Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Meanwhile over in Canada

Canadian affairs rarely feature in the British media, but the big story tonight is that the Canadian government has lost a Motion of No Confidence and there will soon be a general election. The margin was wide 171-133 and reflects the problems of a hung parliament and the Liberals losing the support of their New Democrat allies earlier this month. And so a general election looms.

I don't honestly know very much about Canadian politics and things are made even more complicated by the realignment on the centre and right in the last few years that has seen a succession of conservative parties first challenge the old Progressive Conservative Party and then merge with it to form the current Conservative Party. I suspect I would be a "Red Tory" but that's a major problem in itself as the Red Tories have found themselves scattered by the merger, with some joining the new party, some joining the Liberals, some retiring from politics and even a few trying to create a new PCP to claim the old mantle which frankly has as about as much chance of succeeding as the UK's "Not the Lib Dems Liberal Party" does here. The recent party change by Belinda Stronach shows that things haven't settled down yet.

Over the next few months we'll no doubt see more about the Canadian election in the media and maybe someone can explain what it's all about.

Monday, November 28, 2005

What does your birthday say about you?

Whilst doing a random Google blog search to see where my college has been mentioned I came across this post on The Talk of the Town. So I followed the link and found out the following about my birthday:

Your Birthdate: August 11

Spiritual and thoughtful, you tend to take a step back from the world.
You're very sensitive to what's going on around you, yet you remain calm.
Although you are brilliant, it may take you a while to find your niche.
Your creativity is supreme, but it sometimes makes it hard for you to get things done.

Your strength: Your inner peace

Your weakness: You get stuck in the clouds

Your power color: Emerald

Your power symbol: Leaf

Your power month: November

So for those of you who know me just how true is this?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Council Tax exemption

As a doctoral student, I'm all too aware of how essential the student exemption from Council Tax is. However it seems not everyone has noticed it. It is especially shocking that the Liberal Democrats make a great virtue of being a student friendly party and yet their proposals for replacing the Council Tax would abolish the student exemption in the process! This whole matter just shows the true Liberal Democrat colours as a tax & spend party.

There are some Lib Dems who do not agree with the policy, such as Daniel Snowdon who argues against it. But will they be listened to?

This issue has not received much attention yet, not least because both main parties have not pledged to replace the Council Tax. But with both due to have new leaders by the next election if not much sooner, it is possible that this could happen much sooner.

Below is the motion I am submitting to the next general meeting of Queen Mary Students' Union next Thursday on this:

Students and Council Tax

This Union Notes

1. Local government elections for the London Boroughs are due to take place in May 2006.
2. Currently local government in Great Britain is financed by a combination of locally set Council Tax, centrally set business rates, grants from central government, local fines and other streams.(Hale, Rita and Associates "Who pays for local services? The balance of funding between government and councils" (Local Government Association, 2005), copy at http://www.lga.gov.uk/Publication.asp?lsection=0&id=SX1135-A781FC66 accessed 2005-11-22)
3. Council Tax raises approximately 26% of local government income but is one of the few streams a local council can vary. Consequently, an increase in spending often requires a proportionally greater increase in council tax.
4. In recent years, the level of Council Tax has received much media attention and a high level of protest. Very recently, the Local Government Association of England and Wales predicted that Council Tax could rise by as much as £100 a year.
(Metro November 22, 2005, page 2 columns 3-4)
5. Full-time students are exempt from paying Council Tax until they have “completed their course.”
(Part 2 of Schedule 1 to the Council Tax (Discount Disregards) Order 1992 (SI 1992 No 548) (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1992/Uksi_19920548_en_2.htm), as amended by the Council Tax (Discount Disregards) Amendment Order 1996 (SI 1996 No 636) (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1996/Uksi_19960636_en_1.htm) , defines a full time student as:
“A person is to be regarded as undertaking a full time course of education on a particular day if-
(a) on the day he is enrolled for the purpose of attending such a course with a prescribed educational establishment within Part I of Schedule 2 to this Order, and
(b) the day falls within the period beginning with the day on which he begins the course and ending with the day on which he ceases to undertake it, and a person is to be regarded as ceasing to undertake a course of education for the purpose of this paragraph if he has completed it, abandoned it or is no longer permitted by the educational establishment to attend it.")
6. There is ambiguity over what exactly constitutes “completed their course” for research students in the writing up and beyond phase.
7. Currently the Council Tax is one of the most controversial charges of all and there are many calls for it to be amended or scrapped.
(E.g. IsItFair – The Campaign for the Reform of Council Tax at http://www.isitfair.co.uk/)
8. One of the most common proposed alternatives is to have a Local Income Tax and some political parties have taken this up.
9. The exemption for students is not explicitly retained in some proposals for local government taxation reform.
10. The current weekly threshold for starting to pay income tax for most student jobs (approximately Tax Codes 471-500) is between £90 and £95.
(Tables A – Pay Adjustment Tables (Inland Revenue, 1993), Week 1 (Apr 6 – Apr 12))
11. Due to the way in which Free Pay works and the juxtaposition of the tax year and university vacation dates, the effective threshold is even lower for those only working during vacations.

This Union Believes

1. Students are presently financially overburdened and it would be monumentally unfair to give them the additional burden of local government taxation.
2. If the Council Tax is to be replaced, the alternative must include an explicit continuation of the student exemption.
3. The definition of a full-time student should be modified to explicitly incorporate research students in the writing up phase.

This Union Resolves

1. To lobby and campaign for the student exemption to be retained at all times, but to especially do this when there is high profile public debate on the future course of local government finance.
2. To write to relevant bodies and individuals, including but not limited to, the major political parties, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and any successor holding the Local Government portfolio, the Local Government Association, the Greater London Assembly, the Mayor of London, Tower Hamlets Borough Council and the local MP, setting out the Union’s position and concern.
3. To encourage a high level of registration and voting by students in the forthcoming local government elections to show that the student vote cannot be ignored.

Party member Archer again?

Over on Tory Convert's blog there's a post with the following note:

Also on the radio, apparently Jeffrey Archer wants to rejoin the Conservative Party and even re-enter the House of Lords; to which there can only be one response - PLEASE GOD, NO! STAY AWAY!
I have to admit this is a hard choice. On the one hand no-one is beyond redemption and Archer has now served his sentence (and I'm not sure of any rule the party has to prevent his membership). On the other hand this is Jeffrey Archer.

The only redeeming feature is that the time he's spent on this is time he's not spending writing books. I've never enjoyed any of his books. And his first children's book, Willy visits the Square World, is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read. For those fortunate enough to have avoided it, this book tells the story of a little boy who has a talking teddy and a magic spacesuit that transports him to another planet to find their missing cat, who's been stolen from Cambridge by an evil ogre. Oh and they lose the spacesuit but get home with a lift by "Upside Down Bird". No, I'm not making any of that up.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Time to change the party's name?

Just noticed this post on optimates's blog about a potential name change for the "Tory Party". Quite rightly he suggests:

Our new name should be the "Conservative Party".
The two terms do not mean the same, despite the media's constant misuse of it, and it is telling that many Labour Party activists go on about some party that ceased to be in the nineteenth century. Get with the present people!

It's time to end the confusion. Let's finally put the "Tory" elements aside and go forwards.

Another political quiz

I've spotted this post on Mustafa Arif's blog about a new political quiz. My results show me as firmly on the centre-right, but curiously "likely to be fairly free-market and pro-war" when I opposed the war, albeit not on the same grounds as many on the left did, and am not fully convinced of the benefits of the free market (and even willing to contemplate protectionist tariffs to help the British economy). I'm also described as "slightly punitive and isolationist" when I'm really internationalist, but I suspect the quiz wasn't designed to distinguish between those with a true international outlook and those who seem to think everything revolves around the European Union.

Also the Daily Telegraph may be pleased to hear that I have the views of many of their readers. Now if only they would make it cheap enough I may buy it regularly. And I'm a natural Conservative voter. I wonder what gave that away?!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Government proves as evasive as ever

I wrote to Chris Grayling, my local MP about the proposal to reduce VAT on condoms. He wrote back to me very soon, but has now written to me again with the evasive response he has received from the Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo. She acknowledges that whilst current EU provisions mean the tax cannot be abolished completely, there is the option available to reduce the tax as being on "a prescribed list of goods and services, as set out in Annex H of the Sixth VAT Directive." However she offer mere weasel words by stating:

To date, we have been sparing in our use of reduced rates and have only introduced them where we are convinced that they offer the best-targeted and most efficient support for our social objectives compared to other options.
The Government keeps taxes "under constant review" so apparently this may be reconsidered at a later date.

Louder voices are needed on this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It was forty two years ago today...

That the first ever episode of Doctor Who was transmitted. Forty two years on the series is one of the BBC's most popular shows, having astounded all the fans and pundits and attracted an audience that many television executives claied no longer existed.

Until this year I was arguably part of the final generation, cliched as it may now sound, who had first seen the series with the family as part of Saturday teatime entertainment. I can remember most of the Colin Baker years and despite the myths surrounding them I was never once turned off by supposed heavy levels of violence (which were actually quite tame), excessive continuity (would I have known what that was?!) or guady colours (I never noticed the coat). (However I would like to know just what were these "illegal video levels" on Vengeance on Varos that had to be amended for the VHS and DVD releases and just how they are supposed to have harmed me!) Apart from the removal of some music due to rights, this was the only edit made when that part of the series was released on video so clear the censors didn't have a problem.

The early 1990s were a depressing period for Doctor Who as we waited and waited for news of a new series and had to put up with numerous announcements and confusion. We had the excitement over the announcement of The Dark Dimension, the disappointment of the cancellation of The Dark Dimension (and the later revelation that this was perhaps a mercy killing), all the excitement and speculation about "the Paul McGann TV movie/Enemy Within/the US Telemovie with the Pertwee logo" or whatever it's called this week that ultimately only provided one night of a new show. But the VHS/DVD/tape/CD releases of the old stories, spin-offs and fan activites throughout the years kept everyone going.

And then this year it came true when the series was relaunched. The new series has been little short of fantastic and everyone is talking about it once more. It's no longer considered sad to be a fan of the series. Truly things have come full circle.

Bye bye justice

MPs are set to debate government plans to allow paramilitary fugitives to return to Northern Ireland without serving a prison sentence. It seems that all concepts of justice are being thrown out of the window. The fugitives will be allowed to return and not even have to appear in court.

The justification for this is especially sickening. Tony Blair has stated:

Under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, people who were convicted and in prison for terrorist offences pre-1998 got released.

How can you possibly say they (on-the-runs) should be put in prison if the people already convicted have been let out.

That is why there is a symmetry if you like about dealing with prisoners and on-the-runs.
What Blair completely ignores is that those who were released had already served some time for their offences. And many found the prisoner releases to be an utterly sickening part of the Good Friday Agreement that was necessary as part of a broader reconciliation. This is nothing more than a caving in to the demands of Sinn Féin/IRA.

At the same time the Government is demanding the right to detain terror suspects for 90 days it sends this signal "to give the peace process new momentum". Will we see an amnesty for the terrorists involved in the July 7th bombings? Or will the Government continue its atrocious double standards?

Tony Blair needs to be brought back to reality by a severe slap to the face. Both of them.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How can anyone oppose this?

A call has been made for free condoms to be made available in prisons, to help curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Like the provision of contraceptive to minors or the providing of clean needles, this is an admission that illegal activity takes place. But as a means to prevent the spread of infections and improve health this should be supported by all.

So I find it particularly disgusting that a spokesperson for the so-called "Conservative Way Forward" stated:

Most people who've been victims of crime don't expect prisoners to be going into jail and having sex and getting involved in relationships.

I think it's entirely unacceptable and the encouragement of it is pretty wrong in the eyes of most right-thinking individuals.
Conservative Way Backwards, as it is perhaps more accurately described, was set up behind the idea that Thatcherism is a solution right for all time. Today Thatcherism is the ideology of the past and it is telling that no serious contender for the Conservative leadership has sought the kiss of death endorsement from Thatcher herself. CWF often pushes a "George W. Bush Republican" line that frankly has no place in UK politics. Comments such as these show how it is blinded by ideology - the very opposite of what conservatism is about.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The past week

Things have been hectic and so I've missed several big events this week. In no particular order:

David Blunkett has resigned. Again. One has to wonder what on earth made Tony Blair reappoint him in the first place. Presumably when Peter Mandelson resigns next time Blunkett will be appointed as a European Commissioner. It would be a very appropriate appointment. One is repeatedly rocked by scandals and deeply unpopular with the British people and the other is a now resigned minister.

What's especially telling is the appointment of John Hutton as his replacement. This previously invisible man has been chosen, rather than one of the supposed rising stars of the Labour Party (or Mr Invisible himself, Alistair Darling). Why David Miliband was not offered the job, or if he was why he did not accept it, is a sign of weakness. Work and Pensions is a tough job and a minister who could get on top of it would show their abilities, enhance the strength of the government and potentially improve their chances of being an alternative to Gordon Brown. Instead Blair shows the government is full of weakling ministers and appoints a non-entity.

Question Time on Thursday saw David Cameron go head to head with David Davis in what I hope is the prelude to a head to head debate between the two main party leaders at the next general election. Although neither delivered a clear knock-out blow I think Davis came out slightly stronger than Cameron, but the real losers were the Davis supporters in the audience with their planted questions and jibes. The Davis campaign team must be desperate if it's resorting to such tactics.

Closer to home, students' union across the University of London have been reeling from the resignation of University of London Union President Stewart Halforty. Although Stewart's and my politics do not coincide, I've always got on with him and am very sorry to see that he feels forced out by forces of inertia and opposition. Whoever is elected to succeed him will need to have a firm mandate to radically reform the organisation and make it fully accountable to the students of the University of London. Otherwise successive officers will be unable to achieve anything due to forces working against them.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Loyalist Volunteer Force call it a day

Whilst here in Belfast the news has come that the Loyalist Volunteer Force are standing down. I'll be honest in that I can't remember what the LVF stands for that makes it distinctive from the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association. And the local press seems to think this action is motivated more by a desire to end a feud with the UVF than with concern for peace in the province.

Still it means that one less set of guns are firing. At a time when many in the Unionist community are growing increasingly restless, as shown by the LoveUlster movement, it is essential that loyalist terrorists do not begin a new bloodbath. Now let's hope the UVF and UDA follow the IRA and LVF and bring permanent peace a step closer.


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