Thursday 28th September 2006
Ford chief supports Green Tax call
There was backing today for the Liberal Democrat Green Tax Switch type changes to car taxation from an usual quarter Lewis Booth, executive vice-president of Ford in Europe and the Premier Automotive Group, in saying there should be incentives for people to buy less polluting vehicles, he said :-
"There needs to be systems in place to encourage car buyers to make greener choices"
The quote comes from an article from today's Financial Times by John Pullin entitled 'Emissions: Saving the planet has a price that buyers are reluctant to pay' which highlights the fact that for market forces to work correctly to improve engine and car design to reduce emissions there needs to be a change in the taxation system.
Such a change in the 1980's brought about a change in the use from leaded to unleaded fuel and it is now that a real change in vehicle exercise duty based on emission levels would effect a change in the car buying market. At present the differential is little more than one tank of petrol for the most polluting cars, whereas if it were a couple of thousand pounds that would make owners of such vehicles think about their car buying a little harder, as well as, making manufacturers think how they could avoid this extra charge and so make their product more attractive in the marketpalace.
Monday 25th September 2006
A Toxic Presentation
Today it was both the Finance and Personal committee meeting and the Full Governors meeting at Townhill Infants School. At the Budget meeting we battled with the normal problem would the budget balance out at the end of the year and the answer was maybe by about a couple of hundred pounds. The basic problem is the way government fund schools it is on a per pupil basis, so fewer pupils equals less cash. However the only costs that vary on a per pupil basis are the amount of books, paper, paint etc that they use, the remaining costs stay the same and they are by far the greatest proportional of the schools costs about 95%. Schools should be funded based on the level of service they are required to provided i.e. the number of teachers required for maximum entry size of the school plus a very small amount only 5% of the total to cover the per pupil costs.
At the Full Governors meeting there were the normal reports from the Headteacher and the various sub-committees. This was followed by a very good presentation by the deputy head on a research done by Sue Palmer. She is a former headteacher who has helped to develop many programs to improve the teaching of literacy teaching in schools. Her latest publication is a book called 'Toxic Childhood' in which she shows how the huge technological and cultural changes that have taken place the last 25 years have affected the lives of children and the way they grow up. She highlights 10 areas where these effects are not always positive and how this leads to problems later in life. The ten areas are :-
- diet - Food for thought
- exercise - Out to play
- sleep - Time for bed
- communication - It's good to talk
- family - We are Family
- childcare - Who's looking after the children
- education - Best days of their lives
- marketing/peer pressure - The word on the street
- technology - The electronic village
- parenting - Manners maketh man
The findings in the book are very profound and have implications not just in the way governments shape family policies not also in the way parents raise children. There is much that both can do to improve the situation and prevent problems occurring in childhood that lead in further problems later in life.
Sunday 24th September 2006
Cricket and Golf success
Another great sporting day first for us in West End with our local cricket team Hampshire cricket club winning by 151 runs in the final Pro40 match of the season. The victory was setup by a brilliant 158 from local lad Chris Benham off just 130 balls. This left Glamorgan chasing a target of 266 at 6.65 runs per over off quality bowlers like Shane Warne, which was never going to be easy and so it proved. They were all out for just a 114 in 25.2 overs. Well done Hampshire and welcome back to division one of the Pro40 league.
And finally the day was rounded off by a quite magnificent win in the Ryder Cup by the European team. Led superbly by Ian Woosnam the team completed an 18œ to 9œ point win over the USA and showed their support for Breast Cancer Awareness by wearing pink jackets to the closing ceremony. The team's support follows the death six weeks ago of Ryder Cup team member Darren Clarke's wife from breast cancer.
Saturday 23rd September 2006
Burley success in Burnley
Brilliant day for any Saints fan like me with the third league win in a row, this time with an excellent 3-2 away win over Burnley. This was particular good as they came from behind twice to win with 2 goals from Grzegorz Rasiak and one from Rudolf Skacel. This is a great turn around from last season when too often they snatched a draw from the jaws of victory.
I just hope they can keep this good form up.
Tuesday 19th September 2006
Liberal Democrat conference day 3 - Green Tax Switch turned on
Today was billed by some in the media as the crunch day for Sir Ming Campbell. In reality in was an important day for Liberal Democrat policy making, would the great Green Tax Switch be switched on or turned off by conference.
The debate in the conference hall was good on both sides of the main argument of whether or not to change the Lib Dem commitment to a top rate of tax of 50%. This was a debate the like of which you will not see in the other two main parties, senior figures in party arguing for their point of view and actually allowing the party members to decide on the policy in a democratic vote.
The decision in the end was to drop the 50% tax and concentrate on blocking tax loopholes for the wealthy and high earners, cutting income tax to benefit 90% of households and to switch to cutting pollution by taxed it. However overall this tax structure will not increase taxation levels it just switches it from people's income to pollution. The message is clear tax pollution not people.
The theme of real action on the environment was brought into sharp focus today, after the Green Tax Switch was turned on the next motion dealt with the serious subject of keeping the lights on, but this was not until lunch was taken.
The plan is to keep the lights on whilst at the same time reducing pollution. The policy is to do this by increasing dramatically the use of microgeneration renewable technology, this is the use of solar panels, ground heat pumps, wind turbines and so on for everyone's home. This would be combined with the use of carbon capture technology to reduce the emissions from the existing centralised fossil fuel power plants.
Best all nuclear power use would be cut out completely.
Monday 18th September 2006
Liberal Democrat conference day 2
It is Liberal Democrat conference day two and the official opening by the Mayor of Brighton & Hove, but first I attended a good fringe meeting on building local homes for local people. This meeting involved a good presentation by South Shropshire Liberal Democrats on how they had managed to :-
- get 50% of the new build homes as affordable homes
- keep affordable homes affordable for future owners using equity mortgages
- get the affordable houses built to high environmental standards with high insulation, solar heating and active glazing
After the official opening of the conference there was a good speech by Lib Dem Shadow Foreign Michael Moore pointing the appalling foreign policy mistakes of this government, the poodle like relationship of Blair to Bush and the staggering drop in Britain's standing in the world.
The next item on the agenda was a policy motion to improve family life and to give Britain's children a brighter future. The Labour government has partially made a start in this policy area, however its measures are too often short term or don't go far enough to really help. The proposed actions will add to existing policy in this area and will actually help.
The morning was rounded off by Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Nick Clegg giving a speech and an excellent description of why at heart this country is a Liberal one and how only Liberal Democrat values can tackle the problems of crime and terrorism that we face.
After very nice lunch at a good Italian restaurant with my wife it was time for another policy debate. This time the subject was independent living and how more could be done to help people with a disability to live an independent life. One of the main calls was for each local authority to have a user led centre for independent living to assist people with a disability to lead full and rewarding lives. Having visited the rehabilitation centre Peartree House in Southampton and met a number of people through my Duke of Edinburgh's Award I fully supported to motion, as did all the speakers who spoke from personal experience of living with their own disability problems.
Next up was a question and answer for Sir Ming Campbell this was a good opportunity to learn more about the man that now leads the Liberal Democrats after successful careers in politics, the law and athletics and who started life in a Glasgow tenement flat during the 2nd World War.
After the question and answer session it was time to meet the other Eastleigh delegates at conference and swap conference experiences, before I went back to the hall for my final policy debate of the day. This one was on rape convictions and the very poor conviction rate of 5% which is significantly lower than anywhere else in Europe, US, Canada or Australia. We heard from experienced legal people as well as rape victims. The main points of this important policy motion are :-
- Specially trained prosecutors for rape cases who would be best equipped to counter the perpetuated myth that the victim was 'asking for it'.
- An expansion in the number of Sexual Assault Referral Centres from the very low about 14 at present.
- Rape victims to be examined only by properly qualified forensic specialists, who are trained in examining rape victims.
- A national rape helpline to be established.
- Special awareness training and education for police officers and health and social care professionals to support male victims of rape.
- The Liberal Democrats to oppose the Sentencing Guidelines Council's proposals to allow perpetrators of rape to avoid jail if they show remorse.
- A change in the law to prohibit the media from identifying anyone, directly or indirectly, about whom a complaint of rape has been made, until such time as they have been convicted.
After the main business of the day there was only one more event I wished to attend and this was the evening fringe entitled "How do Liberal Democrats move closer to power ?" It was hosted by The Independent whose Steve Richards chaired the meeting and it featured Simon Hughes, Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Lord Chris Rennard.
At the meeting all four speaker gave good speeches, which to sum up said just keep going as we are because increasingly the public see us as credible party of power and once that is a widely held view all poll evidence is that the real size of Liberal Democrat vote is over 40%.
After the speeches it was over to questions from the floor in a very large and packed hotel ballroom. And I actuelly got to ask a question which was "Why do the media still treat the Conservative party as is credible national party when in reality they are only a regional party of the south and south east of England ?"
The question caused much discussion and the general agreement that it was because much of the media live and work in the south east and view the politics in Britain from within the Westminster political bubble.
Nick Clegg MP from Sheffield made the point that it was if the train from Sheffield had transported not just to London but to an entirely different planet. The fight in Sheffield and across most the North of England is a striaght one between Labour and Liberal Democrats, with Tories not even on the playing field.
After the meeting I checked out the story for Sheffield City Council and the scores on the doors read - 44 Labour, 35 Liberal Democrat, 2 Conservative, 2 Green Party and 1 Independant certainly not the level of support of a party who as a real chance of winning power in the country.
And finally my view on politcal life in Britain is simply this - There are three strands to British political life Conservatism, Socialism and Liberalism. The greatest of these by far is Liberalism only it mirrors the innate British sense of fair play, support for the underdog and the instinctive tolerance with which we approach life.
Sunday 17th September 2006
Liberal Democrat conference day 1
Well today it is the start of the Liberal Democrat Autumn conference and this time it is sunny Brighton. The first day at the autumn conference is mainly fringe meetings where new policy green papers are discussed with the main hall hearing party reports from various groups and rule changes are made to the way the party is managed.
In the first of these I decided to join in the "Inequality, poverty and the lack of opportunity" discussion. The problems to tackle in this area are vast but a good green paper always aids and concentrates the mind on the issues to solve. It does this by outlining the main problems and asking poignant questions. The main issue for a number of aspects here was how to solve the problem of correctly organising the benefit and tax system so that is helps people and does not hinder them. The working party on the issue including David Laws the Shadow minister for Work and Pensions found the discussion good and noted down many views of those present who had answers to questions. Then throughout the week they will build on these ideas at other fringe events and then come back to the next conference with a white policy paper for conference approval.
In the Liberal Democrats policy is only decided upon after fully discussion with the membership and approval by delegates at conference. We are not just Democrats by name but also in our nature and our inner working.
The afternoon session on party reports and rule changes is normally not the most exciting one however this year it did have a high point. The leadership election rules were up for change after the experiences of earlier in the year. The main decision was that leadership candidates would in future be given the membership contact details to enable full canvassing to take place. This was done after some good debate and against the HQ view as proposed by Lord Chris Rennard but natural instinct of the membership to have a full democratic process won through.
The days end came with the traditional conference rally and of course with this year's very green conference theme the rally was "The Green Tax Switch Rally". There were excellent speeches by Chris Huhne (Lib Dem Shadow Environment secretary), Juliet Davenport (Chief Executive, Good Energy), George Monbiot (Environmental journalist, author and academic), and of course Sir Ming Campbell (Lib Dem Leader). All emphasised the problem of "Climate Change" is real and that the time for action is now.
And action means everyone we have to change our behaviour to affect Climate Change. One of the main ways to affect this change is to make environmentally bad things more expensive and environmentally good things cheaper. This is the aim of the Liberal Democrats great Green Tax Switch, which will switch taxation from income to environmentally bad things in such a large way it will affect behaviour.
And finally a strange thing happened on the media reporting of this event. It was report that Ming was force to speak at the event to bolster up his plans for the Green Tax Switch. This over looks two facts, firstly the leader always speaks at this rally and the invites to it were sent out months go, and secondly the leader does not solely make party policy in the Liberal Democrats. Policy ideas come from all party members and the Green Tax Switch origins lie in Chris Huhne's leadership campaign !!
Friday 15th September 2006
Graffiti Problem at church
The problem of the today was a very tricky one at Central Baptist Church in Southampton. Several months ago there was a huge out cry from the local residents when the church had a local arts group paint the car park wall. The idea was that people who paint graffiti would not paint over the picture and that worked the wall was not painted on. However the problem was the local residents thought the graffiti styled artwork was as bad in the graffiti it was trying to replace.
I was asked to chair a meeting between the neighbours, the church and the arts group to try and come to a resolution of the problem. The meeting started with the normal presentation of the problem by the church and a possible way forward by the arts group. This was followed by the equally normal venting of anger by the local residents. There then followed a good debate on the problem where a number of possible solutions were discussed including regular over painting with a plain colour; painting with a anti-graffiti paint and regular washing off; painting a more artistic styled artwork over the wall.
In the ending the idea that found general agreement was to plant some kind of climbing plant against the wall and for the art group to paint some nature scene on the wall that would merge in with the climbing plant as it grew over the wall. The local residents also agreed to help with the maintenance of the plants and to become part of a liaison group to that the church could discuss the art design with prior to the undertaking of the painting.
Local problem and difficulties can mostly be overcome by roundtable and open discussions providing that both parties have the same aims, in case the remove of graffiti from the area. Lets hope this cooperation is successful and area is kept graffiti free.
Thursday 14th September 2006
Councillor Allowances a difficult problem
Today was a full council meeting at Eastleigh Borough Council and the tricky issue councillor allowances or pay. As with all local councillors we are put in the difficult position of having to decide are own rates of pay. So to make this difficult task easier an independent panel examines the tasks that councillors in Eastleigh perform and compares that with similar neighbouring councils. This is a very sane and sensible way to do things and in the meeting both and Liberal Democrat and Labour Groups agreed with this.
However some in the Conservative group thought they would play small minded political games and say the pay rise should be linked to the council tax rise. At first glance appears to be a good idea, because as a Liberal Democrat led authority we have kept the council tax rise to 1% below inflation for the last three years and plan to so for the next three too.
On slightly more thought than the movers of the motion gave their proposal, it would also give councillors an incentive to increase council tax. I could not think of a worst idea than rewarding councillors for setting high council tax rises and penalising them for setting low council increases. I think that councillors should like the council staff receive fair recompense for the task they perform and to me it is obvious that the only an independent panel can review and determine rates.
After the main allowances as determined by the panel were approved and the daft Conservative amendment thrown out (it didn't even get the full support of the Conservative group!). There was some good news to finish the evening, at long last the combined heat and power plant has been signed off. This very efficient energy system will produce both heat and power for the Fleming Park Leisure centre and heating for the civic offices. It also has the potential to supply near by businesses with heat and power as well.
And finally it was also report that the recycling rate in the borough has now hit new highs reaching a level of 39% in July.
Monday 11th September 2006
9/11 Five years on
Today is of course a day to reflect on the events of 5 years ago and the bombing of the world trade centre. Then after the attack the world was united against Al-Qaeda and those who support them. However in the 5 years since the so called "War on Terror" has been prosecuted poorly. The US and Britain broke the united front by invading Iraq and there has been a lack of real support for the peace process in the Israeli / Palestinian conflict.
This break in the united front has given Al-Qaeda the opportunity to recruit new members to their cause by saying look the US and Britain not help solve the problem of Muslim people in Palestine they are only interested in the oil that Iraq has. It may be a simple message but to the people it is aimed at it can be a very effective recruiting tool. If the "War on Terror" is to be won it will mean breaking down the barriers that have been put up between the Muslim world and the Western world. This means removing all those tools which are use as recruitment aids, for example:
- treating prisoners of this "War on Terror" with normal due legal process, for example close the Guantánamo Bay prison.
- starting final settlement talks between the Israelis government and Palestinian authority. The root cause of all Muslim and non-Muslim conflict must be addressed.
- treating civilians in combat zones with the utmost respect. All forces must try to convince the local population that they are there to help them.
- working to improve the everyday lives of people in combat zones. This is done by improving the infrastructure not destroying it as Israel has done in Lebanon recently. Also the economic situation of people must be improved of people in areas like the West Bank, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. This is because unemployment is often blamed on the West and used as a recuiting tool by the extreme groups. Better economic prospects can be acheived by increasing their ability to trade with us and also by taking other simple measures, for example if we wish to really nail things down all reconstruction work in Iraq should be done by Iraqi firms.
- Have an even handed treatment of countries particularly in conflict situations i.e. between Israel and Hezbollah saying both sides were in the wrong and the that both should cease their actions.
All these actions and similar ones would undermine Al-Qaeda's ability to recruit people to their cause and eventually it is this that will beat a franchised terror organisation like Al-Qaeda. There will always be fanatical people however if they have no support then ultimately they will have no effect.
In short to beat unjust terrorist actions you must attack injustice in the world that they feed on and twist to meet their own crazed ideology.
Friday 8th September 2006
A good start and finish
A good start to the day … Sainsbury's announced they are to cut plastic from packaging in what they call an 'environmental revolution' they are putting 500 types of their own brand food, from ready meals to organics, in compostable packaging. Sainsbury's of course sell thousands of items however even this small start will save 4,010 thousand tonnes of fossil fuel (3,550 tonnes of plastic) from Sainsbury's output alone every year, as well as reducing rubbish collected for landfill.
The sad thing is the government is still doing nothing to really improve packaging in this country just small per item charge on non-recyclable or non-compostable packaging would dramatically change the situation. This does work in other countries and would work here. In Ireland the plastic bag charge reduced bag use by over 90% almost overnight and in Germany where the tax changes in a country of 80 million people even force the mighty McDonalds to change the packaging across Europe from polystyrene to waxed cardboard.
Strange that Gordon Brown has missed the trick to raise taxation in this method, but then again this does sum up this Governments story which is one of great promise and great opportunity resulting in little real follow through or action.
And finally a good finish to the day… England win a one day game, after scored Pakistan 235 for 8 England cruised to victory at Trent Bridge with 237 losing only 2 wickets in the process. Things did look a bit dodgy at times with Shahid Afridi hitting 23 from 27 balls, Abdul Razzaq blasting 75 from 72 balls and with 47 coming from the last two overs. However captain Andrew Strauss (78) and Ian Bell (86 not out) lead the side to a comfortable win with Hampshire man Kevin Pietersen (41 not out) hitting the winning boundary.
Thursday 7th September 2006
Bush scores yet another own goal
So at last George Bush has lifted of the veil of secrecy on the existence of a CIA prison network but only after many months of denial from US and European government authorities and said the mastermind of the September 11 2001 terror attacks and other high-value detainees had been transferred to Guantánamo Bay. Baroness Sarah Ludford, Vice-chair of the European Parliament's committee on extraordinary rendition, commented:
"Bush exposes not only his own previous lies. He also exposes to ridicule those government leaders in Europe who dismissed as unfounded our fears about 'extraordinary rendition'."
How can we fight the extreme Jihadist terrorists, if a close British ally like the US treats prisoners in an illegal fashion and in doing so hands more propaganda ammunition to the Jihadist groups to recruit people. It is not possible to beat a terrorist organisation through the gun alone you must also remove any genuinely just grounds they have to gain support.
In this case, prisoners should either be treated as prisoners of war or treated as people who have performed a criminal act. Surely the mastermind of the 11th September 2001 terror attacks can be put on trial and if guilty imprisoned in the same way any other mass murderer would be.
Wednesday 6th September 2006
Good news on the football field
At last good news for Britain an England win 1-0 in Macedonia, Scotland win 2 -1 in Lithuania, Northern Ireland win 3-2 against Spain, plus good old Theo Walcott scored for the England U21 match in a win against the Swiss. And on top of all that it is the beginning of the end of Tony Blair's stay in number 10. The slight problem is it may not be the end of new Labour spin and the start of real action to tackle the problems of climate change, NHS, schools, terrorism, crime on our streets etc.
Tuesday 5th September 2006
And now they talk !!
Today UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says Israel and Hezbollah have accepted his offer to mediate in the dispute over two captured Israeli soldiers. This is something that could have been done weeks ago and that could have saved 100's of lives and prevented the damage to the infrastructure in Lebanon. Governments like Israel should really only use force as a last not first resort. The real danger of the situation as it now is that Israel has only succeeded in strengthening a radical group like Hezbollah and has destabilised the government in Lebanon which in turn could lead to Hezbollah winning at the next set of elections in Lebanon. Just as similar action in the West bank by Israel has led to another radical group, Hamas, winning elections there. Let's hope that the UN mediation and the UN peacemaking force can improve the situation.
Monday 4th September 2006
HEWEB decides on improvements for West End
Today it is back to school today for the kids and back to council meetings for me. It was the Hedge End, West End and Botley Local Area Committee (HEWEB LAC). For West End I voted for -
- £6,500 to develop the Walking and Cycling Incentive Scheme at schools in the area, including St James, West End
- a Bus Shelter Installation and Maintenance Policy, in order to formalise existing good practice and clarify maintenance and cleansing regimes on shelters owned by the Borough Council
- the installation and upgrading of lighting at Hedgerow Walk, West End - this pedestrian footpath is a key link within the Townhill Farm estate and recent reports of anti social behaviour have highlighted the need for lighting improvements to this key footpath route. This will be done with a 5 metre column to be installed at the junction of Hedgerow Walk. This £1,600 scheme will attract a 50% contribution from the County Council's community safety initiative scheme and rest will be paid for by Eastleigh Borough Council.
- the Townhill Farm Community Centre and its assets to be directly managed by West End Parish Council, if the Townhill Farm Community Association votes to dissolve itself at an Extraordinary General Meeting on 14 September 2006. This is so the users of the excellent facility can continue to use it.
- £5,893 to improve the facilities for visitors to Itchen Valley Country Park, this work includes New Metal Barriers in High Hill Field, Extend trail network in High Wood Resurfacing main entrance footpath and an additional "springer" for Highwood Barn play area