Thursday, 30 June 2011


This morning's Today programme was instructive, with Francis Maude, normally a reliable Tory operator, up against Mark Serwotka, unelected leader of the PCS, the main union behind today's strike action. Pretty simple for Maude to be the voice of reason, you might think. But no.

Serwotka's straightforward questions about the government's alleged refusal to discuss key issues with the unions were simply not answered by Maude, who blathered and made a series of counter-claims which highlighted how difficult his position was. Maude was outflanked comprehensively by the union leader, supported by an increasingly exasperated Evan Davies.

I have never had any time for Mark Serwotka since his approach to his job is a throwback to the bad old days of unions squaring up to the government but credit to him, he destroyed Francis Maude. What a shame he can't bring these skills to the negotiating table to avoid an unwinnable strike which will simply harden government resolve. On this issue the unions have a good case. It is just a shame their leaders consistently let them down.

NB: I am a public sector pension holder.


Its always nice to learn that the Tories are the same old lags they always were, even if we're all supposed to be pally with them. Switching channels last night, I happened on Newsnight, which I try to avoid as the presenter is a pompous oaf lacking the wit to spot a news story even if it were 12 feet tall and painted purple, with 'this is a serious news story' tattooed on its forehead.

But I digress...The reassuring sight was a Tory backbencher - name of no consequence - arguing with an eloquent Dutch MP about the merits of the European Union. Yes, Dave, it hasn't gone away for your party, regardless of how much whitewash you splash over the issue. Faced with the absurdly reasonable approach of the Dutch MP, pointing out the many areas where combined action at a European level, such as investing in green technology and setting up a single office for the EU countries in Benghazi as opposed to 27 (sic.) separate missions, benefits us all and saves us money, the Tory simply blathered about how these things should not be done at a European level.

This is a shame as there is a serious discussion needed about the ludicrous French-inspired European model, the waste within that bureaucracy, the shocking scandal of unchecked expenses for MEPs, the disaster of the monthly trudge to Strasbourg to soothe French egos [the capital of Europe is Brussels, now get over it, mes amis] and the crime that is the copper-bottomed pensions for former Eurocrats like Lord Kinnock of Gravytrain.

The problem is that Blimpish Tories fail utterly to engage with these real problems, with their ostrich-like denial that there is anything good about Europe. There is: co-operation, a blissful lack of war since 1945, the promotion of democracy across the globe, the opportunity to be heard in international forums as a group of 28 countries and to make big decisions in the world over issues like supporting Arab democracies, which is good for everyone. Europe is a 'good' in principle but a failure in practice. The British government should be working to change it and make it successful, something bleating Tories will never do.

Good on Nickers and the LD MPs for their continued support of the coalition. We are playing with a straight bat but, my word, how glad I am that I don't have to cosy up to that lot.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


On the subject of public transport - a bugbear of mine as I try to reduce my car use but realise that the numbers simply don't add up even with petrol at an all time high price - we had a bit of a mishap today as we returned from a lovely day out to Kew Gardens.

Simply put, the issue was that our first train from Richmond to Reading was delayed by 16 minutes and our connecting train from Reading was due to leave 14 minutes after we were meant to arrive at Reading. So that's 14-16, which equals -2. Not good for catching the train.

What annoyed us was that we piled off the train - two adults, two small, tired children - and hurtled to the next door platform to try to catch our connection and we watched with dismay as the doors locked and it slowly moved away.

Now you could say that this is just one of those things and stuff happens. The problem is that the two trains are operated by different companies and they just didn't speak to each other, allowing the second train to hang on for 30 seconds. The very helpful station supervisor at Reading explained that his station is busy, it's a bottleneck and they can't afford delays and that's fine but I can't help thinking that if they were the same company - called, say, British Rail - someone, somewhere could have picked up the radio and called ahead to ask for a little help.

Youy may say I'm a dreamer but I grew up at Clapham Junction and I used to get the train everywhere and when there were problems we often came across something quite remarkable - flexibility - normally bad-tempered but still offered on the basis that the people involved were providing a 'service'. These concepts are obviously mind-boggling in this modern age of 'companies', service standards and all sorts of gobbledegook which not only doesn't work but costs us more to boot - both in taxes and fares.

It is so blindingly obvious to even the biggest Tory that the privatised rail system is a ludicrous, expensive joke that it beggars belief that no one, not even the estimable Norman Baker, will even mention the idea of providing a service first and foremost and then worrying about shareholders.

I must be fair and finish on a positive note: the supervisor at Reading called ahead to Oxford to arrange a cab, put us on the next train and we ended our journey being driven home by a very nice taxi driver who even lent my son his PSP - not something I'd do...So plaudits and thanks to the very nice people from First Great Western who went that extra mile but endless frustration that the Tories' private rail system is just abject, stupid nonsense.


Good news in Oxford, where the Conservative County Council has agreed a deal with the bus companies in the city for shared ticketing. Great. Something the Lib Dems have called for for a while now.

The problem I have is that this agreement comes about 17 years after a Conservative government decided that buses should be 'deregulated', allowing any old crook or wide boy with an old transit to run a bus service, charge what they want and generally deliver a worse service than we had before.

So a reasonably good, reasonably affordable local was withdrawn by the Tories, a worse service was delivered and now the Tories are taking credit for bringing that original service back in all but name - and for a much higher price for passengers than we previously had.

Isn't progress marvellous?

Thursday, 23 June 2011


How many coalition ministers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Three. One to decide to change the bulb, one to launch the consultation and one to announce the u-turn.


Labour opposes reform of the House of Lords, saying it wants a fully elected Chamber.

Seriously? This is the Labour Party which promised House of Lords reform in its manifesto of 1997, its manifesto of 2001 and its manifesto of 2005. And look at how those promises were honoured.



Yay, the government has announced 8 new sites for nuclear power stations, all to be built without subsidies, apparently.

What astonished me recently was discovering how basic the principles behind nuclear power are. Coal and gas power stations heat water to make steam to turn turbines to generate electricity. Nuclear power stations, er, heat water to make steam to turn turbines to generate electricity. So much for new technology.

Given that no new nuclear power station has been completed in decades due to myriad problems and that no new nuclear power station has been built - or is being built - without subsidies and that the minor issue of the growing waste stockpile which no one can do anything with for 500,000 years and that work to develop nuclear fusion - a sustainable source of power - is proceeding apace - oh, and given that a nuclear power station in Japan nearly melted down with disastrous consequences, forcing the government of Japan to set out an exclusion zone stretching tens of kilometres from the stricken nuclear plant, what on earth are Lib Dems doing promoting this outdated, inefficient and no less carbon-costly source of power - once you factor in build costs, massive decommissioning and waste storage costs, which can't simply be ignored?

As gas prices rocket and petrol becomes dearer than platinum, we surely need the government to focus minds on future technology now, rather than an expensive stopgap based on 70 year old principles - and we surely need Lib Dems to be stating this case clearly and unequivocally, lest senseless Tories have their hands clasped too tightly over their ears to hear the truth.

Would you rather have Chris Huhne parroting failed Labour government policy or standing up firmly for Lib Dem principles of investment and innovation for the long term future, regardless of the cost to coalition unity? Tough choice, huh?