Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Postal Vote Fraud Allegations

The BBC reports that Conservative MP for Shrewsbury Daniel Kawczynski has used Parliamentary privilege to allege that Labour councillors (including his opponent at the next General Election) who work at the local sorting office are using their "position to manipulate postal voting".

I don't know if this is true or not, I can imagine that it may be. People will do stupid things where elections and postal votes are concerned - people from all parties have been found guilty of such practices, and corruption isn't confined to any particular party so just as I can see a Labour member who works in a sorting office breaking the law, I can also see Conservatives and Lib Dem members doing exactly the same thing.

My concern with this story isn't the alleged fraud - although serious - it's the use of electoral fraud as a political point scoring tool. If Mr Kawczynski is truly concerned about this the place to bring it up is with the police not with MPs using parliamentary privilege. If he doesn't have evidence and is only working on the assumption that rumours he is hearing are true, the very least he should do is have a confidential chat with the sorting office manager or regional Royal Mail manager.

I happily admit to being a total geek about election law - if we cannot respect the rules and laws which govern our democratic processes then we cannot call ourselves a democracy. Breaches of electoral law are not minor offences, they are serious attacks on our democracy no matter how "small" they seem. One of the things that annoyed me most when I worked in politics was the blatant breaches of the law by smaller parties and independent candidates who thought the law didn't apply to them - only the three large parties. Electoral law is, for the most part, simply common sense - it's actually not difficult to adhere to (although it can be a pain in the neck to adhere to the spending limits in the heat of a campaign).

Mr Kawcynski owes his electorate and the democratic process more than scoring cheap points using potential breaches of the law. If he has evidence of a crime being committed he should go to the police, if he has strong suspicions but no evidence he should still go to the police and the postal authorities. Everyone who is involved in politics has a duty to protect our democracy - not to use it for sensational headlines.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Idiot Personality Tests

Wow! Just how wrong can one test be? It must be because I answered that the ink-blot looked like an ink-blot to me! And that the idiots in the painted faces and hoodies just looked stupid.

I won't link to it because it was just so wrong - only one was even close to being right. And that I'll leave to you to guess.....

Personality test v3.0
Developed and programmed by the Cleveleys institute of higher learning (C)

RESULT for current user
February 23, 2007
You are- Beta Seven

You are a natural extrovert with manic tendancies.
You never look to others for support.
You are the sort of person who can enjoy solitude, but thrives in a relationship.
You often look back to your childhood as a time when you were unhappy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

John Gummer is Utterly Adorable

I'm having a couple of weeks off work and am lounging about at home at the moment with BBC Parliament on in the background. There is currently a debate on the "planning-gain supplement bill". I have no idea what it's about (nor do I particularly care) however John Gummer is making his contribution to the debate. I don't understand what the hell he is saying but he is exceptionally entertaining and quite adorable - particularly his birthday party analogy. When Hansard reports this speech I do hope it conveys the quite barking delights of John Gummer's speech.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Help Wanted

My friend Alan needs help! He (for reasons I am too scared to ask) would like to get hold of a copy of Norman Tebbit's 1981 Conservative conference speech - you know the "on their bikes one"

If you know where he can get this please let me know.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

In response to Paul Burgin

Paul Burgin of Mars Hill has posted a criticism of Mike Penning for his demand that speed cameras be axed. I intended to post a reply on his blog, but it became it a bit of a rant, so my response to Paul is below.

First of all the Early Day Motion which Mike Penning has tabled is actually very reasonably worded - this is not a crazy suggestion that all speed cameras be ripped up, rather an acknowledgment that speed cameras may not be the answer and that the government should review all locations and where they do not improve road safety they should be removed. It isn't a crazy right wing plot.

Part of the problem with speed cameras is that there is a perception that they don't help to reduce accidents and are used merely as cash cows for the Treasury. Why, for example, is the money raised by speed cameras not invested in road safety campaigns or road improvements?

As a driver who has been known to drive very slightly above the speed limit very rarely (!) I actually find the flashing signs which monitor your speed and flash the limit if you are exceeding it far more effective at making me think about my speed. As usual the first port of call is taxation!

The current speed limits are completely irrelevant to today's society and transportation - more flexible speed limits are required with variations on fines etc - exceeding the speed limit by 5mph outside a school is far more dangerous than exceeding it by 10mph on a clear motorway.
The speed limit on motorways should be raised and have variations depending on the weather - again someone driving at 65mph on the motorway in the pouring rain is much more dangerous than someone driving at 80mph on a clear day.

Speed cameras are blunt instruments which cannot solve road safety problems. I would much prefer investment in cameras which monitor tail-gating or police patrols which checked quality of driving rather than speed.

Speed cameras don't stop speeding -they stop speeding for the small patch of road that they cover; invariably causing sudden braking and a disruption to the flow of traffic.

This is not an apology post for bad, fast or dangerous driving - just a recognition that speed cameras are not the answer.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

In defence of the American pilots

The news for the past couple of days has been dominated by the video and transcript of the "friendly fire" incident and the sad death of Lance Corporal Matty Hull. The video is tough viewing and must have been a nightmare for L/Cpl's widow to watch.

Much of the coverage has focused on the mistakes made by the pilots with the Sun calling them "imbeciles", and their supposed gung-ho attitude. I can't comment on that. I'm not an expert on US military operations, nor I imagine are journalists from the Sun.

I didn't come away from the video with a sense of gung-ho cowboy pilots desperate to kill hundreds of people - least of all allies. On at least two occasions they ask if there are friendlies in the area, they highlight several times that there are orange markers on the vehicles on the ground - I can't tell and wouldn't like to guess whether they are convincing themselves that the vehicles are hostile (as the Guardian insists) or whether they are looking for confirmation that they are not.

My impression was of two pilots doing a difficult job under horrendous circumstances, wanting to stop enemy combatants As is the case during war. Pilots who weren't professionals but National Guardsmen on their first tour of duty and who had never seen combat before.

To me the most moving aspect of the tape wasn't the bombing of the convoy it was the silence after the pilots were told they had hit a friendly convoy. This silence speaks a million words that muck-raking journalists refuse to hear - sorrow, guilt, horror, despair are all there. And when the pilots swear it's not the tough guy swearing of a Hollywood film, it's the desperation of two men who have carried out a deadly attack on their allies.

Perhaps there should be reviews into procedures on how allies identify one another, perhaps consideration should be given to whether reservists should fly sorties unaccompanied. I don't know - I'm not an expert. What I do know is that mistakes - dreadful, tragic, incomprehensible mistakes are made.

The two American pilots, who must live with the guilt of their actions every day, should not be made scape-goats for any deficiencies in the system nor should opponents of the war (myself included) use these two men as a convenient stick to beat the UK and US governments with. They, and L/Cpl Hull, deserve better.

In Defiance

Syns be damned.

There is no way I am living in this cold weather without hot chocolate

Monday, February 05, 2007

Just Fair - An Animation from the Refugee Council

The Refugee Council has produced this animation illustrating some of the terrible circumstances in which asylum seekers who have had their application turned down find themselves. I found it interesting and hope you do too.

The Refugee Council would like to use this animation to raise awareness of asylum issues outside the sector. If you find the animation interesting, why not pass it on to friends and family?

View the animation on

Why I Hope Tony Blair is Innocent

First of all just let me say - I can't stand Tony Blair. I think he's arrogant, smug, is destroying civil liberties in this country and is the most appalling whore around "celebrities" (see the dreadful Cool Britannia phenomenom for proof).

I would also be lying if I didn't feel a little bit of Schadenfreude at Labour's current problems. I remember the hell it was to be a member of the Conservative Party in the mid 90s. I saw people that I knew and cared about having their lives pulled apart in the tabloids. I saw the impact this had on their families, extended families and friends. It was a horrendous time. I also saw members of the Labour Party gloat quite hideously over people's personal misfortunes. It showed the horrible side of politics and the Labour Party and there is a part of me that feels a certain justifiable vindictiveness. And sympathy for those good, hard working members of the Labour Party who are working hard in their communities and are despairing at the antics of their party leaders. I've been there. It's tough.

Having said all that, I hope Tony Blair and his advisors are innocent in the Cash for Honours debacle. Not because I like Blair or because I want to see the Labour Party have an easy ride. I just don't want politics in Britain to have sunk to this level.

I think all parties (with the possible exception of the SNP) have been guilty in the past of nominating their donors for awards. Now this was always wrong, but the Labour Party would appear to have taken this principle (or lack thereof) and walked to extremes with it. To reward a donor with a K is one thing, but to blatantly sell honours is quite another. If true this undermines democracy as a whole in this country in a number of ways.

It makes people much less inclined to become involved in politics - either through donating cash or their time. If the public don't donate to their favoured party we have to start looking at the dreadful possibility of state funding for political parties.

It makes people less inclined to even trust politicians. Virtually every MP or councillor I have met or dealt with has been in politics for absolutely the right reasons. Most would never do anything which could be seen as corrupt, yet all are being tarred with the same brush. If the public aren't inspired to even vote then democracy suffers.

It undermines the achievements/capabilities of people who are in the Lords due to their experiences and expertise.

And perhaps in a stunning show of how naive I am - I just don't want to believe that a Prime Minister could be so corrupt and crooked. Arrogant, slimy, wrong, conceited are all fine, but a criminal, nope. Don't want to see that.

I think my hopes are misguided, I think Blair and his gang are as guilty as hell. If they are they should go to jail - perverting the democratic process is one of the worst crimes in our society as it destroys the very basics of our society. I hope I'm wrong.