Wednesday, 29 September 2010
In doing so he has shown good grace and sound judgment.
Unlike his political opponents inside the Labour Party - who fought a paralysing civil war against Tony Blair's leadership for 13 long years.
What some people like to forget is that Tony Blair won a comprehensive victory in all 3 sections of the Labour Party's electoral college - even though the voting system is plainly bonkers.
He won the clear support of party's MPs, affiliated trade unions and - most important of all - individual party members.
Tony Blair went on to win 3 general elections - the only Labour leader ever to do so.
But this was still not enough for his detractors - the malcontents and goons surrounding Gordon Brown principally - along with union leaders trying to protect their own vested interests.
David Miliband has decided to give his brother and their supporters a clear run - without being second guessed or undermined by a rival leadership from within their ranks.
In doing so David Miliband has turned his back on the old-fashioned, machine politics - that have promoted his younger brother Ed - to his new status as leader of the pack.
What remains to be seen is whether Ed Miliband can show the same leadership and selflessness in his political judgments - because if not, he is doomed to fail.
Party leaders who make the political weather - are testament to the fact that it's not just the winning that counts - ultimately it's how you win - because that's what sorts out the political wheat from the chaff.
So, the best part of the Labour Party conference - so far at least - was the priceless exchange between David Miliband and Harriet Harman - during the Labour leader's speech.
As Ed Miliband declared it was wrong to take the country to war in Iraq - his brother David noticeably failed to support the sentiment.
Better still David Milliband then upbraids the former Deputy Leader - Harriet Harman - sitting next right next to him - and says:
"Why are you clapping, you voted for it?"
Harman responds - without a trace of irony - "I'm clapping because, as you know, I am supporting him."
Now the point is not the rights and wrongs of the war in Iraq - on which everyone has a view.
The point is whether people get away with re-writing history - presenting themselves as opponents of military action in Iraq - when, in fact, they've said nothing of the kind for the past seven years.
So, David Miliband's point - although he obviously never put it this way - is that Harriet Harman and her kind are hypocrites.
Because they have absolutely no compunction about saying one thing - and then doing another.
Steve Bell in the Guardian portrays Ed Miliband at the conference rostrum - mouthing platitudes to the famous song by The Who - My Generation.
Since many readers will be too young to remember the words - here you are.
People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
Why don't you all f-fade away (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
And don't try to dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I'm not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
Why don't you all f-fade away (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
And don't try to d-dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I'm not trying to cause a b-big s-s-sensation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I'm just talkin' 'bout my g-g-generation (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Just because we g-g-get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Yeah, I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
Because politicians and brass necks go together - like love and marriage or a horse and carriage - and most politicians will say whatever it takes to get elected - then pray that voters have short memories.
In all the comments about Ed Miliband's speech at the Labour Party conference - here's one from John Rentoul at The Independent which strikes a chord.
"If he (Ed Miliband) had won by a clear margin I would have said that Labour had chosen the Panda as its leader. He is soft, cuddly and panders to every oppositional instinct in the party. There has been no position taken by the Labour government - of which he was a member - that he was not prepared to trash if he thought Labour members would like it.
Tuition fees, Iraq, the third runway for Heathrow: you name it, he disowned it. Even, in the case of the third runway, a policy for which he had direct ministerial responsibility. There has been no part of the manifesto, which he wrote, that he has not been prepared to ditch."
John Rentoul is chief political editor at The Independent and former deputy editor at the New Statesman - so he knows a thing or two about the dark arts of spin doctoring.
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Now this sounds suspiciously like the same policy announced by former Glasgow City Council leader - Stephen Purcell - at the Scottish Labour Party Conference in March 2009.
But what does it mean - does it mean that the Scottish Labour leader now accepts that many women's jobs in the public services - have been undervalued and underpaid for years?
If so, where has he been all this time - when the fight for equal pay has been the single biggest issue facing councils in Scotland - many of them Labour controlled?
If we assume that Iain Gray is a new convert to the cause of equal pay - presumably we can also assume that he supports thousands of women workers being compensated properly - for the losses they've incurred over the years.
Because for many years traditional male jobs - such as refuse workers, gravediggers and gardeners - have been paid a great deal more than £7.00 an hour - £9.00 or £10.00 an hour in some cases.
Yet, their female counterparts - Home Carers, Cooks, Classroom Assistants, Clerical Workers and Cleaners - have been getting paid a lot less - in some cases only £6.00 an hour.
So, what is this new Labour policy all about - does it apply in South Lanarkshire Council, for example - where there has been no settlement of equal pay claims - and where the unions are not fighting a single case?
The unions have been quick to welcome the announcement - but of course these are the same unions who turned a blind eye to the problem for years.
In fact the unions kept women workers deliberately in the dark - about the big differences in pay between male and female jobs.
What Iain Gray has still to explain is how this scheme would work and what it will cost - how many jobs will benefit and will a new Labour government at Holyrood provide the funds required?
Precisely how will it be implemented - given Scottish councils have already set a 0.65% pay increase for this year - and a zero (0) % increase for the following two years?
So many questions and so few answers.
But it's a safe bet that people will be mightily unimpressed - if Iain Gray's statement turns out to be no more than cynical electioneering - with an eye on next year's elections to the Scottish Parliament.
Paul Hutcheon revealed that chief constables are still receiving an outdated property perk - the total bill for which runs to millions of pounds a year.
MPs and MSPs are rightly querying why senior officiers are still receiving these payments - long after the case for making them has disappeared.
Before September 1994 - police officers were granted an allowance that contributed to their housing costs, but the government scrapped the the handout for new recruits - presumably on the basis that no other public service workers were treated this way.
But existing beneficiaries kept the payment - which can work out at around £3000 a year for ordinary beat police - and nearly £6000 per annum for chief constables.
And the allowance can still benefit officers who have been promoted to senior roles - since 1994 - and are now in jobs that attract six-figure salaries.
Figures released by each force show the allowance is being given to most of the country’s chief constables.
Scotland’s biggest force, Strathclyde Police, is facing a multi-million pound funding gap in the next four years, yet it shelled out £8.1 million last year in housing and rent allowances to officers.
For example, Chief Constable Stephen House, who earns around £178,000 a year - received £9,132 through the housing perk over four years.
In addition, House received £34,243 in bonuses between 2008 and 2010, while his deputy Neil Richardson took home a performance top-up last year of £11,447.
The picture is similar across the rest of Scotland - and no doubt south of the border too.
The information was unearthed using Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation - and goes to show that the Scotland's public services still have a two-tiered workforce - where some groups of workers continue to be treated much more favourably than others.
Predictably one of the teaching unions is up in arms - claiming that disproportionate weight was already given to parents' views - which is far removed rom my personal experience.
The Scotsman ran an interesting article about this at the weekend - with two people arguing the case for and against.
Yes - says Eileen Prior
Parents need to be involved. We talk about parents as partners in children's education, but if we are serious about that, then they have to be part of it.
Parents have to be more involved in reviewing how schools are doing. The majority of parents want the best for their children and they have knowledge about what works for them.
For schools not to get that information, they would be really missing out. There are areas where parents can help, for example identifying a community project which can fit in with the new Curriculum for Excellence.
They could contribute views on a variety of subjects from disciplinary policy to school meals to whatever: we take the view that the more heads working on a problem, the more likely you are to find a solution. It is very easy to see parents as complaining, but often they are very supportive.
Eileen Prior is the director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.
No - says Hugh Reilly
Less is more would be my response. Currently, the role of mums and dads is to trust the education professionals, support their child's learning and queue patiently at parents evenings. In the struggle for the lunatics to take over the asylum, parents have made great strides.
For example, school board members have a say in appointments to the school management team, and parental feedback regarding school policies and plans is enthusiastically solicited.
A touchy-feely culture now exists whereby, in techno-savvy schools, mums and dads receive text messages regarding a child's progress.
Pupils have become de facto postmen, taking home school junk mail.
In my view, any parent desiring more participation in school life should immediately be confined in a small room with the Curriculum for Excellence Guidelines and a group of disaffected teenagers.
Hugh Reilly is a Glasgow secondary teacher
In my view Eileen Prior wins the argument hands down - people in all walks of life put up with pushy clients or customers from time to time - it goes with the territory - teachers should just deal with it instead of carping and moaning all the time.
Hugh Reilly's comments are clearly tongue in cheek - but the small minority of teachers who resent a stronger role for parents in schools - give the rest of the profession a bad name.
Teachers who identify with Hugh's comments sound like a school 'jannie' I used to bump into from time to time - his favourite saying was: "This would be a great job you know, if it wisnae for the weans!"
Sunday, 26 September 2010
But to be fair it has done what it was designed to do - which is to give union leaders undue influence over key party decisions - by galvanising a small handful of union activists to vote in a particular way or, as in this case, for a particular candidate.
Democracy it ain't - instead it's all about machine-like, Tammany Hall politics - also known as vested interests and raw power.
Consider for a moment the voting figures which decided who would be the next Labour leader - and potentially, at least, the country's next Prime Minister.
199,671 trade unions votes were cast in the trade union section of the electoral college - 80,266 for David Miliband and 119,405 for Ed Miliband.
Before the ballot took place the unions were boasting that around 3,500,000 trade unions members would be invited to vote - in a veritable orgy of union democracy.
Yet the turnout of around 6% means that ordinary union members voted with their feet - apart from a tiny number of union activists - who have no claim to represent the views of the wider membership.
The voting figures also confirm that Labour's electoral college is to democracy - what Alice in Wonderland is to quantum mechanics.
Because the Miliband of brothers received the votes of 122,806 individual Labour party members - 66,814 for David Miliband and 55,992 votes for Ed Miliband.
Before the ballot - Labour claimed 170,000 members would be entitled to vote - so the turnout of party members is respectable - at just over 70%.
MPs voted in even greater numbers, as you would expect, and cast 262 votes in total - David Miliband receiving 140 and his brother Ed receiving 122 - so the turnout amongst MPs was well over 90%.
Yet all three sections of the electoral college get the same weighted vote - i.e. 1/3rd, 1/3rd and 1/3rd.
So the end result is that some votes are much more equal than others.
In Labour's electoral college reality is turned on its head - much like Alice in Wonderland - with the incredible effect that somehow or other - 6% = 70% = 90%.
Whatever this is it's not democracy - more trade union members voted (199,671) than the entire Labour party membership (122,806) - which just about says it all.
Maybe these people were Tory, Lib Dem or SNP supporters - seeking to influence the outcome - who knows?
But what we do know is that the new Labour leader was not elected by his own party members - which is a sad day and a bad day - for anyone with a passing interest in democracy.
Saturday, 25 September 2010
Ed won the contest by 50.65% to 49.35% of the total votes cast in the electoral college - a close result as predicted.
But he won only by significantly out-polling his brother David in the trade union section - where most of the voters are not even Labour party members.
David Miliband received the most votes in the MPs section - and also amongst individual party members.
But his undoing came about because union bosses ran a concerted campaign against him - the big public sector unions - GMB, Unite and Unison - working in concert to deliver for their man.
So Labour's worst nightmare has indeed come true - see previous post dated 22 September 2010.
A close run contest is one thing - but the differential turn out in different sections of the electoral college - means that the trade unions have overturned the will of MPs and individual party members.
In effect, democracy has lost out - and will continue to do so until Labour's electoral college is replaced - by one member one vote.
Sgt Mark Andrews, 37, was filmed dragging Pamela Somerville through Melksham police station in Wiltshire - she cut her eye as the police officer pushed her violently to the floor .
The officer was jailed for six months - but freed on bail on Monday pending an appeal.
But papers released by Wiltshire Police Authority reveal he is "on full pay while suspended, pending the outcome of a conduct hearing".
Chief Constable Brian Moore said: "For this period Wiltshire Police have invoked Home Office Circular 8/07, which allows for the force to withdraw his salary on the grounds he was serving a custodial sentence further to conviction".
"Further to his successful bail application on 13 September 2010, the required conditions in relation to this provision were removed and Sgt Andrews returned to the status of being suspended on full pay."
The original incident took place in 2008 - and presumably the police officer has been suspended on full pay all that time - while his case came to court.
But if the rationale for keeping the officer on full pay was that he 'was innocent until proven guilty' - then the court has since decided that he is guilty as charged - because he was given a custodial sentence and packed off to jail.
He may well have appealed - but that is beside the point - the officer is now 'guilty until proven innocent' by his appeal - so it is the height of nonsense for him still to be in receipt of full pay.
The Police Federation said it fully supported the force's decision to resume paying Andrews during his period of suspension - which was a practice in line with many other professions.
But that says it all really - by any measure of common sense - the Police Federation is simply wrong.
The GMB has not just encouraged members to back its chosen candidate - Ed Miliband - but has done so in a way that is childish and manipulative.
The envelopes containing ballot papers are overseen by the Electoral Reform Society - but the unions are then allowed to put these envelopes into larger ones - also containing material from the union.
The original idea was to have separate mailings - but the unions complained about the cost - and asked for a joint mailing instead.
By some amazing coincidence the GMB envelope features Ed Miliband's picture - which is presumably there on purpose - and has not appeared miraculously by chance.
Yet Labour rules state that you cannot include in the ballot envelope any literature backing a candidate.
The rules go on to say:
"Affiliates should not include any materials in the ballot envelope indicating support for individual candidates. The ballot envelope may be inserted in another union mailing, which may contain a recommendation from the trade union as to which candidate to support."
So the message comes from the envelope itself - not just what is in the envelope!
All very childish of course - and in similar vein to the Unite's decision to put its election material in a transparent envelope.
Oh how GMB and Unite bosses must have laughed at their trickery and schoolboy japes - I wonder what Unison did?
Anyway, these antics will have put an end to the special pleading about holding down costs - since envelopes with someone's picture on the outside and fancy 'transparent' envelopes - must cost a pretty penny.
The election result is due later today.
Friday, 24 September 2010
Ten free pairs of tickets are up for grabs for readers of the blog site - on a 'first come first served' basis.
If you would like a ticket, please send your name and contact details to Alex Boyack at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Made in Dagenham is from the same director who brought us 'Calendar Girls' - see previous post dated 17 September 2010.
The film tells the tale of women workers fighting for equal pay at the Ford car factory in Dagenham I968 - which led directly to the 1970 Equal Pay Act.
40 years later women throughout Scotland are having to fight the same fight all over again - in the teeth of opposition from employers - and lack of leadership from the trade unions.
The screening at the Filmhouse will be followed by a question and answer sessions with the UK’s renowned equal pay expert Stefan Cross - and Scotland’s leading discrimination specialist Carol Fox.
11.00am – Morning coffee,
11.30am – Film, Cinema 2
1.30pm – ‘Q and A’ with Stefan Cross and Carol Fox
2.00pm – Buffet lunch
The lucky person this time is tourism quango boss Philip Riddle - former chief executive of VisitScotland - who walks away with almost £250,000 - having been effectively removed from his job five months ago.
As ever, the details are shrouded in mystery - so it's not clear why VisitScotland has played so fast and loose with all this public money.
But one thing's for sure - Home Carers, Cooks, Classroom Assistants and Clerical Workers - don't get this kind of special treatment.
So, why do different rules apply to those at the top of the food chain? - while those at the bottom have to make and mend - the same generous arrangements never seem to apply.
For all I know, Philip Riddle could have been badly treated in the end by VisitScotland - he had been its chief executive for nine years apparently.
Yet he still receives £127,000 as a tax free lump sum - plus another £113,000 to top up his pension pot becaue he is suddenly retiring early.
But whatever the truth is - the public purse always seems to be there to bail these organisations out - for their own mistakes.
Hugh is well aware of the important role of the Scottish Information Commissioner - he is keen to be kept in touch with developments - and to provide practical support where possible.
I am planning to keep in touch all MSPs in South Lanarkshire, but if any readers wish to contact Hugh direct his e-mail address is: Hugh.O'Donnell.email@example.com
Thursday, 23 September 2010
The essays were written between 1952 and 1991 - and cover Healey's long and distinguished career both in government and in party politics.
Call my reading habits a bit odd if you like - but I came across this little gem the other day - which was written in 1991.
"These markets were managed by young men who treated money simply as numbers on a computer screen - as a commodity, like rice or coffee beans. As a result interest rates and exchange rates began to fluctuate violently without reference to the flows of production and trade which they were supposed to reflect.
New financial instruments were invented to hedge against interest rate or exchange rate risks. Anything which could be gfiven a monetary price was turned into a security which was traded on the global markets by anyone who had a computer.
So there was none of the prudential supervision which was traditionally exercised by central banks over commercial banks."
Seems like Denis Healey hit the nail on the head - all those years ago.
Because that's exactly what happened when banks across the world started buying up and selling on bad debt - like it was going out of fashion.
And while this was happening - governments, politicians and central bankers - all looked on from the sidelines - until, of course, it was too late to do anything - other than pick up the pieces.
The corporation has at last agreed to give a public spending watchdog - the National Audit Office (NAO) - unrestricted access to most of its budgets and accounts.
The NAO will now be given free rein to examine the salaries paid to top BBC stars - which has been the source of much public comment and controversy.
But the BBC's decision was taken only after government ministers threatened to bring in new legislation - aimed at reforming public bodies - which seems to have persuaded the BBC finally to comply.
So we now wait with baited breath to see what the NAO will uncover.
Because if the BBC had nothing to hide or be ashamed about - why not just open the books and let people decide for themselves?
Previous examinations by the NAO have shown that the BBC spent £250,000 on a purpose built studio for the Euro 2008 football championships.
Because BBC executives did not like the view from the premises offered by the organisers.
Now that does seem like a real waste of public money.
Bob is a List MSP for Glasgow - but the peculiar boundaries of South Lanarkshire Council - mean that Rutherglen falls into the Glasgow catchment area - for electoral purposes relating to the Scottish Parliament.
So, if any other readers from Rutherglen are looking for an MSP who is interested in the fight for equal pay - Bob Doris seems to be taking an interest in what people in Rutherglen have to say.
If you want to get in touch, Bob's email address is: Bob.Doris.firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
The result will be known at the weekend - for the start of the annual Labour Party conference.
What's clear is that one of the Miliband brothers will emerge as the new leader - but the contest developed a rather nasty edge in its closing stages.
The long election campaign over the summer months was intended to reinvigorate the party - but instead has descended into an unseemly fight - between the forces of New versus Old Labour.
Neil Kinnock weighed in on behalf of Ed Miliband - denouncing the tactics of brother David's supporters - who were allegedly portraying the younger Miliband as 'Red Ed' and being in the pocket of the trade unions.
Peter Mandelson struck back for the forces of New Labour - saying that Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband were responsible for writing the Labour manifesto - which voters roundly rejected at the May general election.
So why was Ed now distancing himself - from a policy programme he was responsible for creating in the first place?
The worst possible result for the new Labour leader is a very close vote - because the splits and disagreements within the party will inevitably continue.
Especially if the Old and New Labour factions continue to attack one another - which they've been doing for the past ten years and more - not just the past few months.
The last Labour leader to be elected - Tony Blair - won a majority of votes in all three sections of the electoral college - Individual Party Members; MPs and MSPs etc; Affiliated Trade Unions.
Tony Blair had a powerful mandate for change right across the party - which he used to re-connect Labour with the wider voting public.
Neither Miliband brother is likely to emerge with such a clear mandate - a split result with different outcomes across different sections of the electoral college - is Labour's worst nightmare.
The winner will replace Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley - who have been doing a double act - by acting as joint general secretaries for the past few years.
Two for the price of one?
Not really because they both draw very handsome salaries - paid for by members' contributions.
Derek Simpson's salary and benefits packcage comes to a whopping great £179,241 (Salary = £ 97,027, Pension Contributions = £26,292 and Other Benefits = £56,102)
Tony Woodley's package is worth £123,754 (Salary = £96,149, Pension Contributions = £17,307 and Other Benefits = £10,298)
But the salaries of Unite's general secretaries is not the point of this post.
The point is that a friend of mine - a Unite member - received an odd letter in the mail the other day.
She received a leaflet urging support for Les Bayliss - one of the leading candidates in the forthcoming ballot to find a Unite's next General Secretary.
The others likely candidates in the contest are - Len McCluskey, Gail Cartmail and Jerry Hicks.
But why just one leaflet urging support for Les Bayliss - where were the leaflets from the other three contenders?
Normally such promotional materials are sent out together - to be fair to everyone involved - and to avoid wasting money in separate costly mailings.
Yet my friend's leaflet from Les Bayliss was all on its own - so who released details of her address?
Have other Unite members had a similar experience?
If so, let me know.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Panorama revealed that more than 9,000 public sector employees earn more than the prime minister does - David Cameron is paid £142,500 for running the country.
The statistics are jaw dropping and highlight the fact that more than 38,000 public employees earning above £100,000 - and 1,000 people on more than £200,000.
The government has already revealed that pay for the top 5% of earners in the public sector has risen by 51% in the past 10 years.
Predictably the unions responded by saying this was another attack on the public sector.
But it's not - it's about ensuring that public money is well spent - not handed out willy nilly.
The reality is that if people at the top are significantly overpaid for what they do - you can bet your life that layers of managers underneath - will be getting their slice of the action as well.
Panorama requested pay details from UK publicly funded organisations - including local authorities, schools, universities, the BBC, the NHS and various quangos.
Across the UK, the NHS has the highest number of high earners - with more than 26,000 people on more than £100,000.
Of those, nearly 6,500 earn more than Mr Cameron.
The top NHS earner is a GP on an unbelievable £475,000 - and seven out of the top 10 in the NHS are GPs.
Here are some of the eye watering figures quoted in the programme:
38,045 public officials earn over £100,000
1,000 public officials earn over £200,000
9,187 public officials earn more than the Prime Minister
10 GPs earn over £300,000
1 GP in Hillingdon (London) earns £475,000
17 teachers earn more than the Prime Minister
331 BBC managers earn more than £100,000
362 local council employees earn more than Prime Minister
And what these figures don't always take into account are the generous pensions benefits paid to those at the top of the food chain - which are, of course, never available to the foot soldiers on the ground.
If the trade unions still want to argue that every public pound in the UK - is a pound well spent - then they need their collective heads examined.
"Dear Action 4 Equality Scotland
Many many thanks for all the hard work you have done for us home support workers.
What a great boost.
I am off on holiday soon so it is great timing.
On behalf of my co-workers and myself included - from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you a trillion times.
The argument is about how far and fast to move.
Even the Labour Party agrees that two thirds of the spending cuts planned by the coalition government - would have been made if Labour had returned to power.
But now that Labour is in opposition - the party is trying to have its cake and eat it at the same time.
At least while the Labour leadership contest is underway - which is the nature of modern politics, sadly.
Yet there are obvious things that can be done to spend public money more wisely - the Accounts Commission in Scotland, for example, is asking:
Do we really need 32 councils in Scotland - with all the duplication and bureaucracy this involves - because councils employ more senior officials than is really necessary?
What is so special about Ayrshire for example - which has three separate councils for goodness sake.
North, East and South Ayrshire - all of them combined still much smaller than Glasgow.
What a complete waste of money and resources.
When you consider that all the three councils need their own chief executives - and highly paid directors of this that and the next thing.
In times like these - money should be concentrated where it belongs - on front line services.
Monday, 20 September 2010
"Dear Action 4 Equality Scotland
Just to say a huge than you to you all for your hard work and commitment in the fight for equal pay for North Lanarkshire Council workers.
We appreciate everything you have done for us and for getting such a fantastic result
Thank you once again.
NLC Home Carers"
Shahid Malik claimed £235 on his second home allowances to pay insurance premiums - for the engagement ring belonging to Sundus Sheikh.
Not a huge amount of money to be sure - but it just goes to show the mindset of Westminster MPs - who felt the public purse should meet all kinds of ludicrous 'expenses' claims.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, said that Mr Malik was guilty of a "clear-cut breach of the rules" - but the former Labour minister has since lost his parliamentary seat.
So ultimately the voters of Dewsbury exacted their revenge.
Mr Malik clearly has a real brass neck - because instead of accepting responsibility for his own behaviour - he said he did not recall asking his insurers to cover the ring.
He also said the fees office had failed in its "duty of care" to him by twice accepting his claims for expenses - when they should not have!
Mr Malik, 42, served as an international development minister, justice minister and communities minister under Gordon Brown.
In the audit of all MPs' expenses by Sir Thomas Legg - he was ordered to repay £1,300 - including money spent on a massage chair and plasma screen television.
Malik stepped down as a justice minister last year after The Daily Telegraph reported that the landlord of his main home said the rent was below market rate - which raised questions about Mr Malik's compliance with the ministerial code and potential conflicts of interests.
Mr Malik rejoined the government after being cleared by an inquiry - but then lost his seat in May's general election.
I still maintain that John Prescott would have made a better Hagrid - than Robbie Coltrane.
Harry Potter and the Third Way
The adventures of Harry Potter, boy wizard, are to be portrayed on the silver screen; speculation is rife about who will be cast in the starring roles. Famous names from home and abroad are bandied around as shoo-ins for various parts: Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese and Danny DeVito to name a few. But, as ever, the Holywood moguls are unable to see beyond the end of their noses.
If the casting directors possess real vision, they will sign up the Labour cabinet and some of their chums at Westminster. Tony Blair is Harry Potter to a tee! Raised in a prosperous Tory family, sent away to a fabulous boarding school far from home, finding his heart lay with Labour despite his upbringing and, against all the odds, discovering incredible new powers and a magical force called the Third Way.
John Prescott is a natural for Hagrid, the big boned handyman at Hogwarts School for wizards, witches and warlocks. Hagrid is a decent person, but intellectually challenged, with a strange accent and clumsy in his diction. For good measure, Hagrid has a chip on his shoulder at being thrown out of the wizards finishing school, though he is allowed to stay on doing odd jobs for the senior teachers and headmaster. He has some peculiar habits and can be naughty at times, but he is loved by his masters like an old dog (a sea-dog in Prescott’s case).
Lord Voldemort is Harry’s nemesis and sworn enemy; the leading contender can only be the brooding Gordon Brown. The dark lord has tried already to kill Harry but failed, underestimating the young wizard’s power and strength. Voldemort is forced now to play a long game biding his time to strike the fatal blow, which will allow him and his acolytes to seize power. Voldemort was once the golden child at Hogwarts himself, but his heart has turned cold with jealousy and desire.
Ron Weasley is Harry’s best friend and confidant. A bit earnest and boring, but he always stands up for Harry in confrontations with the school bullies (a metaphor for the press, surely). Step forward, Alistair Campbell, the Prime Minister’s ferocious press secretary and chief spin-doctor. Alistair would swim the channel with an anvil on his back before he would let anyone hurt Tony.
Hermione Granger is the most able pupil in the class, easily outshining Harry and the others. Hermione is popular and universally admired, but she is resented as well. The role seems tailor made for Mo Mowlam, darling of the People’s Party, though somewhat semi-detached according to sources close to No. 10
Draco Malfoy is a super-brat: arrogant, spoiled, deceitful and unpopular. JK Rowling must have met Peter Mandleson in the flesh before creating this character. He is highly intelligent, but his attitude is appalling. Draco is the sort of boy who could cause a fight in an empty room, and usually does. When the going gets rough he shouts on his father for help. Daddy is immensely wealthy and powerful, capable of pulling strings and influencing people: Geoffrey Robinson, or I’m a Dutchman. Peter Mandleson also bears an uncanny resemblance to another character: Gilderoy Lockhart, who takes up a post teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts. Gilderoy is a complete phoney, all style and no substance. Talk about life imitating art?
Until recently it would have been difficult to cast William Hague, but his new death-skull look has made all the difference. He would be perfect as one of the Dementors, scary creatures from another world who suck the souls from their enemies with a deadly kiss. The prospect of a Tory fight back is already giving Labour nightmares, but it is fighting back with a Dementor from its own ranks: Jack Straw, home secretary and friend of Mike Tyson, who might be worth auditioning as well.
Robin Cook takes a bit of work, but he is undoubtedly Professor Snape, the potions master. Snape is more complex than he appears, there is more to him than shows on the surface. He is secretive and mysterious. Is he a force for good or for evil? Is he on the left or on the right? Is he a true friend of Harry’s or building bridges secretly with Lord Voldemort and his allies? Is there really such a thing as an ethical foreign policy anyway? Time will tell.
The filmmakers are spoiled for choice with the minor characters: the kindly headmaster, Professor Dumbledore, who takes Harry under his wing, has to be Lord Derry Irvine. The Quidditch referree, Professor MacGonagall, who brooks no nonsense on the playing fields or in class: madam speaker, Betty Boothroyd. Sirius Black, evil villain and Lord Voldemort’ s spy, can only be Charlie Whelan now revelling in an alter ego as professional cheeky chappy and minor radio celeb.
Harry Potter should be essential reading for everyone in politics, especially members of New Labour. Inspiration and ideas jump out from every page. The introduction of a Sorting Hat would avoid all the messy selection contests of recent times. When the first years arrive at Hogwarts they all put on a battered old wizard’s hat (the Sorting Hat) for a special ceremony. The hat can read people’s innermost thoughts and secrets, which it uses to allocate students into year groups. How painless and simple. No more blood on the floor, no more trade union barons fixing things behind the scenes. Denis Canavan and Ken Livingstone can reapply for membership any day now.
The Sorting Hat is the answer to New Labour’s prayers: more fun and a lot less bother than one member one vote, that’s for sure!
5 July 2000
Sunday, 19 September 2010
Apparently some in the party are wrestling with their consciences - over the realities of being part of the coalition government.
Well, what exactly did these people expect?
The Liberal Democrats were never going to win power on their own - at Westminster or anywhere else for that matter.
The Labour Party took fright at the prospect of a deal with the Lib Dems - so they made a decision to provide the country with a stable government - and struck an agreement with the Conservatives instead.
The only alternatives were to have either the Conservatives or Labour try and govern on their own - as minority administrations - or call another election.
The first option would have brought chaos and lasted only months - the second may not have changed anything - or perhaps made the outcome even worse.
So the Lib Dems should stop bleating and wringing their hands - they've got a job to do and should get on with it - either they want to be a party of protest or a party that shares power.
Sharing power is always messy - but all of the parties do so when it suits them - not just the Lib Dems, but all the others as well.
For example - Labour formed the administration in South Lanarkshire Council - but only with the support of the Conservatives.
Labour is in coalition with Plaid Cymru in the Wales Assembly.
The Lib Dems pushed Labour out of power in Edinburgh City Council - but only with SNP support.
So for goodness sake stop the carping and moaning - and let's have some grown up politics.
Duncan is a former MSP and supporter of the SNP - but his views are all the more relevant for that - because there are lots of SNP trade unionists in Scotland - and, of course, many ordinary trade union members actively support the SNP - in both local and national elections.
Go out and buy the paper to read the article in full - meantime here's an extract of what Duncan has to say.
"To be taken seriously, and to harness the public support they crave, the sine qua non for the unions is the acceptance that we do need to cut spending, that jobs will go and that more of their members will be unemployed. From that acceptance of reality, the unions could champion the argument that the coalition is going too fast and cutting too deeply. On that, there is a genuine argument to be had between those who think cutting fast and very fast is the right approach. By contrast, almost no-one supports the view that no change is an option.
But rather than join that mature discussion, we got the clash and clamour of union sabre-rattling and promises of strike action. Even Vince Cable had his invitation to address Congress rescinded, which just about says it all.
The truth is that the public sector cannot hide from necessary reforms - and, yes, that includes short-term wage restraint and longer-term reform to pensions. Is that unfair given that these folks didn't cause the crisis? Yes it is. Is there an alternative? No there isn't. Moreover, leadership from the unions is about setting the unfairness of short term unemployment against the greater national interest of recovery from the train wreck of the banking crisis. Ultimately, their members depend on that recovery more than most.
Of course it sticks in the craw of every citizen who watched helplessly as the banks and others took us to the brink of disaster, but dying in a ditch over every last public sector job will alienate the public inside two minutes.
Looking to the future, there remains a big political question. While I disagree with the union position, I embrace the fact that it puts into play a clear left wing alternative. The problem is that no party - including the Labour Party - will advance that position in the House of Commons.
Sole reliance on the historic ties between the Labour Party and trade unionism simply cannot in the 21st century continue to justify millions of pounds of investment in a political party which takes the union money and then refuses to reflect mainstream trade unionism. With the eventual advent of PR, will the Unions seek direct election to parliament through a new party and leave New Labour to its own devices? Ending the union contributions to the Labour Party might just be the best spending cut they ever make."
Saturday, 18 September 2010
Despite the fact that ordinary union members vote for a wide range of parties - or are so scunnered with politics and politicians - that they don't bother to vote at all.
In the wake of the recent TUC conference - trade union bosses and activists are now set on a collision course with government - by choosing to fight on a fundamentalist 'anti-cuts' platform.
So, according to the unions, every public pound is wisely spent - and the unions will die in a ditch to protect every last penny of public spending.
Now this is bonkers - completely bonkers - even the Labour Party doesn't believe that - and party leaders said so clearly - before the May general election.
In effect, the unions are saying that everyone else has got it wrong - Labour, Lib Dems, Tories, SNP, Greens and all the rest - and that the only people who really know what they're talking about are union leaders.
All I can say is God help us all - if Bob Crow (RMT), Mark Serwotka (PCS), Derek Simpson (Unite), Tony Woodley (Unite), Dave Prentis (Unison) and Paul Kenny (GMB) - delude themselves into believing they have some kind of mandate to run the country.
But look on the bright side.
Ordinary union members are not stupid - they won't follow this nonsense - and nor will the Labour Party unless it wants to spend the foreseeable future in opposition.
Friday, 17 September 2010
An inspiring story - by all accounts - it tells the tale of 187 women machine workers who walked out of the Dagenham car plant in 1968 - when their work was downgraded as 'unskilled' - and their demand for the same pay grading as the men in the factory was refused.
Directed by Nigel Cole of Calendar Girls, the film has a great British cast - including Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike, Rupert Graves, Geraldine James, Miranda Richardson and John Sessions.
The idea for the film came about when the women behind the original protest - appeared on Radio 4's The Reunion programme.
Made in Dagenham stars the award winning Sally Hawkins as Rita O'Grady - who is the catalyst for the 1968 strike - which took place only two years before Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970.
Working in poor conditions and for long hours, the women at the Ford Dagenham plant finally laid down their tools - in protest at their second class treatment compared to their male colleagues.
With humour, common sense and courage they take on their corporate paymasters, an increasingly belligerent local community, and finally the government of the day.
The leader of the women's struggle is fast-talking, no nonsense Rita whose fiery temper and occasionally hilarious unpredictability - proves to be a match for any of her male opponents.
I imagine the film will be a hit with everyone who has been involved in the struggle for equal pay some 40 years on - with Action 4 Equality Scotland.
The same battle that was waged in 1968 has essentially had to be fought all over again - only this time on behalf of low paid council workers in Scotland.
The trade unions never led this fight because they were part of the problem - doing deals that favoured traditional male jobs - and shamelessly betraying the interests of their women members.
Monday 20, Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 September 2010
Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 September 2010
The hearings will all take place at the Glasgow Employment Tribunal - 215 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, G2 7TS - a short walk from Central Station.
If any readers do go along, make a point of introducing yourself to Carol Fox - who will be there on behalf of the Fox Cross Solicitors legal team.
Thursday, 16 September 2010
He droned on for ages about the need for his downtrodden members to take determined strike action against their employer - without ever explaining why or what this would achieve.
Warming to his theme, he then said that the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King - should be thrown in jail for crimes against the economy - Mervyn King having addressed the TUC earlier in the week.
The thing is that this POA fruit loop was deadly serious - he was not making some subtle joke or trying to be funny - and his ramblings were warmly received.
No doubt the POA man was on paid release from his day job in the prison service - to share his crazy ideas on criminal justice with other union delegates - but is this a good use of public money?
He had no words of criticism - by the way - for the last Labour government and its role in the current economic mess, unsurprisingly.
What it does go to show is that much of the debate at the TUC conference - is completely inward looking, self-serving and partisan.
So it will be interesting to see how the unions now try to win support for their views - from a much wider, more sceptical public.
South Lanarkshire is behaving very strangely it has to be said - not that long ago the council was blowing its own trumpet - singing its own praises over Single Status - to anyone that would listen.
Now the council won't say who created its controversial 555 'in-house' job evaluation scheme - was it the former Executive Director of Corporate Services, for example?
And if it was, why was such a senior official allowed to leave the council early - and at what cost to the tax payer?
In my view these are matters of public interest and importance - I think a straight question deserves a straight answer.
South Lanarkshire Council
Dear Mr Strang
I would like to make the following request under the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002.
1. Did South Lanarkshire Council allow its Executive Director of Corporate Resources (who was in post at the time of Single Status in April 2004) to retire early from the council's service?
2. If so, what age was the Executive Director at the time he was allowed to leave South Lanarkshire Council’s service?
3. If so, what were the reasons for allowing the Executive Director to retire early, when did the council approve his early retirement and on what date did his retirement take effect?
4. If so, did the council agree to enhance the Executive Director’s early retirement package – and what effect did this have on the officer’s pension benefits?
5. If so, what was the actual cost of these enhancements in terms of the 'additional strain' payments to the Strathclyde Pension Fund that would have been required under the rules of the Local Government Superannuation Scheme?
I look forward to your reply and would be grateful if you could respond by e-mail to me at: email@example.com
Council budgets in Scotland more than doubled in the past ten years - so it's a mystery why redundancies should be necessary in Fife - at this point in 2010.
The current talk about 'cuts' in public spending won't have any practical effect until next year - so what is this all about - councils across Scotland have twice the money to spend that they had ten years ago.
Where has all the money gone?
I have just been made redundant from Fife council today and after reading your blog on Scotlands shame I have to say UNISON ARE AS MUCH GOOD AS A CHOCOLATE FIREGUARD , they have done very little for us and have not kept us informed but then they would not want to upset their council masters.
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
The review - written by Phil Collins - included an extract about an incident involving Gordon Brown:
"The story about Brown at the Chinese Embassy is worth the price of admission on its own.
In June 2008, Brown went to sign the condolence book for victims of the earthquake. While he was there he discovered that David Cameron had arrived, presumably to do something as politically inspired as sign the condolence book himself.
Brown goes off like the scary baby in Toy Story 3. He storms back to his car, hits the headrest in front and demands to know which traitor was responsible for him being upstaged.
The Tories, the Chinese and the Foreign Office are all out to get him, he says. The story is telling. It is a parable - which is what a good diary entry can be."
As the saying goes: just because you're paranoid - doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
Just as Doug Rooney - the conference chair - was about to put things to a vote - 'there's no one opposing' he said out loud - up jumped a delegate from BALPA (the airline pilots union).
He wanted to oppose the motion - 'you're not trying to be funny', said Rooney, rather ungraciously - as the BALPA man went to the rostrum.
And no he wasn't being funny - he argued that his union couldn't support a motion which said that there could not be any cuts at all in public spending - that it was unrealistic to pretend that every public pound was being wisely spent.
Needless to say his contribution wasn't cheered to the rafters - instead it was met with the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for a bucket of warm spit.
But he had a good point - and made it very effectively.
Last year MPs were wasting money by the bucket load - on everything from floating duck houses to cat food - to state-of-the-art plasma TVs - and all at public expense.
So it's ridiculous to argue that every public pound is sacred - for example reducing the number of councils in Scotland would save a fortune - simply by getting rid of a whole range of senior posts.
15 councils instead of 32 councils - would mean 17 fewer chief executives straight away - all of whom are paid in excess of £100,000 a year.
The debate over public spending has a long way to go - how far and how fast to reduce the deficit is a legitimate argument - but even the last Labour government had to concede that major budget cuts were inevitable.
As ever - much will depend on whether the unions get carried away with their own rhetoric.
Monday, 13 September 2010
What the presentation failed to mention is that 40 years on - the trade unions are really not the progressive force they claim to be - because on many occasions the unions have actually been part of the problem.
The bonus schemes that ensured more favourable treatment for traditional male jobs - were not imposed by management - they were negotiated and agreed by the trade unions.
The 1999 Single Status Agreement was supposed to put an end to widespread pay discrimination amongst council workers in Scotland - but the trade unions sat back and did nothing about it for years - in fact they deliberately kept their women members in the dark.
Anyone notice the big, well resourced union campaigns - or strike action - in support of equal pay since 1999?
No, of course you didn't - that's because there were none.
The truth of the matter is that the unions let low paid women down over equal pay - but it's unlikely that you'll find any TUC delegates having the courage and honesty - to face up to that fact.
After 13 years of tiptoeing around a Labour government - the unions are having to accustom themselves to a new coalition government - comprised of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.
So in a bid to win new friends and influence the government's agenda - TUC bosses did the sensible thing and invited Vince Cable - the new Business Secretary - to address the delegates.
But all of a sudden the TUC got cold feet and cancelled the invitation - must have been a backlash from individual union general secretaries - who effectively tell the TUC what to do.
Had Vince Cable spoken at the TUC - it would have been the first time union delegates had listened there to any Cabinet minister other than a Labour one.
Shock horror - some of the brothers must have broken out in a rash.
Now this all brought back memories of the 1980's when the STUC general secretary - Campbell Christie - invited Alex Salmond the SNP leader to address their annual conference.
Again union bosses (regional secretaries) got their knickers in a terrible twist - at the prospect of the SNP poisoning the minds of their delegates - so they forced the STUC to withdraw the invitation.
How ridiculous and childish this all looks now - with Alex Salmond acting as First Minister - and the SNP forming a minority government in Scotland.
As ever, the tribal loyalties of union bosses - are out of step with the views of ordinary union members.
Here's an extract of what Andrew Grice had to say:
"Britain's biggest union has been accused of ignoring Labour rules in the way it is urging its members to back Ed Miliband in the party's leadership election.
Unite included a leaflet pledging its support for Mr Miliband along with the ballot papers for the contest it sent to its 950,000 members eligible to vote. "He understands the Labour Party needs to change and he is the best candidate to reconnect Labour with the concerns of ordinary working people," Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, Unite's joint general secretaries, say in the leaflet.
The mailshot has angered supporters of David Miliband, who believe it breaks the spirit of Labour's rulebook. "This is sailing very close to the wind," said one Labour MP. After Gordon Brown resigned, Labour announced that it would tighten its rules so that unions would have to advise members how to vote in a separate mailing to the one including the ballot paper.
However, that was watered down after lobbying from union bosses, who said it would be too expensive. The compromise agreed was that a leaflet setting out a union's recommendation could be included in the same mailing as the voting paper – as long as it is in a separate envelope. A Unite spokesman insisted last night: "We are aware of the Labour rules and we have conformed with them." However, the Labour MP said the pro-Ed Miliband leaflet was in a transparent envelope, making a nonsense of the rule which said it should be kept apart from the ballot form.
Labour officials said the party had not received any complaints about Unite's conduct. A party spokesman said: "To help affiliated organisations save money it has been agreed that if they want to send ballot packs out alongside other publications then they can do that." Unions have a third of the votes in Labour's electoral college, as do MPs and party members. Union votes are counted on a "one member, one vote" basis within the college."
Can you imagine the time and effort spent by Unite officials - trying to gain an advantage for their favoured candidate?
No doubt the transparent envelope is regarded as a wizard wheeze by some - but it's a sign that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.
Sunday, 12 September 2010
The famously left wing MP had been expected to vote for Diane Abbott - the left candidate and fellow Campaign Group member - because Dennis actually nominated Diane when she was struggling to get enough support to throw her hat into the ring.
But Dennis has decided that David Miliband is the candidate best placed to beat the Tories - and to take on the coalition government.
Ed Miliband has also received an unexpected boost - with an opinion poll in today's Sunday Times - predicting he will win a narrow victory over his brother, David, once second preference votes are transferred.
So it looks to close to call - and may go right down to the wire - although one thing is clear: Labour's next leader will be one of the Miliband brothers.
Saturday, 11 September 2010
Murder in Manhattan
Death came unseen one morning
Out of a beautiful clear blue sky
On friendly wings
Innocent lives snuffed out by fanatics
Kill and be killed
Alien to humanity or common sense
Brutal and wicked beyond belief
Shocking, horrible to behold
Beamed live to homes across the world
Loved ones consumed by fireballs
Never to say goodbye
Lost in the rubble or jumping for their lives
Desperate and fearful
How much did they suffer?
Only loss and despair for those left behind
And terrible anger
At the waste of so many lives
Can hope and dignity survive?
To triumph over such barbarism
Provocation and restraint
Honour your dead
Protect your people
Yes, but refuse to become like your enemies
Friday, 10 September 2010
In a previous post I said that low paid council workers in Scotland have lost out big time in pay negotiations - compared to their colleagues in England and Wales.
Down south the government has introduced a public sector pay policy which means a two year pay freeze will be introduced from 2011- 2113 for all public sector workforces
Except for those earning £21,000 or less - who will receive an increase of at least £250 a year.
Now this looks similar to what has happened in Scotland - but the government backed deal in England and Wales is very different - because it goes out of its way to protect the lowest paid.
Consider what difference a £250 increase a year over two years would mean:
67% of the workforce would receive an increase - because they earn less than £21,000 a year - which just goes to show how many council workers are low paid (most of them women)
The percentage rise on Spinal Column Point 4 would be 2.06% in year 1 - or 4.1% over two years
The average increase in both years up to Spinal Column Point 23/24 would be 1.6% - or 3.2% over two years
So the upshot is that low paid workers in Scotland are due to receive a nil or 0% increase - over the two years from 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.
But over the same period in England and Wales - the average rise for low paid workers will be 3.2% - or 4.1% for the very lowest paid!
If the trade unions in Scotland had been trying their damnedest to protect the low paid - no doubt a similar deal could have been struck.
But as the trade unions had no negotiating strategy to speak of - the employers simply called their bluff - and now low paid workers in Scotland have ended up worse off.
And no amount of crocodile tears or blaming the employers - can change the fact that the unions in Scotland have made a complete hash of things .
Council employers down south (backed by a coalition government) adopting a more progressive position on low pay - than the big public sector trade unions!
"Dear Action 4 Equality Scotland
Thank you very much for all your hard work regarding our North Lanarkshire Council equal pay claim.
When we first heard from you in Janaury 2006 we were a bit doubtful and thought - surely we couldn't be due all that?
As the months dragged into 4.5 years we began to wonder how and when it would all end.
We are pleased to announce the period up to Janaury 2007 ended very happily last week - when cash was paid into our accounts.
Without you that wouldn't have happened.
Thank you very, very much - and best wishes.
Matt announced his plans earlier this year - he will be leaving the union after a lifetime of service to Unison and one of its founding unions - NALGO.
So, I would like to take this opportunity of wishing Matt well - and all the best for the future.
Because Matt and his friend Dave Prentis - the union's current general secretary - were instrumental in helping me to decide it was time to move on from Unison in 1999.
The fact is that I owe Matt and Dave a great debt - if I were a religious person, I would definitely remember them in my prayers every night.
With some regrets I moved on for the trade union movement - after twenty years of working with NUPE, the STUC and Unison - but I've never looked back since.
In fact I can honestly say that I've achieved much more on equal pay - working with Action 4 Equality Scotland - than would ever have been possible had I stayed with Unison.
I've a lot to thank Matt for - so I would just like to say: 'Good bye and good luck'.
Thursday, 9 September 2010
Well, I've said before that MSPs (and MPs for that matter) are often reluctant to criticise a council - if it's led or controlled by their own party locally.
For example, one Labour MP in Edinburgh was keen to avoid taking a stick to Edinburgh city council - until is the Lib Dems and SNP wrested control away from Labour at the last elections.
Soon afterwards the MP was up for a fight - but that's politics for you - politicians are party animals and some of them are none to brave to boot.
But the good news is that if your local MSP won't stand up for your interests - you may well find a champion among the List MSPs for your area.
For example, contact details for of all MSPs in South Lanarkshire - both Constituency and List MPSs - has already been published on the blog site.
See post dated 15 July 2010.
So far, so good - but sometimes things can be taken to ridiculous extremes.
Take all this hullabaloo about cricketers bowling 'no balls' to order - which means that out of perhaps several hundred balls bowled in a day - it becomes possible to say with certainty that ball number 534 will be a 'no ball'.
A 'no ball' is cricket means that the ball doesn't count and has to be bowled again - with the batting side being awarded an extra point.
So it's something that no self-respecting bowler would do - because it's letting his own side down.
But in the recent match that's caused all the fuss - this happened not once but twice - in the same match.
And someone not directly connected with the cricket team was filmed undercover saying that - for a large sum of money - he could arrange precisely which balls would be bowled as 'no balls', e.g. balls numbered 534 and 676.
Now this is clearly impossible - and the sooner the authorities act to deal with the culprits - the better.
Various sport have been plagued by cheats down the years - athletics and cycling with drug cheats - now cricket with betting cheats and racketeers.
The accused may be innocent for now - but the evidence against them is overwhelming - if they don't come clean and put their hands up - they deserve the harshest sentence possible.
His aim - apart from drawing attention to himself - is to commemorate the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
But being vehemently anti-Islamic is not his only prejudice - he is also an nasty homophobe.
Apparently, TJ put a sign outside his church in Florida - to protest at the decision of a local gay politician to run for the post of mayor.
"No homo mayor", said the sign - which at least had the virtue of being short and to the point.
But when it was pointed out to the pastor that his involvement in a political campaign could violate the church's tax exempt status - he had a vision.
So, he quickly changed the sign to read: "No homo" - which only goes to show that while he is clearly barking mad - he's not completely stupid.
But Terry Jones has got what he wanted - radical Muslims hopping mad and threatening violence against western interests in Muslim countries - against people who have nothing to do with the pastor's plans.
Thank God I'm not religious - is all I can say.
Wednesday, 8 September 2010
But I have no problem with being asked to express my point of view in a referendum - after listening to the debate and different points of view.
To me that's what democracy is all about - and sometimes it's good for the people to have their say in a referendum - instead of elected politicians deciding what's good for the rest of us.
Generally speaking, I think it would be a good thing for the country - for citizens to be more involved in making decisions.
How about a popular vote to put the council tax up - now that would put the cat amongst the pigeons?
A referendum on independence could easily be held on the same day another vote was taking place - to keep down the cost.
Say on the same day as the local council elections - the Holyrood or Westminster elections - or even elections to the European Parliament.
Surely in this day and age it should be possible to devise secure ways of voting by e-mail or text - which might even encourage greater participation.
Finding imaginative ways to involve ordinary people in big decisions is a great challenge - not always the best way, perhaps, on some issues - but neither is leaving power in the hands of tiny groups of politicians.
But what I also know about phone hacking is that it's more common than you think - allegedly.
Journalists I've met in the past have been happy to share the darker secrets of their trade - the argument goes that the ends justify the means - if you're trying to expose some real wrongdoing.
The counter argument is - of course - that two wrongs don't make a right - so you pay your money and take your choice.
But there is always an unwritten rule - if you get caught, you're on your own - because no editor or newspaper would ever take the rap.
While those at the top might be well aware of what's going on - they would never accept any responsibility for encouraging such practices.
Goes on in all walks of life I suppose - people turning a blind eye to something they know to be wrong - but who take the easy option and just walk on.
Pay discrimination springs to mind - treating some jobs or people more favourably than others.
Now that's unlawful - but it's amazing how many people have been prepared to turn a blind eye to that issue - for the past 10 years and more.
The changes made a half-time injected a much needed sense of urgency into our play - but for most of the game we played like a pub team - giving the ball away needlessly and carelessly.
After the 'Fricking' goal early in the second half we looked completely dead and buried - until Miller's strike brought us back into the game.
The only saving grace was that the team never gave up - despite tackles that came straight out of a horror movie - which in truth deserved the attention of Strathclyde police and not the referee.
Yet Scotland had players booked - simply for protesting about the GBH being visited on their team mates - what a joke.
Hutton in particular is lucky not to have his leg in plaster this morning - although to be fair for long periods he did look like he was actually playing in a 'stookie'.
James McFadden - normally a hero of the Tartan Army - won man of the match for petted lips - and nothing else all night - he needs to take a good look at himself.
As the match went into the seventh minute of injury time Scotland took a leaf out of the spoof Star Trek movie - 'Galaxy Quest'.
In which the Captain Kirk character saves the day with his famous rallying cry: 'Never give up - never give in!'
You couldn't make it up.