Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why you should read

If you have to use only one site to understand Politics then Political Betting should be it. Where else do you get such gems as this comparison of Blair's government to a Porno Flick:

75. Unfortunately, I kind of agree with you. Having read the Campbell diaries, the equivalent of the Redwood stunt - getting, say, Dennis Skinner to talk about the future of coalmining - would have been squashed before it was born by Campbell, Mandelson, et al.

Where I probably depart from you is my overall analysis of the Campbell book and what it means. Yes, it’s very readable - witty and brisk - and an invaluable insight into British politics and New Labour thinking.

But it is deeply, deeply unflattering about New Labour, probably much more than Campbell realised. It is inadvertently revealing.

Blair comes across as psychotically selfish. Campbell glum and punchy. Mandelson seems insecure to the point of hospitalisation. Brown is an unpalatable figure brooding on the edges.

Their entire philosophy is to screw the Tories and make good headlines. Principles are way down the list. The atmosphere is tawdry and bleak, albeit oddly watchable. Like a cheap porn flick.

Indeed, that’s what Blair etc come across as Porno stars in the sordid skinflick of politics.

Blair is Johnny ‘the wad’ Holmes, obsessed with his manhood. Campbell is ‘King Dong’. Mandelson is Tracy Lords, constantly being shafted, and Brown is the bizarre German bloke with the weird haircut who comes in at the end for the money shot.

A-levels and Education

Two posts from the BBC this week that seem to show different results in our Education system in Britain.

First we have this article, Fewer teens achieve maths target, from earlier in the week which seems to show slight drops in achievement by 14 year olds in England for maths and only slight increases in English and Science. Whilst the rises/drops are only small they need to be balanced against the targets set of 85% reaching Level 5 in English and in mathematics by this year.

The BBC has looked at the story as balancing one year against the next rather than looking at the underlying problem which is that the targets are being breached by large amounts. This makes the results look better than they really are.

The opposition spokesmen caught this and pointed out the problems as follows:

Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb said the results confirmed Ofsted's view that half of secondary schools were performing at a level that was "not good enough". The government was being complacent. Secondary schools needed to learn lessons from the best, with a rigorous focus on better behaviour and classes organised in sets in all academic subjects so children were taught in groups of similar ability.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Stephen Williams said the government had fallen "woefully short" of its own targets. "Any progress previously made has now stalled or is even going backwards," he said. "Ministers must now say when they expect to reach their targets and what measures they will put in place to help teachers and children achieve them."
Next we have the A-Level results coming out down south today which are again supposedly going to up in number of passes and the number of passes at the highest level.

Ministers defend standards but are making changes so the exams will be challenging in future, with the very best papers getting a new A* grade. Some universities have said that exam grades are no longer sufficient for them to use to select undergraduates.

One student who is taking her A-levels said

the boom in A grades was down to students taking "much easier subjects like media studies or flower arranging" not maths, economics or history.

"There is also the fact that the soft options that are available now, were not available 40 years ago - I wonder whether the pass rate differences between now and then would be so great if there had been the opportunity for some people to study the softer options?

"As a student who has studied for three tough academic subjects I find it very disheartening when my hours of study are effectively written off as my qualifications are seemingly worthless."

How does this balance against the fact that rates of passes are stagnant or falling when pupils are fourteen?

From my own observations from the type of work my kids are doing at school I see standards are much lower, both in terms of the the level of work being done and the quality of work that is acceptable.
Much of the work appears to be aimed at reaching targets rather than reaching above that to proper understanding of concepts and the application of these. Perhaps I am being unfair as I was lucky enough to attend a school that ranked very highly in England versus a standard school in Scotland.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

All hail the Queen of Scottish Labour

Apparently Clunker Brown has decreed a coronation and Labour MSP's are bending over backwards to stand aside for the chosen one to be crowned.

Alex Salmond will be laughing for some time to come.

Second chance for Wendy Alexander

Neglected and Let Down

The Guardian has a couple of interesting articles today about the armed forces and the fact that that the Military Covenant, which says soldiers should always be able to expect fair treatment in return for the rights they forgo, is not being upheld.

The first one Neglected and Let Down shows some of the actions that both the British Legion and BAFF are taking in the coming months.

The second one Care of soldiers compromised by failing army pact details some of the Broken Covenants currently being experienced by relatives and members of the Armed Forces.

The existence of a group like BAFF in itself is an indictment on the current government.

The fact that the British Legion is running a campaign like Broken Covenant should worry all of us.

Please take time to visit the website and add your signature to the petition.

We've been neglected and let down say combat troops | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Articles on Afghanistan

Some light reading on the current situation in Afghanistan, whilst our so-called Defence Minister, Des Browne is caught up in some problems nearer to home.

First an article in the Independent titled "Politicians must accept the reality on the ground"
This explores the current situation and the way reality is only slowly dawning on the government in this country that it's not going very well and they may have to get a policy and perhaps some firm goals on what they want to achieve there.

The second an article in the Guardian titled "We are making a difference in Afghanistan, insists Browne", This appears to be Des Browne saying things are slightly tougher than Labour expected (no Bullets required)

Now a few articles from the Telegraph that explore some issues on Afghanistan.
First a poke at Gordon Brown and his disinterest Tories condemn Brown's 'lack of interest'

Next an article that gets a bit more to the heart of the problem titled "Blunder, confusion and a rising death toll" which also explores the fact that the Taliban are not quite the pushover they were expected to be by our Government. It finishes with the following

It is only now, after British fatalities in Afghanistan have passed the 70 mark, that public disquiet over the way the Government has handled the Afghan issue is raising questions about whether, in these challenging circumstances, the British military has any chance of achieving its original objective of helping to restore order.

British commanders predict that it will take at least three decades, not three years, to turn Afghanistan into a fully functioning state. If the casualty rate continues at its current level it is unlikely that the British public would be prepared to tolerate so many fatalities for so little gain.

And finally to the BBC who can only provide this piece Browne defends Afghanistan role which is wonderfully short on any thoughts on the situation but does provide the following substantial quote
Mr Browne, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, said: "What we have to do is that very difficult balancing act of making progress militarily, which we can do.

"The British can over face the Taleban in any circumstances, we can over match them rather, we can face them down and we can drive them out of communities.

"The challenge is then to be able to build those communities, local government, their links to the provincial government and to the central government in such a way that that is sustained."

You have to feel that Mr Browne has forgotten what he is talking about and is drifting back to his Scottish role and how he might like to face up to the SNP rather than a distinctly more dangerous foe

Global Warming?

Apparently we are suffering from Global Warming. Problem is this morning as I went out to the car it had ice on the roof.

This is about the first time I can remember Ice in August. However considering the summer (what summer you ask) we are having it's probably about right.

Never mind we now have two days of weather warnings from the Met Office for Heavy Rain, thankfully I managed to cut the grass last night.

Update: For an interesting, if heretical, read on Global Warming and some other thoughts have a look here.

Brown Bounce costs you 39 Billion

Apparently the "Brown Bounce" in the polls that has some of the papers frothing at the mouth over the weekend has cost you and I 39 billion pounds. That's just over over twice as much as John Redwood thought he could save businesses in a year by reducing red tape.
The Guardian says

The huge sum suggests that, as chancellor, Mr Brown was able to hold back funds and policy initiatives until Mr Blair had stood aside. In effect, this helped fund the "Brown Bounce" that has delivered a run of significant poll leads and added to the expectation of an early general election.

The new spending includes an extra £7.7bn for defence to 2011; £15bn to improve the railways; £4bn extra spending on early years education over three years, covering Sure Start centres; £8bn on increasing the availability of affordable housing; £800m on flood defences; £400mon students grants and £1.2bn on a new electronic national border system.

Also noteworthy is that much of the spending is being targeted at issues that may affect marginal seats.

Oh and did I forget to mention that much of this "extra" spending has already been announced.

The biggest problem about all this money is that it has to, somehow, be paid for by us the Taxpayer. No mention has been made yet of where this money is going to come from, this will be saved until the fine print of the 2007 comprehensive spending review, due in October, has been pored over and the "Clunking Fists" deceit is exposed as per the 10p tax rate.

Brown spends £39bn in first seven weeks in No 10 | Special Reports | Guardian Unlimited Politics

Monday, August 13, 2007

Browne defends Afghanistan role

I see Des Browne has been defending our role in Afghanistan, and whilst I have no problem with what we are supposed to be doing there I do have a problem with the execution of that role.

The problem, has as usual occurred, because of the standard 4 P's, Piss Poor Planning and Preparation. The government as usual have put our armed forces in a situation where they are not properly funded, manned or supported. Just less than a month ago The Commons Defence committee report said Nato must commit more troops and aid to Afghanistan if it is to establish a stable democracy. In the report MP's were careful and measured, but there is no mistaking the central message, things are going badly, alarmingly wrong in Afghanistan.

The governments hope is that they can somehow disentangle themselves from Iraq in time to help sort out Afghanistan. All this will do, will be to desert one disaster, by putting a sticking plaster on a haemorrhaging situation. Real backing from NATO and the UN is required.

BBC NEWS | Politics | Browne defends Afghanistan role

Fine threat over T-shirt slogan

Gordon Brown will no doubt be happy with this sort of story as he leads us into a society where we are only allowed to do what he thinks is correct behaviour.

Assuming this sort of T-Shirt is banned, the police should be able to clean up most days on the streets by stopping people and fining them for wearing "offensive" clothes. I assume any with the FCUK label would be banned and obviously any with pictures of Politicians on them.

Of course the real beauty of this will be ability to ensure that those people who wear "baggy pants" that hang down to their knees are suitably punished. A quick tasering and removal of said offensive items seems appropriate.

BBC NEWS | England | Cambridgeshire | Fine threat over T-shirt slogan

Prescott signs memoirs deal worth £500,000

The news that John Prescott has the ability to write has amused me.

In most of the dealings we have seen with Mr Prescott over the past 10 years, the ability to write or even speak English has been severely in doubt. His main means of communication seems to have been grunts, thumps and some rather less salubrious methods.

The fact that this odious individual, who has taken large amounts of our cash, whilst doing little in return has been able to sell his memoirs is little short of unbelievable. Unfortunately he probably does know where much of the dirt has been buried. We can only hope, that with this amount of upfront payment, we will get some sort of return on the money and he will dig a giant hole for his Labour colleagues. We certainly won't be expecting any honesty about his own personal life which has been a tissue of lies and deceit.

Perhaps this will mean a job for one of the Iraqi translators who have been left to rot in Basra. They at least might be able to make some sense of this man.

Prescott signs memoirs deal 'worth £500,000'