Sunday, 30 March 2008

Brown's Britishness in the Telegraph

Great Simon Heffer article in the Saturday Telegraph, where he simply states “Gordon Brown needs the Union…but do we?”

We are familiar with the arguments, but my favorite bits are…

Our Prime Minister's lucubrations in this newspaper earlier in the week about the Union, and why he loves it, demonstrated what politicians feel they have to do when they become desperate. Happily, since our readers are so intelligent, they spotted this at once, and our letters pages have been full of their measured, but understandably angry, responses to this piece of opportunism.

Good to know all that letter writing makes an impact, but he goes on to say…

Large amounts of English taxpayers' money is now spent in Scotland without the benefactors having any say in how it is spent. Nor were the English consulted about whether they wanted this arrangement.


The final insult is that Scottish MPs at Westminster vote on matters that affect only the English. The Union has had it, and Mr Brown knows it. It is a state of affairs for which the term "democratic deficit" could have been invented.

Fantastic. Well said Simon!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

NuLabour, NuSpeak

George Orwell predicted in “1984” that the Government would limit thinking by forcing the populous to use “newspeak” words. One term of newspeak was “unperson”, where a person would be eliminated from history by erasing all references to them. His prophesy was wildly inaccurate. If only he had thought 50 million times bigger, changed unperson to “unengland” and the date to 1998, he’d have been bang on the money.

I, like many, was insulted when some jack booted recruitment officer from the Manchester Constabulary rejected a recruit because he had “England” tattooed on his arm. In order to report this fascist, I decided to write to the CRE’s Trevor Philips. You may remember Trevor who once sensibly said “…for young people in this country, the sight of the Cross of St George being flown for a winning England team is a cause for widespread rejoicing”. Clever Trevor!

Guess what? The CRE has been replaced by something called the “Equalities and Human Rights Commission”. So, as a human looking for equality, I decided to drop them a quick email asking if they could put a stop to this nonsense. They have three email addresses, namely…

…there are many, many other examples, but for some reason this one just sapped my strength.

Friday, 21 March 2008

You’re a liar Mr Brown and you know it!

During PMQs this week, the appointed Prime Minister said “The allocation of funds in the UK is based on a needs assessment that started more than 30 years ago, has been agreed by all parties subsequently and has been followed by every government since…It is based on the idea we should allocate resources in the UK on the basis of need. That is the basis on which the Barnett Formula exists.”

This is an absolute lie, yet it has been ignored by the Tories and the national newspapers. The MP that questioned the PM, was Graham Stringer MP for Manchester, who you may remember as the man No.10 tried to gag when he raised Barnett last year. Mr. Stringer said: “It was a bizarre answer and 100% wrong.”

Fiona Hall, a North-East Liberal Democrat Euro-MP, said: "The very problem is that it is not based on need. The formula has no legal or democratic justification and my constituency has increasingly lost out due to this unfair system of funding distribution."

The Nationals don’t seem too bothered, but where it has been picked up in the press, it has been described as…

A “Gaffe” in the Liverpool Post
A “Gaffe” again in The Northern Echo
…and my favorite a “Brownie” in The Spectator

A Brownie? Funny, because I would have called it a bare faced LIE!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

"There is a strength in the union even of very sorry men" The Iliad, Homer

IPPR North have published the document “Where Stands the Union Now?” by John Curtice, Professor of Politics and Director of the Social Statistics Laboratory at the University of Strathclyde.

There are countless surveys that demonstrate that there is a significant majority of people in England who demand constitutional equality with their fellow citizens. There is also evidence, such as the annual British Social Attitudes Survey, where such demands for equality are lukewarm or fall to a level of circa 20-25%. Curtice explains this phenomenon to be the result of the wording of the question, which he says is “crucial”.

Support for an English Parliament falls away if the wording implies, or specifically states that an EP would weaken, threaten, or even end the Union.

Ask people in England if they want ‘the establishment of an English Parliament within the UK, with similar powers to those currently enjoyed by the Scottish Parliament’ and 68% say “yes”.(1)

Imply that an EP MIGHT mean an alternative to the UK by taking out the phrase “within the UK” and add “England only” and those in favour drop to 51%(2)

Imply that an EP WILL mean an alternative to the UK (status quo) by asking “…choose between the three main options that have been proposed for England – the status quo, regional assemblies and an English Parliament.” And support for an EP crashes to 20-25%. (3)

Refer to an EP along the same lines as the Scottish one, viz ‘…now that Scottish devolution is well established – and may be extended – England should now have its own parliament too’. .. and the figure shoots back up to 65% (4)

The above surveys (referred to in Curtice’s paper) took place between January 2007 and January 2008. This is a very short time for opinions to oscillate from 68% to 20% and back to 65%. Given the wording of the question and the response, the only explanation for such wild fluctuations is the perceived threat to the Union, in the mind of the interviewee.

This phenomenon is not restricted to England, although Scotland tends to approach it from a different angle. As Curtice points out “When Scots are simply asked whether they support or oppose ‘independence’ plenty of polls find that over half do so.” This is because they see independence as less interference from Westminster rather than separation from the UK. When asked if Scotland should be “independent, separate from UK and EU or separate from UK but part of EU” those wanting independence fall to around 25-30%. (5) These numbers very similar to the English “status quo”.

Given the above, I find Curtice’s conclusion that “…that England remains relatively uninterested in devolution for itself…”. extraordinary, given his own observation that “… the wording of survey questions is crucial.” and his own evidence showing two thirds favouring an EP in two separate surveys. I can only assume that he is working to an agenda that is not wholly that of an academic independent observer.

The lesson for us (IMHO) is to emphasize the damage asymmetrical devolution is doing to the Union. Inequality breeds resentment; resentment will put an intolerable strain on the Union and that is why we need constitutional equality with our fellow citizens and only an EP will do.

1. November 2007 ICM Survey
2. January 2008 ICM Survey
3. January 2007 British Social Attitudes survey
4. May 2007 Populus Survey
5. “Where Stands the Union Now?” Table 3

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Ministers without a Clue

Last Saturday, the Politics Show talked of free parking at Welsh hospitals which was described as “…something widely welcomed across Wales and reported with envy by some English newspapers.” (See, we’re just being envious again, but when the shoe is on the other prosthetic limb, we should all be treated equally because the NHS is “UK wide” and run on a basis of “need, not geography”, see below).

What caught my eye was the paragraph describing the “UK Health Minister” criticizing the Welsh NHS, and a rebuttal by the “Welsh Health Minister”. So, I fired a letter off to the Beeb asking the following…

If Edwina Hart is Welsh Health Minister and Andy Kerr is the Scottish Health Minister, how can Ben Bradshaw be the UK Health Minister?
Are Scotland and Wales no longer part of the UK? Is it that Hart and Kerr report to Bradshaw?
If they don't report to him and Wales and Scotland are actually still part of the UK, doesn't this make Bradshaw the English Health Minister? If he is, why is he not called the English Health Minister?
Doesn't Auntie have to swear some kind of oath to report accurately? Isn’t she supposed to expose politicians attempting to mislead?
Yours etc.”

Veterans of the English Question know the answers, of course, but I wondered if those in power could justify the slight of hand. Just in case the Beeb didn’t reply (they didn’t) I decided to ask the Ministers themselves. I wrote to Bradshaw (English Health), Balls (English Children), Kelly (English Transport) and Johnson (English Health, again).

The main part of my letter asked…
“Do you have any jurisdiction outside of England? If you don’t, why is your office not called the Department of English XXXX, or Department of XXX (England)?”

To date, no one has responded. It seems a simple question, why do they find it so hard to answer?

Monday, 10 March 2008

Why the Health Service Makes Me Sick!

It is well documented that England has the worst health service in the UK, due to the fact it is not in control of its own service. The lucky Welsh however are in control and are able to give their citizens such things as free prescriptions.

In the words of First Minister Rhodri Morgan last year he was happy “to make the English jealous” when he cited a news headline regarding the “two tier Health Service”. In order to keep out the “jealous” English, the same bloke announced “tighter controls to keep out ‘Health Tourists’”. For health tourists, read English!

There are cases however, where it is more convenient for the Welsh to use English hospitals. This report tells of a man who has to travel to Cardiff for artificial limbs.

So, how have the English reacted to this Health Tourist from Wales?

Well, a number of Labour MPs have lined up to tell the Welsh exactly where they can go…

Christine Russell, (Chester), who admits at "least" 20% of the beds in Chester are occupied by Welsh health tourists, "I have no absolutely objection to patients who live in Wales actually being treated at the Countess of Chester Hospital - it is their local hospital."

Paul Murphy (Welsh Secretary) said “the NHS, a UK-wide service, should not be affected by cross-border issues.”

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) said "The NHS should treat people on an basis of need, not geography".

So, there you have it. Health is UK-wide, unaffected by national borders or geopgraphy… if you're Welsh, but if you’re English “it is a devolved matter”.

We must be the kindest, most generous people on earth! That or complete mugs!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

"The very best of Scotland"

This is a bit of old news (November 07) and at first sight a little off topic, but it does demonstrate what can be done with a national Parliament and thirty percent extra spending money.

England has to make do with border signs such as the one on the left. I'm not sure if there is an English Culture and External Affairs Minister (actually I do, there isn't) to co-ordinate such things, but simply “Welcome to England” doesn’t really grab the soul, does it?

North of the border however, the Scottish Government were able to instruct top Scottish Ad agency “The Leith Agency” to come up with a slogan

After six months and a bill to the British taxpayer for £120,000 they devised a slogan “…representing Scotland's landscape, its people and achievements”

Scotland's External Affairs and Culture Minister Linda Fabiani said: "This Government is determined to make the most of Scotland's image and reputation … these images will welcome people arriving in our country and Scots coming home, giving everyone a taste and glimpse of the very best of Scotland - enticing everyone to see more.”

Sounds like a tall order Linda, but given six months, £120 big ones and the collective creative genius of the Leith Agency, I’m sure they managed it.

Well, no, not really. Their slogan is…

“Welcome to Scotland”

Friday, 7 March 2008

HSE Have No Safety Policy on Flags in Schools

The HSE have kindly replied to my email asking for a position on flags/English emblems in schools. I won't repeat the whole letter, but the pertinent parts are...

"...Health and Safety Executive is responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation within workplaces and therefore do not hold information regarding policies for national flags in schools."

"The Department for Children Schools may also be able to offer further information and guidance. Their contact details are -"

Department for Children Schools
Tel: 0870 000 2288
Fax: 01928 79 4248

So, no ban from the HSE. I'll try The Dept for Children Schools and let you know what happens