end of Gordon Brown's attempt to define the economic debate as 'Labour investment versus Tory cuts'. Everyone has known for months that public spending is going to have to come down in order to pay back the incredible debts Labour has run up for tha nation. This is true regardless of whoever wins next year's general election, but Gordon Brown refused to admit it, sticking to his line like a speak your weight machine despite his own colleagues reluctance to back him up. They didn't want to parrot the boss for one very good reason: he was lying. Not only was he lying, he was lying in a way that was easily disprovable and so had no credibility at all. So, instead of helping Labour's rough position in the polls the fiction dragged them down further.

Yesterday, Gordon Brown at least came clean, sort of, in his speech to the TUC conference. Now there has been a leak from HM Treasury that shows the government has been considering cuts of around 9.3% for months. Some Mandarin there clearly had had enough. The leak doesn't really show that Gordon Brown was lying, because we know that, but it is documentary proof that he misled parliament, and just about every other audience in the land.

The thing is mum was right, lying is bad. Human interactions require a degree of integrity in serious matters, and in politics lying nearly always the wrong thing to do. People tend to respect the truth, even if it is an unpalatable truth. Lies, on the other hand, tend to get found out, and do not command respect. There is also the small problem of a loss of credibility. If people start to distrust you then it doesn't matter what you say, because you won't be believed. In fact the Prime Minister's behaviour is jaw-droppingly silly. I have seen Parish Council issues run with more political sophistication. You have to ask what sort of man he is and what sort of people are giving him advice?

Friday, September 11, 2009

John Cruddas 10 pont plan to save his career

John Cruddas MP, darling of the Labour left has come up with a 10-point plan, supposedly for the country:

1 – establishment of a High Pay Commission;
2 – greater tax justice, including closing tax havens and more equal distribution of income and wealth;
3 – index link benefit levels, pensions and the minimum wage to average incomes;
4 – replacing tuition fees with a graduate solidarity tax;
5 – a Fair Employment Clause in all public contracts;
6 – windfall and transaction taxes and resetting capital gains tax;
7 – a new covenant with the military, including more investment in mental healthcare, equipment, housing and support for veterans funded by scrapping plans to renew Trident and re-deploying the money saved within the Minister Of Defence budget;
8 – a Green Neal Deal*, to include scrapping the third runway at Heathrow;
9 – remutualisation of the finance sector;
10 – a credit card bill of rights for consumers.

This will address the most pressing issues faced by people today and guarantee a Labour election victory, er..., or maybe not. Labour's strategic problem is that its core vote, the traditional white working class, is peeling away. This is has been their bedrock since the party started, but lately that vote has increasingly split off to minor parties, never mind some drift to the Conservatives. Without this particular section of the population largely voting Labour then the party is in electoral difficulty, and if that vote split becomes permanent then those difficulties are permanent. So, what would a policy list designed to appeal to the ordinary working man look like? The number one issue would certainly not be anything to do with a High Pay Commission, it would be about immigration. Number two would probably relate to employment and number three to housing and so it would go. They would all be real, substantive issues that relate directly to the things that touch people's daily lives, but where the Labour government has drifted hopelessly away. It would look nothing like the list produced by Cruddas.

Hang on though, John Cruddas is a bright chap so he knows all of this. Why has he come up with this nonsense? Well, the answer is quite simple. My nonsense is not the same as that of the sort of people who frequent meetings of Constituency Labour Parties. Cruddas isn't talking to me, or the voters. He is talking to Labour members, for whom the idea of High Pay Commission pushes all of their buttons. This is his opening shot in the Labour civil war after a general election loss. You see, like everyone else, Cruddas doesn't think Labour stand a chance with Brown.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Brown's lack of military knowledge on Afghanistan

Gordon Brown had just made a speech and taken questions on the war in Afghanistan. He addressed the equipment problems the military faces with the comment that the the counter insurgency must be 'won on the ground and not in the air'. Let us pause to contemplate the breathtaking stupidity of that comment. Air power in general and helicopters in particular are what is known as a force multiplier, that is they make the traditional 'teeth' arms of infantry, armour and artillery more effective by a factor. With modern air power this can be a large factor. So, suggesting that such a vital component of a modern force as air support, including helicopters, is in some way subordinate to or less important than ground forces is absurd. That would be true even if the government had lavished equipment on the troops on the ground, but they haven't done that either. Instead, we have had vehicles that convert into shrapnel when hit by improvised explosive devices and when their failings were pointed out Labour figures smeared whistle-blowers and senior officers instead of moving heaven and earth to give our soldiers the kit that they needed The army is only now getting vehicles that can survive IED explosions, despite the dozens of flag-draped coffins for the lack of them.

The PPS to the Defence Secretary, a former army Major, had enough yesterday and used his resignation letter to rubbish government policy on Afghanistan. Today, we found out just why things have been going wrong in this war. The man at the top doesn't have a clue.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

al-Megrahi business gets shabbier

So much for high moral purpose and compassion. It appears that the decision to free the Lockerbie bomber was at least in part to do with oil rather than doing the decent thing by a dying man. The Times has letters from Jack Straw that clearly show that al-Megrahi's fate has been in play in UK-Libyan talks for some years now. This despite undertakings given to the US that the man convicted of killing 270 innocent people in the skies above Scotland would stay in prison and serve his full sentence.

Now, Labour figures have been filling the airwaves to rebut the idea that there was a conspiracy to release al-Megrahi. The idea, they say, of the SNP Scottish government taking orders from Labour Westminster is preposterous. Well, framed in those terms they are right, but, of course, that is not how these things happen. This isn't some political thriller where the plot has to be packed into a couple of hours of screen time. What occurred is that the UK government systematically removed any percieved impediment to al-Megrahi's release. This left the desperately naive SNP able to indulge the traditional left-wing practice of doing things to feel good about their own moral superiority. A mix of duplicity and psychology, bear in mind that the SNP people and how they think are well known to Scottish Labour, and there you have it. More complex than a movie script perhaps, but equally effective.

Of course, Gordon Brown has also managed to damage himself further over this matter through the simple tactic of not telling us if he thinks the release of the terrorist was a good idea. With senior figures at home and abroad up in arms, including President Obama who was until lately Gordon's best pal, you would have thought that the British Prime Minister would have shown a bit of leadership. Gordon Brown is nothing if not consistent though, and he has consistently ducked hard issues throughout his entire career. So, Labour takes another knock, as does the SNP north of the border. This last may be most significant. On one poll, the SNP has dropped six points on this issue. That is very bad for them and some may be wondering if they were deliberately shafted by London, or if their shafting was merely seen as an added benefit in the trade deal.