Monday, 10 December 2007

The following is taken from saturday's Guardian:

"Perceived neglect
One Thursday lunchtime, Lisa Bacon was visited by social services after an anonymous caller reported her for allowing her seven-year-old son to walk to school alone. Had she done wrong?Lisa BaconSaturday December 8, 2007
GuardianThursday, 1pm, about to have lunch. Knock at the door. It's a woman from children's services come to investigate an anonymous report made about me to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). Was it true, she asked, that I let my seven-year-old walk to and from school alone, that I left him home alone, and that I let my youngest child (three) play unsupervised in the road out front?
My appetite evaporated, as did any peace of mind, for the next few weeks. How is a parent supposed to react to allegations of neglect? I was, and am still, upset, even though I know the complaints are unjustified.
Seven weeks earlier, I had started letting my son (who's now eight) travel 1km each way to and from school alone. We live in a quiet residential area and almost the only cars on the road are those on the schoolrun. We discussed where was safe to cross and I followed behind as I have another school-age child, so I always knew my son got to school OK. After school we met before he headed off. He had a key to let himself in at home because he got so far ahead. Twice my younger child had been too ill to attend school, so I let my nearly eight-year-old son go to school without me following behind.
He loved the independence. He whizzed off on his scooter - he was never late to school any more. He whizzed home to use the toilet, have a snack, start his homework. He didn't argue with, or have to wait about for, dawdling and temperamental siblings.
On a few occasions, he left the house to come back up the road to chat with us coming home. I expressed considerable praise the first time - because he remembered to lock the door behind him, and I hadn't talked about that previously. Suddenly, my son felt a tangible link between privilege and responsibility. He's been keen since to show himself as responsible in other ways.
There were hiccups; once I left my son playing just inside the school gate, expecting him to follow soon after. Instead he got into a fight, and after that I always waited for him to go out of the gates before I headed home. Once he had a lift home from another well-meaning parent. It was a good opportunity to reiterate that he mustn't take lifts home from school, even from people we know.
Also, since his seventh birthday, on a handful of occasions, I had left him alone at home so I could do the school run. Typically for about 25 minutes, always because he was ill or recovering from illness and it seemed cruel to get him dressed and drag him up to school and back for such a short period. Once he had a strop about not wanting to go to school. Exasperated, I left him alone to quickly take my other child up to the school; after I left, he changed his mind and followed behind.
In the two weeks preceding my visit from the council, I had twice left him at home alone briefly for less urgent reasons - dashing for a newspaper (12 minutes) or to take another child to swimming lessons (25 minutes). We had long and repeated chats about safety issues - what to do if there's smoke or fire, no cooking when home on his own, no helping anybody look for their lost puppy, no going into other people's houses on the way to school, always watch for cars, etc.
As for the claim that cars were having to brake suddenly to avoid hitting my littlest child in the road out front - I was flummoxed. "When?" I said. But there were no more details. My youngest has dashed into the road on occasions. I think I can remember waving thanks to drivers who had to slow down suddenly. Or maybe in the mornings, starting off to school when the children sometimes stood at the top of the drive (still off the road), waiting for me to lock the door - did drivers get worried then? The only awful incident was when a lady brought my toddler to the door to say he'd been out in the road alone. He had unexpectedly learned to undo latches on the side gate. We put an extra latch on the outside, where he couldn't reach. I thought we'd done enough. But now I found my competence as a parent being questioned.
Maybe I deserved to be told off for my (many) mistakes and misjudgments. But how many of us have made parenting decisions that we soon regretted or that other people didn't like? I might have expected some disapproval from others for my actions but I didn't expect anyone to report me for it.
The woman from children's services left without telling me to change anything I was doing. A week later, a letter came saying (only) that in the view of social services, my son was too young to leave home alone, even for short periods. He should be supervised at all times. I wrote back, to clarify whether "all times" applied to the school journey, too. And at what age would my son be, in the view of social services, old enough to leave unsupervised for specified periods? Up to half an hour, up to two hours? Without specific guidance from social services I don't see how I can avoid coming to their attention again. I still await their reply.
At a time when we are repeatedly warned that we should let children take more risks and have more freedom, it didn't seem so ridiculous to try giving my eight-year-old a little responsibility. I am not a self-confident person, and I've struggled ever since with parenting decisions - caught between my instincts and the fear of "What will someone else think?" My sleep is disturbed; it's hard to relax.
Maybe I should just drive all my children to and from school, instead. This would pollute the air, add to global warming, add to the risk of road accidents around the school, and contribute to the risk of my children becoming obese - but nobody would report me to the NSPCC about any of those things.
I'm not a fighter or a campaigner. If children's services tell me not to do something, I won't do it - the last thing I want is for them to keep their file open on me. If someone else says, "I wouldn't let my eight-year-old walk outside or stay at home alone," I have no opinion. Individuals should make up their own minds about what risks they find tolerable to expose themselves and their families to. That's not the same as declaring that everyone else should balance risks against possible benefits. Anyway, the decision has been taken away from my family; I don't feel we have the same choices as other parents in these matters any more. We have been disempowered by a single, anonymous phone call.
Maybe after a while we would have decided we weren't comfortable with our son being alone at home just yet, or going anywhere out of our line of sight. We were still figuring out the risk boundaries and right ways to manage the possible hazards for ourselves - but all that is curtailed now. I am left at a loss about when and how to start giving my son any freedoms again. It's all made more bewildering because I'm an outsider. Although I have lived in the UK for 16 years I was raised in the USA. Maybe I should put this experience down to yet another set of culture differences I will never quite understand.
I'm not naive, I know the world is full of dangers, more so for small children. Sarah Payne was snatched on a country lane like the one I live on. But the chances of my son getting kidnapped and harmed by a stranger are similar to the odds of being struck by lightning. I can't tell my child, "You getting zapped by lightning I can live with, but I don't trust you to be alone for 25 minutes."
Who was the anonymous caller, who obviously knows a lot about me and my family? Their actions mean that any support I might have found in informal chats with other parents is limited - it's not paranoia when you know someone is out to get you. Or at least, judges you severely, won't say it to your face but is all too willing to share notes with others. My children may be marginally safer than before, but I have become a worse person (angry) and a poorer parent (less confident). I am reluctant to volunteer again for the pre-school committee, the school PTA or as a classroom helper, or to seek a job that involves contact with children - in case background checks reveal that I was investigated and I have to explain.
Four years ago, we lived in a poor, immigrant neighbourhood in Loughborough. Around the corner in one direction were dodgy flats, with a reputation for drug-dealing and arson. Around another corner a busy high street, including two licensed sex shops and two unlicensed brothels. Summer days and evenings our road filled with children playing out, some as young as four. I was always the only supervising adult outside among the children. I shudder to think of the reception I would have had from Bangladeshi neighbours had I asked why they didn't come out to watch their offspring: "They watch out for each other," "But it's normal!".
The area I now live in has average social indicators (income, home ownership levels, etc). Most residents are stable working families or pensioners. It's a low-crime, low-traffic residential corner of a small, sleepy market town. But it's reckoned unsafe for a nearly eight-year-old to walk unescorted for five-15 minutes in broad daylight. Am I crazy to think some kind of madness is at work?"

I have emailed the following response but leave others to draw their own conclusions.

'I am stunned that 'Lisa Bacon' cannot see what she might have done wrong. There are a myriad of points she fails to take into account regarding her eight year old, but for the moment I'd like to focus just on the following:

"My youngest has dashed into the road occasions. I think I can remember waving thanks to the drivers who had to slow down suddenly.... a lady brought my toddler to the door to say that he'd been out in the road alone. He had unexpecdtedly learned to undo latches on the side gate. we put an extra latch on the outside, where he couldn't reach. I thought we'd done enough. But now I found my competence as a parent being questioned."

So, it's okay to leave a 3 year old playing on their own outside without any supervision and then to feel that waving to drivers and putting an extra latch on the gate was demonstrating parental responsibility. Frankly I don't understand why you have had children, since you clearly don't care about them - certainly enough to supervise them. This is completely incompetent and unreasonable. How would you have felt if one of those drivers hadn't seen your son until too late and had run him over and killed him? Who would you have blamed then? Presumably you would have wanted people to share in your grief at such a tragic accident?

Attitudes like this make me sick as they represent the kind of uncaring society that expects kids to just get on with growing up and then pathetically wrings it's hands when they start drinking, smoking and having sex without any thought to the consequences, because for those children there aren't any. Worse, they feel able to hold this position as being better than molly-coddled children who aren't allowed to take risks, when surely logic says there is something in between.

I'm sure the picture attached to the article is merely 'representative' but it should be noted that this child clearly either hasn't been told to keep to the edge of the road, or has just forgotten, as eight year olds do (I have a 12 year old who is more than capable of forgetting what he's been told a hundred times).'

New hoodie

An article in today's Metro shows a new type of hoodie that completely covers the face and has to clear plastic disks for eyes. The village idiot can probably work out that these will be perfect disguises for anyone wishing to commit pretty much any crime, though I'm particularly concerned about violent crime. Rather than legislate against such crass stupidity i think we should encourage more responsible manufacturing by suing manufacturers for damages everytime one of these items is used when a crime is committed. We may not be able to convict the criminal, because of the helpful anonymity provided by the manufacturers, but at least somebody would be paying for the responsibility.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

The Green Paradox

As I understand it, we should all be making changes in our lives to combat global warming. So why do the government allow the railways to put up their prices, in some cases by 14%. The journey from Ashford in Kent to London now costs just under £90 per week. It would cost a lot less over a month by car. Surely the way ahead is to reduce the prices so that it becomes more economical for commuters to travel by train. The lower the prices the more users. It is simple economies of scale and after all aren't we the taxpayer still subsidising the railway companies.

Air travel for which we now pay a fuel tax, an airport tax, and any other kind of tax they can think of is one of the most exhaustive ways of using our natural resources, so why are we building or allowing a Spanish company to build a new giant terminal to have more passengers from the extra planes that will land at the new runway. How green is that?

Surely the way ahead is to drop the taxes for those airlines who are green and raise them for those who are not. Give tax discounts for the development of airships, which are not as inflammable as everyone suggests, after all with all the space technology that we have devloped over the years, surely we can come up with a solution. The Hindenburg was a very very long time ago. Commercial airship to transport passengers internally , and don't forget that because they don't need a runway they can actually place the travellers in the centre of any city. Doesn't that make for a more green alternative than the present solution.

With the new revelation that secondary schools are too large and should be divided into smaller schools, is a good idea; where? I am all for more local schools, it gives a sense of community, it enables parents to walk their children to and from school, so stopping school rage and the use of unnecessary fuel. It also enables teachers to have more control over the classes and the school environment, to stop bullying, discrimination or even just to be able to stop firefighting and start teaching. But where? The old schools that existed are now built upon. Luxury gated communities now stand where playing fields once were. This was a fantastic idea and an opportunity missed.

The whole idea should have included energy efficient and green sources. Solar panneling, triple glazing, wind turbines, a certain amount of ground as an allotment, to be used as an sustainable recycling plant, a teaching resource, (especially in terms of botany, nutrition, and social skills), new kitchens with experienced staff so that the allotment kids and other members of the school can actually eat what has been grown, plus a policy of building new schools in deprived areas, with a policy of zero tolerance by the police, the staff and the magistrates on vandalism. Each school should have its own cctv system, both inside and outside. Punishments for children should include picking up the litter around the school. If the consistent offenders are not rehabilitated then the parents should be made to do it at the same time. For some parents this may be the longest one to one time thay have ever spent with their child, but also disruptive children should be rewarded for changing. Given the opportunity for extra subjects that they might find really interesting, like videogame graphics or design. This could be held at the local college on a day release system. The good kids get to go to the local college for individual study, the bad kids stay at the school and pick up litter, or turn the compost. School uniform should be compulsory, but not just given to a child and told this is it, but actually explain why they have to wear it and what it means, to them to be part of a society. When a detention is given, it should be that night, and not have to get the parents permission. Punishment should be swift, instant and have an effect. Children of all ages have to learn to take the conequencies of their actions. I wish politicians would do the same.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


The Government is considering a proposal to raise the age at which formal reading teaching takes place with an American educational expert asserting that formal teaching of reading to children under 7 can do more harm than good and that boys in particular suffer from such a passive activity.

This says more about the purpose and delivery of teaching than anything else i can think of. My wife read with and encouraged our children to read from birth onwards, Starting with picture books that were highly repetative my children both took great delight in apparently reading (when they were in fact repeating lines learnt by rote) because the repetition that goes with early readers fits with one of the main ways in which children learn.

Reading is fundamental to gaining knowledge (and avoids a lot of painful and dangerous trial and error), and knowledge, as they say, is power.

The Department for education describes our primary education system as at its healthiest for years, at the same time that figures are released for the increasing number of children leaving primary school without basic literacy skills.

For once DC seems to have identified one interesting point, whcih is teaching children according to ability rather than age.

All of this suggests that children can learn to read from a very early age and there are massive advantages to this being the case. However, it is our idea of what consitutes formal education that needs to change. In particula the understandin that at primary level classes need to be much, much smaller so that teaching can genuinely meet the need to findividual pupils rather than being a one-size-fits-all conglomerate that leaves some struggling and some bored.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The Queen's Speech

So the new education idea is to keep kids in education until 18. Some how this doesn't seem to be addressing the major problems in educcation nor does it seem to have taken any advice from those who work at the chalk-face. Where are the smaller class sizes, greater pay and training for staff, more discipline, money for resources and security, offers of vocational training for those less academically gifted? Forcing kids to stay on is not the same as taking 16 year olds with few qualifications and giving them a trade or skills by which they can earn money and consequently contribute tax.

Of course we need new housing, but it needs to be specifically for first time buyers and essential services. We need council houses to replace the stock sold off in the 80s. We need to restrict buy to let and penalise second home ownership. We also need to address the rising population. We need to learn how to educate and motivate our current citizens to fill the jobs available not discard those current citizens who then become disillusioned and potentially criminal by allowing cheap foreign labour to flood the market or reliance on skilled workers to fill positions when we have so many graduates who cannot find work.

Health, yet more regulation. We need to get rid of managers and replace them with practitioners. We need to fund capacity not units, afterall, nobody has suggested we need to pull the army out of Iraq because we've run out of money.

Climate change require an holistic approach not a piecemeal one. Let's put more funding into renewable and clean energies. Subsidise solar panels, increase recycling by offering incentives as well as by taxing. This requires a concerted and cross party effort drawing on expertise that lies in industry and academe, not just a few nice words.

So we are going to hold people without charge from 28 to 56 days. Why? If you can't find any evidence after 28 days what makes you think you'll find it after 56. Why can't the suspect simple be put under house arrest? Or re-arrested? If someone really is identified to the point where they need to be arrested then surely any security force worth its salt has the evidence already.

And the rest?

Little change, so more of the same. The Blair/Brown machine rumbles on with the Conservatives complaining that Labour are stealing all their ideas, reinforcing the notion that Labour and Conservative are now simple shades of the same colour.

What the country needs is change, but one where each step is spelt out in terms of the specific benefit it will bring. It also needs some coherency. It also needs to be more inclusive. What's wrong with asking teachers how they think education could be improved, or nurses the healthservice, or police officers law?

Friday, 2 November 2007

reading & writing

The government announced that their policy of trying to get children to read by throwing money at it has not worked. How is it that a child can go through nearly a decade of education without learning to read? It must have come up at some point during the lesson, their non completion of homework might have been a clue. What strategies have been put in place to combat this at an early stage?
The way to get children to read is to teach them. They should be taught according to their ability, not their age, and parents should take resposibility for this as well, in the age of cheap books, where a childs book can be bought at a charity shop for 10 pence, there is no excuse for not reading to children, or taking the time to listen to them read. If one in five children cannot read when they leave primary school, then that is one in five of the population that has the potential to end up in prison. Thats scary isn't it?
It also comes down to something that I have mentioned before, the inability of continuous governments to understand that the best way to teach children is in smaller classes. This means recognising the worth of teachers, paying them a decent salary, and more important turn them back into a profession, not a service.
The whole system of education in this country is crumbling and needs to be readdressed. By closing schools only to reopen them as acadamies is not the way. Look at Royal Mail as an example of that procedure. Education needs a rethink, it needs to put the children first and by that I mean that all schools no matter where they are should have the same standards, if they havent then its not the children or the teachers who are failing its the government policy.
We have become a nation obseesed by what things cost not what their worth.
Some children can't read because they have been let down by the system, but what excuse is there for politicians who wont hear.
As a tangent to the schools criteria, how about reopening some of the local schools. Small cottage schools where children know each other and so do the parents. Where the teachers live in the area and strangely enough maybe within walking distance. Is it just me or are the roads a lot clearer when the schools are on holiday.
How about building some smaller community schools and just to keep the bills down how about making themgreen and energy sustainable or is that too radical?

Wednesday, 31 October 2007


I'm baffled every year at the casual attitude towards what is quite simply an explosive. Those who peddle illegal fireworks should suffer the same punishment as iff they were peddling illegal weapons. As for the rest, if individuals really want to buy fireworks (and let's face it in terms of value for money any public display is going to be much better) then they should have to buy a license. £20 should cover it plus two forms of i.d. This will act as a disincentive to those who might be buying them for reasons outside of pleasing entertainment. It also means that sales can be tracked. Personally I would be happy to see fireworks banned from sale to all but organised events (which would also need to apply for a license).

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Smacking is wrong

The Government once again turned down the opportunity to completely outlaw smacking of children claiming that it was okay as long as it didn't cause harm. Smacking involves hitting a child. The claim being that unlike adults who can be reasoned with, children require the threat (which sometimes has to be carried out) of physical punishment in order to ensure that they comply with a parental request. Firstly, it is perfectly possible to bring up children to be responsible and well-behaved without ever having to resort to physical punishment (it does however, require a degree of thought and effort). Secondly, if many parents still believe that it is okay to enforce behaviour in this way then why is this option not extended to teachers and other authority figures? If it is okay to smack children, but not adults, at what age does this distinction occur? In law, affray can be caused by motion towards, a smack on another adult would at the least be considered assault. It is never right to smack a child and all it does is teaches the child that bigger people can force smaller people to do what they want by force (don't be surprised then when older siblings smack younger ones, they are, after all, only following your example). Violence leads to violence and a civilised society should find it abhorent in all its forms.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Nearly all children are victims of crime

So says the paper this morning with figures released by the Howard League for Penal Reform. We should all be ashamed. That we live in a society where parents are allowed to abdicate responsibility for the moral upbringing of their children. That 'low level' crime is considered part of growing up. That schools are unable to enforce discipline and are not supported by parents or Government. That respect seems to be a dirty word and the call for equality means ignoring authority. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. Everybody has a responsibility to address this situation and those that don't or won't need to be re-educated or marginalised.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Crime & punishment

If a child commits a crime that is likely to have them sent to prison, but they are under a certain age then their names are not allowed to be published. This is useless as a deterent. The crime and the punishment becomes abstract, but if the names were known then the local community would know who they were and would be able to put a face to the crime and more important the punishment.
I have written before at some length how I feel some kinds of crime should be punished, but there are other serious crimes that need to be taken into consideration. Surely every prisoner who goes into prison should have some form of psychlogoical examination. Some of the most serious offenders suffer from toxic memeory and if they have been sentenced to a long time in prison then there is the opportunity to give them expert help. The prison population needs to be reduced, not by just releasing people because of the lack of room but those people who shouldn't be there. The non-payment of fines, those that have a mental disorder who need medical help. Some alcohol related crimes should be sent to a specialist prison hospitals. This is not to give them a soft time as it will involve the coming off any addictions they may have, drugs drink and probably others that I dont know or wish to know which would undoubtedly be unpleasent.
The prison service needs a huge overhaul. The prison officers should be paid a lot more money. They should be given the opportunity to study for hihger criminal, socialwork and psychological quilifications. Actually create a proffesion of being a prison officer rather than a job.Their working conditions improved, but also the sentences for officers who transgress the law by muggling drugs, mobile phones etc. in to prison should be double that of a person on the outside. Any solicitor found smuggling should also be harshly sentenced as well as being disbarred. But more importantly the prison officers should be given the support of a team of psychologists who can regularly exam inmates and give the officers an updted report and an accuarte prognosis. This may go to help stop incidents before they happen but also as a warning for possible suicides. I don't mean one overwork psychiatrist who turns up every thursday for two hours but a proper team, of four or five well qualified professionals.Like the prison officers the inmates should be given the opportunity to study for qualifications that will help them on the outside, not the education they get now in how to be a better criminal.
We have to make up our mind as to what system we want, rehabilitation or revenge. Its one or the other. Prisoners need to be isolated from society, however they also need to be helped, but that doesn't mean tv or porn magazines and certainly not class A drugs. The idea of having small cells which leads to overcrowded prisons is useless. We need a decent system that treats prisoners as human beings but not as members of society. They have forgone that by committing a crime. They have to be punished but it also means that they need to be helped. A reoffender starts to get less priviledges. Crimes of violence get no privilidges at all. The idea of hard labour when people pointlessly do hard tasks, they used to break rocks into smaller and smaller bits for years on end, might stop them for reoffending. No one would want to go back.
Is this too harsh, yes I suppose it is, but an act of violence is not fun, it leaves the victim traumatised and sometimes they are unable to carry on a normal life, become a prisoner of their own fears. It goes back to the names being shown and the crime being made human. Violence isn't abstract and in the 21st Century its outdated and unnaccetable.


I agree with the previous posting about looking to Europe as a guide to recycling. In Belgium ( yes again) there is a school that has been designed with movable walls, so that in the Summer the classes can be opened up to make cooler and in Winter the reverse happens, but the clever thing is that they use the heat from the kids running about during the day to heat the school rooms. I look at some of the schools in this country and I am amazed that some still have pre-war radiators that send any hot air straight out of the window. If we are going to take recycling in this country at all seriously then we should be charged for the bags we put out, but also if it was worked out on the average per house, then a rebate could be given for the amount of green bags put out.
My council, bless their unbleached fair trade cotton socks are really good, we have the paper, glass and tins box, though this is far too small to cope with the amount of newspapers and junk mail we get through in a week and once a fortnight we get a gardening recycling collection, by far the most useful, but this could be improved by the design of a municipal recycling bin that would seperate and store until the collection. At the moment I have to collect the plastic cartons and packaging and then go to the tip. Surely if we want to get ahead of the recycling regime then there has to be an incentive all round.
I like the comment that house builders don't like putting in green products like solar panels because it is too expensive, well guess what its the law. All new builds have to be energy effecient, and in my mind that means solar panels. So would someone like to tell me why there hasn't been one prosecution lately? With house prices the way they are, I cannot believe that builders are cutting costs to the bone so lets have a few more energy effecient and green houses.
Also the government are very good at telling us to get on the green bandwagon, so lets start seeing some of the ministers cars using bio fuels, converted diesel engines that use vegetable oils and some form of legislation which means that if a new car is sold the owner would have the opportunity to have the car converted to bio fuel at no extra cost to themselves, and the manufacturer would be able to get a tax refund on that car.
Putting tax on things to prevent people buying them has never worked. When I smoked the increase on cigarettes never stopped me, so why should anybody stop using their car if petrol goes up. It should be positive and negative together. Tax rebates that follow the green line and tax increases for those that don't. Then maybe the car manufacturers and the fuel companies would start thinking about the alternatives. Its not rocket science is it?
We have to look to Europe, for example in Germany all taps are fitted with their own little stop valve, so that if a washer need replacing, you don't have to turn off the whole water system, including the pilot light for the central heating etc.etc. but just a little twist and the water is cut off from that one tap enabling you to change the washer or whatever. Its simple things like that that make it easier for everybody. Its easier to replace the washer for the plumber, for you and me. If you know its going to be a pain then we all leave a job until it finally gets out of hand and its going to cost a lot to repair. Imagine the water lost from a dripping tap over a week, a month two months. Its the small things that make the difference.
Try buying milk from a milkman, who delivers. Generally they use the most local herds and deliver in an electric vehicle. Its a small thing but agin if all the small things were put end to end, some corporation would charge rent for its going on their land.
Benjamin Franklin once said that
"for the want of anail the shoe was lost,
for the want of the shoe the horse was lost
for the want of the horse the rider was lost
for the want of the rider the message was lost
for the want of the message the battle was lost
for the want of the battle the war was lost
all for the wamnt of a horseshoe nail"
If you think in terms of global warming which has become rebranded as climate change it the small things that make the difference. I rest my case.

Who to vote for?

Some time ago Chris and I sent our manifesto to the Liberal Democrats along with some suggestions for campaigning at the next election. we are not members and both have a history of voting for other parties at times. However, we also both sensed a merging (to the right) of the Labour and Tory parties, along with an apparently media lead campaign to reduce politics to a simple two way battle. We were lucky enough to be invited to speak to Ed Davey and travelled to london to explain our concerns. It seems likely that a general election will be called before the end of the year and so we have to start thinking about who we should vote for (at this point I will refer only to my own views). In some areas there are clearly going to be two way splits, in others it may be three. I shall vote for the Liberal Democrats not out of support but out of protest. However, I wish it was out of support as the LDs have an opportunity to offer a real, substantive choice to the British electorate. Rather than worry about health or education or law, let me refer only to one simple issue. At the next election, the winning party will not gain more than 38% of the votes. Probably with only 65% of the electorate voting. This means that less than 28% of those eligible to vote will vote for a Government that will then claim a mandate from the people and force through legislation that much of the population will not agree with. The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have promoted the idea of electoral reform and the possibility fo some kind of proportional representation. meaning that more people will be able to influence Government policy. For this reason if no other I will be voting for the Liberal democrats and I urge all other people who are not driven by support of a party when voting to consider this as their best option.

The age of criminal responsibility

I think this may have been referred to elsewhere but I mention it again because of an article in the paper today in which a judge refused to find a youth of 15 guilty of (I think it was) ABH because the judge felt the youth was too young to understand how dangerous it was to fire an air rifle at another person's face.

Excuse me while I walk away for a moment to find a quiet place to lie down for fear that my head might otherwise explode.

There, that's better. Let us revisit this. A four year old is able to understand that taking a biscuit without asking is wrong and will consequently lie when asked, even when their face is covered in melted chocolate. They understand the difference between right and wrong (no I'm not suggesting we prosecute 4 year olds). As an adult I cannot claim I didn't realise how serious my action was as a way of mitigating my action (or perhaps I can). What did the youth in question think would happen? Have we bred a generation compleetly incapable of empathising, or at least putting themselves in the shoes of others? Perhaps if we assume the worst and work backwards this would discourage people. For example, let's assume that if I jump on someone's head it is only a matter of luck if I don't kill them, that is, I should expect that jumping on their head will kill them. Consequently I should be charged with attempted murder. Given that health and safety is quite widespread and that most people would understand the concept of risk assessment it follows that we could draw up a list of actions and consequences so that the laws can be based on what might happen. If people truely understood how easy it is to kill someone by smashing a ton of metal into them, perhaps they might be more inclined to drive with due care and attention.

What should the age of criminal responsibility be? Clearly this is something that should be considered carefully by an appropriate range of people. I'm inclined to suggest 12, with parents being prosecuted for the crimes of those under 12. Of course I would also introduce a curfew so that anyone under the age of 12 could not be out on their own after 7.30, since to allow this to happen would seem to be negligence on the part of the parent. The most difficult group are the 13-17 year olds and whilst I think the police should have greater powers to deal with gangs of youths (if we can capure them on film then why can't they be arrested and prosecuted?), I also think that central and local government has a responsibility to offer young people an alternative to hanging around on street corners (youth clubs, community centres, scouts, guides etc.)


Below is an article that appeared in todya's Guardian:

From mountain to molehill
Flanders' range of initiatives - from rubbish charges to keeping chickens - are dramatically cutting wasteSophie UnwinWednesday September 26, 2007
GuardianProsperity has come at a price in Belgium. As affluence has grown, so has the country's waste mountain - a problem that all governments are finding increasingly hard to ignore.
However, the region of Flanders in Belgium claims to have found a solution, and the world's waste authorities are beating a path to its door. Since 2005, its population has increased and the region has got richer, but the total amount of waste generated has stayed the same. In economists' terms, Flanders has "decoupled" waste from economic growth, and delegations from Russia, China and the UK have all been there recently to find out how they have done it.
Britain is particularly interested. UK figures for total amounts of household waste are roughly comparable with those of Flanders, but there are startling differences: Flanders' recycling rates of 72% in rural areas and over 60% in urban areas are among the highest in the world, dwarfing England's 28%.
One small part of the answer was last week strutting around the suburban garden of Vigoreux Aime, 71. He proudly showed off his chickens - red and black bantams and white leghorns that he keeps for the eggs. He says: "They eat everything - grass cuttings too wet for the compost, and they even love bones."
The chickens are part of Flanders' system of taxes and incentives to reduce its waste mountain. The public waste agency, Ovam, has allowed local authorities to introduce subsidies for a range of waste prevention measures - from compost bins, to chickens and reuse centres.
At the spotless civic amenity centre in Ghent, the different waste categories are organised into dozens of disposal units. There is one for batteries, one for chip pan oil (which will eventually be used as vehicle fuel), and others for furniture, paper, wood and cans. There's even a place where dead pets can be brought for cremation.
And Flanders is well down the track of getting people to pay for what they waste - the system Britain is considering. Under the current system, Ghent citizens can make up to 24 free separate visits a year to drop off their bulky waste. Other recyclable goods are collected for free on separate well-publicised days for each type of material. But households have to pay to dispose of the waste they don't recycle. In Ghent, the price is €1.30 (67p) a sack for any rubbish that cannot be recycled.
Flanders can avoid landfilling largely because it burns most of its waste. The local incinerator in Ghent, next to Ovam's offices, was refurbished in 1996 and takes 100,000 tonnes of waste a year. Last year, it started to recover energy as steam, using it to heat the university hospital 1km away, via a pipeline. Flanders' planning laws, designed to phase out landfill, do place strict limits and quality standards on incineration. But while Ghent has a state of the art "energy from waste plant", incineration is still considered controversial by environment groups and there is no avoiding that there are problems with it.
Ovam's taxes and local authority subsidies are the extension of the principle that the polluter pays. Landfill is taxed at €75 a tonne, while incineration is taxed at just under €7. When the scheme was introduced 10 years ago, waste fell by 30%.
Paul Dobbelaere, general manager of Ivago, the public-private partnership that manages the waste - recyclable and not - of the 250,000 people of Ghent and its neighbour Destelbergen, says: "You have be sure you pick up all the waste. Once that's achieved, you must find an outlet for everything you collect."
Constant demand
Dobbelaere counters the suggestion that the new incinerator that heats the hospital could increase waste figures because of its constant demand for rubbish. It always runs to full capacity, he says, but the city only supplies 60% of its waste. This way, Ivago can earn an income from companies that pay to dispose of their waste - the remaining 40%.
Ivago says people have bought into the whole recycling waste system, and the authorities have communicated the recycling scheme well - not just what they collect, and when, but in leaflets that explain why.
The people of Ghent, it seems, are mostly impressed. "It was so good it meant the council got re-elected," says chocolatier Mia Ackaert.
What has proved more difficult has been reaching the poorer communities in the city centre. Recycling rates are lower here, at 62%. A government law means that Ovam is allowed to communicate only in Flemish, which makes it hard to reach the many different immigrant communities. With high-rise blocks, it is difficult to tell who is responsible for which waste, so some of the central chutes down which people used to throw unsorted rubbish have been blocked up by Ivago.
If a scheme works well, it is probably less likely to be due to any public initiative than to the enthusiasm of individuals - such as Willy Vennaman, a 68-year-old former boxer who is concierge of one block of flats. He sifts through dumped bags of rubbish to identify who has illegally left them, then puts the bag outside their front door. "They don't do it again," he says.
Another scheme flourishing in Ghent is the Kringwinkel chain of "reuse" stores, in which goods are dismantled and repaired. Rows of washing machines and fridges sit next to stripped-off components such as computer cables. The white goods come with six-month guarantees. "Everything can be reused," says the manager, Els Dujen. "There is demand for everything we supply - if it's priced appropriately."
"The message is clear: whether it's cheap chickens, affordable secondhand white goods or expensive rubbish, ultimately, the key is pricing - backed up with well-designed and communicated systems," says Dominic Hogg, a waste consultant, who has visited the region's project and who will soon be advising the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on waste prevention policy.
This year's long-awaited UK waste strategy set for the first time important targets to decrease residual waste - "the amount of waste not recycled, reused or composted". What has been harder, in the UK and in Flanders, has been trying to prevent the waste generated in the first place.
Rachel Eburne, interim director of the Women's Environmental Network, says: "Waste prevention cuts right against the grain of consumer society," she says. "But our experience shows there's huge potential to promote a different model of business - promoting services over products and prioritising quality and durability over 'convenient' disposable items."
Ray Georgeson, director of policy for the UK government's waste and resources action plan, points out the dilemma at the heart of the subject: "No government is in the business of saying we need less stuff." As for charging, he says: "We're positive about the potential for charging, but only if the right elements are in place, such as comprehensive recycling schemes."
The question now is whether the UK will have the courage to follow the lead given by Flanders.
· Sophie Unwin writes for the Ends Report environmental policy journal
· © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Perhaps if everyone put a little more effort into getting things done, rather than saying why things can't be done then we could make the world a better place. It's not just about the environment or global warming, it's about common sense. We have to recognise that resources are finite, so finding new ways to increase the efficiency of our usage makes perfect sense, and could save a lot of money. I'm reminded of a piece on Radio 4 about a railway station (I forget where) that is using the vibrations from the trains to power lights.

While I'm at it, would all the people who object to wind farms for aesthetic reason please explain how they can put up with the miles of pylons that litter the country. I know which I'd rather look at.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

A dogs life

The case of one child being killed and others wounded by dogs, either illegal or legal brings to question about the reasoning of not having a dog licence. Surely the best way of coping with dangerous dogs is to have all dogs registered. Years ago this would have been impossible but with computer techniques and micro chipping this is no longer impossible.
The idea behind it is this. Any dog born in this country or imported would be registered for a fee, if the dog is not registered which would include chipping then the owner would be fined, however if the dog is found to be an illegal breed then the owner would face a five year mandatory prison sentence. The owner of the dog that recently chilled a child was given two months. His action in buying that dog has been the instrumental in the death of a child. Thats not just the death but also taking away its future, the children she might have had, the wonders she would have experienced or even the discoveries that might have been a cure for cancer. We will never know now will we?
The positive outcomes are two fold, it would stop owners just dumping the dogs in the street to fend for themselves and cause extra burdens on the already overwhelmed dogs homes, as the owner could be found through the data base. If the dog is sold or given away then the new owner would have to fill out a registration document, like a car. The five year sentence should discourage some potential owners that think its cool to own an illegal breed. It should also cut down the numbers of dogs being used for dog fighting.
A breed of dog which has been specifically bred for the purposes of fighting is a potential killer and those that sell, own or use them should be treated in the same way as anybody who carries a weapon.
Its not the dogs fault but they pay the ultimate price.
I cannot believe that in this day and age that the RSPCA is a charity. It should be part of the police force and consequently have the same powers of detection and arrest. This worthwhile and invaluable organisation is supported by charitable donations. I'm sorry but even a new recruit policeman should with his ear to the ground know someone on his patch with an unruly dog. The police have got to start being part of the community rather just policing it. Their dog handlers should go around schools showing how to recognise the difference between a good and a bad dog, so if they see this type of dog in the park just tell their teacher. Simplistic? Yes and if being simple can save another child from being mauled by a dog then so be it.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Immigration and Multiculturalism

Immigration is always a hot potato so lets make one thing clear. The vast majority of us are immigrants. This island has a history of immigration from the Romans, the Angles, the saxons, the Vikings, the French to more recent history with immigrants from the West Indies and Africa. But we are a small island with a finite set of resources and supplies and a growing indigenous population and a changing demographic towards smaller family units (largely due to the break up of families and the increasing incidence of single parents, but that's a different rant). We should not be afaraid of controlling immigration. It should also be noted that immigrants fall into 3 categories. Illegal immigrants are people who enter or attempt to enter the country without proper authorisation, they have therefore commited a crime and should ideally be deported or failing that imprisoned (though this still means receiving state support). Though this may seem harsh to many if we rigidly applied the rule it would discourage illegal immigrants from trying to enter in the first place. The second group are asylum seekers, those who fear persectution within their own countries. Humanitariansim suggests that these people should be dealt with with kindness and compassion. However, I am baffled by the number of asylum seekers who manage to pass through many other 'equally' humane and democratic country before reaching the UK. Why should we be singled out as a destination for asylum seekers? If it is part of some international quota then this would seem reasonable as long as the quota has been worked out fairly. However, it does also beg the question at what point should the world take action against countries who are driving their own citizens out. The last group are those people who come to this country because we have employment opportunites that are not met by the indigenous population. Though this begs the question "why are there so many unemployed in the UK?" As part of the European Union we should embrace this economic immigration. However, it does seem strange wneh we are training so many health professionals, who then can't find work that we still require immigrants, from many countries around the world to fill healthcare positions. None of this is about racisim, but it is about nationalism. Which brings me to the second point.

Multiculturalism does not describe a nation. Every country has its own culture, which no doubt borrows and absorbs from other cultures, particularly as a result of immigration, but this simply alters the defining culture. The idea of multiculturalism encourages differences to be placed at the fore, the things that make us different become the defining lements and this leads to ghettoism and racism. America is one of the most multicultural countries in the world and is also one of the most racist. Culture is not based on skin colour or ethnic ancestry, it is based on collective beliefs and shared values. The things that make us 'British' should be shared. However, the idea of Britishness is also one I would argue against. The reason for this is if you ask a Scots person what it means to be Scottish I am sure they could define a set of shared values and beliefs. I would expect a similar ease of response from a Welsh person and allowing for any politcal ideology I would expect the same from an Irish person. So what is wrong with talking about being English? Why has the idea of Englishness apparently been so hijacked by the far right that people feel unable to talk about themselves as English without fear of being accused of racism. For me being English isn't about the colour of your skin, it is about a sense of self and yes it may involve some of the idealised imagery that John Major referred to. What's wong with having nostalgia as part of a collective culture - what's so great about society today anyway?

It is important for the country to have a rational, sensible discussion on immigration that does not focus on easy targets and fall back on the rhetoric of The Sun. It si important to have a debate about culture that recognises not diversity but sameness. That isn't to say that people can't be different, that is what makes them interesting, but it is not what makes a culture, and culture helps to establish a fabric for a society

Tuesday, 14 August 2007


A lot has been written about reality TV being cheap TV, dumbing down and encouraging unrealistic expectations. Certainly programmes like Big Brother, which allow non-entities to become famous for being non-entities suggests that life is simply a popularity contest. While programmes such as X-factor and pop-idol bring out a multitude of people who have no talent, but have gone through a system which does not allow for the idea of failure (lack of competitive sport, lowering of standards for testing, over-praise without any suggested improvements) and as a consequence these people believe they should get through just because they want it.

However, to dismiss all reality TV on this basis seems to be missing a number of stark, yet simple lessons that can be learned about the idea of discipline, and most importantly self-discipline. Before giving examples I am happy to acknowledge that all the following are put together as entertainment and not social experiments (except where the process exists outside the TV programme) and that like all such programmes suffer to a greater or lesser extent from clever editing to make a point.

Take Brat Camp (which exists outside the programme). The ethos of this institution is the establishment of boundaries and the development of self-discipline. True the environment allows a harsh reality check to be imposed with little opporunity to turn away, but it does take some of the teens a while to give in and some do return to their bad ways after the programme (though the success rate seems pretty high). For me the most important part is when the teens are able to reflect on their actions and the consequences and there seems to be a genuine realisation that the two are connected. From this point onwards they are much better equiped to deal with the tasks they are set and there is a sense of achievement at the end. For all that this is a TV programme, the success of the camp begs the question why can't we set up similar schemes over here.

Or how about "That'll Teach 'Em". Run over 3 series it took children out of the modern educational environment with its liberal, childrens rights based teaching (no uniforms, calling teachers by their first names, informal teaching etc.) and placed them in a 1950s Grammar, a 1960s secondary modern and lastly a 1950s style school where the focus was on the different learning styles and abilities relative to sex. The 1950s school was particularly good at showing how rules, or boundaries, whilst initially rebelled against came to be welcomed because they provided clear guidance to pupils and enabled them to focus their efforts on more productive activities. The 1960s school helped demonstrate the benefits of a flexible education system that took into account the individual needs and abilities of students, in particular those who were more vocationally gifted, and were able to gain a sense of achievement through lessons such as brick-laying that they had never experienced before. The final programme also illustrated that boys and girls are different and helped reinforce the benefits of single sex education.

All three series made the children work hard, enforced discipline, provided punishment and gave clear boundaries. At the end of each series it was clear that for the vast majority of pupils the experience had been a positive one and that they not only responded well to the discipline but had more respect for the teachers because of it.

Lastly I'd like to mention Lads' Army/Bad Lad's Army/Bad Lads' Army: Officer Class and to focus on the last two in particular. Young men in the early twenties are perhaps the most dangerous group in any society, particularly if they feel there is no future for them or if they have become drawn into a routine of bad behaviour. Okay, so these blokes volunteered, a few bailed out before the end and perhaps some where not quite as 'bad' as they were made out to be. Even so, what came through, allowing for the excess of the military environment, was the way they responded to (harsh) discipline and through tis were able to develop self-discipline and as a consequence by the end of each series were able to address life with a more positive attitude, having overcome adversity and proved to themselves waht they were capable of achieving.

There are other series that contribute to this debate but for the moment I'd like to dwell on just one aspect, the relationship between discipline and self-discpline. For the moment children are born they need clear sets of rules, that are explained and that are applied rigorously with identified punishments. Children also need to be taught to empathise, to understand how other people might feel in a given situation. Of course they also need to be praised to help positively reinforce 'good' behaviours, but this alone is not enough. As Monica Geller once said "Rules help control the fun", without rules there is chaos, or worse, anarchy. We must trust in those we employ to enforce the rules (which initially should be parents) but we also need to give people the tools to be able to do the job. This means proper parenting classes that deal with the moral and social guidance of children; allowing teachers to impose proper discipline; identifying authority figures and giving them the respect that their position deserves.

At the moment we seem to live in a society where many parents do not know how to bring their kids up and by the time they get to school they believe they can get whatever they want just by being bad, they have no respect for authority and do whatever they want. They grow into unruly young people who are selfish and lack self-discipline. They want everything and they don't want to have to put any effort into getting it. As they become young adults they live their lives without thought of others or the consequences of their action. As adults they find it difficult to hold down relationships and spend much of their lives in needless confontation. To do nothing means allowing this situation to become the norm and to have 'fear' as the main motivation in all our actions.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Children Carers

We are often seeing in the press the figures for children playing truant from school. There are two things that arise from this, 1) why do the children stay away? Giving them presents to attend is not the way. The education system has to "educate" the children into giving part of themselves to the school and its activities. They need to invest in their own education.
One of the remarkable and courageous things I have ever seen was a new headmistress asking her school children what they actually wanted to be taught. It was a revelation including subjects like Japanese. Attendance started going up. The main problem is that children have lost a sense of belonging. It is why the gang culture is so predominant. The gang becomes a surrogate family and education.
There is too much emphasis placed on the academic, though the new skills campaign is a good start it is too little too late. The destruction and deregulation of industries which traditionally had apprenticeships has over the years forced the education system into believing that academic qualifications are the only way. On a bleak sink estate its about survival not about the Romantics or algebra, its about trying to get off the estate with most of your soul in tact, and often skills are the only way to do that. But its also about having pride in what you do. School kids will have an enormous confidence boost if they can do something which puts them on a level with their academic contemporaries. Ask yourself could your carpenter create an apprentice piece that was an exam in the past?
and 2) children carers. These are children as young as 8 in some cases who have to look after one or more parent. These children have to take on the role of parent and mean while be a child. It is obvious that any child is going to suffer from stress, exhaustion and eventually they will go truant from school. I recently read an article which stated that one child had not been to school for two years and no one noticed. What we need is support for these children and there are a lot of them, the official figures say 170,000 but the unofficial say nearer a million, plus they need a joined up social services.
All of the departments of the health, education and social sevices should have a single set of rules of which the top one should be the care of the child on the child's terms. If they are taken away for "their own good" the amount of guilt and feelings of failure will only cause problems later on in their teens and early adult years. If we can help now then it will create good citizens for the future.
There is too much reliance on strict procedures. Where is the human being in this paperwork? Sometimes a person with emotions and fears and stresses and pain who needs help gets lost as a section in the procedures manual. Lets start talking about people not statistics. Lets ask what people in need want and what can help them. We complain that children today don't know how to communicate, well it seems neither do governement departments. I mean its really difficult isn't it to pick up the phone, send an e-mail or even a letter?
On the idea of education, should we have individual qualifications? With the passing of Michaelangelo Antoionni one the great artists if not one of a very rare breed of film maker in that he was a poet of the screen, but and this is the point he trained to be an art historian. Eisenstein on whom all the truly great rules of cinema were based trained to be an engineer. Surely one of the ways to get children to invest in their own future is to get them to choose the subjects they want and not follow some archaic pathway. If they create their own curriculum and timetables don't you think this may be the start of them actually having a slice of the resposibility for their own future? It gives them the choice of career they want to take up not one in which it is expected they will go.

Friday, 3 August 2007


At last someone has come to their senses about having men teaching in primary and junior schools.Children of all ages need to have some form of positive male role model. At the moment the nearest things they have are football players who seem to glory in their own thugishness and are paid huge amounts of money. Why should they stay at school and learn and work when they can do nothing, except be a thug. These young children are in a world where fantsy rules. They believe that if you shoot someone or attack then its ok. Why shouldn,t it be after all they do it every day on their computer games or they see it on the films. Any young person of any age, be it as young as five or as old as 19, who commits an act of violence on another should be made to go and spend an evening at A&E, to see what does happen and the consequences of their actions. I don't blame them, because they have been given power without being taught responsibility. To kill someone not only takes away their past but also their future and the part they play in others futures.
The demonisation of men which seemed to last forever has finally proved to be false, though the Chris Langham trial has probably confirmed the fears of many. I remember articles in womens magazines saying that men were no longer needed, the future was all female, but now it seems that is not so. I never believed it anyway, simply because the same magazines were always stating one week that men needed to get in touch with their femine side and then the following week that women need a real man. Education changed so that more girls could achieve more. Fantastic but at the expense of boys. Now finally the experts, are saying that the teaching system is not working for boys, so they are going to have to change it. Brilliant, go to the top of the class. Next year, the experts will say we need to get the playing fields back so that the kids can do an hour a day sport, but haven't they been built on because the schools were so underfunded that they had to sell them? When are the experts going to start living in my world and not rely on a cross sample which has answered a questionnaire that has been devised to get such an ambiguous set of answers that any conclusion can be reached?
Since the idea of the role of men has changed from the breadwinner to more equal partner, which I think is a positive state, though not it seems in the eyes of the judicery where men are always it seems regarded with suspicion where children are concerned.this has been covered by a specific high profile celebrity so I will not dwell any further. We find that women are taking on the male role a little excessively, such as road rage, binge drinking and street violence. If thats what they want to do then great, but lets not throw stones at the men shall we, when we want to do the same thing.
I may have mentioned this before but its still an important message to make; if a person,(male or female) is arrested for causing a disturbance due to drink, then they should be fined, but not just the standard £80 plus costs, but also the wages of however many policemen it took to subdue them, the cost of the van to take them to the station and the hourly rate of the desk seargent. So assuming it takes 5 policemen to subdue a miscreant and put him/her in the van, then assuming it costs £20 per policeman thats £100, plus another forty for the van plus another £30 for the desk seargent plus the £80 pound standard fine plus the court costs, we are looking at a fine just short of £500. A good night has turned into an expensive one. The idea of being arrested as a rite of passage becomes a serious one. It may also if not paid affect their credit rating.
By the way Britain has more people in serious debt than any other place, well is it any suprise? We also have the highest rates of any country. Why do credit cards have to be at a different rate to the banks. I realise they are bleating about the amount of debt they have to cover, but then if they dropped the interest rate they might find that their customers would pay more than the minimum and pay it off quicker.I do get fed up with their bleating about how hard done by they are, yet I've yet to see a credit card compnay go bust or have their offices reposesed. They made the rules now they want to change them because the free market policy they had isn't working.
If we stopped living with an idealised or demonised image of the world then maybe we wouldn't need half the stuff we have, we might spend less and actually have a good quality of life. I find it shocking that someone should murder another human being for their mobile phone while in other parts of the world they are dying for a want of clean drinking water.

Monday, 30 July 2007


I think the new research on cannabis is very interesting. Does this mean that all the other research has been wrong over the past decade? The millions of users who recreationally use the drug are more or less likely to become subject to some form of mental illness than say alcohol?

What I don't understand is if the research is just about cannabis is it subdivided into different areas. Does Morrocan cause one effect over a long term and Ganga another or say does one partuicular strain become more likely to cause a mental illness?

Its not that the research into the usage I find shocking, but its isolation. It needs to be compared with other forms of taxable and non-taxable drugs, to be put in context. Surely the money for the research shouldn't be on the long term effects but on why young people find it necessary to indulge in a narcotic which makes then feel relaxed? Has there been any real research on why some areas of the population need drugs to get through the day.

We may be one the pivotal nations in the players on the world stage, but really does that matter if huge areas of the country cannot face the world without some form of a chemical crutch. What is progress if people are no better off inside themselves.

Car accidents used to be the main killer of young men between the ages of 15 and 25 now its suicide. We have a situation where young people can text in nano seconds but have nothing real to say; where girls are confusing their sex appeal with self esteem and school children know how to pass exams but not write a sentence. We seem to have lost our way and everything is seen in terms of profit.

Programmes on the television about houses used to be about making a home more comfortable, more family orientated but now it always ends with how much extra money they are worth. We seem to have forsaken the ideas of a good and healthy existence for a more wealthy one. When we discover that not everything can be valued in monetary terms but more about the quality of life then we may just understand why people commit slow suicide by taking narcotics.

However on a lighter note, if the research is absolutely correct and I have no doubt it is, then with the most recent revelations it must mean that some members of the house of commons, including the government contains people who are about to become mentally ill. Does this mean when they change their policies they can blame it on their other personality?

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Green Plastic

We are producing more rubbish than we can cope with, especially plastics. Anybody who has unpacked a childs toy knows exactly how much useless packaging there is, though strangely never any batteries. The benefit and pain of plastic is that you can't destr0y it, but you can mould it. So why cant we take the rubbish and either compress or mould it into building blocks for sea and river defences. It would be cheap and by the looks of it an everlasting supply. It would also be durable and easy to repair.

Adding to that why can't we build housing estates in the sea. If we can build complex harbours then why not housing estates. They can do two things; supply cheap housing without encroaching on the already dininishing green field sites, plus if they were built correctly then they could stop the erosion of the coastline by acting as a sea defence. All we would do is to take the idea that the Dutch had years ago and improve upon it.

We constantly overload land fill sites with rubbish that can never degrade, so here is the alternative.

On another point, why are new houses still not being built with energy saving equipment. Surely there should be a law, maybe there is but I can see plenty of houses being built without one sight of a solar panel or a wind turbine, so why is the law not being implemented.

But then again why is the government not giving hard tax bills to motor manufacturers that are still building cars with conventional fuels and why not give really good tax incentives to companies that only build cars with bio/hybrid fuels. The same would go for fuel suppliers.
By the way putting up taxes doesn't work, but tax incentives does. If high taxes worked then we wouldn't have one smoker left in the country, or one driver.If a manufacturer was going to save millions by following the party line or lose the same amount by not following it I think a shift in the paradigm might take place.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The rise in interest rates.

I am amazed that the Bank of England is allowed to put up interest rates, to curb inflation while the railways are allowed to put up their fares by 30% above inflation. Lets us not forget that the railways for all their blustering are still subsidised by the tax payer, so in fact we pay twice. Where does this money go, as I thought that the whole point of privatisation was the need to raise investment, to lower the prices and make the service more efficient. I understand that the trains are slower now than a hundred years ago. So much for the price of progress. Surely the time has come to reevaluate the idea of a privatised service. Either one thing or the other. Either a completely privatised service without the subsidies so letting the market dictate the price of the tickets or a nationalised service. In a time when we are all supposed to be more aware of our carbon footprint and doing less driving in our cars, putting up the fares smacks of a severe lack of common sense.
The other question therefore that arises from the interest rate rise is why? We already have the highest rates in Europe, so much so that the tourists we were hoping for this summer can't come here,and why would they want to, with badly managed hotels, a n idea of customer service that stems not from some of the greats but from the charm school of a 1950's seaside landlady, with really bad weather and high prices as well.
The question that has been worrying me is where does the extra money go. It will cost me an extra 16 GBP on my mortgage each month but where does it go? Does it go to the Building society? Why should I pay them extra for something I have already negotiated. Does it go to the government, if so what do they do with it? The NHS or Education perhaps? If so then why are both in a state of neglect. Why do we have to pay extra for it. Surely with all the new economists coming out of universities across the globe someone must have worked out how to curb inflation by now. If its to curb borrowing then why isn't it just put on new borrowers not on the already established borrowers who already have their loans and mortgages. If its a choice of 2pence extra on a can of beans and 16 pounds every month on my house so putting me under stress and worry of the possibility of losing my house, then what do you think is going to be my answer. I can do without the beans.
This leads to another point, why do I have to pay an interest rate of double figures for a credit card when the bank rate is so low? Why should their be a variable rate according to status. This discriminates those who already have problems getting a loan because of their credit rating so making those in financial hardship worse off so actually subsidising the rich. Surely there should be a standard rate, and if there is concern about payback then a small insurence policy to cover the loan should cover that problem, so allowing the worse off to maybe invest in their own future instead of being hampered by a credit system that is the worst in Europe. Only now are we getting what the Europeans have had for years, 25 year fixed mortgages. No wonder the amount we owe is the largest in Europe.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Parental responsibility

Why is it when discussing the youth of today no-one ever asks why parents haven't brought their children up to be decent human beings or assisted their children to find alternative hobbies and interests to aleviate the 'boredom' that leads to bad behaviour. There are plenty of youth clubs, drama groups, dance groups, scout groups and other activities available, but they require time, money (though often very little) and motivation.

Having children is a huge responsibility which many seem unaware of, unprepared for or unable to cope with. To what extent should the state intervene? Many of those who decry involvement and claim that they know best how to bring up their children are the same ones who heap responsibility for moulding their children on the school system.

Schools should have a wide educational remit, though it is stifled by paperwork and national initiatives, but children need to reach school already understanding the difference between right and wrong, accepting authority and understanding the need for boundaries. They MUST be able to put themselves in the position of others to be able to develop empathy. This is the responsibility of parents. Frankly if they can't manage this, then they really shouldn't have children in the first place.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Government is to spend an extra £14m in school teaching kids how to be polite and cope with disappointment. I'm guessing that this money is going to be spent in secondary schools.

Firstly, surely the people responsible for teaching kids manners, and how to deal with disappointment from day one are parents. Clearly many parents are not fulfilling their duty to their children to bring them up as responsible citizens. Most of this should be in kids before they get to school and school should simply reinforce it.

We could leave it up to parents but their seem to be a generation out there who either don't know how or don't want to bring their children up to be morally responsible citizens. How could a Government affect this? Well, the obvious thing is influence them with incentives. It should be possible to ring fence child allowance for under 5s so that it can only be spent on product relating to the care of children of that age. This could be done in the form of vouchers. Extra tax relief could then be offered to parenst who take and pass a course in parenting. This could cover both practical parenting and issues such as moral responsibility. Clearly parents who don't take, or don't pass such a course would then be registered with social services as being potentially at risk. Notice the word is potentially. Clearly some parents may make a fantastic job of brining up their children pre-school and these people should receive an assessment that entitles them to claim the money they would have received as a lump sum.

Far too many people bleat on about the nanny state, yet these are the same people who are outraged at the increase in teenage violence. For a Government to influence a generation it must have access to them during their formative years. The breakdon of family, the influence of the church (I am not religious) and of communities has lead to a situation where people seem isolated. We all live in a thing called 'soiety'. We are all affected by the actions of others. To not get involved seems to be an invitation to anarchy.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007


Here's the basic manifesto:

Like many people we chew over the problems of everyday life and are often amazed that sometimes simple answers appear to have been overlooked. The following is based on 6 months of ruminating and is intended as a starting point for discussion.

Ideas for a manifesto

Respect for other people
Respect for other people’s property
Respect for authority

The right to live our lives as we see fit as long as we do not harm others, their property or the environment.

The responsibility to uphold the law and to make the country a better place for all to live in. To take responsibility for our own actions and the actions of those we are responsible for. A truly caring society recognises the principle of from each according to their ability to each according to their need (just because something is old-fashioned or associated with a different ideology doesn’t make it wrong).

1 Health
The National Health Service is a national responsibility both in terms of payment and delivery. We want to see it protected, improved and valued by the community. To remove inequality and bad practice through national initiatives and the involvement of staff in decision making.

1.1 The NHS crumbles while private health care grows.

Tax private healthcare to push prices up.
Private healthcare organisations to pay a supplement to cover the cost of training for any newly qualified (within 5 years) staff.
Pay nurses more money and recognise the knowledge, skills and experience they have by giving them greater authority.
More nursing assistants to be trained in and responsible for personal care.
Consultants to work for 1 organisation only.
Private clinics forced to pay a commercial rate for all NHS services used.

Extra tax used to support NHS.
Training costs recovered.
Better use of nurse resources – taking some of the load off newly qualified, junior doctors and recognising nursing as a profession not a service.
Better personal care for patients; more actual care jobs created.
Removal of two tier activities and subsidised private services.

1.2 NHS Management lacking understanding of care operations

New managers to have a care qualification and five years care experience. Offer appropriate management training to those care staff who are considering management.

Managers of any organisation can only be truly effective if they understand the nature of the work place. This ensures that they will.

2 Education & Employment

Education is the most important aspect of national government because it is the foundation upon which the bricks of social cohesion are placed. Educators are our most important contributors and children our most important asset if we are to build a society that everyone can be proud to live in. We want to see greater respect for the education system, more resources, particularly at primary level and more support from all those involved, especially parents.

2.1 Primary learning – lack of funding, resources and focus.

Emphasis needs to be placed on primary learning, therefore double the investment and halve class sizes. Stream for major subjects.

Children are programmed to learn between the ages of 3 and 13 (anyone with a knowledge of language acquisition will acknowledge this). Pupils will get more, and more appropriate, input at the most important time for supported learning.

2.2 Working parents/Healthy eating/exercise

School days to run from 9 to 5 with supervised study periods removing the need for home work. Also breakfast clubs (paid for by parents except those whose children would qualify for free meals) and after school clubs to give parents commuting time and assist in ensuring children receive a good balanced diet. Re-introduce one hour a day of physical exercise. The extra hours and supervised activities do not need to be supervised by teachers but could be covered by teaching assistants or some newly created position.

Will allow more parents to work. Can help generate money for schools (through meals) whilst assisting in ensuring children eat more healthily. Longer days will also allow the introduction of one hour a day of exercise, which will help reinforce the importance of regular exercise and address issues of children’s health. Supervised study instead of homework will allow for more effective study time and mean that out of school will provide for genuine leisure time. It will also take pressure off parents, so providing a less stressful home life.

2.3 Falling standards in education

Pay teachers more. Focus on pupil learning rather than bureaucratic paperwork. Offer regular professional development opportunities.

If children are our future then the guardians of those children should be amongst the most respected and dedicated members of society. Better pay will encourage more (better qualified) people into the profession. The focus on paperwork is harming pupils – focusing on learning as the only really important criteria will make sure that we move away from the rote learning for tests that we have at the moment, where understanding seems to be being lost. Regular opportunities for professional development will encourage teachers to continually improve the quality of their knowledge and skills.

2.4 Assisting individual pupils to get the best out of a national secondary education

All schools from 11-16 to be single sex with the opportunity for mixed sex sixth forms.
Streaming according to ability for all students in all major subjects, allowing for advancement from one streaming level to another as abilities improve.
Allow for the study of vocational subjects as well as academic ones.

11-16 is an extremely difficult time for children passing through puberty and the associated hormonal changes and emotional upheaval. Single sex schools will minimise the impact of these changes on education. This also acknowledges that the sexes learn in different ways.
Streaming students allows the brighter ones to be stretched and the weaker ones to have greater support. Doing this across all major subjects allows for pupils who may excel only in one or two areas.
Vocational subjects will allow those who are not academically minded to still develop useful skills, especially given the lack of apprenticeship schemes and the need for more crafts people (such as plumbers).

2.5 Post-16 school-leavers having no opportunities

Pupils leaving school at 16 who do not find a job within 3 months and any others aged 16 to 18 without employment should undertake 2 years of paid national service. This could be with either a voluntary or community organisation, in the UK or overseas, or with one of the armed forces.

Pupils who leave school before 18 often do so with no direction. Paid national service will ensure that they do not simply drift around getting into trouble and will instead learn a trade, provide a valuable service for those in need and attain an employment reference. Also they will have the opportunity to experience activities that could lead to full employment.

2.6 Higher education

All higher education should be free. If finance were the only issue then all graduates/diplomates should pay 1% above the basic rate of tax once their salary is over a certain threshold(since for most a qualification should lead to a better paid job) until such time as the cost of their education is paid for.

Higher education is a basic human right and offers enormous opportunities and benefits beyond simply an improved education. The right to free education carries the responsibility to pay back for the better opportunities provided.

2.7 Schools are subject to arson causing disruption and financial cost.

All schools to be fitted with sprinkler systems and direct alarm links to the emergency services.
Less disruption and costs.

2.8 Bullying

Stop calling it bullying when most of the acts committed are definable as violence and abuse. This makes them criminal offences, and they should be treated as such. CCTV should be fitted in all schools and community police officers should patrol at entry and exit times. Those committing offences should be referred for counselling and their parents made to attend parenting classes. A designated care officer should be appointed in the school to act on behalf of the victim and would be available for pupils to email, speak, ring or write to in strictest confidence. This officer would have direct links with staff, the community officers and social services.

Schools become better by being safer places. It will encourage all pupils to see that this behaviour is unacceptable at an early stage by reinforcing the seriousness of such offences.

3 Politics
Politics has become cynical and jaded to the point where politicians seem more interested in doing what is popular and will keep them in power rather than having a vision of collective, social responsibility that can be backed up through logical argument. We want to see a fairer more positive process that genuinely engages the population.

3.1 Lack of democratic participation

Voting is compulsory, but all ballot papers to contain a box indicating “none of the above”.
Investigate a range of electronic voting systems, web-based, inter-active TV etc.

Increased participation and therefore interest. Emphasis on social responsibility of individuals.

3.2 Biased voting system

Proportional representation based on a national list of candidates.

National government is about governing nationally. Local government is already covered by local councils. Proportional representation will allow for fairer representation.

3.3 National identities within the UK

Independence for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England (in the same way that Canada and Australia are so that the Queen remains Head of State).

This recognises the importance of self-government for independent nations. A sense of ‘national’ pride and identity can be seen when the ‘home nations’ participate in sport, so why not acknowledge this through political autonomy. It would also alleviate the criticisms relating to an English parliament interfering in Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish decisions.

3.4 Imbalance in political campaign funding.

Cap spending on political campaigning.

Level the playing fields between the major parties and reduce the influence of rich individuals and organisations.

3.5 Negative politics leading to cynicism and disinterest amongst voters.

Election material may not make reference to what other parties have/have not done, may/may not do. Material may only say what that party would do.

Currently, actual policy gets lost in unnecessary point scoring; it stops voters from knowing what each party stands for and therefore making an informed decision. This system would ensure that voters could make an informed choice in the same way they do about any other product that they may wish to invest in.

3.6 Ministers lacking knowledge or experience in the areas they control.

In order to become a minister for state an MP must have some relevant qualifications or experience. Must have an advisory group made up of 3 seconded members from industry including at least 1 from the basic grade (i.e., teacher, nurse etc.). Ministerial positions to last for the term of the parliament, unless the minister is sacked for incompetence/misconduct.

There is no other job that seems to require so little in terms of qualifications and experience. This will ensure a better understanding of the implications of policy decisions, and greater empathy with those affected. No minister can be expected to grasp the requirements of the job and to implement the necessary policies without adequate time in the post.

3.7 Politicians not doing the job.

Politicians should not be allowed to work as anything else while being an MP.

A decent level of pay for a decent job should ensure that the job in question is done to the best of that person’s ability without hindrance or interference from outside. Why is it accepted that Directors of commercial companies (even ones whose companies are not performing well) should receive vast remunerations and yet those in charge of our country should not?

3.8 Manifesto pledges

Must be kept or if factors change which make this impossible they should have to be explained in detail, with an independent group punishing any party which has been proved to have been negligent in its proposals or to have mislead the electorate about its intentions.

Promises are made to be kept, not broken. Otherwise the public will lose faith in what politicians say. We would not accept it from a business; it is not acceptable from an organisation that asks for our vote.

3.9 The civil service

Government to put own senior civil servants in place.
Senior civil servants sacked if they fail to put a manifesto promise into place.
Senior civil servants recruited from all areas of society.

The civil service needs to be seen to be more accountable.

4 Law & Order
The basis of all law and order initiatives should be: prevention; detection; rehabilitation; punishment. We want to see more social support to help stop crime. We want to see more police to help detect crime. We want to see more constructive responses so that there is less re-offending and more contribution made by criminals. We want to see those who are not prepared to value the sanctity of the person removed from our streets permanently.

4.1 Gun Crime

The carrying of an unlicensed gun is punishable by a mandatory life sentence.

A clear message that guns simply will not be tolerated. Some may argue that this will encourage usage, but as many guns will be detected before they are used it will ensure that those carrying, who may subsequently have used, will be removed from the streets

4.2 Alcohol related crime

A national ID card must be presented in order to buy alcohol. If a person is convicted of a violent offence whilst drunk their ID will be tagged so that they cannot buy alcohol again.

National ID cards will allow information to be transferred quickly onto data-bases and therefore criminal histories to be more quickly and completely accessed.

4.3 Trial jury inconsistencies

Professional jurors, selected and trained in the required aspects of law with regular opportunities to up-date knowledge and assess suitability.

This would allow more suitable people to be called to undertake what is a very important job, they could be properly checked, trained, assessed, up-dated and monitored.

4.4 Inconsistent sentencing

Set up a professional, independent committee to produce a list of fixed penalties for each and every offence, starting with the most serious and working down. Where possible a distinction should be made between violent crimes (violence against the person or property) and non-violent crimes. Non-violent crimes where possible should be dealt with using non-custodial methods; fines; community service orders etc.

No more reliance on the decision of individual judges. The opportunity to give careful consideration to ensuring that the punishment adequately fits the crime based on a whole history of cases rather than as a knee jerk reaction to one current case.

4.5 Violent crime

Murder = life, means life.
Violent crime always to carry a custodial sentence.

Violence cannot be tolerated in any way shape or form. It is an abhorrent deviation from what is acceptable. It shows no respect for others and therefore demands that offenders are kept away from the rest of society.

4.6 Overcrowding in prisons/drugs/guns/violence

Where possible prisoners must be rehabilitated, which should include psychological assessment and support as well as educational and vocational support.
Prison must be a punishment and prisoners must earn everything above and beyond the most basic requirements (food, clothes, a toilet, a bed, the opportunity for exercise and the opportunity for rehabilitative support).
No physical contact allowed between prisoners and the outside world. All letters, parcels to be x-rayed and checked using a drug-sniffer dog.
Violent offenders must be kept in separate prisons from non-violent offenders.

There is little point in simply locking people up and then wondering why they re-offend. The point of prison should be to try and ensure that people do not re-offend.
Prisoners must show that they are making an effort to participate in rehabilitation – some will not want to change and those are the ones who either must not be released or must be released in a way that stops them from re-offending (such as electronic tagging and mandatory life for 3 offences).
Drugs/guns can only come from outside prison, unless brought in by staff. A physical barrier (as they have in America) between inmates and visitors should reduce the opportunities for drug smuggling.
Non-violent offenders should not be expected to have to put up with violence and so should not be housed in the same prisons.

5 Transport
Transport in the UK is a disastrous mix of private selfishness and public chaos. We want an integrated public transport system that offers the public a fast and efficient service whilst getting private users to take greater responsibility for their actions.

5.1 Speeding

More cameras; hidden. Increased fines. All profit to go into improving public transport.

There is no grey area, if you break the law you should expect to pay. The government should be proud of the fact that motorists who break the law are helping to fund improvements to public transport.

5.2 Poor driving

All motorists to resit driving test every 10 years.

Better awareness of road laws (particularly any changes). More employment for driving instructors/examiners. More revenue for the government, which can also be used to improve public transport.

5.3 Driving whilst disqualified or without insurance.

Mandatory custodial sentence from 1 year to 5 years, depending on number of offences.

Driving a car means being in control of an object that can cause devastating damage to property and people and drivers need to take their responsibility to drive safely, more seriously.

5.4 Causing death by dangerous driving, such as attempting to evade the police.

Mandatory life sentence.

In the wrong hands a car is a deadly weapon and should be treated as such. We take cars for granted until it is too late, we must learn to be more responsible. Why should someone who is drunk and waves a gun be considered any more dangerous than someone who is drunk and drives ton of metal anywhere near pedestrians.

6 Pensions, Wages, Benefits & Taxes
From each according to their ability, to each according to their need. We want to see a working, welfare and taxation system that sustains each member of society whilst providing a transparency that enables them to see their social responsibility.

6.1 Inequality in tax

Earnings below £10,000 do not pay tax. Earnings above £100, 000 pay 50% tax.

Low earners simply do not earn enough and should not pay income tax. Fairer taxes are those that target what money is spent on. However, anyone earning more than £100, 000 will lead a privileged lifestyle and should be prepared to pay more to assist those who do not have the opportunity to reach that level.

7 Media, Culture, Art & Sport
The media of this country is amongst the finest in the world and as long as it is still able to operate freely, to criticise and be criticised, it will remain so. Culture is an important issue but one that is too deep rooted whilst at the same time perceptually peripheral to be addressed as a single issue here. Art and sport equally occupy positions that move beyond the political focus of government and as such need to be addressed separately.

7.1 Attacks on the BBC

Enshrine the license fee in law along with an increase based on inflation.
Allow the BBC to develop more digital channels aimed at minority or specialist groups.

The BBC is important because of its efforts in political even-handedness. It is the only broadcaster that is not subject to the pressures brought by commercial sponsors. It must be protected and allowed to fulfil its role as a public service broadcaster.

8 Energy & The Environment
If you are not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem. We must take positive steps now to change the way we generate energy in order to protect the environment and our future.

8.1 Depleting energy reserves

Fund long-term replacement of all energy needs with sustainable energy resources.

To help achieve the necessary funding we would not replace this countries current nuclear weapons capability. We would also cap the profits of energy suppliers so that excess profits could be used. It is false economy and gross negligence to argue that the cost of alternative fuels makes them prohibitive. Nuclear fuel is only acceptable because of huge subsidies and the long-term effect of the continual burning of fossil fuels will far outweigh the short-term cost of developing viable alternative solutions.

8.2 Fox hunting

Ban it

No other ‘pest’ is controlled in such a barbaric manner. Taking delight in the torture and death of animals is seen as a trait of potential psychopaths; fox hunting is no different.

9 Civil Liberties
Rights bring responsibilities. Anyone committing a criminal act is abdicating their responsibilities and as such must accept that they forfeit their rights. The introduction of a national identity card would allow numerous benefits. It would need to be phased in over time, but the cost would not be prohibitive as most of the technology is currently available and people already accept that they have to pay for various forms of identification, such as passports and marriage licenses. An identification card would then allow certain controls to be introduced, such as the purchase of alcohol and fireworks. It could be used by the police to check immediately if a person had been convicted of a crime, or if they were wanted for a crime. The rights of the individual can still be protected by regulating on what occasions a card could be requested or demanded. We already carry numerous forms of ID (driving license, credit card, loyalty card, library card, bus pass, work ID), containing large amounts of information stored on various databases. ID theft will always occur but is not a reason to not have an ID card.

10 Europe & Foreign Policy
We must be at the heart of Europe, helping to shape it. We must remember that our first responsibility is to the people of this island. Any actions in other parts of the world must have a clear, positive impact on the population of the UK otherwise they will unnecessarily divert attention away from the one place where real, positive changes can be made.