Tuesday 14 July 2009

Whatever happened to People's Peers

Remember back in the first term of Tony Blair's government the idea of People's peers, people were invited to nominate themselves for appointment to the House of Lords, it would an attempt to get good people who weren't part of the Establishment into parliament, the sort of person that would never get appointed through the usual channels.

3,000 applied, 15 were selected, to resounding disappointment at least in this quarter (no I hadn't applied). Most of the 15 were people who would very likely have got in under the old system. Still there were a couple of interesting names there, and maybe after the first batch of appointments it would start to settle it and provide a real way into the House of Lords?

Yesterday, the latest batch, only two this time, were announced, Dame Nuala O’Loan, former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Both are Visiting Professors (O'Loan at Ulster and Sacks at both Kings College London and Birkbeck). Both have impressive records and will no doubt be an asset to the Upper House. But, but, can it be said that neither would have been appointed back in the old days? Aren't they both completely Establishment figures.

If the House of Lords Appointment Commission is only going to be appointing the same type of people that would have been appointed under the old system, what point is it playing? Can't that be one of the quangos we get rid of?

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Is Lansley telling porkie pies?

It has become the done thing for Conservative-leaning bloggers to accuse Labour ministers of lying recently. But they seem a lot more reluctant to hold their own side to the same standard.

In the midst of dealing with his latest gaffe (in this case meaning making an apparent spending commitment without clearing it with Osborne first) he said this, quoted by Sky News:
"The Health Service Journal have got this 180 degres wrong. The problem in recent years has been that staff pay has simply increased in line with the huge rises in the NHS budget."
This rang alarm bells with me, I started in the NHS in the last full year of Tory rule (1996/97) and pay certainly hasn't doubled in real terms since then. So I've done some digging:

Total NHS Budget in 1996/97 £31.5 billion
Total NHS Budget in 2009/10 £103.4 billion (England £86.4b (pdf document), Scotland £11.0b, Wales est £4.0b, Northern Ireland est £2.0b)
% increase in NHS Budget 228%

Now, I can't find any pay scales for 1996/97, but I do remember my beginning salary as a Management Accounts Assistant (bottom point, Admin and Clerical Grade 4) that was £10,076 per annum. So a 228% pay hike would mean that if Lansley is right, that same post should be starting at £33,049. Unfortunately for the Man Accs Assistants working in my office, that's not the starting salary. The current starting salary for Agenda for Change Band 4 (which is what they get graded as now) is £17,732 pretty much half of what Lansley has claimed.

I'm going to be more charitable than the comrades in the blogger's union. Never attribute to conspiracy what you can charge to cock-up. In this case, I must conclude that Lansley simply doesn't know what he's talking about.

Friday 19 June 2009

National Delegate Conference Day 3

For some reason I seem to be more busy at National Conference than I ever was at Health conference, the vast numbers of fringe meetings is probably it and the carefully planned timetable I had is in tatters.

Still it's 5:30am on a sunny but cold looking morning here in Hove, here's the recap for yesterday's session.

The morning was taken up by international affairs. There was a rah-rah motion on Cuba, I didn't speak against it because unlike in the 2007 motion, it did not praise the undemocratic nature of the regime, merely celebrating that for a small, poor country, it's done remarkably well for it's citizens. That much is true and if only it were democratic too, I'm sure that the Socialists would win every time. But that being said, why do we need to discuss Cuba every year, the situation's not changed much, UNISON has a settled view on the blockade etc and it just wastes time we could spend on more important issues.

The second motion was on Palestine, again it's a motion we have every year and I did hear some delegates moan about it but this was more important as we do not have a settled policy on it. I gave the motion some thought and in the end decided to vote for the motion, which included a UNISON boycott of products produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Why did I do that?

Well, there's a common view that there needs to be a two-state solution with one state being an expressly Jewish state (if you don't know why one needs to be a Jewish state, I refer you to the last eight centuries of anti-semitism, from Edward I's expulsion of the Jews from England right up to the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC last week). That solution also needs a stable and viable Palestinian state. I feel that it is in both the interests of peace and the interests of Israel for Palestine to exist and be prosperous.

So the occupation of the West Bank is bad not only for the local population, but the illegal settlement of the best land makes Palestine which even on 1967 borders is pretty marginal in terms of viability even less likely to be a successful nation. UNISON wants to boycott the produce of those settlements, the idea being, if the boycott is successful, for those people who are settling for economic reasons will quit and bring their business back to Israel proper.

Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) were also unhappy with a passage in the motion calling for Israel to negotiate with Hamas, which as TUFI point out, are a vile, rascist, fascist organisation who UNISON really shouldn't align itself with. I don't think we are aligning with Hamas, but as I said at the TUFI fringe, you can't solve this problem without talking and just like we had to talk to the IRA, Israel will have to talk to Hamas. As trade unions are secular organisations, not Jewish or Islamic, we can be promoters of dialogue and I hope UNISON will take the small amount of influence we have in the situation seriously.

At the TUFI fringe Jon Pike, formerly of the UCU National Executive warned UNISON against following the path of the UCU and moving away from where our members are. That's a valid warning and so there will be lots of opportunity for UNISON Somerset Health branch members to make their views clear before this is (probably) debated again in Bournemouth next year.

The afternoon was spent on Rules Amendments. There were some rather technical rules change (4 & 17) which rules anoraks like me got very agitated about and hopefully we defeated (there was a card vote because the chair wasn't sure that there was the 2/3 majority required), and a group of others (13, 14 & 8) which I was okay with but were difficult to understand and therefore fell because delegates didn't know what the implications of them would be. The rules amendments that passed did the following changes to our service groups.
  • New service group (Community) moving members in the community and voluntary sectors from the Health and Local Government service groups and into their own
  • Merged service group (Water, Environment and Transport) which covers the old Water and Environment and the Transport service groups.
  • Renamed service group (Police and Justice) to reflect the probation service and Cafcass members moving from Local Government to join the Police Staff service group.
All good news and what the members concerned wanted.

There was a good fringe on building a rank and file caucus at lunchtime. We were all concerned at the fact that only 7% of members voted in this year's National Executive Council elections. My personal view is that we rely on the centre to initiate communications with members and moan about the centre not doing it instead of doing it ourselves. Communications tools like email, blogs and twitter have brought the cost down to pretty much nothing so we can and should do it ourselves.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

National Delegate Conference Day 2

Because the B&B the Somerset Health delegation is staying in is in Hove (about a mile from the Brighton Centre) and the weather's been nice, that's meant a stroll along the front to Conference each morning. Just before you get to the conference centre itself there's a building that I have been mentally trying to avoid, that's the Grand Hotel. For two different reasons, I had to confront that building today. Bear with me, this is to do with UNISON NDC.

I still remember the morning of the Brighton Bombing which took down the front of the Grand. It was during the Miners Strike of 1984-85 and I was 12 years old, just started at Bellemoor School. Despite the fact I was in the soft and pampered south, I already knew all about Thatcher's treatment of the striking miners, her police terrorising the mining communities. I was already a socialist - or rather an anti-Tory. I'll be honest though ashamed by it, I was happy to hear of the bomb, and remember the crushing disappointment that Thatcher had managed to survive. It seemed less an IRA thing and more a smite from God (I was still a believer in God then) which Thatcher, being clearly evil had managed to escape from.

Now, this week, whenever I've gone past, I have tried to avoid looking at the hotel, partly ashamed at what my 12 year old self thought, partly because a little bit of me still thinks that way. I wouldn't wish pain or death on anyone, but if anything bad happened to Thatcher, it still wouldn't balance the scales for everything that she inflicted to everyone else.

But even I wouldn't say I was hoping to celebrate Thatcher's death, at least I hope that I wouldn't celebrate it when it happens. I'm content to know that she can't hurt anyone else again. However for Bob Oram to express his disappointment that Thatcher's not dead on the floor of conference was too far. My reaction was equal parts shock, pleasure and a feeling of "this is so not the place to say that" and there was actually a chant of Off, Off, Off toward Bob. Don't get me wrong, Thatcher is evil, I still believe that and any suggestion that she gets a state funeral is profoundly disrespectful of her victims but to wish someone dead goes beyond the pale, even more so in that it was part of a speech on learning and organising. I have no idea what Bob wanted to achieve by it and it just wasn't the right place, Sue Orwin's already written up a piece critical of him in tomorrow morning's regional newsletter.

Despite that excitement the Learning and Organising motion was passed along with Ovarian Cancer awareness, a motion for establishment of good Domestic Violence policies in the workplace and an interesting motion on Fuel Poverty. Then it was off to the Grand for the Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) meeting.

I'd never gone there before and to be honest, it's too posh for me to feel comfortable in even disregarding it's past. The TUFI had promised a buffet, though I did not want to partake (feeling it was inappropriate as I knew I wouldn't agree with them) I was weak enough to eat the food that Jan collected for me. Note to TUFI, when I go to unofficial fringe events it's normally no food, no drink and a request/demand for a donation towards room hire. I don't feel at home if I'm being pampered.

The debate provoked at times more heat than light at times, though I did manage to get a question in. Terry McCorran had suggested that the composite gave support to Hamas which as he rightly pointed out is a fascist organisation. I take the view that the composite condemns Hamas and I don't care for being labeled a Hamas apologist because I support the composite. My position's close to the Alliance for Workers' Liberty but unlike them I am slightly on the composite's side. More tomorrow on that.

In the afternoon there was a debate on an amendment to call for the nationalisation of all banks without compensation. That led to some rousing speeches but the amendment was lost. A couple of motions on promoting use of the DDA were passed and we finished off with a climate change debate.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

National Delegate Conference Day 1

Dave Prentis's keynote had been quietly hyped at the Regional meeting last night, so quietly that I didn't mention it but wow, I wasn't expecting this.
Mr Prentis told delegates that the union’s Labour Link “is an integral part of our union”. But to roars of agreement he continued: “Our members are tired of feeding the hand that bites them.”

And the conference gave a standing ovation when he called on the Labour Link to suspend constituency payments, ensure that the next manifesto does not continue privatisation of public services and “ensure that our union only promotes and supports prospective Labour candidates who are willing to stand up for our values of public service.”
I certainly applauded that, though I would go further, I'm Labour, proudly Labour, but those so-called Labour MPs who has been on the fiddle, tax-avoiding and living the high life with our money? I think they should be forced to step down and barred from standing for Labour ever again. In the coming general election, every candidate Labour stands should be clean, honest and devoted to Labour ideals, that's not too much to ask for at least?

As it happens, I had the privilege of listening to two such people, one a current MP (Kelvin Hopkins), and one who should be standing for parliament (Susan Press) at the LRC/LEAP fringe meeting at lunchtime. They were both inspiring and gave me hope that there is decency still in the Labour Party. More of that sort of candidate please Labour Party.

Monday 15 June 2009

National Delegate Conference Day 0

I'm now in Brighton and met up with Janet Morton and Pat James, the delegates from the Taunton side of the soon to be merged branch. Attended the pre-conference regional meetings where we were told about the conference arrangements - there are 18 emergency motions already submitted and maybe some motions excluded from the main agenda that might be added back in.

I should be able to twitter from the hall @DM_Andy, but will probably not be able to blog a daily report until quite late.

Looking forward to an early start tomorrow.

Saturday 13 June 2009

UNISON Newsletter 15th June

Just finished the weekly branch newsletter - obviously with the lead up to UNISON Conference, but also looking at our campaign to get Yeovil Hospital to pay the ISA fees for employees when it starts next year and the need for Green Reps for YDH. You can download it here

Friday 12 June 2009

Bloody Hell McDonnell

At the risk of boring everyone - it's full disclosure time - I did support John McDonnell's bid for the Labour leadership in 2007 and joined the LRC. I still support the LRC's policy platform and I will be attending the LRC/LEAP fringe at UNISON Conference on Tuesday (there will be a blogpost on that).

Saying all that, what the bloody hell does John McDonnell think he's doing with his idiotic piece in the Guardian's Comment is Free today.

It would be a fine socialist day if and when Gordon Brown did implement all the policies detailed in that piece and I absolutely agree with John that the Labour Government should be doing them but threatening to throw the toys out of the pram if Brown doesn't is just not the right way to go.

The Populus poll for the Times this morning showed that 44% of people would prefer a Labour government, against 42% prefering a Tory government, but only 26% would actually vote Labour. Our task is to get to that 18% of the electorate who want Labour, but won't vote for us. Sure as eggs are eggs they won't be tempted into voting Labour by the sight of Labour MPs forgetting about them and fighting over the Premiership.

Hell, even Hazel Blears has realised (somewhat late) that we need one united party going into the next election. Surely John, you don't want people thinking Blears has more savvy than you? Forget about being the next leader and concentrate on saving Britain from the disaster that would be a Tory government.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Challenging the Myths on NHS Pensions

If you believe some people NHS pensions are gold-plated. In truth the average NHS pensioner receives around £6,000 per year. By the way, opponents of the public sector always state pensions based on how much the lifetime pot is, but that's only because a £90,000 pension sounds a lot more gold plated than £6,000 per year.

I'll be honest here, assuming I make it through to retirement in the NHS, then I will get a comfortable pension, but paying in a significant slice of my income (currently 6.5% of my salary that I pay, 14% more from the employer) for 43 years working full time should mean that I don't have to rely on the state to subsidise my pension. And that's the point, if NHS workers are lumbered with the shabby pensions that only seem to provide a good living for the pension fund managers then those NHS workers will have to live off means tested benefits.

So say an incoming Tory government got rid of the "gold plated pensions" who wins and who loses?

The NHS could take the opportunity to reduce the employers pension contribution some time in the future (it's the future because the existing pension contribution that we pay out now funds the existing pensioners and then the NHS pays for us later). Long term - taxpayer wins.

The pension won't pay out as much as it otherwise would. Long term - NHS workers lose.

But a lot of the loss will be made up by Pension Credit or whatever means tested benefit is out there. Long term - taxpayer loses

In the meantime pension fund companies charge administration fees and get their slice of one of the largest pension schemes in the world. Short and long term - Pension Funds win.

The effect to taxpayers will be marginal at best, it's just a simple transfer of money from public sector workers to the City of London masked by the Tory version of class warfare. It's typical from a party who treats politics as an opportunity to enrich the already fortunate in society.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Brown doesn't get it

Remember what I was saying about any organisation without accountability descending into corruption sooner or later. The prime example being the House of Commons and it's expenses scheme. There was no fear that any party would blow the whistle as the majority of all parties were at it and while it remained secret, it always carried on.

The Telegraph's scoop picked up Shahid Malik's tv and massage chair but also something else - he was getting his constituency flat provided at a way below market rates, that's appeared to be a breach of the Ministerial code because there's a possibility that he would be beholden to that landlord. Malik stepped down from his Justice Ministry post on 16 May and the matter was to be investigated.

With Brown running out of ministers, Malik was welcomed back to the Government, as a junior Communities ministers, having been given a clean bill of health from Sir Philip Mawer.

The catch? Mawer's exoneration of Malik will not be published, not even in edited form. Downing Street have blocked it. I'm sure that they are correct and Malik's done nothing wrong, but it doesn't do him any good to have the taint of "maybe he did it" attached to him. So please Brown, publish the report, publish it in full and let Malik carry on as a minister, his reputation unsullied.

Moral Hazard in the NHS

This story begins way back in October. The Christie Hospital NHS Foundation Trust had £7.5m (£1m of NHS money and £6.5m of charitable donations) in an account with an Icelandic owned bank Kaupthing, Singer and Friedlander tempted no doubt by the high interest rates KS&F offered.

The bank went bust and the Christie lost their money. Here's where the story gets interesting, because rather than resign for her chronic mishandling of both public funds and donations, the Christie chief exec, Caroline Shaw (2007/08 salary £140k-£145k plus £11,700 of benefits in kind) decided to campaign for the money to be returned.

So a campaign was launched to get the government to replenish the donated money, led in parliament by Graham Brady (Con, Altrincham and Sale West) and Paul Rowen (Lib Dem, Rochdale). Brady accused Gordon Brown of blocking the extra payment last month and a 100,000 name petition was delivered to Downing Street. Whether or not that did any good by Tuesday the news was out that the Christie would receive the £6.5m back.

While this is a good thing for North West cancer sufferers, I'm not sure it's the right thing for the country. Why shouldn't any charity place it's money in higher risk banks, if they don't go bust they can enjoy the higher interest, if they do, then all they have to do is sob story until the government ponies up their money back. What's worse is there appears to be no accountability or even remorse shown by the Christie's board. After all their press release explains.
"The money had been invested in May and July 2008 following expert financial advice"
Oh, that's alright then. Does anyone know who the experts are so I can avoid them?

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Secrecy and Accountability in the NHS

One of the things I do in my UNISON role is attend Yeovil Hospital's Joint Committee for Negotiation and Consultation every couple of months. This morning was one such meeting, the union reps from four different unions (UNISON, Unite, Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives) meeting with the Human Resources team and the Chief Exec.

I took the opportunity of asking about Trust openness. NHS Trust Board meetings were by law open to the public, NHS Foundation Trusts are under no such obligation and as soon as Yeovil got Foundation Trust status in 2006, it decided to hold all Board meetings in secret. That's always rankled with me because I feel that an organisation without accountability descends into corruption sooner or later. That seems to me particularly the case with Monitor's very loose regulation of Foundation Trusts. I've even been forced into the use of Freedom of Information requests to Yeovil Hospital in order to get information that they should be sharing with the unions as a matter of course.

The Mid Staffordshire affair has put the issue of corporate governance in the NHS right back in centre stage. Mid Staffs, like Yeovil, held it's Board meetings in secret and before he left the Department of Health Ben Bradshaw called on all Boards to be open. With a newish board, it was worth having another go at it.

Gavin Boyle, Yeovil Hospital's Chief Exec had a view that I've heard from other directors previously, that the non-execs challenge better and discussions are more open than if there's reporters at the board meeting eager for a juicy hint of dissent. So according to Mr Boyle, boards that meet in public actually decide everything in secret before having a stage managed board meeting.

I have some sympathy for that view, though I do think Mr Boyle overestimates the inquisitiveness of the local press he's got to deal with in Somerset. But my central point holds, has there been an organisation funded with public funds that has excluded that public from knowledge of decision making and yet failed to eventually turn to corruption?

I think that, the local press not withstanding, Directors and non-execs need to trust the public with the knowledge that yes, the Trust will make mistakes and the Trust will learn from them.
We're moving into age with multiple sources of information. People are starting to expect to find everything on the internet and the organisations that stay closed will start to lose public trust.

If I was Chief Exec, I would bite the bullet and not only open the Board meetings up, but record them and put them on our website. There might be some minor bad press, but that would be outweighed by the positive effects of showing we have nothing to hide. That goes for Board of Governors meetings too, they are held in public already, but who among Foundation Trust members can give up a working day to attend a meeting. If we're asking members of the public to vote for Public Governors, then we need to know what those Governors do.

Yeovil's a good hospital with a very good Board, by opening up they can be seen to do the right thing too.

More on the Somerset Elections

Interesting to read of the other side of the Somerset County Elections with this piece by William Rees-Mogg in the Times, getting some advertising for his daughter, Annunziata who is the Tory PPC in Somerton & Frome.

While most of it is predictable fluff, Rees-Mogg does get to a bit of truth with this comment.
"The virtual disappearance of the Labour vote is quite remarkable. After all, Labour won Frome as long ago as 1929. Where are the Labour voters now?"
While any 1929 electors would be at least 101 years old now, you don't need to go that far back to find some Labour success in Frome. In the mid 90s Labour ran Frome Town Council, and no less a person than Jim Knight represented a Frome seat at Mendip District. Just as in Yeovil, there are Labour voters in Frome, all the Labour Party needs to do is give them a reason to vote Labour.

Hope not Hate

I thought that Not in my name was silly when applied to the war in Iraq, it's even worse when applied to the BNP getting elected. Of course Griffin and Bron aren't going to Brussels in my name, if I supported the BNP I would have voted for them. I didn't, therefore I don't support them. On the Hope Not Hate page it says,
"Sign our petition - show you stand against racism and division"
I've got a lot of time for Hope not Hate and I do stand against racism and division. I am disgusted that we're sending two fascists to the European Parliament, but I don't respond to moral blackmail and I'm not signing your silly petition.

The BNP did persuade enough people that they weren't normal politicians in a climate where politicians are held in low esteem. Instead of doing petitions, we ought to be keeping them under scrunity at Brussels, publishing their record in Parliament where they won't be able to duck difficult questions. My feeling is that they will be shown up to be useless and greedy and in five years time they will have no record to show their electors to explain why they should be returned.

Monday 8 June 2009

Is the NHS better under Labour

Just responded to a post on healthactivists about is the NHS really any better under Labour with all the wasted money on failed IT schemes and PFI projects.

I can really only talk about the NHS as I can see it. I've worked for Yeovil District Hospital since 1996 but haven't worked anywhere else in the NHS.

A lot of money has been wasted, I could reel off a whole ream of non-jobs created like public relations officers, Directors of Strategy (I still don't know what they are meant to do) and paying the likes of KPMG to management consult us. Money has been wasted on paying private providers to do operations that they didn't do and on PFI schemes where we keep the risk and private companies get all the profit.

But is the NHS better now than it was in 1997? That's an unqualified yes. In 1995 my nan fell down and broke her wrist, I spent time in Southampton General Hospital's A&E with her, it took 13 hours for her to be treated. At the time, the papers were full of A&E waits of 2 or 3 days, now YDH's A&E easily makes the 4 hour target and that's without doing any cheating. When I first started at Yeovil, the local paper was campaigning against a postcode lottery, Dorset patients had a maximum waiting list (from outpatient to treatment) of 12 months while Somerset HA were okay with their patients waiting 18 months.

We used to close wards towards the end of the year for "redecoration" but really to save money, letting the waiting list bloat and if patients really wanted treatment, they could pay their NHS consultants to go private. Now that simply doesn't happen, we achieved 13 weeks referral to treatment for 2008/09 and in most specialties managed 10 weeks. We have more nurses, more doctors, more porters, more cleaners, more physios etc though obviously the numbers of patients we're seeing is increasing all the time so staffing levels remain a concern.

A couple of weeks ago, I was going through some old files in the union office and found some old minutes of our Joint Consultation and Negotiation Committee (JCNC) dating back to 1994/95 before I got involved with the union, at some points the JCNC was meeting three times a month, dealing with redundancies, pitiful local pay offers, outsourcing and prospects of community hospitals closing completely. In the Labour period we brought everything outsourced back in house, there's been Agenda for Change replacing our local pay awards. some real job security.

Could it be better? Yes, of course, it could always be better, but from where I am this Labour Government will leave the NHS in a far better state than they found it. Despite everything else, they deserve our thanks for that.

Sunday 7 June 2009

Three:Sixteen delayed to 21st June

I'd forgotten that Vince was running his Traveller one-off today and I'd already agreed to be in that, so my Three:Sixteen playtest review will be after I've actually run it on Sunday 21st.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Lloyd George knew my Great Grandfather

While I was discussing Gordon Brown's troubles with my nan on Friday evening, she told me something that I'd never known before,

Apparently, on a holiday up to see the Welsh side of my family when I was four years old, my great grandad took me to see David Lloyd George's grave at Llanystumdwy. It obviously made a massive impression as I can't remember it at all and can hardly remember my great granddad as he died when I was six. But having a great granddad who thought that a good day trip for a four year old would be to visit the grave of a former Prime Minister who'd been dead for thirty years probably explains a lot about me.

When I'm next up there, I'd like to visit it properly, mark that with my ascent of Tryfan as things to do.

Photo: Lloyd George's grave, cc copyright Alan Fryer

Is it unfair that a Scot sets policy for England?

My nan's been in Blackpool on holiday for a week and didn't really follow the news up there so when we had a long chat on Friday evening, I could catch her up on all the political news of the week. It's fair to say she's a bit less fond of Gordon Brown than I am, and she repeated something that one of her friends had said, "Why should Brown be our Prime Minister seeing as he's Scottish and they have their own parliament now". So I explained that the Scottish Parliament doesn't cover everything and for some things have to be dealt with by Westminster. That's why Scots MPs sit at Westminster and why it's fair that an MP for a Scottish constituency can be a Prime Minister.

Today, I ran into the same argument presented on Iain Dale's blog, claiming that every policy Brown proposes is undemocratic? Again, I pointed out that Westminster is the UK Parliament and so contains MPs for all of the UK. It's well established that an MP can vote on any bill whether or not it directly effects their constituents, though it might not be politically wise, I give the Community Charge (Scotland) Bill for an example.

Most bills that Westminster deals with are UK wide, finance and economic bills, foreign relations, immigration, pensions and benefits for example. The second largest group are local bills, bills of relevance to a particular local authority, national park or sometimes individual institutions (there's one at the moment about the British Museum). There's some of England and Wales only bills governing the legal system, (Scotland has always had a different legal system) and a smattering of England only, Wales only and Northern Ireland only bills.

Some bills defy neat categorisation, for example, birth certificates issued in Wales are in English and Welsh, but certificates issued in England only have English. But if you're Welsh, and you give birth just over the border (this particularly effects the Countess of Chester Hospital) then you might want a birth certificate in Welsh. So there's a bill to give the option to have the bilingual certificate available by request in England. So is that an England only bill because it only tells English local authorities to do something, or Wales only because it's only Welsh parents who will take advantage of the option?

So if it's democratic for the member for Witney to have his government propose a bill for Northern Ireland then it's got to be democratic for Brown's government to propose bills for England.

But the biggest issue is this, do the anti-Brownites really believe that no Scot, Welsh or Northern Irish MP should be allowed to become Prime Minister? How democratic would that be?

UNISON Newsletter 8th June

Just finished the weekly newsletter - A bit thin due to workload but it covers the elections, Apprentices, Health and Safety, LGBT Conference and the first part of UNISON's delegation to Southern Africa report. Download it in pdf format here

Friday 5 June 2009

Correcting the NRO II

Now for Iain Murray, forgetting what he thought he knew about British politics
It's train wreck day for Gordon Brown. Not only has the map of England turned blue, but one of the Cabinet Ministers he's just reappointed may have quit in the middle of his press conference.

That must be some sort of parallel universe where Caroline Flint was a Cabinet minister - in fact the sole point of her resignation was that she wasn't invited to Cabinet meetings.

Correcting the NRO

ahem, I bring you the towering intellect of Mark Steyn
I see the beleaguered Gordon Brown has now followed the Obama path and introduced to British government the concept of "czars" -- or, as he spells it (presumably to avoid confusion at the first G7 czar summit) "tsars." Mr. Brown has made Alan Sugar Britain's "Enterprise Tsar"

In fact the concept of a czar/tsar is first attributed to 1982 - that'll be when Obama was an undergrad at Columbia - and it's first use in Britain seems to be about 1998 (both with the appointment of "drug czars").

Somerset County Elections - Recap

The Final Score
Conservative 35 (gained 11)
Liberal Democrat 21 (lost 9)
Labour 2 (lost 2)

Seats Switching
LD > Con
Castle Cary, Frome North, Highbridge & Burnham on Sea South, Minehead, South Petherton, Somerton, Staplegrove, Street, Wincanton & Bruton

Lab > Con
Bridgewater East & Bawdrip, Bridgwater South

Overall, for Labour it's not as bad as it could have been, not as bad as it should have been and not as bad as it looked like it was going to be. But it says something about our party's prospects that we'll take 2 holds (one where we manage to win with only 30% of the vote) as a moderate success. It is bad, and we need to start working on getting colleagues for Andy and Dave at County Hall.

For the Tories, it's obviously a glorious success and congratulations to them for that while for the Lib Dems, I think they've taken Somerset a little bit for granted and it will be interesting to see how they react.

As pointers to the General Election - the data confirms that Wells and Bridgwater & West Somerset will be easy Tory holds, while the Lib Dem vote did hold up well enough in the Yeovil constituency that David Laws will sleep easy tonight. Taunton Deane on the basis of these results would stay Tory but I'm never going to make a prediction on that particular constituency. Somerton & Frome is interesting and with 4 of the Tory gains in that area on top of favourable boundary changes, the odds on a Tory gain have to be shortened. But there's something that makes me think that between David Heath and Annunziata Rees-Mogg the voters might want to stick to what they know.

Random sideissue: What happens to South West One now?

Somerset County Elections - Results as they come in

Should be a fascinating set of results from the County Council Elections today.  Currently the Lib Dems have a narrow majority at County Hall with 30 seats, Tories on 24 and Labour on 4 Obviously the Labour Party will be in trouble locally, they only hold three of the Bridgwater seats and Wellington, I'm hoping that there's no wipeout and we do hold onto at least one seat.  Turnout will be important to watch out for too, these seats were last held on General Election Day 2005 and saw turnouts as high as 77% in Upper Tone, the lowest being 47% in Bridgwater North & Central.  I would be surprised if there was any seat as high as 50% turnout this time around.

Annoyingly, SCC have decided to replace their 2005 election result web pages with their 2009 election pages, I have some data on the 2005 election, but if anyone was expecting swings and decent analysis I might be disappointing you.

10:30am - I actually feel sick, Bridgwater East & Bawdrip is the first seat up and it's a disaster for the Labour Party.  A swing of 22.4% from Labour to Conservatives mean that Labour go from 1st to 3rd.  Lib Dems have got to be disappointed going down slightly in share of the vote.   Small crumbs of comfort, Labour did have a new candidate and as the BNP were standing in the other Bridgwater seats a lot of effort went in those seats, but it's bad.  No turnout reported but looks to be about 27% down from 56% last time around. 

Bridgwater East & Bawdrip
Conservative 1,102 (58.6%, +27.9%)
Lib Dems 401 (21.3%, -2.3%)
Labour 379 (20.1%, -17.0%)
there was an independent last time who polled 8.7%

State of the Parties: LD 0 (+0), Con 1 (+1), Lab 0 (-1)

11:00am - The other three Bridgwater seats have declared, Labour's lost Bridgwater South, but managed to cling on by the fingernails in Bridgwater North & Central by 20 votes thanks to a good performance by UKIP

Bridgwater North & Central
Labour 489 (30.1%, -26.8%)
Conservative 469 (28.8%, +8.6%)
UKIP 251 (15.4%, +15.4%)
Lib Dems 223 (13.7%, -9.2%)
BNP 144 (8.9%, +8.9%)
Ind 50 (3.1%, +3.1%)

There's got to be a concern by the Lib Dems that they are not picking up the Labour vote.  It'll be clearer when there's some seats in the South Somerset and Mendip areas, but if I was a Tory I would be optimistic that Somerset's there for the winning.

State of the Parties: LD 0 (+0), Con 3 (+2), Lab 1 (-2)

11:10am - And there's the first Con/LD contest, Staplegrove (which is the area directly north of Taunton) switching from yellow to blue.  Don't have any swing info there, but a solid majority of 207 for the Tory.

State of the Parties: LD 0 (-1), Con 4 (+3), Lab 1 (-2)

11:25am - Results coming in thick and fast now.  Lib Dems look okay in their South Somerset seats, a slight swing to Tories in Crewkerne and in Yeovil West but not enough to worry the incumbents and a comfortable victory for Lib Dems in Taunton Fairwater to give a bit of hope to the Lib Dems in the Taunton Deane area.

State of the Parties LD 6 (-1), Con 8 (+3), Lab 1 (-2)

11:35am - Spoke too soon about the Lib Dems holding out in South Somerset.  South Petherton is a Tory gain from Lib Dems and Lib Dem leader Cathy Bakewell managed to squeak out a win in Coker.  By the way, 131 votes for a Communist in Coker?  not too shabby.  Meanwhile the BNP polled only 7.7% in Yeovil North & Central.

Lib Dem 1,454 (45.5%, -7.1%)
Conservative 1,365 (42.7%, +5.7%)
Green 249 (7.8%, -2.6%)
Independent 131 (4.1%, +4.1%)

State of the Parties LD 9 (-2), Con 10 (+4), Lab 1 (-2)

11:55am - Another seat falls to the Tories as they mop up the West Somerset seats, Minehead goes blue with a smallish swing in a straight LD/Con battle.  There's a string of Con holds and the Mendip results have been delayed, not sure why.

State of the Parties LD 10 (-3), Con 17 (+5), Lab 1 (-2)

12:10pm - Lib Dems hold both Chard seats, Jill Shortland in Chard South doing well to keep her Lib Dem share up.  But the Tories gain Somerton as well as Wincanton & Bruton and Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea South.  Somerset will be a blue county for the next four years.  I was wrong about turnout, the range this year so far is from 23% in Bridgwater South to 55% in Taunton & Trull. 

State of the Parties LD 13 (-6), Con 21 (+8), Lab 1 (-2)

12:25pm - Everything going with serve at the moment, a string of holds from both yellow and blue corners mean that Conservatives are getting close to the winning post.  (that's enough sporting metaphors - ed).  Out of the 14 remaining seats, 13 are in Mendip (which are still coming up as delayed, the 14th is Andy Govier's seat for Labour in Wellington.  As I was typing that it came in, Andy winning comfortably with a shade over 50% of the vote, helped by the lack of a Lib Dem candidate. 

State of the Parties LD 17 (-6), Con 26 (+8), Lab 2 (-2)

12:45pm - Tories gain Castle Cary (which they had missed by 11 votes last time) and Frome North on their way to 29, just one more needed.  Long time Lib Dem Alan Gloak holds Glastonbury by 62 votes.  The remaining seats are in Wells parliamentary constituency where local Tory Heathcoat-Amory has been in trouble over his horse manure.

State of the Parties LD 21 (-8), Con 29 (+10), Lab 2 (-2)

1:40pm - The last seats start to trickle in, all Mendip seats are won easily by the Tories, clinching the victory.  All we're waiting for is Wells and Street.

State of the Parties LD 21 (-8), Con 33 (+10), Lab 2 (-2)

3:20pm - Don't know what kept them so long but Street finally declares, the last Tory gain of the election.

Final State of the Parties LD 21 (-9), Con 35 (+11), Lab 2 (-2)


Some obligatory gaming content in what was meant to be a gaming blog once upon a time - I'll be running a game of Three:Sixteen by Gregor Hutton at club on Sunday. There will be a review of it up sometime next week.

My take on Purnell's resignation

A friend emailed me asking what was going on and saying that Purnell should be drummed out of the party - I've been very critical of Purnell, but I'm more serene this morning, here's my reply:

What's happening? Simple self-interest from Purnell, His constituency is Stalybridge & Hyde, it's safe (maj. around 9,000), not but fireproof. It's the sort of seat where if we lose the election he should still be safe, if we completely meltdown, he'll be out of Parliament. Remember he's got his tax evasion problem. he's got a less expensive home in his constituency and a more expensive one in London. He told the Fees Office that his previous London flat was his second home and got paid out for it, but when he sold his London home he told the taxman that it was his primary dwelling and so didn't pay capital gains on his profit. Now, I did go a little over the top calling him a crook, it seems that he managed to use a loophole in the tax code that meant he didn't have to pay CGT, though he did get the taxpayer to fund his accountancy bill to find it. But for me, that's the sort of thing the Tories would do, not Labour, we're meant to play by the spirit of the rules not find ways to get around them.

I'm not proud of this shower, but I am proud of Labour as an ideal, as an ideology. Ideology is a bit of a dirty word in politics, but it's important to have it because unless you have a vision of what you want to accomplish in politics, how do you know what to do? It's a bit like assembling a flat pack and not knowing if you want to build a bookcase or a desk, what you end up with is a self-contradictory mess.

On the back of the Labour Party membership card it has our new Clause IV.

"The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."

I was a strong supporter of the new version back in 1994/95, my argument at the time was that while the old Clause IV was a work of poetry, it didn't actually explain what our ideals were because we weren't going administer or control every industry and service so why have in our constitution that we are.

But I don't know how some decisions of this Labour Government can square with our Clause IV ideology. It certainly doesn't fit with my understanding of giving power, wealth and opportunity to the many when we propose to act as loansharks to those citizens below the poverty line (a policy promoted by Purnell and overruled by Brown). It doesn't fit when we try to outsource hospital services to companies that are less efficient but are owned by big money Labour donors (for example the Somerset and Dorset Sterile Services issue). I'm annoyed that these people have discredited the name of the Party for a generation without even following the basic tenet of Labour - is this policy fair?

I don't think Purnell should be expelled from the Party, we are a big tent and should be able to tolerate discussion about what our Party should be about. But the Party is expelling people with views very similar to mine, a friend was expelled just before she was due to attend the Party Conference last year. But if Purnell does love the movement like his claims to in his resignation letter then I'm happy for him to be in the Party.

Thursday 4 June 2009

Purnell - Good riddance

I shouldn't post while angry, but the resignation of James Purnell has really set me on edge. It's not that he's resigned, Purnell doesn't seem to have the interests of the working class at heart and I'm not sure why he would want to be in the Labour Party, but the hypocrisy of his resignation letter (as leaked to the Murdoch press - surprised it wasn't the Mail).

He says in it
"This moment calls for stronger regulation, an active state, better public services, an open democracy.

It calls for a government that measures itself by how it treats the poorest in society. Those are our values, not David Cameron's."

This comes from a man who wanted to charge punative interest rates on social fund payments to the poorest in our society. This comes from a man who wants the poorest to jump through bureaucratic hoops in order to get the benefit they are entitled to. This comes from a man who has launched advertising making out that all benefit claimants are potential crooks while engaging in tax evasion himself.

He shouldn't have been given the chance to resign, he ought to have been kicked out of Cabinet long before now. The Labour Party has been damaged long enough by despicable men like Purnell.

Update - The original version of this called Purnell a crook and hoped that he would be in prison soon. That's what comes from posting in anger and I apologise. I accept that Purnell technically obeyed the law, but ethically a Labour supporter shouldn't use taxpayer's money to find ways to avoid paying tax.

Bad News for Yeovil

Don't know how badly this will hit AgustaWestland in Yeovil but the US Dept of Defense have scrapped the presidential helicopter project known as the VH-71 Kestrel.

The prototype for the VH-71 took it's first flight here in Yeovil on 2007 and as part of a $11 billion project the ending of it will be a big blow for the local economy here.  

Productivity or a waste of time and money?

In March, the Department of Health set up an NHS Productivity Unit to help the NHS become more efficient with the spectre of funding freezes and real term cuts approaching.

Now the Health Service Journal has found out what the staffing and budget for the Productivity Unit is.  Wait for it, it's £350,000 per year, and they have 2 staff members, the Director and a part time secretary.  Even if we take the fact that an NHS Productivity Unit would be useful and given that there's only £350k available for it, is the best way to staff it by having one very highly paid Director and basically nothing else.

Margaret Edwards was at Yorkshire and the Humber Strategic Health Authority on between £180k and £185k in 2007/08. (Source Y&H SHA Annual Report 07/08)  With the £12k of benefits she was on and an estimated 5% pay rise in 2008/09 and 2% for 2009/10 then even if she hasn't got any more for the new role she would be costing the DH around £260k once NI and Pension are figured in. Take maybe £25k out for the part time secretary and that leaves £65k for glossy brochures explaining to NHS organisations how to do something that they should really already know.

Assuming that Edwards is going to work full time then that's 220 working days per year to work with the around 500 trusts in England, that's never going to be worth it.  Why are we wasting money like this and giving the Tories and the likes of Burning Our Money such an easy target?

Safety Documents now free to all

It was always appalling that workers had to pay the Health and Safety Executive for information about their safety already paid for from their taxes. Now the HSE have agreed to put all their priced items on their website for anyone to download for free.

The newest publications are already on the site free to download and HSE will be putting on all the older documents over the next year. Well done to HSE and to the TUC for calling for it.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Why Gordon Brown should stay

It's not a particularly popular view at this time but I see no need for Gordon Brown to quit as Prime Minister even if we get completely wiped out tomorrow.

I was a supporter of Brown in 1994 when he didn't stand, and of McDonnell in 2007 when he couldn't stand so that makes me about as good a backer of political winners as Polly Toynbee but here goes:

Brown was the choice of 313 Labour MPs (29 nominated McDonnell, 11 didn't nominate either candidate). If the Guardian is right and 70-80 backbenchers want Brown to go now they must include a large number of people who thought Brown was the right man 24 months ago and now want to stab him in the back. Like a football club chairman who appoints a new manager only to ditch him at the first run of bad results - these MPs need to explain themselves. And if they are doing this in the hope of losing the election by a couple percent less badly, to scrape home with a 1,000 majority instead of losing in their own seat then they deserve to get kicked out by the voters.

And can anyone say that ditching Brown and getting Alan Johnson or James Purnell in his place is going to make the slightest difference? I'm old enough to remember the Tories meltdown in the mid 90s, they stopped remembering what it was like in opposition, they thought that it was all down to presentation. Yes, presentation helps, but integrity is much more important and if you can't be proud about what you're selling, you're not going to be good at selling it. It's the product that's old, saggy and not fit for purpose. I propose that we should give Brown the chance to actually fix it.

UPDATE - Penny Red of course says it better than I could 
"It's not about the politics: it's about their own jobs, a sorry attempt to cool down public and press indignation at an expenses scandal in which they are all culpable by attacking the man who, for better or worse, they chose to lead them"
Quite right.