Friday, July 11, 2008

Orange Party Hols

The Orange Party is taking a short break but will return in time to watch the SNP storm to victory in the Glasgow East by-election, Brown retiring due to 'ill-health', the New Labour elite kicked out of the Labour Party and a general election before it gets too late. 

But maybe not all your dreams will come true. 

The site was launched just seven weeks ago and since then, visitors have been rising steadily, with a healthy number coming from outside the UK. 

A week's a long time in politics. Seven seems a lifetime.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Neat Proof Exams Have Got Easier

Proof exams really have got easier comes from a neat piece of research today, where 16 year olds were given chemistry questions from the 1960s and later, mixed in with questions from the present day. 

The result was hardly surprising. They failed miserably.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) gave around 2000 youngsters an exam paper that mixed both O-level and GCSE questions from the past fifty years. 

Around 450 UK schools took part in the exam, organised as a competition and the average overall mark was just 25 per cent.

Youngsters scored an average of just 15 per cent on the O-level chemistry questions from the 1960s.

It can be argued that schools teach different things these days and you need a different kind of exam to test this. But wait a minute. This is chemistry. Atoms have been around forever and chemicals get up to the same things now as they did then.

For the past ten years New Labour's warped sense of values has created an education culture where schools have been forced to dumb-down the teaching and create meaningless exams by a government obsessed with targets. 

Never mind the quality of teaching, problem solving-skills and rigourous study, just look at the quantity. Everyone passes, everyone gets a worthless bit of paper and everyone's a winner.

There are just as many bright sparks around today as there were in the past. But the way of manipulating present education policies to suit political targets is damning for the future. Just who will go on to become the future scientists, researchers and inventors? 

Commenting on the results, Dr Richard Pike, chief executive of the RSC, said: "This remains a major issue for universities and employers, who say the country needs better problem solving skills to remain at the forefront of an increasingly competitive world."

Try telling that to schools secretary Balls.


A Rough Guide To H'Price And Howden

Some politicians and the media are trying to drum up interest in today's Haltemprice and Howden by-election. A rough guide to the constituency wouldn't go amiss. Here's one prepared earlier.

Haltemprice and Howden can be shortened to 'Hal&How' if you want it to fit a short headline, or just 'H&H' if you want to bury it. 

It's up 'north, in a place that used to be called Yorkshire. It's made up of two quite separate parts. There's a clue in the name of the constituency. 

Haltemprice doesn't exist. It's just lots of houses pretending to be villages, full of people who are relieved to have escaped the hell-hole of nearby Hull, home to fish and chips, heroin and John Prescott. It can be safely described as the 'leafy suburbs'.

Howden is a sleepy market town surrounded by lots of fields. It can be safely described as 'a sleepy market town'.

People in 'the sleepy market town' of Howden are Yorkshire volke. They can be safely described as 'down to earth', 'blunt speaking', with no time for 'them southerners, who come up here with their fancy talk'. 

People in the 'leafy suburbs' of Haltemprice don't like to be reminded that they originally came from Hull, home to fish and chips, heroin and John Prescott. 

Places to eat and drink:
Entries in Good Food Guide: No listings
Entries in Hotel Guide: No listings
Entries in Good Pub Guide: A couple but they may have already closed down
Entries in Estate Agents windows for 'pubs for sale': Quite a lot
Entries in Good Beer Guide: Anywhere left that sells Theakston's, Black Sheep or Sam Smiths

Getting there: 
By car: North up the M1 and turn right before the motorway runs out at Leeds
By rail: Overnight sleeper from London to Fort William. Then who knows?
By air and sea: London to Amsterdam. Then ferry from Zebrugge to Hull
By private helicopter: London to your pal's estate in Yorkshire
By London newsdesk, TV studio: Google Maps

Places to visit:
The Scottish Highlands, the English Lakes, the Cotswolds, Amsterdam


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Punch Beats Up Judy at PMQs

Pitching a fumbling fool against one of the country's finest public speakers, could only end in disaster. The results were plain to see in the commons during today's prime minister's questions, which had neither a prime minister or any answers to questions. 

Instead it showed up the complacency of New Labour which could only answer questions by harking back to a previous Conservative record over a decade ago! Has anyone told them that was then, this is now?

It was knockabout 'Punch and Judy' politics, as New Labour wannabe prime minister, Harriet Harman, standing in for Brown, could only read from a prepared script, while William Hague, standing in for Cameron, delivered a master-class in political oratory.

Harman tried it on with a childish 'Headcases' jibe on Hague's boyish 18 pint-a-day(sic) beer-drinking habit. 

Easy. "At least I didn't waste any", retorted Hague.

Even the LibDems, Vincent Cable, managed to get in a neat dig about Brown wanting to be "Britain's weight-watcher in chief".

But that was just for starters. Hague followed up with a killer blow to Harman and Brown. 

"Isn't there something supremely ironic about being lectured about food waste by a prime minister who is passed his own sell-by date?" he asked.

"Isn't it yet another example of treating people like fools, of preaching prudence but practising profligacy, and waste - isn't this why the whole country is sick of the prime minister?"

Hague was brutal. "If she wants to be prime minister she should start acting like one," he said.

And from that performance, she certainly failed the test.

BBC 'News' On-line predictably towed the Harman line with a headline that Brown has "true grit". But wasn't John Wayne's real name Marion?


The Iraq Troop Numbers Game

An announcement over UK troops numbers in Iraq, expected soon, should be treated with a pinch of salt. The BBC's Nick Robinson, is reporting, quite correctly, that a timetable for withdrawal may be made by the end of the year, with an announcement possibly later this month. 

Such an announcement is nothing new and is widely known in Westminster, Washington, Baghdad and Basra.

After all, the UN mandate for US and UK forces occupying Iraq, runs out at the end of the year and it wouldn't do to have an illegal invasion followed by an illegal occupation. 

News agency, Reuters is on the ground in Baghdad, not embedded with the troops and their political analysis is quite clear. 

"Iraq's national security adviser on Tuesday (yesterday) said Iraq would not accept any security agreement with the United States unless it included dates for the withdrawal of foreign forces."

Bush needs a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq for his legacy and as the presidential election campaign gets into full swing in the autumn.

Last time Brown made an Iraq troop announcement, he did it by suddenly popping up in Iraq during the election-that-never-was. That announcement turned out to be a lot of hot air. 

As noted here on a number of occasions, Brown faces a tough call to do something about troops in Iraq from both the trade unions who he meets later this month for cash and ahead of September's Labour Party conference. 

But there are strong historic and strategic reasons for keeping a UK military base somewhere near the oil supply routes in southern Iraq. 

There'll be an announcement on troop numbers possibly as soon as next week ahead of Glasgow East, but don't expect an announcement of withdrawals from Iraq, just a vague timetable already set by the Pentagon. 

But Iraq is not the real problem anymore. The real problem is in Afghanistan where escalating troop numbers are turning that into the new Vietnam.

If Brown announced a clear pull-out of UK forces in Iraq, he could be home and dry with the Labour Party, probably the country and could even weather the political storm ahead. But that would take a bold, decisive politician. 


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

G8 Waste Food Mountain Picture Shock!

Brown's hypocritical food waste lecture during the G8 junket was a gift for newspapers and TV. But a photographer should have been round the back of the kitchens like a shot.

Taking pictures of swill bins and food waste is a gift. Pictures sell papers. If you can't get round the back, no worries, here's one prepared earlier.

Security's no problem. If you can sneak a reporter into Buckingham Palace then the summit should have been a doddle. 

TV and newspapers tried, with pictures of G8 leaders sitting down to their multi-course banquet.

The Guardian splashed with a cute picture of a lamb, a scary picture of an eel and a report of the "eight-course, 19-dish dinner prepared by 25 chefs".

So what did happen to all the left-overs? 


Living In Economic Cloud Cuckoo Land

We're living on borrowed time with borrowed money. Now there's confirmation of a looming recession and a £7.5 billion budget black hole. This is an accident waiting to happen after living for a decade in cloud cuckoo land.

Brown was spun as the 'prudent' chancellor. He was nothing of the sort. He helped create and rode on the back of the economic good times, with a false feel-good factor. 

For years, the government propped up an ailing economy by borrowing, keeping public spending off the books and  creating a consumer debt culture. 

A prudent house-keeper would have kept something back in the kitty for a rainy day. Instead this 'prudent' chancellor sold off most of the UK gold reserves at a knock-down price, leaving nothing to fall back on. We were riding along on the crest of a wave of false economic confidence.

Confidence is crucial. Consumer confidence makes everyone feel happy. Confidence in the economy created investment from abroad and placed the City at the centre of word trade. But this has been a false confidence. A confidence trick. 

House prices have been allowed to rocket and the house building industry has grown fat on the back of this. Now, with house prices crashing, there's no wonder house building is being hit. It should not have been allowed to happen in the first place.

For ten years, we've been encouraged to live off 'easy money'. Restrictions on borrowing were relaxed and few credit checks made. Everyone borrowed to prop up their lifestyle. The present credit crunch is a result of this. It's hard for government to accept, as it created the decade of debt culture in the first place.

For a decade the government has lived an illusion, living off borrowed money to prop up policies in education, health and crime. Billions of pounds have been wasted on massive IT projects, huge expensive quangos and flagship publicity projects. Then it didn't matter. The government just borrowed the cash, then fiddled the public account books with smoke and mirrors.

Manufacturing, once the backbone of UK economy, has been deliberately allowed to fall into decline, with the exception of pharmaceuticals, as the government switched to a policy of allowing imported cheap, low quality goods from abroad with dubious working practices. 

Companies were encouraged to cut costs and move manufacturing to China. They were enticed by savings. Now they and the consumers are disillusioned and disappointed by the quality. Cheap food comes from abroad to try to keep down inflation figures.

Public sector workers are demanding bigger pay rises to cope with rising costs. People want more in their pay packets to pay off the crippling loans, credit cards and mortgages and to cope with spiralling costs. 

Basics like milk, eggs, bread, fuel and gas electricity are going through the roof, yet inflation we are told is just  three percent.  Spun with a nifty little device called the Consumer Price Index.  Basically you decide what you want inflation to be and what is bearable in advance, then adjust the statistics with weightings to achieve the result.

We are not well placed to weather the economic storm. The only hope is  to wait for a dose of reality and realistic economic policies.


Kelly Backs Down On Biofuel Ban

A contradictory government-backed report on the use of biofuels has produced a predictably watered-down government response, which will do nothing to halt the UK rise in the use of biofuels, when we should be taking a world lead on the issue. 

The long-awaited Gallagher report, from a panel of government experts at the Renewable Fuels Agency, should have forced a review of UK targets for the use of biofuels in place of petrol and diesel. 

Instead, economic arguments crept into what should have been a scientific report, making it political. 

And that allowed transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, to fudge the issue by suggesting only caution and consultation.

Around the world, forests are being destroyed, cattle driven off the land and crops once grown for food now grown for corn, rapeseed, palm and soya. Here fields of corn and rapeseed are being grown for biofuels. 

But the Gallagher report rejected a moratorium on biofuels because "a moratorium will reduce the ability of the biofuels industry to invest in new technology and makes it significantly more difficult for the potential of biofuels to be realised."

Oxfam has said the rush to develop biofuels has played a "significant" role in the dramatic rise in global food prices. Latin American leaders, in Bolivia and Peru, have told the UN using land for biofuels was putting food out of reach of the poor.

Since April, all petrol and diesel in the UK has had to contain 2.5% of biofuels. 

The US, Brazil and the EU are the main players on the biofuel stage. About half of EU vegetable oils now go towards the production of biodiesel and plant-derived ethanol.

The rising use of biofuels both in the UK and in the world has been noted here on a number of occasions, with a warning that the government will do nothing on this issue.

Kelly's statement came on the day the World Bank president called for reform of biofuel policies in rich countries, urging them to grow more food instead and blaming biofuels for a 75% rise in food prices.

Biofuels are green gold and big business. For the moment, it seems, they're here to stay.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Brown's Hypocrisy Over Wasted Food

Brown's plea to the public to stop wasting food in a bid to end rising food costs, has a shallow and arrogant ring to it, as he jets off for a luxury G8 summit in Japan, where world leaders are meeting to discuss amongst other thing - world poverty. 

The same world leaders will have wasted millions of pounds getting there, millions of pounds on luxury accommodation and millions of pound achieving absolutely nothing after the couple of days junket. 

And that's from the same government that's wasted billions of pounds of our cash on huge bureaucratic quangos, wasted billions of pounds on failed IT systems that just end up as 'gold plated cock-ups' and wasted billions of pounds on useless projects in education, health and crime just to try to prop up failed policies. 

And the same government that's just voted to allow its own MPs to waste millions of pounds of our cash on expenses, to live in the lap of luxury.

Brown should get his own house in order first, before lecturing other people on waste.

Picture: Channel 4/Beau Bo D'Or


Brown Needs White Rabbit Or White Flag

If Brown wants to survive he's going to have to do something big and something real. Something which captures the public's imagination and turns public opinion. Like a magician, he needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat, or give up. 

If Brown doesn't do this soon, ahead of the Glasgow East by-election, he might as well back up his box of tricks and go home. 

Cameron's conservatives are having it too easy. They are reacting to Big Issues as they come up, unfolding hard policies slowly to a tightly controlled pre-election grid. The LibDems are going nowhere under Euro-boy Clegg. 

True Labour back-bench MPs are starting to pull their own rabbits out of the hat and maybe put their hats in the ring. 

Frank Field's comments in the Daily Telegraph read like a manifesto and are remarkably similar in tone if not content to a lament by John McDonnell in the Guardian recently.

John Cruddas put forward his white rabbits in yesterday's Sunday Mirror, as "a last chance to revive (Brown's) Government". 

At the moment Brown and the New Labour elite are just clinging on to power. A long-awaited cabinet resuffle won't help. Just the same old faces - but younger. 

After a decade, the New Labour Project is coming to an end and voters can see through the sham. Coming up with wasteful white elephants or just sticking green labels on things won't help. 

Brown was part of, but not one of the main architects of, the New Labour Project. 

He started out his premiership with a white rabbit when he scrapped the supercasino plan. But that was all. 

Brown still has time to pull another white rabbit out of the hat. He could call time on New Labour and pick up just one of the ideas from Field, McDonnell or Cruddas. There are plenty of white rabbits to choose from. 


Sunday, July 06, 2008

G8 Will Turn Blind Eye To World Poverty

The world's G8 leaders may be gathering in Japan for a summit and protesters gathering, but nothing will be done about one of the main causes of world food poverty, biofuels. The green gold leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Two Latin American leaders, not part of the powerful G8 elite, have already issued warnings about the effects of biofuel production on food supplies.

Speaking at the UN, Bolivian President Evo Morales said growing crops for biofuels harmed the world's most impoverished people. And President Alan Garcia of Peru said using land for biofuels was putting food out of reach for the poor.

Since April, all petrol and diesel in the UK has had to contain 2.5% of biofuels, with a 2010 target of 5%. Oxfam is calling for this target to be scrapped.

Our cars are being driven by greed and the big business of biofuels is forcing millions of people into poverty. Around the world, forests are being destroyed, cattle driven off the land and crops once grown for food now grown for corn, rapeseed, palm and soya.

Here in the UK and more notably in the US, fields of corn and rapeseed are being grown for biofuels. Everyone's a winner except the environment and the starving people.

The government's Gallagher report, backed up by a report from Oxfam, is expected to show the rush to develop biofuels has played a "significant" role in the dramatic rise in global food prices, which has left millions of people without enough to eat.

The reports should forced a review of British and EU targets for the use of biofuels in place of petrol and diesel but it won't.

Ethanol and biodiesel derived from vegetable oil were a central plank of Brown's 'green' strategy. And the biofuel plan is well in place.

The US, Brazil and the EU are the main players on the biofuel stage. The EU is contemplating a 10% target by 2020. About half of EU vegetable oils now go towards the production of biodiesel and plant-derived ethanol.

The G8 consists of leaders from the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. What will they and our 'leader' Brown do about biofuels? Nothing.


Has Blair Joined Simpson's Stonecutters?

Another Sunday, another free puff for Blair in Murdoch's Sunday Times. This couple are taking over the world. It's a Stonecutter's Club conspiracy.

Last Sunday, Blair popped up in the news section doing an 'Al Gore' on global warming. 

Today's he's all smiles on the front page of the Sunday Times Magazine. Inside he's talking about his Middle East Peace Misson, along with lots more pictures of a smiling Tony doing everything except kissing babies. 

Next week? Well, there's always the Style magazine.

The comeback kid has been busy spreading himself around recently, making, well, a come-back, thanks to his old pal Rupert Murdoch. All part of Blair's bid for the new EU Presidency.

Blair was spotted only the other week, sucking up to Murdoch and Bush for their breakfast meeting in London. 

Are they plotting to take over the world?

Maybe, they are all part of the Simpson's Stonecutters Club conspiracy.


Afghanistan Is The New Vietnam

The US and UK invasion of Iraq came with a warning that it could turn into the new Vietnam. But the new Vietnam is happening now in Afghanistan and the parallels are deeply disturbing.

The BBC reports US-led aircraft and helicopter strikes in Afghanistan have killed scores of civilians. For the first time, Bush has been heckled by anti-war protestors during a 4th of July speech. It's Vietnam all over again.

There are no sudden changes in fighting tactics as some politicians and military chiefs would spin. What is happening in Afghanistan is just harsh reality, as weak spots in military strategy and equipment are probed.

Remote-controlled roadside bombs and booby-traps now target ill-equipped and ill-armed vehicles and pick off the vulnerable. That throwback to the tactics of the Vietcong is set to continue and escalate with bloody consequences.

Political commentators and some MPs are starting to openly question what we are doing in Afghanistan and whether we should pull out now before being sucked in further to a bloody, hopeless unwinnable war.

Afghanistan is no Iraq. There aerial bombardment was followed by a huge tank invasion, well-rehearsed and practised on the plains of Europe, against an identifiable state army, followed by urban street-fighting.

Afghans can swap allegiancies to suit the circumstances. Like the Vietcong, this is an 'invisible' enemy, which strikes and then melts into the background.

As in Vietnam, tanks are useless in the terrain, so what's left is target bombing and special forces patrols and elite forces, as noted in the Independent, operating from lightly defended forward bases. Like Vietnam, they become an easy target to be picked off.

And like Vietnam, helicopter gun-ships come into their own, to force out the 'enemy' and give logistic support. The US has thousands in Afghanistan, the UK just a handful.

In Vietnam, the bombing was aimed at stripping the jungle to force out the Vietcong. In Afghanistan, it's proving more difficult to blow up the side of a mountain.

In Vietnam, it was the disruption of the rice crops, grown for food, which helped turn the people against the US. In Afghanistan it's the poppy fields, grown for hard cash.

So, as in Vietnam, the focus switches to try to hit the supply routes. But Vietnam had weak and easily infiltrated countries surrounding it. And the Ho Chi Minh supply trail in Vietnam, although well-hidden was well-known.

Like Vietnam, in Afghanistan, there are powerful tribal loyalties, a strong culture and centuries of tradition of non-urban guerilla warfare.

Arms and weapons may come from powerful Iran, but the 'enemy' come from the south and transcends the meaningless borders between Afghanistan and the modern state of Pakistan. People with those tribal loyalties and centuries of tradition fighting invaders, don't recognise an artificial border drawn on a map.

It took a long time for the US to come round to the harsh reality that the Vietnam War could never be won. Here in the UK and in the US politicians should heed that lesson now.

In the end, the US wasn't defeated by the military might of the north Vietnamese or the Vietcong. They were defeated at home, when, night after night, the endless parade of boxes and body bags on TV, finally turned public opinion.

History often comes round to repeat itself. It's happening now in Afghanistan.

Picture: Combat weary US soldiers in Vietnam prepare to remove the body of a fallen comrade.