Tuesday, 30 November 2010


The end of our road was repaired yesterday. This is a good thing, is it not? Well, not exactly.

The road is two miles long and connects my village with the outside world. It is the main road which is gritted - or not if you go back to last January - and, for our humble community, it is important. The problem is that the county council has deemed it sensible to repair the damage from the last freeze in the middle of a new freeze.

This is despite their pronouncements in January that it would be madness to repair roads in freezing conditions because the ice gets in below the repair and breaks it once more. This is also, note, ten months since the road sustained damage.

Now I shouldn't complain. Here in Tory Oxfordshire we should be grateful that the council repairs our roads, shouldn't we? After all, the county council has very little money - so little that it must close libraries - or at lest threaten their communities with closure to encourage the peasants to run them independently. The county is also likely to threaten our schools with myriad cuts, all once more aimed at sharing the pain a little.

Quite so, quite so, which is why I welcome the cut to councillors' allowances, to the leaders' allowance and, of course, to the Chief Executive's rather generous pay settlement. I assume these will be announced any time soon, along with the withdrawal of the free food and wine for councillors which accompanies their meetings. We must all share the pain.

So I shall go off to Witney today to purchase a cap which I can doff as the largesse of the council is spread beyond us poor people and I shall keep it in the cupboard ready to brandish in a suitably 'umble manner when they come to repair the newly damaged road next winter.

I am just thankful the electronic road signs remain in place to keep us informed about the slow drift of Oxford towards Moscow.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


Woah! Really getting scary now. The shiny, expensive electronic road sign on the A40 this morning told me that it would be 20 minutes to the Oxford Park and Ride, up from 11 last week.

Forget the Koreas. Forget William and Kate. Oxford is moving east!

Thank God the county council invested in these expensive white elephants. Otherwise I would never have known this.

Monday, 22 November 2010


A report on the BBC website noted that the leader of Oxfordshire County Council - his picture rather appropriately resembling a painting by Munch - has said that the government's plans for Councils to publish all their expenditure will cost money. I read on, interested, then discovered that there was actually no story here. I discovered simply that Conservatives at Oxfordshire's County Hall simply revert to type when pushed and insist that the patrician approach to politics is always best, i.e. people don't need to know too much, they should be cared for, patted on the head and given a job at the local mill.

Rather nicely, the government disagrees and has established a principle that providing people with information about where their money is spent is, er, democratic. The Tory leader in Oxfordshire said dramatically on the BBC yesterday that they spend £1bn a year - which is precisely the point. That £1bn is partly my money and I want to see it being spent wisely. Oxfordshire does quite well in terms of sound finances so I would suggest to the good Tory that he has nothing to fear from providing this information.

There will be an additional cost to the Council and there will be a cohort of tedious people with nothing better to do than quibble over tiny details - I used to work for a Council and we knew ours by name - but that's democracy. Messy, troublesome, difficult, annoying, energising, illuminating, pluralising, liberating democracy. Surely the Tories in Oxfordshire support democracy.

By the way, this morning I learned that it would take me 14 minutes to get to the Oxford Park and Ride, up from 11 minutes last week. I learnt this thanks to the invaluable electronic signs on the A40. Worth every penny, I say, although it is strangely troubling that Oxford, like a city in a Philip Reeve novel, appears to be moving further away every day.

Friday, 19 November 2010


Thank heavens for the Oxfordshire County Council electronic road signs, which prove ever more invaluable by the day. Today I discovered that it would take me 12 minutes to get to the Park and Ride, whereas yesterday it was 11 minutes.

I must say I was mightily relieved to have this information to hand as it greatly aided my journey. Who needs staff at County Hall to provide social care and education when there's up-to-the-minute hardware like this? Well done the Tories!


Another non-story doing the rounds this morning: Lord Young puts his foot in his mouth.

Well, hold my coat, I'm going to faint. An oafish, Thatcherite Tory tells us how lucky we all should be to be poor, now buck up and don't slack. He was tactless in the 1980s and it seems little has changed.

Where's the real news? Is there any royal news? It seems we've heard nothing from them for ages. How's that nice young lad doing with his girlfriend, for example? Wilberforce, wasn't it? Wilton? Something like that.

UPDATE: Crikey, I never knew my blog was so powerful. Will Dave become a follower? Only time will tell.

Tomorrow I shall address the Israel/Palestine issue to see if we can get that resolved here. Stay tuned.

Monday, 15 November 2010


I do like a good headline and I think this particular art form has reached its apogee on the BBC news website with this gem among gems:

James Blunt 'stopped World War Three'

I will be amazed if this can ever be beaten but I look forward to future attempts.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Its fascinating to see the ideas from Ian Duncan-Smith about welfare reforms. Generally they're a good idea and its amazing that the shiny new Labour Party of Ed Miliband can't even rouse itself to oppose the changes, having failed so utterly to reform benefits for 13 years, instead presiding over a burgeoning bill throughout that period.

It really is remarkable to consider what Labour didn't do in 13 years: they didn't abolish the hated Council Tax and replace it with fair local taxation; they didn't reform benefits, instead hobbling us with the ridiculously bureaucratic tax credits system; they failed to raise pensions by anything like a reasonable amount; they did nothing to make education affordable, instead introducing and then raising student fees; they didn't change our democracy by abolishing the unelected House of Lords and introducing fair votes, as they promised in 1997, 2001 and 2005; they failed to address our desperate transport system, keeping the Tory joke that is rail and bus privatisation; oh, and they singularly failed to regulate banks, dropping us into the clarts up to our eyeballs in 2008.

But I digress. There can't be many people who disagree with the notion that the benefits system should be based on the presumption that most people can work and should be helped to do so. I had a period of unemployment last year and I found the Jobcentre experience rather helpful. I was demoralised and very worried during that period and having a two weekly appointment at the Jobcentre to keep me on my toes helped me to retain a clear focus. Luckily I found work but it must be difficult for many people who have not yet done so. These welfare reforms will hopefully create a more positive approach to the very difficult task of finding work.

However, I struggle with the need for a 'three strikes and out' system, threatening people with no benefits for three years if they turn down three offers of paid or community work. Sanctions are necessary if people refuse employment but why three years? What are people going to do if they find themselves in this situation, with no right of appeal? It would surely be far more sensible to have a rolling system of stopping benefits for a limited, increasing period of perhaps up to 26 weeks to encourage [and lets be honest, coerce] people to work without the threat of a whole three years without any income whatsoever. I'm not defending someone who won't work but what happens to their family? What happens to their children if they have any? Who will pick up the costs of people losing homes and children potentially ending up in far worse situations. I fear that this specific aspect of Duncan-Smith's intelligent thinking is a rather 'old-Tory' sledgehammer to crack what is admittedly a considerable nut.

Forgive me for waving the party flag but St Paddy of Ashdown in the 1990s espoused the idea of cutting benefits progressively for people who refused to work, without removing them entirely - and Paddy was never a soft touch.

I like benefits reform, I support it but it must be sensible, deliverable and it must face up to the difficult fact that there will always be some people who won't play ball. Minimising their number and the consequences for society must be borne in mind. I look forward to Lib Dems in Parliament pointing this out.

For the moment, two cheers for Duncan-Smith, an intelligent man who suffers from being such a Tory stereotype that his work in this area is often overlooked.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Given that we own 83% of RBS, can the government not simply sack the Chairman when he starts bleating about paying full UK tax on his absurdly huge bonuses and threatening to move to Shanghai?

He won't, most of his overpaid colleagues won't and most of the banks won't move out of London, which remains one of the most attractive trading environments in the world.

So George, Vince, whichever of you packed the big stick, wield it, why don't you, and hear the joyous cries of approval ringing across the UK.


Well, here's courting unpopularity. David Cameron has done well in China by raising the issue of political development and human rights.

Why is this likely to be unpopular? Because, for anyone under 30 his failure to stand in Tianenmen Square and decry the Chinese government with flags and whistles is a vicious betrayal of all those people in China who suffer from repression, torture and murder at the hands of the state.

If you take a longer view, it is important that a British Prime Minister has said these things in China and that he has made it clear to Chinese students that there are alternatives to one party rule. Those students and their peers in China will change China: it is not for us to do so or to lecture them on precisely how they should. It is good for us to present options and raise issues, even if potentially affects our trading relationship.

China will be a democracy one day and China will be one of the most important - and dangerous - countries in the world, even more so that it is now (not dangerous, you understand - I'm not a 'Reds under the beds' kind of person, I believe in peaceful change). We can't challenge China, we have to engage and our Prime Minister is doing so.

So well done, Dave - and well done the millions of people around the world who protest against human rights abuses in China and the continued occupation of Tibet. Both approaches are valid and both should continue together.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


The tuition fees issue is a tough one for the Lib Dems and its not easy to decide what to do for best.

I agreed to the pledge on opposing any increases in tuition fees during this Parliament as a candidate, a position I still fundamentally agree with. I remain convinced that tuition fees are unfair and that education should be free, although it is clear that this cannot be afforded without some way of paying for it. I liked the manifesto commitment to abolish fees over 6 years and I campaigned for this actively in Oxford East. If I support the government's policy I go against this.

However, I consider myself a pragmatist and when the Lib Dems can actually get stuff done in government like stopping the pointless and redundant Trident renewal for another five years (and hopefully forever in due course), cutting taxes for the lowest paid and introducing the pupil premium for the poorest schoolchildren, I have to pause for thought.

That's the dilemma. We made a clear commitment and breaking it is clearly wrong but then again we made a whole series of commitments on a whole range of projects and having the chance to do something about them for the first time in 90 years has to count for something.

Who'd be a politician?

If I was in Parliament now (images of people running for the hills) I would want to be given a very good reason why the Lib Dems should go against this very clear election pledge. There is, after all, nothing in the coalition agreement which commits Lib Dems to supporting a rise. Are Lib Dem MPs obliged to vote for policies which do not appear in that document?

I know I'm only one blog among thousands and one former candidate among hundreds but if this post adds to the general feeling of profound concern which appears to be spreading through the Lib Dem ranks, it will have been useful.

As for any complaints for New/Old Labour about the issue, we must never forget which champions of the working people - whose MPs almost universally benefited from a free education themselves - introduced tuition fees in the first place.


Here in Oxfordshire where the Tory county council is threatening cuts of around 1,000 staff with no real detail yet, our shiny electronic road signs continue to provide fantastic value for money.

This morning opn the A40 I was advised that the evenings are getting darker and that I should consequently give more space to cyclists.

Absolutely. I am a cyclist and I agree entirely with this thought. However, I'm still not sure it is worth the huge expense of rigging up and maintaining these ludicrous signs which only provide information which could not be done with posters about six times a year.

I know when the fair is in Oxford. I know I need to 'think bike'. I know I need to keep my distance. I'm not an idiot, honest.

Still, hang the expense, spend money on gewgaws and sack the staff, that seems to be the Tory way in Oxfordshire. The good news is that the traffic remains very sedate in the county because, 10 months after the freezing weather the roads remain in an appalling state. Safety first.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


Channel 4 has just screened a fascinating documentary on how wrong the green movement has been over the past 40 years, with its Manichaean approach to the environment. The documentary discussed heresies such as as the idea that nuclear power might act as a 'stopgap' to reduce carbon emissions from coal powered energy while cleaner technology is developed. It also raised the thorny issue of organisations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace stopping GM foods from feeding starving people for ideological reasons. That's a 'bad' by any measure.

Now, I have tended towards the green side of the debate for many years and I do my bit to live a green-ish lifestyle, so this documentary was a bit of a shocker for me. However, what impressed me was the analytical approach to this range of issues. This may mark the start of a sensible debate.

Frankly the green movement has gone too far into the realms of zealotry and that turns off a lot of people who drive to work, who fly on holiday and who like fast food, for example. As one of the last contributors said, organisations like Starbucks and McDonalds have a far greater chance of greening the world than a bunch of middle class lobbyists.

Let me reiterate that I consider myself a green - I cycle, I buy 100% green electricity, I recyle everything I can etc etc - and I want the greening of the world to be achieved practically, not at the expense of the lifestyle we all enjoy. I hope this programme starts a process of making greenery more practical and more responsive to the real world, not the imagined world of rich people like George Monbiot, who make a living out of trying to scare us, instead of addressing the real world with real, achievable ideas. To bring Starbucks back into the discussion, wake up and smell the coffee.

Mind you, I still think nuclear is a terrible idea!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


So Rambling Jim Naughtie has been flown over to the USA, the evening schedules have been cleared to host a results programme and Britain waits anxiously for the US mid-term election results. Fetch my slippers and the Bourbon, Mabel-Sue, for it's going to be a long night.

Or more probably it isn't for almost all of us, with the exception of the few hundred people in Westminster and White City who think this is a crucial night for global democracy, as well as the few hundred American ex-pats living here who might actually care about their home country. Is the massive expense of covering this story with anything more than a single news team and the BBC's generally capable Washington correspondent worthwhile? Is it a good use of my increasingly stretched licence fee, which can be used to make wonderful, innovative comedies like Him and Her or wildlife glories like the whole Attenborough oeuvre?

Granted, getting Naughtie out of the country is clearly a Good. Keeping him out would be even better but regrettably he will doubtless be back by the end of the week to badger, interrupt, argue with and refuse to listen to a series of politicians and possibly get the chance to be a pseud over some opera or arts story to show us how learned he isn't. However, this apart, what is the point? Why should we care any more than we might about the Indian elections, or those in Russia, both of which could have as significant an impact on the future global situation as the USA?

Yes, I know it is quite important. I understand that the USA is still key to the global economy and I realise that these elections could change much in that country but that's not my point. My point is to ask how many people in the UK are actually bothered and how many of them will stay up to watch the results?

The outcome of all this reflection is simply to conclude that the people who care are those at the BBC with the means to mobilise the formidable and very costly news machine. If only I had their power, I might suggest that they significantly ramped up their regional coverage, for example, so that my news always came from Oxford, rather than Southampton as it so often does. I might be able to push for more than one new story about Oxfordshire per day, when there must be a bit more going on around the county.

Sadly I am powerless against the ingrained obsession with all things American among the upper echelons of the Westminster and White City villages. So tune out tonight for the mid-term election results. Read a book, do a crossword, deflea the cat, go to bed, make love, enjoy the opportunity and forget this hubristic irrelevance which you will be able to read about extensively tomorrow morning after a good night's sleep and having avoided wasting hours out of your lives.

Monday, 1 November 2010


Hmmm, I'm not one for conspiracy theories but...mid-term elections in the USA...embattled American President...terror alert...lots of grand pronouncements about the threat we face.

And this is the world Tony Blair delivered us into: fear, bomb threats, dubious alerts in bizarre language that says nothing to no one ('MI6 has said there is a 'very real' threat of a terrorist incident' - as opposed to?!) and a perfect opportunity to ratchet up international tension when the mood arises.