Wednesday 30 December 2009

What a waste

In this part of Sussex we face a waste crisis. LibDem controlled Lewes District Council would like to recycle more of its waste than it does. But it's not allowed to. Conservative controlled East Sussex County Council has used its power to limit the amount of recycling that the District Council is allowed to do. Let me repeat that, just in case it is so counter intuitive that you didn't take it in. The County Council is using its legal powers to prevent the District Council from recycling.

Why would this be? The answer is massively obvious if you live here. The County Council is pressing ahead, against united local opposition, with building an incinerator at Newhaven. And for incinerators to be profitable, they need lots and lots of waste to burn. And it has to run at a profit because of course it is going to be privately run - by Veolia. I particularly like the part on the Veolia site where it says "Did you know? In the UK we only recycle 30% of our household rubbish." Not in Lewes - we're only allowed to recycle 27%, because the County Council wants to make sure the incinerator makes a profit. (To be technically correct, it's all to do with credits. The County Council gives the District Council credits for 27% of its waste recycled, but not for more. Which means that, without the credits, it's too expensive to recycle more.)

And there's more. The County Council, having run out of other options, now proposes to use land raise to store all the rubbish it won't let us recycle. It has identified several sites around Hellingly, Halland, a woodland site near Laughton and other places. They don't want to think about anaerobic digestion, for instance, and they certainly don't want to think about recycling more, so they're going to have a jolly good go at wrecking our countryside.

Meanwhile, local Conservative Parliamentary candidate Jason Sugarman provides his own unique spin. Being a Cameron Conservative he has to pretend to be green, so he takes a pop at Lewes District Council: "in the Lewes district ... the Lib Dems have left us with one of the worst recycling results in Sussex". Yes, Jason, perhaps more recycling would happen in Lewes if your friends on the County Council let us recycle more. Perhaps you could have a word with them? But I suspect you're more interested in maintaining a piece of spin of which David Cameron would be proud.

Monday 28 December 2009

Thanks, Dave - best laugh I've had all year

David Cameron tells us that there is little difference between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats nowadays. Now that I've finished laughing, I'll just point out some of the differences. He thinks both parties are "motivated by pretty much the same progressive aims: a country that is safer, fairer, greener and where opportunity is more equal". If only the Conservatives were.

Fairness: Liberal Democrats want to take millions of the poorest British people out of tax by increasing allowances. Conservatives want to increase inheritance tax allowances for the richest people in the country.

Liberal Democrats want a voting system that more fairly represents people's intentions. The Conservatives want none of it. In fact Cameron was self contradictory in his message. He said he wanted to work together, and then he said that coalition government would not work - he wants to be the only party in power.

Fairness also includes openness. He could start by clearing up the issue about the tax status of his chief funder, lord Ashcroft, whose money he is using to buy the next election. He could also clear up the issue of the precise origin of all that funding. But he won't.

Fairness also includes keeping your promises. The Conservatives made promises about Ashcroft's tax status when they put his name forward for a peerage, and those promises have not been kept.

Fairness: Liberal Democrats want a fairer, better NHS. Cameron is content to head a party whose representatives go around saying that the NHS is a sixty year mistake.

A fairer Britain with opportunities for all is not in the mind of at least one of Cameron's candidates, who refers to everybody not fortunate enough to have gone to Oxford or Cambridge as "potted plants".

No, David, I do not believe that you want a fairer, greener or safer Britain - except one where it is safe for the elite to make more money. You worked in PR before and you're still working in PR now.


Boxing Day always reminds us of the issue of hunting with dogs. Sara Scarlett, in Liberal Vision on Boxing Day, called the ban on hunting with dogs illiberal. I don't agree with that. I see the issue as split into two parts. One is about human rights and freedom. The other is about animal welfare. If it were just a question of freedom, I would have no problem at all. Hunting with dogs would be to me like Morris dancing. I have absolutely no wish to do it, but if you want to dress up in funny clothes and parade around the countryside flaunting your silliness, I will defend and indeed celebrate your right to do so. But it is not just about freedom, it is also about animal welfare, and there we have a problem. Nobody has a right to be cruel to animals - in my opinion. Other people might think they do, in which case that has to be debated. As it stands we have a long tradition in this country of legislation to prevent cruelty to animals in all sorts of ways. Hunting with dogs cannot be exempt from that tradition. It is, of course, open to debate as to whether hunting with dogs is cruel or not - many maintain that it is not. For me a pursuit designed to take as long as possible (otherwise it would not be any fun) is designed to cause maximum fear in the animal pursued. I'll concede that it is debatable, but that is where I stand. And I will not for a moment accept that an argument so based is illiberal. The animal kingdom is part of our concern as well as the human.

Sara raises some other powerful issues, notably the issue of rural poverty, and the issue of unintended consequences. Both of them are valid and deserve our attention. Sara suggests that in terms of animal welfare the act has been counter-productive. The claim is disputed in the comments, but let us accept it at face value for the moment. She also claims that jobs have been lost and the rural economy has suffered. The claim is again disputable, but let us for the moment accept it. Both these issues are not the result of the act per se, but of the way in which it was couched and implemented.

The Hunting Act stands with reform of the House of Lords as showing up Tony Blair at his worst. Not in terms of class war, or in terms of doctrine, but in terms of ability to get things done. Blair's ability to bring people together and to forge a consensus was one of his greatest political strengths. He did a brilliant job on the Labour Party. He was undoubtedly very good at it. His weakness though was that he *needed* to find a consensus. He failed to recognise with both hunting and the House of Lords that there were people who would make a point of disliking any move for reform, and he failed therefore to move as quickly or as decisively as he could have done.

The fact that the Hunting Act was never accepted in some quarters is not Tony Blair's fault (though some of its weaknesses are), but that fact is at the root of the issue of any backlash on animal welfare. Rather than accept the spirit of the legislation, those responsible resort to indiscriminate tactics such as poison, while failing to look at control measures in a professional and calm sighted manner. Perhaps the Act could have provided funding for better methods; that might have prevented some of the current cruelties. But my point is not that the Act should not have happened, but that it should have been better drafted.

The issue of rural poverty is, I think, a non sequitur in terms of animal welfare. If rural poverty is an argument against preventing hunting with dogs, then urban poverty ought to be an argument against preventing bear baiting, or dog fighting. It isn't. If a loss of jobs was demonstrable at the time of the Act, then that situation could have been ameliorated by funding for rural improvement, either in the Act or by other means. Again, the issue is not that the Act should not have happened but that it should have been better implemented. In any case, either way, Liberal Democrat policy to lower taxes for poor people, whether urban or rural, is better and more coherent policy than either Labour or Conservative offerings. It is a far better way to move against rural poverty than bringing back hunting with dogs.

Thursday 24 December 2009


Avatar has hardly any plot, and what there is has as many holes as a good Gruyere. Characterisation is thin, in fact the word cardboard would come to mind if they weren't all electronic. The 3D adds little enhancement, certainly not enough to outweigh the disadvantage of having very heavy solid plastic specs slipping down my nose throughout. The half arsed green message just about keeps itself above being ridiculous.

Having said all that, I loved it. It's just a great simple story, with magnificent effects, and in places some pretty decent music. It's all about the effects, and if that's what you go for, fine. If you want something a bit highbrow, don't even think about Avatar - that's not what it's for. If you want a rip roaring ride, go for it. I did - it was great.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Carter Ruck and Trafigura do their thing again

It really is a very clever viral marketing campaign, making sure that lowly unpaid bloggers like us do their work for them, ensuring that Trafigura's activities around the world get a lively and informed audience.*

Watch and weep.


then read this pdf of the original story.

*Just in case you hadn't noticed, you needed your irony button switched on to read that first paragraph.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Things that happened this week: nothing to hide, still a lot to fear.

Thanks to Durham police for clearing this one up. Having your DNA taken could harm your prospects even if you're an innocent person. A police person was quoted this week on the issue of mephedrone, a substance which it is legal to be in possession of. "In Durham police have taken a stance and anyone found with it will be arrested on suspicion of possession of a banned substance.... They will be taken to a police cell, their DNA and fingerprints taken and that arrest, depending upon enquiries, could have serious implications for example on future job applications". This revelation comes courtesy of the Register.

Things that happened this week: Tories do not disappoint

Every time Dave tries tot ell us the Tories have changed, yes, we have, honest, guv, his own party conspire to undermine him. And he helped himself dig his own pit this week.

Are the Tories competent? Not competent enough to avoid using phony information at Prime Minister's Questions. Tory claim on Islamic school dismissed.

And has he stopped them being nasty? Not if Lord Monckton is anything to go by, Persistently and loudly comparing a young Jewish man to the Hitler Youth. Climate denier unmasked: Tory peer calls Jewish climate activists "Hitler Youth".

Still incompetent, still very nasty.

Things that happened this week: you couldn't make it up

The police stopped and questioned a photographer going about his business in London: Photographer quizzed by "armed" police near Bank of America. Nothing unusual there as Britain#s finest have so little to do nowadays other than harass innocent snappers.

But then an ITN film crew went to do a story about that event - and they were stopped too. ITN film crew stopped while covering photographer story.

And that was after ACPO reminded police this week that taking photographs is not illegal.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

BBCQT and balance

So let's get this right. I have had the same jobsworth letter as other people in response to my complaint about them dropping Jo Swinson from Question Time. Part of it is as follows:

"... reflect a change in the prominence of some of the issues due to be discussed on the programme and in order to facilitate debate by having representatives willing to question the central political consensus on these issues, of which the Liberal Democrats are a part"

It is quoted in full elsewhere - Stephen's Linlithgow Journal and Mark Reckons.

So the programme was in Scotland and contained a few Scottish issues. So the BBC dropped one Scottish person, Jo Swinson, for another, from the SNP, while retaining two English right wingers, David Davies and Melanie Phillips. That's what they call balance.

And what issues were discussed. Well, predictably - because that's what we were complaining about - the Iraq War was discussed, as the Chilcot inquiry started that week. The Libdems are the only mainstream party to have consistently opposed the war right from the beginning. if that does not give us a distinctive edge, what does? We are certainly not part of any "central political consensus" on that one.

What other things did we discuss? Well, the banks getting away with more. Hmmm, don't we have a distinctive position on that one. Let me try to remember, oh yes, we have Vince Cable who was telling both the other parties that things were going to go wrong while Labour tried to ignore all the signs and the Tories were too clueless to notice. And then we have Vince Cable telling them how to put it right with Labour tacitly admitting he was right by adopting his policies and the Tories desperately trying to forget their predictions that the remedy would make things worse. If there is any kind of central political consensus there, it is because we made it.

What else? The only really Scottish thing on that I remember now was the SNP's policy on alcohol on which we have a clear difference of opinion with them, and an alternative policy. What a good opportunity it would have been to have two Scottish people debating a Scottish issue. But no, we had to listen to the English right wingers David Davies and Melanie Phillips instead. If that's what the BBC call balance, they're living in a tilted world.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Man U fans

Hearing the Man U fans shout "Freak" every time Peter Crouch went anywhere near the ball reminded me how cheap they are.