Monday, January 29, 2007

Cameron to back adoption row law

There'll be squeals from the ill disguised bigots who squeal about everything, as well as genuine concern from those who are uneasy about the effects of the law (and let's not let the two be conflated, as the former have been pretending to) but David Cameron has announced that in the absence of any compromise on the adoption issue he will vote for the anti-discrimination law when it comes before Parliament. (BBC News: Cameron to back adoption row law) This is one of those days when I feel very proud of my party's leader.

Friday, January 26, 2007

On letterboxes

I know I'm not alone in finding many a letter box ridiculously hard to push a leaflet through. Indeed it's one of the most common points of understanding people in all parties have.

So I present the latest petition on the Downing Street website:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to improve letter boxes.

Delivering to the public is an important part of political engagement. We call for legislation to make it easier for voters to be engaged by requiring all letter boxes to be:

*Located at a clear height
*Easy to post through
*Designed to allow leaflets to be posted without destroying them
*Designed to protect people's hands when posting
*Dog proof

In addition we call for doors to have the number clearly displayed and doorbells to be easy to find (with defunct doorbell buttons removed).
I urge anyone who has ever leafletted or canvassed to sign this petition.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I'd be prepared to pay more tax for this...

Whilst I think there is far, far too much waste in public spending and that the money can be better spent on more efficient and higher quality services, as shown by some councils (A Tale Of Two Councils - or Why I Wish I Had Hammersmith & Fulham Council), I also have limited faith in Labour to achieve this. So until the next election the choice is between higher taxes and serious lapses in what's needed. That's the honest truth - expecting Gordon Brown to discover efficiency after nearly ten years is like expecting Ruth Kelly to be a true believer in equality.

Nowhere is this deficit in provision clearer than in the current crisis of limited prison numbers. Even paedophiles are being kept out of jails because of it. (BBC News: Full jails change child porn term) This is simply unacceptable.

If in the short term I have to pay an extra penny or two in income tax or another 2 1/2 % VAT to finance new prison places (and specifically this - I don't want it flooding into the general pot to be wasted in traditional Gordon Brown style) then that's a price worth paying until we can get a government that will sort out the finances properly. Dogma about low taxation doesn't do diddly squat in a situation such as we have now.

But let's be honest - New Labour doesn't work that way. It sees any increase in tax as an opportunity for waste, for pointless jobs, for new administrators to set targets and massage the figures to meet them. Meanwhile it's the public who are at risk.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On trustee boards for students' unions

Currently one of the big issues consuming a lot of time at many students' unions across the country are the recent changes to Charity Law, including the requirement to have clearcut definitions of trustees. There are a lot of myths flying around about what the act does and doesn't require, and frankly some attempts to sneakily slip through other changes that are not required by charity law, but this isn't really the place to discuss those.

One common proposal is to have a trustee board, made up of a mixture of some Union officers, some ordinary elected students and external experts. My former students' union, Kent Union, is currently holding a referendum on such a model and, although I've not been following the internals of Kent Union for the last few years, I have to say this proposal is a strong improvement on the current set-up.

The last major constitutional rewrite (carried out in 2001-2002 by a working party including myself) frankly really only rearranged some officer positions, modified the decision making bodies to be practicable and semi-admitted that de facto the university and student body isn't really collegiate anymore (see my past comments on this in From Vision to Reality), but didn't really grapple with some of the more basics such as the often difficult relationship between democracy and charity law. This was because none of us on the working group really knew very much about the details of it, even though there had been an incident over charity law at the start of the year.

The said incident would undoubtedly have been handled better under this proposed new set-up. The Union affiliated to the National Abortion Campaign in late 2000, with not a little controversy and one individual was determined to end the affiliation by any means possible. Flash forward to the start of the new year and the incoming President Alix Wolverson received a letter from said individual citing dodgily obtained legal advice and comments from someone at a Scottish students' association that said the affiliation was probably beyond the Union's legal scope ("Ultra vires"). I know what some of you are thinking - Scotland has a different legal system so cases are not always automatically precedents for England & Wales. And "is probably" is not clear cut advice.

However the decision on this was taken by what was then the "Finance and General Purposes Committee" made up of just the six sabbatical officers. They didn't all have a training in law (from recollection at least five if not all six weren't even law students) and some didn't even know what a Constitution was (including Alix Wolverson, the President!). As a result a decision to disaffiliate got taken which proved messy because a) those dissenting didn't agree with the advice or its basis; b) the committee didn't actually have the powers to make this decision under the constitution; c) the decision was announced to the wider student body (and even the executive) in a very bad way, with the result that very few even understood the reasoning behind the decision; and d) there were subsequently attempts to reinstate the motion, including one that said that the Union should go all the way through the courts over this affiliation. (The fee was a mere £65 - all perspective was lost!)

Had there been a properly defined trustee board with expert members on it, and with continuity from year to year, then both the original decision to affiliate and the subsequent decision to disaffiliate would have been subject to expert advice and opinion from the outset, the mechanics would have been a lot easier to explain to the Union at large and it's probable that one of the two decisions would not have been made. Whilst diehards will always be diehards, the Union as a whole could have got on with more important matters without having to deal with a lot of bad feelings because of the way the matter was (mis)handled).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

So is the term to be "First Gentleman"?

The race for the White House has shifted a gear. (BBC News: Hillary Clinton joins 2008 race)

Whilst I doubt Hillary Clinton will actually win her party's nomination (recent history is not the side of the early favourite Democrat) invariably people will be speculating on what to call the husband of a female US President. There aren't too many precedents and the husband of governors who use "First Lad" and "First Dude" don't seem likely to be trend setters. However Daniel Mulhern, husband of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, seems to officially billed as "First Gentleman" and so maybe that term will catch on.

On a more pertinent question, just what is Hillary's given name this week? Her Senator website calls her "Hillary Rodham Clinton" but her campaign website calls her "Hillary Clinton". Studies have shown that "Hillary Rodham Clinton" polls better than "Hillary Clinton", ( Poll: Spare the 'Rodham,' spoil her election) yet "Hillary Clinton" carries far more name recognition. Is she trying to have her cake and eat it?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Matthew Taylor to step down - what was there on him?

Just what has he been doing?Liberal Democrat MP Matthew Taylor is to stand down. (Lib Dem MP Taylor to step down) Apparently he was "one of the best known Liberal Democrat MPs" which is news to many, even considering the limited number of well known Lib Dems. He stood for the Liberal Democrat Deputy Leadership alongside that great household name David Heath, but both lost to Vincent Cable. Otherwise Taylor's main notable feature was to be the Baby of the House for ten years.

Readers of my blog will remember that someone was searching and kept on searching for matthew taylor mp news of the world but the mystery was never solved...

Welcome back Adele

Just a quick post to note that Adele Reynolds is back in the blogosphere with her new blog, Adele's labour blog. I look forward to many an argument!

Do people REALLY fall for this?

Amongst the huge amount of spam I've received today, one email was offering me an instant university degree. Reading it I can't understand why anyone's fooled:

Hi [position]!.!
Well that's a good start - confusing my name for some position I once held. Never really on bots to retrieve email addresses.

A Genuine Univers1ty Degree 1n 4-6 weeks!
With such wonderful spelling it probably is a genuine "univers1ty" degree!

Have you ever thought that the only thing stopping you from a great job and better pay was a fe wletters behind you name?
Well now you can get them!
What are a "fe wletters"? And just how do a few letters after the name in themselves provide a booster? Recruiters look at where you got the degree from, not whether or not you have some fancy letters after the name. Is having purchased a degree granted by Tinpot Theological College in some US state in the Bible Belt really going to stand out on a CV?

Within 4-6 weeks!
No Study Requierd!
100% Verifiable!
Yes I'm sure anyone Googling for details of this university aren't going to come across it on a list of diploma mills.

These are real, genuine degrees that include Bachelors, Matsers, MBA and Doctorate Degrees. They are fully verifiable and certified transcripts are also available.
Okay Americans may do things differently, but isn't the adjective "Doctoral" not "Doctorate"? In any case I'm sure a genuine "Matsers" degree is going to stand out.

You?ll htank me later?
Indeed, what a question! Whoever wrote this probably got the job by flashing a Buy It Now degree.

Finally we have this curious ending:

retire. First, they had fought their way from the battlefield, menwould dart in and slash the hamstrings of his enemy. Lucilius's eyes
And no, I've no idea what that means!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Christian Unions - the plot thickens

There's an interesting article at Ekklesia that claims that Exeter's Evangelical Christian Union sued the students' guild after the ban was lifted. (Ekklesia: Evangelicals sued despite removal of university 'ban') Some points that stand out include:

ECU council member, Ben Martin, brought the suit on January 5 and announced it to the media. He has now admitted however to the Times newspaper, that the religious group had been informed by the Guild that the temporary ban had lapsed and that all privileges had been reinstated.

In a press release he was previously quoted as saying that if the Guild reversed its decision and reinstated the CU as a full society, then he and others would meet with the Guild and look afresh at how its Equal Opportunities policies related to religious societies.

He has now told the Times that he feels the ban would be imposed again, despite the Guild's assurances that no decision had been taken. "Based on the experience of the past nine months, the ECU has no confidence or trust in the integrity of the Guild," he said. "We received no formal written confirmation of anything, all we had was a mobile phone conversation."

In October the ECU was temporarily banned while the Guild carried out an audit into their membership rules. The audit was completed and the suspension expired on December 12, the day before the university Christmas holiday. The ECU claims it was not told that this had occurred until January 4.

Jemma Percy, President of the Student Guild, insists that the ECU knew the ban was temporary and that the Guild was willing to discuss the situation with the ECU before taking any action. "We were happy to negotiate, and continue carrying on a constructive dialogue," she said. "We made an offer to skip all the back-and-forth letter writing steps and call in someone external that all of us agreed on to review the case. We only became aware of this suit through the media."
Also of note is that Ekklesia has published a report "United We Stand? A report on current conflicts between Christian Unions and Students' Unions" (be warned it's a pdf) looking at the current rows and exposing many myths in the media coverage.

The report raised questions about the role of Evangelical lobby and campaign groups external to the Evangelical Christian Union, and their agendas. It suggested that their involvement could be escalating the conflict rather than contributing to its resolution.
So is the escalation at Exeter really the genuine wish of the members of the Evangelical Christian Union or is it being spurred on by outside bodies, such as the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Problems with Tracksy?

Is anyone else experiencing problems with Tracksy at the moment? I think my account there has been deleted.

Monday, January 08, 2007

David Ervine

David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party has died. (BBC News) Truly this is a sad moment for both his family and Northern Irish politics, where Ervine was often one of the few voices of Unionist reason.

Leave the children alone

Truly it's a sign of how slow the news is at the moment that such a large fuss is being made about where Ruthy Kelly has sent one of her children to school. (BBC News: Kelly 'doing right thing' for son) Yes she's been Education Secretary but at the end of the day she is a parent having to make a difficult decision about what to do for her children. It is disgusting that some seem to think that anyone in politics should run their private matters to fit an ideology that they are not espousing.

This storm shows politics in a bad light. When people ask why parties have problems recruiting candidates from certain walks of life perhaps they should ask whether any parent of young children would want to have their decisions under such scrutiny as Ruth Kelly's are today.

A Tale Of Two Councils - or Why I Wish I Had Hammersmith & Fulham Council

Today I heard from two separate London Borough Councils, performing very differently.

This morning my five bedroom flat received four envelopes from Newham Council seeking to confirm the electoral register. Three were for "the occupier" of empty rooms seeking confirmation that no-one is there! What a waste - a single envelope for the entire flat would have sufficed. If such waste is taking place on this micro scale, what else are they squandering money on? Mayor Sir Robin Wales, SHAME ON YOU!

Then I heard the news that Hammersmith & Fulham Council has achieved a 3% cut in council tax through efficiency savings. (The Bristow Blog: Council Tax Cut in H&F) At a time when many councils are holding up their hands and claiming that council tax cannot be cut, Hammersmith & Fulham have shown that it is possible.

But there is a sore point still. Whilst Hammersmith & Fulham Council have managed to cut their tax, the GLA tax is up by 5%. If Mr Livingston ever decides to visit the borough (Ken chooses Cuba over Hammersmith) he could learn how to deliver services efficiently and waste less money. Instead he choose to carry on his self-publicity drives and his pathetic crusade against Trevor Phillips. (Livingstone vs Phillips round infinity) Mayor Livingston, SHAME ON YOU!

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Christian Union looking for persecution

Since my previous posts (On Christian Unions and Students' Unions and Bishops jump on a bandwagon) the row between some Students' Unions and Christian Unions has reached ridiculous proportions with the announcement that Exeter's Evangelical Christian Union is going to court to force the Students' Guild to allow it to have public sourced money despite not being open to all. (BBC News: Christian students in legal fight) If the ECU thinks that it's being persecuted because it isn't able to both discriminate and access Guild funds (there's nothing stopping it existing outside the Guild) then it is trivialising the meaning of religious persecution.

BBC News has statements by representatives of both the Students' Guild and the Evangelical Christian Union and the latter is somewhat curious:

Ben Martin, Exeter University Evangelical Christian Union:
We ask members to sign a simple statement that says they declare Jesus Christ to be their Lord, Saviour and God. And to lead the society we ask people to agree to a 10-point doctrinal basis which states the core political beliefs of the Christian faith.
If it really is just "the core political beliefs of the Christian faith" why does this statement include a clause asserting Biblical literalism, denying the role of tradition and interpretation that most Christian Churches have?

And if, as some reports have commented, the issue of homophobia is tied up in this, why has the ECU forgotten that the only people Jesus condemned weren't gays but religious fundamentalists.

Some such as Ben are asserting that there are "at other universities other faith groups... [which] have a simple statement of faith". If they are existing and receiving students' union funds through affiliation (the crucial point that a lot are overlooking) then they too should be looked at.

Ben Martin:
We believe that our fundamental rights of belief, association and freedom of expression have been violated and infringed so we are quite prepared to stand up for these freedoms.
Just what is stopping the ECU existing outside the Students' Guild? As has been often pointed out, this is the position that the Universities and Colleges' Christian Fellowship advocated for years. Indeed they made it a condition of membership so it's a big cheek for them to start whining about other organisations having and enforcing requirements for affiliations.

Truly this whole affair is reflecting badly on the ECU.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lib Dem deja vu

The leader of the Liberal Democrats has started the year declaring that he will be staying in position, whilst anonymous MPs are criticising him. (BBC News: Sir Menzies warns off his critics) Haven't we heard this all before?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The LG... BNP?!?!

Martine Martin has discovered the existance of the Gay BNP Group. (martine martin's lebwog: We're Here, We're Queer and... We Vote BNP)

The worrying thing is that in the current climate of ignorance, suspicion and fear between communities it's not too hard to grasp why some gay and bisexual people would support the BNP. But anyone who believes that a BNP United Kingdom would be a utopia for a British gays and bisexuals is seriously deluded.

Monday, January 01, 2007

December on this blog

Happy New Year everyone!

And yes it's that time of the month again, time for a look at the stats for this blog. Once more earlier stats can be found at the pages for February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October and November.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (+1)
  2. Educationet Messageboard (+3)
  3. Mars Hill (-)
  4. Facebook (NEW ENTRY)
  5. Wikipedia (+5)
  6. (-2)
  7. Cally's Kitchen (+2)
  8. Cllr Iain Lindley's Diary (-)
  9. GuardianUnlimitedBlogs (-8)
  10. Backing Blair (NEW ENTRY)
Dropping out of the top ten are Jo Salmon (at 19, down 13) and (at 20, down 13 again). Compared to last month it's been a bit mixed, with a couple of new entries, some rearranging and an astonishing plumet for Jo.

Then we have the top ten search engine requests that brought people here:

  1. what does your birthday say about you (-)
  2. tim roll-pickering (-)
  3. 'john nye' radley (+1)
  4. laura blomeley (-1)
  5. millwall loonies rotterdam (+3)
  6. hunt family kennedy kingdom (NEW)
  7. learns to love peter mandelson (NEW)
  8. kennedy assassination and "caroline hunt" (+1)
  9. fantastic cartoon (NEW)
  10. coax socket toole (NEW)
As ever a mixture of brand new terms and some ongoing ones. Hardly any other strange ones this month although this makes me wonder:

They have a single policy?!

Finally as ever we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in):


Thank you all for reading!


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