December 8, 2013
November 10, 2013
This morning, as I have for many years, I attended the Remembrance Sunday event at Doncaster Cenotaph to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the military and other services so that I might have the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms I do. On leaving the event, as I usually do, I reflected on what I perceive as a number of failings in the event. Usually, out of respect for the event and all it represents, I would keep my observations to myself, and not make a song and dance about them. Today however I am going to do the precise opposite, and speak my mind – for much the same reasons.
To me, Remembrance Sunday serves two main purposes. It allows us to pause to acknowledge the huge sacrifices made by the armed forces in the defence of our freedoms, but it also serves as a reminder of the both the horror and folly of war. In recent years though, and particularly at the Doncaster event, I’ve become increasing disillusioned with the prominence of political figures.
At Doncaster, the various military participants of the event move into position, and are then held waiting for local dignitaries who walk in from the Regents Park, before the event is allowed to continue. For my money, that’s just the wrong way around. Politicians, let’s face it, are hardly blessed with an enviable reputation right now… MPs expenses haven’t been forgotten, and there is a general perception that many of our elected representatives are more interested in their own interests than in ever championing ours.
What the event should be about, in my view, is recognising the sacrifices made in defence of our freedoms. It would hardly be inappropriate therefore for our civil leaders and local dignitaries to show the armed forces proper respect, perhaps even deferrence, turn up at the start of the service, and await the arrival of the armed forces. It is the forces, not the politicians, that the event should cherish, but anyone familiar with proceedings at Doncaster might wonder if a mistake has been made somewhere along the way…
So, what I propose is this – the local dignitaries should arrive before any other participant at the event, and should wait, as the public do now, for all the armed forces to take their positions. As our representatives, they should represent our gratitude and respect for the armed forces. The public should be left in no doubt that it is the forces, and not the politicians / assorted dignitaries, at the centre of matters.
And now to have a go at the British Red Cross…
Well, not really. I am a former member of the Red Cross, and I know that the staff who present the society at the Remembrance Sunday event do so with a spirit of solemnity, and in an act of sincere tribute to our armed forces. I know some of these people personally, so please don’t think this is an attack against the people who attend the event to represent the BRCS – it isn’t.
However, there is a problem, and it is actually an extremely serious matter. Any member of the Red Cross will tell you that the organisation holds a number of “fundamental principles” dear, and two of the most important of these are Impartiality and Neutrality. Without these, the work of the Red Cross, and particularly the International Committee of the Red Cross, would simply not be possible.
The modern world is a very troubling place, and we now live in times where aid workers, who have worked on foreign shores with nothing but the very best of sincere good intentions, are being attacked and even killed because of a suspicion of complicity with agencies involved in conflict. In my view, it is therefore foolhardy in the extreme for the Red Cross to take part in a parade with the UK military forces. Attending the remembrance event is one thing, but given the power of the image in our times, having Red Cross personnel join the back of a military parade is a VERY questionable decision. In my view, it places the International Committee of the Red Cross’ staff in needless and avoidable danger. It shouldn’t happen.
October 31, 2013
Those of us whom have taken it upon ourselves to take in interest in matters concerning the affairs of Carmarthenshire County Council following it’s treatment of respected local blogger Jacqui Thompson can hardly fail to have noticed the recent events surrounding the pension affairs of the authority’s Chief Executive, Mr. Mark James. In brief, Mr. James has chosen to receive his pension contributions not through the authority’s usual arrangements, but as a “lump sum” instead. The motivation behind what we have to assume to be his personal choice here has not been declared, but speculation is rife that Mr. James will be making “more efficient” arrangements in terms of his tax liabilities. The Welsh Audit Office have concluded that the payment concerned is unlawful, and there’s been much tooing and froing ever since…
The council claims that they received independent legal advice before entering into this arrangement, and that they’ve been told all is just ticketty boo. We’re also told that the arrangments won’t cost the council a penny extra.
This gives rise to a number of questions – let’s see if the answers emerge…
How much did the legal advice cost, and who paid for it?
I don’t believe there to be a pack of feral benevolent lawyers wondering around the Carmarthenshire doling out legal advice to local authorities in distress. “Free Advice” is offered for a motivation – so if we really do have an “independent” lawyer offering the benefit of his / her wisdom, we should be told who that this. Without this information, how can we possibly assess their independence?
A second possibility of course is that Mr. James paid for the advice himself – which would clearly mean we couldn’t consider it to be in any way independent.
The third possibility is that the advice came from someone on the authority’s payroll – again, doing away with any suggestion of independence. We also need to consider that their time costs money (salary) – and the costs involved should be declared.
The final possibility, and in my view the most likely, is that the council have paid for independent advice from an external source. The following questions are based on this scenario…
Assuming the council did pay for independent advice from an external source, we need to know how much this cost them.
Was it reasonable for the authority to expend the sum on the tax affairs of a very small number of employees (possibly just one!)? They are after all claiming that the financial climate means they are going to have to implement massive cuts over a range of services. How is spending money on this advice in any way in the interests of either the council itself, or the public it is supposed to serve?
These are questions with which the members of the Council need to concern themselves at the forthcoming meeting of the full Council in November. The public deserve the answers.
October 11, 2013
I’ve decided to publish the following open letter to my car insurance company – .
I am, in case you can’t guess, not very happy with them…
I have recently had the unhappy experience of receiving your renewal quotation for my car insurance, in which you kindly offer to take a further £300 from me on top of my current premium of £500 for, well, reasons that were not exactly clear…
You see, as a thirty eight year old man with a family and another child on the way, I have with some regret had to surrender my Megane Coupe, and join the ranks of dull, grey, utterly uninteresting Ford Mondeo drivers. Mondeo Man is indeed upon us. Having chosen a form of transportation highly regarded by elderly close-to-death types, I had sort of expected my insurance to come down this year – or possibly stay the same.
A £300 increase however came as something of a surprise, so I telephoned your renewals department to try and make sense of your new found desperate avoidance of my custom. Having spoken to a pleasant young lady called Chloe, I discover that the alleged justification of my treatment is “I haven’t had the car very long”. Indeed, she mentioned that you would prefer me to own the vehicle for at least 12 months, at which point I would qualify for a discount. I can barely express my gratitude.
Here’s the thing though – as a high mileage driver with over 9 years of no claims (I actually have 14, but can only prove 9), I was sort of under the impression that I might be receiving a substantial discount already. You know – assuming that insurance isn’t indeed a racket, and that premiums are supposed to somehow reflect risk. If I can drive over 200,000 miles without ever having a claim against me, then maybe I just might be safe to be let out on the highways and byways on my own for a while? I think I’m an “above average” driver by quite some margin, but then so, it seems, is my premium.
Talking with the ever delightful Chloe (a genuinely helpful lady who deserves commendation), the concern is that apparently that I might not be used to the car, and therefore I presume more likely to splatter myself all over oncoming traffic at the drop of a hat (or perhaps clutch…). This is, of course, hogwash. I drive my own car, am a named driver on my uncle’s car, and a fleet driver for a company that operates all manner of different vehicles. My employer isn’t unduly concerned that I’ll write off any of their cars because a) I can drive, and b) I am not a simpering idiot. Besides, I would have thought the “three pedals, sticky thing in the middle, turny thing in front of you” configuration for car controls now has now seen broad adoption across the automotive industry. I can confirm my previous car used such a configuration if it helps – maybe that might allay your fears…
But then, why bother? You clearly don’t want my business, so I’ll do us both a favour and take it elsewhere where it might be appreciated and, if I’m really lucky, actually valued.
Have a pleasant day, and perhaps reflect on the fact that if you’ve grown fond of receiving a salary, you might want to consider improving your service.
June 6, 2013
Jacqui Thompson has just released a statement on the #DaftArrest libel case, which can be found here. I urge you to read it – go away and do that – and then come back.
First of all, it should be understood that upon receiving Mr. James comments for publication on this blog, I was so surprised, I actually wrote back to him and suggested he might want to reconsider them, as Mrs. Thompson was likely to contest many of his assertions. Had he done so, all the legal expenses of this affair could have been avoided – in their entirety. Whilst the court has ordered Jacqui to pay the costs, the simple fact is that she does not have the funds to do so – and so the truth of the matter is that the tax payers in Carmarthenshire are going to be left with a significant slice of the bill…
Had Mr. James asked to withdraw his comments, I would have respected that. I’m an honest, decent, person – but even if I were not, Mr. James had in his possession an email from me offering to let him reconsider. There would have been no risk to him whatsoever – had I at some point in the future revealed the exchange in violation of any agreement, he would be able to demonstrate my bad faith… Not that this matters now, for this is not what he chose to do…
What his counsel chose to do in the High Court was to suggest that I was somehow taking instruction from Jacqui – that we were in it together… They don’t seem too concerned that if I were in cahoots with her, giving him an easy way to retract would hardly serve our purpose… No – that one apparently slipped past some of finest, and apparently most expensive, legal minds in our country.
For the record, I sent Jacqui some supportive Tweets – suggested I wasn’t done with Mr. James, but I never planned anything with her, gave her instructions, or received instructions from her. To suggest otherwise is, frankly, reaching a bit…
Something else that we might reflect upon is that Mr. James comments on this blog were in response to a number of perfectly sincere, clear questions. His comments criticised Jacqui at some length, but he didn’t seem to find the time to address any of my substantive points. To draw on a saying from the world of football, readers can draw their own conclusions as to whether he was playing the ball, the man, or indeed in this case the woman…
I share Jacqui’s concern that the conclusion of the #DaftArrest case sets an awful precedent that might well be used now to deter people, citizens and journalists alike, from holding public bodies to proper scrutiny. I also firmly believe that she was not conducting a campaign of harassment. Her blog (read it) is well researched, covers all manner of topics related to council business, and is actually seen by many in Carmarthenshire has one of an ever decreasing number of sources of sincere reflection on the actions of the authority. I also personally share her conclusion that she is the victim of a miscarriage of justice… Writing a blog about a council does not constitute harassment, and a council should be welcoming of such scrutiny. Perhaps they doth protest too much, and perhaps we might ask ourselves why…
Jacqui’s insurers have seen fit, in light of comments made by the judge, to withdraw their cover. They took her money happily enough, but when it comes to it, they’ve ran from their obligations. I do hope Jacqui reveals their identity in time, because this case should serve as a warning to anyone else tempted to enter into such an agreement with them in the future.
At the end of the day, Jacqui stands to lose her home over this – and what exactly is so terrible that she has done? She hasn’t thrown bricks through windows – she has shone the light of scrutiny into what feels like some particularly dark corners of council business. We bloggers now have to decide how to react to how Jacqui was treated – and personally, I think there could be no finer tribute than continuing to shine that light.
Jacqui is seeking leave to appeal, and since I feel it to be in the interest of justice, I wish her every success. Rather than prosecuting her, we should be nominating her for an honour…
April 30, 2013
Well, it’s been a couple of months now since the #DaftArrest trial was heard before The High Court, and I’ve spent them in reflective mood. I thought that now, since I am both well overdue for a blog post, and also somewhat calmer than in the days immediately after the case, I might take a more considered look back at events. There are, after all, important things to say.
Ok – as a result of reading the judgement, I am now aware of a good deal of history between Jacqui Thompson and the council of which I was previously unaware. I didn’t realise for instance that she had conducted sit in protests, or that her history was quiet so … extensive?
But hang on a minute – it doesn’t really matter, does it? She never painted herself as a friend of the council, and merely having a dispute with the council doesn’t mean that she should expect to be treated any differently than anyone else. She had every bit as much right as anyone else in the public gallery to protest about democratic accountability, and I believe the judge even recognised that, going so far as to mention it in his written judgement.
The Council / Mr. James seemed to be suggesting throughout the case that her protests surrounding the issue of filming council meetings was somehow motivated by and represented a continuing harassment centred around her earlier libel dispute with the council. To my own mind, that remains far from proven – indeed, I don’t think any evidence was presented to even support it. It is only natural that, considering herself wronged in one matter, she would elect to give far more concern to the activities of the council.
Perhaps an example… If I take my car for a repair to the brakes which failed after I had them in last time, and whilst in the garage I hear from other customers that their steering has become faulty following work undertaken there, am I wrong to wonder about my own steering? Is it unreasonable that I might consider calling for more scrutiny on the steering? If I do make such a call, does it really follow that it is motivated by my earlier problem with the brakes? Should the garage, when I complain publicly about shortcomings in their steering, really be able to claim that I’m merely pissed off about the brakes?
To my mind, it is ridiculous to claim that Mrs. Thompson has conducted a campaign of harassment. Mr. James mentioned in his post on this blog that her family had tried to visit a member of staff, at home, without an appointment to discuss their grievances. This relates to an incident where in truth her husband set off, alone, to visit Mr. Bowen – the then Head of Planning.
What Mr. James mysteriously fails to mention is both:
Mr. Thompson realised he was being stupid, and turned back of his own accord before ever visiting Mr. Bowen’s property, and
Mrs. Thompson, the lady who apparently conducts such vitriolic, bitter campaigns of harassment against the council, actually called the police to intercept her husband. Not an easy decision as we can all imagine, and not the sort of thing we might expect from a death of glory die hard nemesis of the council.
I’ve always felt Mrs. Thompson’s campaign for better democratic accountability in Carmarthenshire to be both sincere and motivated by the public interest, and I have yet to see any evidence that might tempt me to change that view.
Another questionable issue of the judgement, at least in my opinion, is that the judge finds that Mrs. Thompson attempted to pervert the course of justice when she reported what she viewed as an attempt to steal her mobile phone to the local police.
To my understanding, an attempt to pervert the course of justice requires a deliberate mind – it’s not something you can accidentally do – and must very much be the objective of your actions. With that in mind, let’s consider what happened… The witnesses to the incident had, in court, to admit that they hadn’t been able to see what had actually happened. Mrs. Thompson speaks of an attempt to grab her phone, and it’s important here to understand that in law an act of theft requires an attempt to permanently deny someone their property. Would Mrs. Thompson have known that? Would you? That someone taking your phone, by force, is not necessarily an act of theft?
Even so, Mrs. Thompson merely reports what happened to the police – honestly and accurately. I’ve not spoken to her about this so I don’t know what happened, but I presume the police told her that the offence wasn’t made out. Did she fabricate further evidence? No. Did she appeal their decision? No. Can it, in short, be said that she tried to pervert the course of justice? No.
It looks as though Mrs. Thompson might well now be considering an appeal. I hope she find some success in it – because what she has been dealt out with by the court didn’t smell much like justice to me…
March 15, 2013
I really shouldn’t be typing right now… I know it’s not a smart idea to blog when you’re angry, and boy oh boy am I angry right now… I’ve just heard the news that Jacqui Thompson, the well known and respected blogger from Carmarthenshire, has lost her libel action against Mark James (Carmarthenshire County Council Chief Executive) – and now faces a bill for £25,000 in damages.
This decision, believe it or not (and I really am having problems with this) was taken in the High Court at the Royal Courts of Justice. By an actual judge. Who was awake. Shocking…
It is my view, and I speak as someone who has regularly read Jacqui’s blog over the course of the past couple of years, that all Jacqui has done is to hold her local council to account – and she’s done that amidst a perception that the local press failed to do this effectively themselves… The Council would have us believe that she her blog is motivated by a desire to harass Mark James and assorted other officers following an earlier libel case – and the Council, like it or not, are talking bollocks.
I’ve met this lady – and whilst it’s fair to say that the earlier case perhaps triggered her blog (a move to try and bring some scrutiny to the conduct of the Council), it can hardly be said that this continues to motivate her. She rarely brought up the subject of the earlier action on the occasions we have spoken (though I was already aware of it), but she did talk at length about the various misdeeds of the council, about her arrest, and about the need for scrutiny of public bodies… I agree with her sentiments on all points.
I gave evidence in this trial, sat through a day of it in court, and kept abreast of it on the days I wasn’t there using Twitter and the excellent commentary provided by Mrs Angry (Broken Barnet). I can’t say that I have come away from the case having seen justice to be done.
There are, perhaps most troubling of all, a lot of things I can’t now say – for fear of facing my own encounter with Carmarthenshire’s lawyers. I’m certainly not engaged in a campaign of harassment, and have valid points to make, and yet can’t speak my mind on reasonable points without fear of the potential consequences.
I weep for democracy, and for the very concept of accountability in public life. If Jacqui decides to appeal, she will have my support.
January 11, 2013
I am getting totally fed up with the Conservative and LibDems solution to the debt crisis – namely forcing below inflation increases on benefit claimants, whilst simulataneously granting tax CUTS to their mates (I’m thinking of the scrapping of 50p income tax).
The line coming out of the Conservatives is “It isn’t really that benefit claimants should be receiving higher increases than public sector workers”. If this were indeed the case I would support their position, but it isn’t. If you’re over 25 years of age, a Job Seekers Allowance claimant will receive £71 a week. The consumer price index stands, I believe, at 2.7% – meaning that the difference in the CPI and the proposed settlement is 1.7%.
1.7% of £71, which is afterall what we are arguing about, is £1.21 per week.
The average person in work earns roughly £400 a week. So, what reduction in their earnings would they have to suffer to equate to that £1.21? Let’s do the maths…
1.21 = (x)*400/100
1.21 / 4 = x
x = 0.30%
What I am saying here is that the losses involved in a cap of 1% has only 1/5 of the effect on someone in work as it does on someone claiming benefits – as a consequence of how little someone in this position receives.
Next, let’s consider that benefits are calculated to be what you NEED. There’s no room built in for luxuries. The government intends to pay claimants less than they themselves have assessed claimants need.
How sincere are MPs in their concerns about a comparison between the average working person and a benefit claimant? Not very – else they would not in good conscience be calling for a 32% pay rise for themselves, would they?
November 19, 2012
The stories on the news concerning current events in Gaza are harrowing, not only for because of the horrors of civilians on both sides being massacred through no fault of their own, but also because this is all so avoidable. It really doesn’t need to happen – and the tragedy is that neither side seems willing to concede that.
Of course, it is entirely unacceptable that HAMAS have launched attacks on Isreal, and they should be rightly condemned for doing so. I don’t care where innocent civillians are – targetting them is a war crime in my eyes, and if you are really going to fire a rocket who’s guidance capabilities can best be surmised as “go somewhere over there…”, then you are totally responsible for the consequences of your actions.
So why do they do it then? Basically, it’s an act of desperation. The situation in Gaza is far too complex and horrific for a single blog post to do it any justice, but it would be safe to say that the people of Gaza are being oppressed by the state of Isreal. There is no free movement of goods either into or out of Gaza, and the economy of the region is paralised by the activities of the Isreali state. Sometimes, people feel they have to fight even when they have no hope – and I personally believe such desperation lies at the heart of those people in Gaza actively involved in attacks.
It’s wrong though – and last week three innocent Isrealis were butchered by a rocket hitting their home, despite having no personal connections to the activities of the state. That is totally indefensible.
But, for balance, let’s briefly consider the figures – because although three innocent Isrealis have been killed, over a hundred people in Gaza have died – largely through air strikes, which are hardly a discriminating means of dealing with a problem. Isreal state that they are merely trying to defend their citizens, and in part I’m sure they are – but we also have consider the fact that they are also expanding, massively, their programme of creating illegal settlements – as well as other acts of oppression.
Personally, I’m convinced Isreal is the bad guy here, but both sides are at fault. However, any conflict, any battle, will eventually come to an end, and they always end the same – with people deciding they need to talk. Wouldn’t be nice if the leaders of both HAMAS and the Isreali State had the balls to simply do that NOW? Maybe then, another innocent Palestinian or Isreali child might not get slaughtered this evening – because the uncomfortable truth is that by the time I come to have my shower in the morning, more innocent lives will be lost – and more families will be consumed with feelings of grief and retribution, adding to the cycle of war.
We need, throughout the world, an entirely different class of leader. We need people who will take decisions based on the welfare of their people, and not their own personal political or property interests. We need these people desperately, and we need them now, because the current crop of world leader seems to fall some way short of the mark…
November 6, 2012
So, Nadine Dorries MP, who allegedly represents the people of Mid Bedfordshire, has now decided to take a month away from parliamentary business to appear on the ITV reality show “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here”.
This particular show is noteworthy for many things, but Britain’s foremost platform for political debate it is not. One wonders therefore why Nadine would be willing to appear – so far I have only come up with trying to raise her profile, or the cold hard dosh. Either motivation would, I suspect, be sufficient to get Nadine to do just about anything.
Clearly one issue that doesn’t feature too prominently in her mind is the interests of her constituents, who will now be left without parliamentary representation for a month. Still, to be fair, they might be better under those circumstances anyway.
As an MP, Ms. Dorries receives a salary of around £65K per year – and I don’t believe I will be the only person in Britain who would prefer that she actually earn it. Serving as a truly committed MP is a full time job (and then some…), and one can’t help but wonder what her constituents will be told should they have the temerity to actually try to gain access to their MP during this period.
Parliament has defined holidays, and it is expected that any member will take any significant personal leave within these remarkably generous periods – although even then a true MP will spend much of the parliamentary holiday working for their constituents.
The situation is not dissimilar to that of a teacher working within a school – a situation I am personally familiar with seeing as my girlfriend works as a Teaching Assistant for a local school. Her salary is derisory, but she is expected to play by the rules like everyone else, and only take leave during school holidays. Obviously this is quite restrictive, and means we end up paying a hell of a lot more for holidays etc, but rules is rules – and so she follows them, without complaint. Nadine seemingly takes a different stance – even going to far as to take a photograph of guidance relating to her expenses laying on a roof after it, apparently, blew out of the window. “And there I think it shall stay…” was the comment she made.
Let’s hope the people of Mid Bedfordshire take the next election a little more seriously…