Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Aaron Ramsey loses direction

Monday, 29 November 2010

Then it dawned on me …


Sunday, 28 November 2010

Charlotte Rampling, The Andrew Marr Show

Perhaps if I had been exposed more to Charlotte Rampling during my teenaged years rather than being pwned by the lasciviousness of Roman Catholic boarding school, things may have turned out a little differently. Or not. Possibly the most sensual woman in the world, what Ms Rampling will make of Andrew Marr this morning at 9.00 on BBC1 is anyone’s guess.


Aston Villa 2 - 4 Arsenal

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Jewish? Gay? Join us, white extremists say

A white extremist organisation is forging links with Jewish, Sikh and gay communities to fuel prejudice and fear and hatred of the Muslim community, it was claimed today. The English Defence League (EDL), which was formed last year in protest at Islamic extremist activity, has also reached out across the Atlantic to build close ties with the American right-wing group, the Tea Party.

04 Spot the rainbow flag

Hundreds of EDL members are planning demonstrations in Nuneaton and Preston today to protest at the building of mosques and what they claim is the growing influence in the UK of Sharia law. But a new report, written by Professor Nigel Copsey of Teesside University, warns that the growth of EDL membership will spread Islamophobia in communities sharing a perceived "historical angst" against Muslims.

New branches of the League, such as the Jewish Division, could exploit the existing religious hostilities caused by territorial disputes in the Middle East, says Professor Copsey whose report was commissioned by the organisation Faith Matters. It claims that these inter-faith tensions were brought into sharp focus last month when the senior US Jewish leader and Tea Party activist Rabbi Nachum Shifren denounced Islam at a EDL rally outside the Israeli Embassy in London. Israeli flags have also been spotted at several EDL demonstrations across the UK.

As well as aggravating religious tensions, the EDL has established a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Division to "defend" gay people from Sharia law. There are also specialist divisions for women, soldiers and disabled people. The report warns these communities to be vigilant against "selective racism" and the EDL's attempts at manipulation.

Thatcher's children can lead the class of 68 back into action

The students aren't just angry about education cuts - they see themselves as a vanguard for a much wider protest campaign, writes Polly Toynbee

“When I was asked to speak at University College London's campaign for a living wage for college cleaners, a couple of months back, I was not expecting that many students to turn up – but things turned out differently.

“On Thursday, the day of the meeting, a student occupation was in full swing. The epicentre in the Jeremy Bentham room – where protesters are still camped out – was packed to bursting. A living wage, with the outsourced cleaners brought back in-house, had become one of their key demands. Here, as elsewhere, what started as protests about tuition fees accelerated into a political movement against cuts of all kinds. Inequality, poverty, the shredding of public services, unemployment, bankers and boardroom bonuses had become part of the protest. One fight, one struggle, they said, as if 40 years had suddenly fallen away. Not exactly Paris 1968, but in their sit-in meetings they were beginning to see themselves as the vanguard for a wider campaign. Thatcher's children, selfish, materialist, apathetic? Not at all.

“The scandalous abolition of the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which gives £30 a week to sixth-formers from the poorest families, is as central to their protest as their tripled fees. I read out a heartbreaking email I had just received from a Hackney sixth-former: she and her twin brother live with their disabled mother. Together they will lose £60 a week in allowance and wonder if they can stay on. She went on her first march on Wednesday, peacefully, far from any violence, and was horrified at being kettled by the police for five hours. Are police and government conspiring to turn peaceful young people into outraged militants?

“By Friday morning the UCL students had won a living wage of £7.80 for their cleaners, joining 11 other London universities and colleges that have now signed up. This is part of the Citizens UK rolling campaign to raise poverty pay for cleaners, security guards, hotel chambermaids and others.

“How will protest develop over the next 18 months, as the speed and scale of the cuts are felt? Every day more stories of cuts pour into my inbox, many never reported in the press. Five council youth centres are shutting in Haringey, north London, more elsewhere. Education for Choice – a small charity that arranges balanced debates in schools about abortion – is losing its grant and may fold. Here is a particularly mean-minded one: abolishing the mobility part of the disability living allowance means young and old in residential care will be trapped indoors, losing the money to hire a taxi to go out. Meanwhile, this week's official report on stricter health tests for incapacity benefit revealed widespread cruelty and error.

Friday, 26 November 2010

UK Film Council could have last laugh with £1m donation to Thatcher biopic

If reports that The Iron Lady is 'some left-wing fantasy' are true, then Conservatives may not welcome the UKFC's final move

The credits have begun rolling on the UK Film Council. In July culture secretary Jeremy Hunt announced the disbanding of the body that funds UK films; on Monday morning, Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and the creative industries, will explain how its duties are to be divvied up among existing organisations.

But the UK Film Council appears to be refusing to go out with a bang. One of its last large-scale donations has been to the forthcoming Margaret Thatcher biopic, The Iron Lady, which was awarded £1m in October. Some see the move as an 11th-hour snook cocked at the Conservatives who, if rumours surrounding the script are to believed, may not welcome the project.

Tim Walker of the Daily Telegraph reports that Thatcher's family were "appalled" by the sound of the film, which apparently involves the former prime minister reassessing her career with some regret after the death of her husband, Denis, and while she is suffering from dementia. "They think it sounds like some left-wing fantasy," Walker quotes a friend of the family as saying.

Pathé, who are producing the film, insist it will be made with "appropriate sensitivity". Meryl Streep plays Thatcher, and will be reunited with her Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd. Jim Broadbent is Denis, while Peep Show's Olivia Colman takes on the role of their daughter, Carol.

Ed Miliband: Labour must be a force for optimism

“What is the task now facing Labour? It starts with the job of responsible opposition,” writes Ed Miliband in the Telegraph. “Holding Mr Cameron’s government to account. Standing with the majority in Britain who say that cutting too far and too fast is a reckless gamble with growth. But there is a bigger and more fundamental task that Labour must confront. Britain has changed. Labour must change. And the change must be as profound as the change undertaken by New Labour in the 1990s.

“Thirteen years in government led to many lasting achievements, but also to a party remote from many people’s hopes and aspirations. In government we lost the humility to listen and learn. In opposition we must find it again. We must understand why, despite all that was achieved over the last decade, so many people who work hard and want to get on came to feel squeezed. Why did too many families feel that the gap between their lives and their dreams became larger and harder to bridge?

“It is a gap that I fear this Coalition will widen dramatically. The prospects for millions of families under Mr Cameron’s government look bleak. Slashing funding for universities and tripling student fees risks making the burden of personal debt far worse. The slogan “we are all in it together” is being used as rhetorical cover to push millions of families outside of the basic social deal, that if you work hard and do the right things, you will be helped to get on. It’s not just Child Benefit. Scaling back support for child care through tax credits and support for young people in education will hit the aspirations of millions.

“The deficit needs to be cut, but it’s the way that it’s done which will determine the character of our society for the next decade. I fear that for many families, this Coalition is spreading a deep pessimism about their future. It will be to Labour that this squeezed middle must look to understand their hopes. They and their concerns will be at the heart of our policy review and plans to change Britain.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Cameron reacts to student protests

Coalition 'tried to force BBC to run government adverts'

The director general of the BBC claimed yesterday he had been placed under pressure to broadcast government advertising, threatening the independence of the BBC. Defending his role in the recent negotiation of the licence fee, Mark Thompson said the Coalition Government had proposed the BBC should carry state advertising and confirmed that it was asked to fund the free licence fees of the over-75s.

Speaking to the Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference last night, Mr Thompson added "there was... the suggestion the BBC should take on the responsibility for broadcasting some of the material commissioned and generated by the Central Office of Information, in other words government advertising". He described the proposal as "a fundamental and wholly unacceptable attack on the BBC and one we'd fight tooth and nail".

Mr Thompson also claimed the deal struck with the Government had actually made the organisation larger rather than smaller.

Nationwide protests over increase to tuition fees

Tens of thousands of students and school pupils walked out of class, marched, and occupied buildings around the country in the second day of mass action within a fortnight to protest at education cuts and higher tuition fees. Amid more than a dozen protests, estimated by some to involve up to 130,000 students, there were isolated incidents of violence and skirmishes with police, mostly in central London.

The police tactic of penning students into a so-called kettle near Parliament Square for several hours caused anger, but appeared to contain the disorder. One exception came as night fell, when police mounted on horses charged at about 1,000 students gathered near Trafalgar Square. The protesters ran through the area, with officers following. Students then hurled chairs and traffic cones into the road as bemused tourists looked on. At least two bus windows were smashed and shops were also attacked.

The coalition government condemned the protests, saying they were being hijacked by extremist groups. The education secretary, Michael Gove, gave a notably combative response, urging the media not to give the violent minority "the oxygen of publicity", a resonant phrase associated closely with Margaret Thatcher's efforts in the 1980s to deny the IRA television coverage. Gove said the government would not waver, adding: "I respond to arguments, I do not respond to violence."

In contrast, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, whose pre-election pledge to oppose increased tuition fees has made him the focus of student anger, spoke of his "massive regret" in having to rescind the promise. "I regret of course that I can't keep the promise that I made because – just as in life – sometimes you are not fully in control of all the things you need to deliver those pledges," he told one of several angry callers to BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show.

"Of course I massively regret finding myself in this situation," Clegg said but the fact the Liberal Democrats had been forced into a coalition, and that the country's finances were worse than they had anticipated, meant they had to accept "compromise". Asked about his reaction to footage, earlier in the week, of students hanging him in effigy, Clegg said: "I'm developing a thick skin."

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Somebody's upset them

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Labour pulls ahead as coalition parties lose support

Labour 38% (+2), Conservative 36% (-3), Liberal Democrat 14% (-2)

Labour has pulled ahead sharply in the latest Guardian/ICM poll, as both coalition parties lose support. The findings, published as Ed Miliband returns to Westminster after paternity leave, suggest only a minority of voters believe the coalition is taking Britain in the right direction. Labour support in a theoretical immediate election has risen to 38%, two points higher than last month and the best in any ICM poll since Gordon Brown cancelled the planned 2007 general election.

Between them the coalition parties have shed five points. Conservative support has dropped three since last month to 36%, while the Liberal Democrats have fallen two points to 14%. The Lib Dem score is the lowest in the Guardian/ICM series since May 2001, and the lowest in any ICM poll since October 2007. While 91% of the 2010 Conservative voters would vote that way again, and 93% of 2010 Labour voters, only 47% of 2010 Lib Dem voters plan to do the same.

The impact of the party's U-turn on tuition fees is clear. Lib Dem support is now lower among voters aged 18-24 than among any other age group. By contrast, in the final election Guardian/ICM poll Lib Dem support was highest among young voters. The third party, which has traditionally scored more highly in ICM polls than in others from companies such as YouGov, has now seen its ICM rating sink from a high of 31% during the general election to 21% after it and 14% now.

The accuracy of the Lib Dem score – then and now – was the subject of much discussion at yesterday's post-election British Polling Council conference. Some pollsters suspect the party's rating is now artificially low and that the party would outperform it in a general election. The coalition may take some comfort from the fact that smaller parties have benefited more than Labour from declining Tory and Lib Dem support. Support for "others" is up three points to 12%, including 3% for Scottish and Welsh nationalists, 3% for Ukip and 2% for the Greens.

The Guardian

Monday, 22 November 2010

AntiCuts events for this week

UPDATED at 16.50  22/11/10

OK, the big one’s the National Walkout and Day of Protest against Tuition Fees on Wednesday. Many events are being held, check the AntiCuts website for details.

Monday 22nd November
Haringey Save the NHS Public Meeting
19.45 at Middle Lane Methodist Church

Wood Green AntiCuts Rally outside the Haringey Civic Centre
18.00 Called by Haringey Alliance for Public Services

Bedford Against Cuts Public Meeting
19.00 Friends Meeting House

Ed Miliband has 'profound' changes in mind for the Labour party

Ed Miliband launches his party on "the hard road back to power", saying it has to move beyond New Labour and commit to changes in policy and organisation as profound as those introduced by Tony Blair in 1994. He also appears to clash with the shadow chancellor, Alan Johnson, by saying a 50p tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 should be permanent, as a way of creating greater equality in Britain. Making the country more equal, he says, is one of the issues that gets him out of bed in the morning.

In his first full interview since becoming party leader, and marking his return to work after two weeks of paternity leave, he discloses:

• A commission on party organisation will be launched this weekend. It will examine the rules under which he was elected party leader, including the role of the unions.

• A policy review will be conducted including commissioned work by independent think-tanks and studies by each shadow cabinet member on the issues in their field. "In terms of policy, but not in terms of values, we start with a blank page," he says.

• The review is likely to include low pay, tough crime measures including Asbos, and the "contributory principle" in the welfare state.

• His main priority next May will be the devolved and local elections and not the referendum on the alternative vote. He says the Liberal Democrats should change the referendum date if they really want to win.

• He will stand up for the "squeezed middle classes", a group he claims Cameron does not understand.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Rent boys and condoms are cool, says Pope

Pope Benedict XVI has said the use of condoms is acceptable in exceptional circumstances, according to a new book. He said condoms could reduce the risk of HIV infection, such as for a male prostitute, in a series of interviews given to a German journalist [wtf?! – Ed]. But he said a more humane attitude to sexuality, and not condom use, was the proper way to combat HIV infection.

10 Bareback Benny regrets not using condoms when he was a rent boy

The comments were made in a new book, which the Vatican newspaper ran excerpts of in its Saturday edition. The Church's hard line stance over contraception has led to the Vatican being heavily criticised for its position in the context of the Aids crisis. The book - Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times - is based on a series of interviews the Pope gave the German Catholic journalist, Peter Seewald, earlier this year.

When asked whether the Catholic Church was not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, the Pope replied: "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality" [He’s da boss! – Ed].

The Pope gives the example of the use of condoms by male prostitutes as "a first step towards moralisation", even though condoms are "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection". He says that the "sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalisation of sexuality" where sexuality is no longer an expression of love, "but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves" [Eh?! – Ed].

Lib Dems' pledge to oppose rise in tuition fees was not binding, insists Cable

Business Secretary Vince Cable has denied breaking promises on university fees, insisting the Lib Dems' pledge to oppose any rise was not binding. Signing such a pledge on fees before the election might have been the wrong "political judgment", he acknowledged. However, Mr Cable told BBC1's Politics Show that coalition plans to lift the ceiling on tuition fees to £9,000 did not indicate his party was untrustworthy. Labour has attacked the Lib Dem U-turn, which provoked angry student protests.

Thousands of people took to the streets of London for a demonstration earlier this month, which flared into violence when a 2,000-strong section of the march broke off to confront police and attack the Conservative party headquarters. The National Union of Students has also vowed to "chase down" any Liberal Democrat MPs who vote in favour of allowing universities in England and Wales to increase fees from the current cap of £3,290.

Many had publicly signed a pre-election pledge to vote against any such rise, should they be elected in May. But Mr Cable insisted his party had not betrayed anybody and that the coalition agreement struck with the Tories was their only binding commitment. "We didn't break a promise. We made a commitment in our manifesto, we didn't win the election. We then entered into a coalition agreement, and it's the coalition agreement that is binding upon us and which I'm trying to honour," he said.

Asked whether it would have been better if he had not signed the pledge, he added: "From the point of view of political judgment it may well have been, but it's not an issue of trust. We and the Conservatives separately made a whole series of commitments in our manifesto and outside it. We haven't been able to carry all of them through, partly because we have a coalition and have had to make compromises and partly because we're still in the middle of this appalling financial situation."

Amid expectations of further protests on Wednesday, Mr Cable told the BBC that many of those involved did not grasp what the government was proposing. "It doesn't actually affect them - we're talking about a system of graduate contribution that will only affect people who start going to university in a couple of year's time," he said. "If they are concerned for the next generation what I think they do need to understand is that we're making the system significantly fairer, making it much more attractive for part-time students and for graduates on low incomes."

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Unearthing JCB

In November 2001, William Hague took up the post of political and economic adviser to JCB, one of the UK's largest companies. JCB said Mr Hague had been employed for his political, economic and international expertise. Although he did not take up a seat on the company's board, JCB did not rule out the possibility of him taking business trips abroad. Hague was not employed for a fixed number of days but would be basically "on-call". The company at the time refused to confirm he would be paid £45,000 a year. [Source]

In June 2009, it was revealed in the published earnings of Cameron's shadow cabinet that JCB had paid £50,000 to Hague the previous year, in his role as non-executive director. That year JCB announced it would lay off hundreds of workers. In total that year, shadow foreign secretary Hague earned about £230,000 from after-dinner speeches, advice to private companies and writing books – in addition to his £65,000 MP's wage. Mr Hague said he would be leaving JCB after one more board meeting. [Source]

On 9th November this year, David Cameron arrived in China with the largest British trade delegation ever to visit the country. Cameron, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other ministers were joined by 50 British business and education leaders as part of a drive to increase trade between the two countries. One of these was Sir Anthony Bamford, chairman of JCB, who was named as one of the Coalition's new British Business Ambassadors. Cameron also recommended Bamford for a peerage, however this was turned down by the House of Lords authorities due to concerns regarding Bamford's taxes. He is one of the largest donors to the Conservative Party. [Source]

Yesterday, JCB announced an order for 236 machines for the British Army. The contract is their "largest order for machines for the British Army in more than 25 years." They will deliver 138 backhoe loaders and 98 wheel loading shovels, with Nato paint work and storage for weapons. The loaders are made at JCB's Rocester headquarters and the wheeled loading shovels at JCB Earthmovers in Cheadle.

JCB chief executive Alan Blake said: "JCB has now become the primary supplier of plant and mechanical handling equipment to the British Army. As a British company it is fantastic that we have been awarded the opportunity to support our armed forces in this way and help ensure they are successful on operations, training and in their many other tasks around the world." [Source]

AntiCuts events for Saturday 20th November

Gloucestershire Anti Cuts Alliance and Gloucester Districts Trades Council March and Demonstration against the ConDem cuts - starting point is Gloucester Park at 10.00 http://www.anticutsglos.co.uk/2010/10/march-and-demonstration/  #GloucsAntiCuts

Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts - Open conference for all of those who want to fight cuts to jobs, services, pay, pensions and benefits. 10.30 - 16.00 at Bailey Rooms,
Castle Court, Shire Hall, Castle St, Cambridge CB3 0AP.  Register for the conference: http://www.cambridgeshireagainstthecuts.org.uk/p/register-for-20th-march-meeting.html  #CambsAntiCuts

Nottingham March and Rally
11.30 March from Forest Recreation Ground to Market Square, Nottingham, rally at 12.30
http://nottssos.org.uk/  #NottsAntiCuts

Lambeth Save Our Services Public Meeting
St Matthews Tenants Hall in Brixton from 12.00
http://anticuts.org.uk/?p=545  #LambethAntiCuts

Irvine & North Ayrshire TUC Public Meeting
11.00 at Irvine Volunteer Rooms, High Street, Irvine
http://anticuts.org.uk/?p=906  #IrvineAntiCuts

Birmingham protest organised by Right to Work
Meet at 2pm bottom of the Ramp, New Street  #BirmAntiCuts

See the AntiCuts Protests website for full listings

Friday, 19 November 2010

Nick Clegg – This Is Your Life

Did you know the Tories love the gays?!

Prince Charles says Camilla 'may become Queen'

Prince Charles has said for the first time that his wife Camilla "could be" the Queen when he takes the throne. Asked in an interview on US channel NBC whether the Duchess of Cornwall could ever become Queen Consort, he initially stumbled over his answer. He then added: "We'll see won't we? That could be."

02 Mr and Mrs Loon

Clarence House said that "nothing had changed" since the couple's wedding, and that the Duchess would become Princess Consort as was stated then. BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said the issue was the title which Camilla would take when the prince became king, not her role.

According to 1,000 years of history and precedent the wife of a king becomes a queen, as a Queen Consort, which has no constitutional power. But at the time of their marriage five years ago, it was announced that Camilla would assume the Princess Consort title when Charles became King. That came at a time when there were several newspaper polls indicating a lack of public support for Camilla ever being known as Queen Camilla.

Nicholas Witchell said Prince Charles had been caught unawares in the interview and had given a rather stumbling answer, but he could have "stuck to the script" of Clarence House. Instead he gave that answer, which confirmed what people suspected, that he wanted Camilla crowned alongside him as Queen Consort, which was revealing, our correspondent added.

BBC News

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere cautioned over assault

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has received a caution after a brawl in a west London street. Wilshere, 18, who won his first England cap against Hungary, was arrested on 29 August in Kensington High Street over a "fracas". Emergency crews were called after a man suffered minor facial injuries and a woman sustained a broken arm. The Metropolitan Police cautioned Wilshere, considered one of England's best prospects, for common assault.

A spokesman for the Met said: "An 18-year-old male has attended a west London police station where he received a caution for common assault." A statement from Wilshere's spokesman read: "During a night out with friends, Jack intervened as a peacemaker in an incident to protect a friend. The police have accepted that Jack's involvement was such that it could be dealt with by way of a caution. No further comment will be made as police investigations and proceedings are ongoing and Jack may well be called as a witness."

In October Duane Brailsford, 18, of Hitchin, Hertfordshire, was charged with affray and causing actual bodily harm over the brawl. Adam Mardell, 21, also of Hitchin, Hertfordshire, was charged with affray. The fighting broke out when the footballer was out celebrating Arsenal's Premier League victory against Blackburn Rovers.

Catalonia’s Young Socialists upset politicians with their voter orgasm video

Spanish politicians have criticised a video by the Young Socialists in Catalonia in which a woman simulates an orgasm while casting her vote. Both Socialist and opposition politicians have attacked the campaign video. The equality minister called it "misleading" advertising. In the video the young woman gets increasingly excited as she votes for the Socialist Party in this month's regional elections in Catalonia. It concludes with the phrase "Voting is a pleasure" after she puts her voting slip in the ballot box.

The leader of the conservative opposition Popular Party of Catalonia, Alicia Sanchez-Camacho, said the video was an "attack on the dignity of women". The health minister, Leire Pajin, who is a Socialist, called on all parties to show respect for women and to act responsibly. The Socialist equality minister, Bibiana Aido, said of the video: "If it was true, electoral participation would go up greatly, but I think we are dealing with a misleading advert."

The Socialist Party of Catalonia's leader, Jose Montilla, who is standing for re-election, said, "If it encourages people to vote, it's a good thing". However, speaking in a TV interview he appeared surprised to learn that it was a video by the youth wing of his own party. A spokesman for the conservative CiU party, Josep Antoni Duran Lleida, said that the "crude" video would damage participation. The leader of the Green coalition in Catalonia, Joan Herrera, said it would be "very difficult to reach orgasm voting for any of the candidates, myself included".

It is not the first controversial video to be brought out by a Catalan party ahead of the 28 November elections. An anti-racism group, SOS Racismo, says it has complained to the public prosecutor about a video game by the Popular Party, in which Alicia Sanchez-Camacho takes on the guise of film and video game heroine Lara Croft to fight illegal immigrants and pro-independence Catalans. The game was removed from the party's website hours after its launch, with the PP saying the developer did not follow instructions properly.

Banksy in line for Oscar nomination

The outsider status of graffiti artist Banksy took a further blow today with the announcement that he has been ‘long-listed’ for an Oscar for his documentary film, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The anonymous spray can provocateur may have begun his career tagging around his native Bristol but he is now in danger of being embraced as firmly by the movie mainstream as he has been by the art world. Earlier this month the film, which received enthusiastic critical reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, was awarded a prestigious Grierson documentary award.

The film, which premiered at the Sundance film festival last year, was described by the artist as "the story of how one man set out to film the unfilmable – and failed". It tells the story of a Los Angeles T-shirt printer called Thierry Guetta who becomes obsessed with street art and attempts to make a film about it, only to have Banksy, on seeing the catastrophic results, turn the camera on Guetta.

The Los Angeles Times described it as "subversive, provocative and unexpected … a hall of mirrors as unsettling as anything Lewis Carroll's Alice ever experienced".

The documentary long-list of fifteen includes films by a number of other Britons, including Enemies of the People, a personal film about the killing fields of Cambodia directed by Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, and Lucy Walker's Waste Land, about an artist who works with Brazilian slum-dwellers to create works of art made from rubbish.

The list will be whittled down to five films in January, with the winner revealed at the Oscars ceremony on February 27. Recent winners of the best documentary award have included Al Gore's environmental film An Inconvenient Truth and Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine.

The Guardian

Lord Young forced into grovelling apology over recession comments

Lord Young, the prime minister's enterprise adviser, was forced to issue a grovelling apology last night after he claimed most Britons "had never had it so good during this so called recession". He had also suggested that George Osborne, the chancellor, had deliberately inflated the rhetoric around the spending cuts to protect the pound.

04 Stuff and nonsense

He claimed that in a few years people would look back and wonder what all the fuss was about, and said most of the complaints were coming from those who thought the state had a right to support them. He also described the loss of 100,000 public sector jobs a year as within the margin of error in the context of a jobs market of 30m workers, adding "people will wonder what all the fuss was about".

Lord Young’s remarks have been seen as an offensive throwback to harsh Thatcherite rhetoric and are bound to lead to Labour calls for his dismissal as enterprise tsar on the grounds he is totally out of touch with the squeeze on living standards almost all voters are experiencing. Cameron had just appointed Young to the post after he had overseen a review of Britain's health and safety rules.

The PM has been desperate to portray the cuts as a difficult, but necessary, medicine even if he has on occasion himself pointed out that the cuts will still leave the public sector as a proportion of GDP back at quite recent levels. To help keep growth alive against the backdrop of 20% spending cuts over four years, the Bank of England interest rate has been cut to 0.5%, benefiting homeowners on tracker mortgages, but hitting those who rely on savings.

Lord Young told the Daily Telegraph: "For the vast majority of people in the country today they have never had it so good ever since this recession – this so-called recession – started, because anybody, most people with a mortgage who were paying a lot of money each month, suddenly started paying very little each month. That could make three, four, five, six hundred pounds a month difference, free of tax. That is why the retail sales have kept very good all the way through."

Thursday, 18 November 2010

AntiCuts events for 19th & 20th November

Friday 19th November
Blackpool AntiCuts Meeting  http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/events/index.cfm/id/8C4D6D15-4696-4BCB-872ABE95E0C15993  #BlackpoolAntiCuts

Bradford Rally Against Cuts to Services
from 13.00 at Centenary Square, Bradford BD1 9SN
http://anticuts.org.uk/?p=863  #BradfordAntiCuts

Saturday 20th November
Gloucestershire Anti Cuts Alliance and Gloucester Districts Trades Council March and Demonstration against the ConDem cuts - starting point is Gloucester Park at 10.00  http://www.anticutsglos.co.uk/2010/10/march-and-demonstration/  #GloucsAntiCuts

Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts - Open conference for all of those who want to fight cuts to jobs, services, pay, pensions and benefits. 10.30 - 16.00 at Bailey Rooms,
Castle Court, Shire Hall, Castle St, Cambridge CB3 0AP.  Register for the conference: http://www.cambridgeshireagainstthecuts.org.uk/p/register-for-20th-march-meeting.html  #CambsAntiCuts

Nottingham March and Rally
11.30 March from Forest Recreation Ground to Market Square, Nottingham, rally at 12.30
http://nottssos.org.uk/  #NottsAntiCuts

Lambeth Save Our Services Public Meeting
St Matthews Tenants Hall in Brixton from 12.00
http://anticuts.org.uk/?p=545  #LambethAntiCuts

Irvine & North Ayrshire TUC Public Meeting
11.00 at Irvine Volunteer Rooms, High Street, Irvine
http://anticuts.org.uk/?p=906  #IrvineAntiCuts

See the AntiCuts Protests website for full listings

Public sector workers encouraged to form John Lewis-style co-operatives

Public sector workers are being urged to set up John Lewis-style co-operatives, offering everything from probation services to tax collection, in what is being billed as potentially one of the biggest transformations of state provision since the privatisations of the 80s. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said today that he envisaged mutuals developing in NHS trusts, Sure Start centres, children's services, welfare provision and the civil service. He even said they could be formed in the Inland Revenue.

04 “You go to John Lewis to buy a sofa or a fridge, not to have chemotherapy.”
Tony Woodley, Unite

The aim was to liberate public sector workers and "introduce radical shifts in ownership, accountability and financing", he said. "Every government department and every local council will be expected to put in place a right to provide, with the ultimate decision to go ahead resting with the relevant minister." But the scale of the government's ambitions for public service reform raised fresh concerns that the programme could lead to creeping privatisation.

Peter Holbrook, chief executive of the Social Enterprise Coalition, welcomed the announcement but said: "Without the necessary safeguards there is a danger that the mutuals could be demutualised and sold off to the private sector, reminiscent of what happened to British building societies in the 1980s. It would be criminal to see that happen to our public services. All mutuals need to be asset-locked to ensure that they operate for the benefit of the public, forever."

Ministers are open-minded about the form such mutuals and co-operatives will take: some could be independent of the state, some could be joint ventures with the state and others would include users of the service, such as tenants. Maude said he was neutral over whether private companies should seek to take over the more successful enterprises, but said he would prefer the public sector to retain a stake.

The new "right to provide" provision will be coupled with a new community "right to challenge": local people or employees will be able to demand the right to run a service where they believe they could run it better than failing local authority management. A localism bill is likely to be published next week.

50% of Airbus Rolls-Royce engines need replacing, says Qantas

Around one in two of all Rolls-Royce engines in service on Airbus A380 aircraft are to be replaced after one broke apart during flight earlier this month, Australia's Qantas Airways said today. A Qantas A380 flying from London to Sydney with 466 people on board was forced to make an emergency landing after a stopover in Singapore two weeks ago, when one of its four Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines blew out.

The airline has since grounded its six A380s since the incident, while its, rival Singapore Airlines, with 11 Rolls-Royce powered A380s, has had to cancel several flights in order to remove some engines and replace them. "We've been talking to Airbus and Rolls-Royce and we understand that the number [of engines to be replaced] is around 40," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told reporters. "We've already replaced three, and there could be more."

There are 37 A380s, which have a list price of $350m each, in operation worldwide. Some 21 of those are powered by the Trent 900. Airlines have sought to replace existing engines with newer versions since the emergency landing on 4 November. Joyce declined to confirm an Australian newspaper report on Thursday that his airline's six A380s were likely to remain grounded until December or later.

But he did confirm Qantas wanted Airbus to replace some of Qantas's existing Rolls-Royce engines with new engines from aircraft still in production on the assembly line. The problem with the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine is thought to develop over time, so the new engines should not present safety issues and will give Rolls-Royce time to come up with a permanent solution. Airbus has orders for almost 200 further A380s.

The Guardian

Government accused of 'sleight of hand' over tuition fees

Thousands of the poorest graduates will be worse off under the Government's higher education reforms because of a statistical "sleight of hand" by ministers, The Independent has learnt

The change means that graduates earning just £18,000 a year in today's money will have to start paying hundreds of pounds a year to the Treasury when they leave university in 2016. When the Government announced the scheme earlier this month, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, suggested that repayments would not start unless a graduate was earning at least £21,000 a year.

Last night the respected economic think-tank the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) withdrew its assertion that up to 30 per cent would be better off following a clarification of the figures by the Department of Business. It is now thought that only 20 per cent of future graduates will benefit from the plans, with eight out of 10 graduates paying more than at present.

Last night the National Union of Students (NUS) accused ministers of issuing misleading information and called on them to "urgently clarify" the situation. John Denham, Labour's shadow Business Secretary, described the revelation as "astonishing". Under proposals originally put forward by Lord Browne in his review of higher education funding last month, students going to university in 2012 would pay up to £9,000 a year in fees to cover the cost of their course. They would start repaying the money the year after they graduated – but only if they earned over £21,000 a year.

In his report, Lord Browne wrote: "As the repayment threshold (on student fees) has not been increased since 2005 there will be a one-off increase at the start of our new system from £15,000 to £21,000." He added: "The threshold will then... increase in line with average earnings." But between the report being published and the ministerial announcement on the changes, it was decided this "new system" would start in 2016 when the students leave university and not in 2012 when they start. The small change means that the £21,000 will only be worth around £18,500 in today's money due to inflation, saving the Treasury millions of pounds.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Italian cardinal warns gay activists are persecuting Christians

Christians must brace themselves for a "new form of persecution" driven by homosexual activists and their ideological accomplices, an Italian cardinal has said.

Freedom of thought and expression is under threat from the gay rights movement, said Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, the retired archbishop of Bologna, in memoirs that are published on Thursday. And the result is that those people who disagreed with the homosexual agenda are being ostracised by society, he said.

"The ideology of homosexuality" – as often happens to ideologies when they become aggressive and end up being politically triumphant "becomes a threat to our legitimate autonomy of thought: those who do not share it risk condemnation to a kind of cultural and social marginalisation," said Cardinal Biffi. "The attacks on freedom of thought start with language," he wrote. "Those who do not resign themselves to accept 'homophilia' ... are charged with 'homophobia'."

The remarks came as a British paediatrician lost a religious discrimination case after she was forced to step down from an adoption panel because she opposed adoptions by gay couples. Dr Sheila Matthews was employed by Northamptonshire County Council. Peter Tatchell of the gay rights campaign group Outrage rejected Cardinal Biffi's claim that Christians were being persecuted by homosexuals and their supporters. "Gay human rights defenders are not persecuting Christians, we are simply asking them to stop persecuting us," he said.

Cardinal Biffi, 82, is seen as something of a maverick in Italy where he regularly made headlines with his pronouncements. He has attacked freemasonry, and feminism and once denounced journalists as "rats".

The Telegraph (lol)

AntiCuts events for Thursday 18th November

Lobby of Scottish Parliament called by PCS from 11.30

Lancaster and Morecombe against the cuts public meeting
19.30 at The Ashton Hall, Lancaster Town Hall
http://lancastermorecambeagainstcuts.blogspot.com/p/future-events.html and http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=133073206741907&ref=mf

Newcastle Public Services Alliance meeting
17.00 at Unison Regional Office, 140 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, NE1 6TH http://nessn.org.uk/events/

Durham Public Services Alliance – organising meeting
17.30 at County Hall, Durham, DH 1 5UL

Glasgow students organising meeting

Blackpool anti-cuts meeting

Portsmouth Coalition Against the Cuts Launch Meeting
19.30 Park Building Lecture Hall, King Henry I St, near Guildhall, Portsmouth PO1 2D

See the AntiCuts Protests website for full listings

Theresa May scraps legal requirement to reduce inequality

A legal requirement forcing public bodies to try to reduce inequalities caused by class disadvantage will be scrapped, the home secretary announced today. In a speech setting out the government's attitude towards reducing inequalities, Theresa May said the measure – which was at the heart of the new Equality Act, introduced by Labour's Harriet Harman when she was equalities minister – would be abandoned.

The socioeconomic duty would have required all public bodies to assess whether they were addressing inequalities caused by class factors, encouraging them to improve, for example, health and education outcomes in more deprived areas. May dismissed the legislation as "ridiculous" and said it would not be enacted. "They thought they could make people's lives better by simply passing a law saying that they should be made better," she said. "That is why I am announcing today that we are scrapping Harman's law for good."

May's speech set a very different tone for the government's approach to tackling inequalities, moving away from regulation and towards encouraging organisations to choose to improve their record. She said she favoured a greater focus on "fairness" rather than "equality", arguing that many people felt alienated by the equality agenda. This nuanced shift is likely to make equality campaigners uneasy, on the grounds that "fairness" is a much vaguer and less legally enforceable concept than equality.

The government's emphasis would be on ensuring "equality of opportunity" rather than "equality of outcome", May said. "Even as we increase equality of opportunity, some people will always do better than others," the home secretary said. "I do not believe in a world where everybody gets the same out of life, regardless of what they put in. That is why no government should try to ensure equal outcomes for everyone." The concept of equality had, she argued, become a "dirty word", associated with "the worst forms of political correctness and social engineering".

"I recognise that 'fairness' is a word that many will feel is perhaps not as specific as 'equality'. But one of the problems is that equality has come to be seen by a lot of people as something that is available to others, and not to them. We do need to change our attitude and approach to it, and we do need to say that equality of opportunity is for everybody. The other problem with using the word is that it has been seen to mean equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity," she said.

"Using fairness as a word alongside equality will mean that the majority of the British people will start to see this is something that is about everybody, not something that is just available to specific groups of people."

The Guardian

HSBC countermines clampdown on bonuses by doubling salaries

HSBC plans to double the basic pay of hundreds of its top investment bankers in a move that risks inflaming the row about City pay. Amid growing opposition to large cash awards, from the government, regulators and the public, the banking group will significantly increase the percentage of the total payout that its senior investment bankers receive as salary, and reduce the bonus component. New Europe-wide rules, which are likely to be finalised next month, will defer the payment of bonuses and reduce the percentage paid in cash.

As the pay increases are handed out by HSBC to staff across the world, especially those in London, New York and Hong Kong, Goldman Sachs is preparing to name 100 or so new partners, who will immediately be propelled into top-earning status at the Wall Street firm. In a sign of the tension surrounding the payment of huge banking bonuses at a time of public spending cuts, Treasury minister Mark Hoban said today that the banks would have to "think very hard" about the forthcoming bonus round.

HSBC's move came to light less than a fortnight after the bank complained bitterly about the impact of new bonus rules, which it warned may force it to reconsider its London headquarters. HSBC said then that it had failed to hire up to 15 bankers in Hong Kong because of a Financial Services Authority rule that stops it offering two-year guaranteed bonuses.

Furthermore, it complained that the new rules could place it at a disadvantage compared with banks based in the US. The rules are being brought in by the Committee of European Banking Supervisors and are expected to allow recipients to be paid only a fifth of their bonuses upfront as cash. The rest will be spread out over at least three years and much of it will be in shares.

Nick Clegg "warns" of riots if Tories are elected (11 April 2010)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Manchester United fly Turkish Airlines

Security stepped up at Lib Dem HQ

Security at the headquarters of the Liberal Democrats is to be stepped up after a group of students protesting against rising tuition fees said it would target the building next week. A nationwide day of walkouts, sit-ins and demonstrations will take place on 24 November as protesters aim to build opposition to the reforms for higher education, which will see annual tuition fees triple in 2012.

More lecturers, including the head of Britain's main higher education union, have signed a petition supporting last week's student protests, which saw windows smashed and fires lit by demonstrators inside the Conservative Party headquarters in central London. More than 50 protesters have been arrested.

Alan Whitaker, the national president of the University and College Union, has added his name to the document, which calls on the public to "rally behind all who were arrested for fighting to defend their education". The union has officially condemned the violence at the protests. Dr Marion Hersh, a member of the union's national executive committee, also backed the protest and called on the union to change its position. "It was a great demonstration in terms of the occupation," she said. "There's a lot of justifiable anger that currently the Government seems to be proposing to totally dismantle higher education."

The Education Activist Network (EAN), a radical student group which has also defended the direct action taken last week, has now said that the Liberal Democrat headquarters in Cowley Street, Westminster, would be targeted as part of its "Day X" protests next week. Activists at the University of Sheffield will also meet today to decide if they are going to target the offices and home of Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader. They believe he is guilty of "betrayal" after he and his party signed a pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees during the election campaign.

Mark Bergfeld, a member of the National Union of Students' (NUS) executive committee and an EAN spokesman, said the Liberal Democrats' U-turn made them a "legitimate target for direct action". "The Tories and Lib Dems want to create an education system for the few and the privileged and we're going to fight," he said. "We are targeting the Lib Dems in particular for their lies. I think we have the right to target Lib Dems up and down the country, occupy their offices and call on them to join our fight. Ultimately, we want to split the Government."

The Independent

Police close down Fitwatch blog after it offered advice to students involved in NUS demonstration

Scotland Yard last night forced the closure of an anti-police blog which was being used to disseminate advice to protesters pictured at the student fees demonstration. The website Fitwatch was suspended after the its hosting company received contact from C011, the Metropolitan's public order branch, stating that the blog was "being used to undertake criminal activities".  
The move appears to have taken place after a blog posted on the website gave guidance to students who feared they might be arrested for their involvement in the occupation of the Millbank office complex, which houses the Tory party headquarters. A largely peaceful march against the proposed increase in tuition fees turned violent on Wednesday when a minority of the 50,000 students targeted Millbank. Around 200 entered the building and some accessed the roof. During a period of rioting, windows and furniture were smashed and, in the most serious act of violence, a fire extinguisher was thrown towards police from the roof.

The Fitwatch blogpost, which last night had reappeared on several other websites, recommended that students "get rid" of clothes they wore at the demonstration and change their appearance. "Perhaps now is a good time for a makeover," said the post. "Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It isn't a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent." Hours later, the Met's "e-crime unit" informed Fitwatch's website hosting service – JustHost.com – that the blog was being used to attempt to pervert the course of justice by providing guidance to "offenders".

"We hereby request [you] de-host this website for a minimum period of 12 months," it said in a letter seen by the Guardian. "The website is providing explicit advice to offenders following a major demonstration in central London. "The demonstration was marred by violence and several subjects have already been arrested, with a major police operation under way to identify and arrest further offenders." The letter stated that authority to close "the website and IP address" had been given by Will Hodgeson, an acting detective inspector at C011.

Manchester United's Glazer family seeks to pay off ‘payment-in-kind’ loans

Manchester United's American owners are to pay off their high interest payment-in-kind (PIK) loans, estimated to be worth around £220m. The loans were borrowed from three US hedge funds to help finance the Glazer family's £790m takeover in 2005. The BBC understands the club's joint chairman Joel Glazer has written to the lenders and said the loan would be paid in full on November 22. The football club's total debts are estimated at more than £720m.

It is not yet clear how the Glazer family were able to raise the money to pay off the PIK loans. They are understood to have given the Citadel, Och Ziff and Perry Capital hedge funds seven days' notice of the repayment. The PIK loans were significantly reduced as part of a refinancing in 2006 but since then have been accruing interest at extremely punitive rates.

Earlier this year the rate rose to 16.25% and, although the Glazers are liable for the debt, supporters have long suspected money from the club would eventually be used to start paying them off. As part of a £526m bond refinancing in January, the Glazers were given the freedom to take up to £70m from the club's revenues to pay down the PIKs. By notifying the lenders they intend to pay them off in full next Monday, the Glazers will reduce a lot of the financial pressure on the club.

The club's parent company, Red Football Limited, is due to publish financial results for the first quarter on Tuesday, but those figures are not expected to include details of how the PIKs, which sit on the accounts of Red Football Joint Venture Ltd, have been redeemed. Despite making a £79.6m pre tax loss for the last financial year, mainly due to one off interest and debt charges, United generated revenues of £278m and have over £100m of cash reserves.

But taking money from the club at a time when many supporters feel there should be more investment in the team will only add to the opposition to the Glazers at Old Trafford. If the money hasn't been taken out in that way then the Glazers may have borrowed the money from other financial institutions at more affordable rates to refinance the PIKs.

BBC News

Monday, 15 November 2010

Legal aid cuts will exclude the most vulnerable from access to justice

Family, housing and immigration among the areas from which free legal advice may be withdrawn

Hundreds of thousands of people with family and housing law problems will no longer have access to free legal advice under government proposals announced today. Measures proposing the most drastic cuts to legal aid in its 60-year history would seek to reduce the number of civil law cases by 547,000 a year in what ministers describe as an attempt to save money and "discourage a culture of litigation".

condem (14)
"At more than £2bn per year, we currently have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world," said the justice minister, Jonathan Djanogly. "In civil legal aid and private family law people are too often willing to hand over their personal problems to the state … there is a lack of appreciation of the implications of going to court. The need to make savings provides us with the impetus and urgency for change."

The proposals, published in a consultation paper today, suggest the removal of whole areas of law from the scope of public funding. Divorcing couples will no longer be able to receive free legal representation for court cases, other than in cases where there is domestic violence or forced marriage, in a change ministers say should encourage mediation.

Government figures estimate the move will reduce the number of cases by 265,000 per year. People facing homelessness, housing disrepair and antisocial behaviour will still be able to gain free legal advice. But people with other housing problems will no longer get state help, despite a government statement acknowledging that these people are "more likely to be ill or disabled". This move means some 38,000 people per year will no longer able to access free legal help.

Other areas of legal advice previously covered by legal aid will be removed from public funding completely, including debt advice, social welfare and employment. Critics were swift to respond, saying the measures would hit the most vulnerable in society and prevent them from defending civil rights affected by cuts elsewhere.

National Firefighters Rally and Lobby of Parliament

Wednesday 17th November 2010 - 10.30 to 13.00

Support your local fire service

“Our Fire and Rescue Service faces the most serious attacks in living memory. The cuts proposed by the Government would decimate our Service and would hugely increase risk to Firefighters and to the public. At the same time Firefighters face a further series of attacks on pay, pensions, jobs and conditions of service. We will be going to Westminster on 17th November to tell MPs that our Service needs investment not cuts.”

FBU Website:  http://www.fbu.org.uk/

Oh yes, the Nick Clegg chant …

Nick Clegg is a wanker
he wears a wanker’s hat
and no one really likes him
cos he’s a massive twat
he’s hated by the left wing
he’s hated by the right
he’ll never be the PM
cos he’s a fucking shite

Five Arsenal boys, one hotel bedroom and plenty of wrist action

Yep, it's Fifa time

Welcome to ultra-flexi-time: a slice of your life for half the price

Disabled people and lone parents face further upheaval to their benefits as an "ultra-flexible" work system, which allows people to sell their labour in small blocks of time, is placed at the heart of the government's welfare reforms. Lord Freud and Maria Miller, the welfare ministers, are examining changes to benefit rules to allow people to sign up for work for as little as two hours a week under the slivers of time initiative.

The government's decision to throw its weight behind the pioneering system comes as Tesco announces it is to throw open a slivers of time scheme to its 340,000-strong workforce. From today, any Tesco employee will be able to sign up for overtime for modest or longer periods of time at their workplace or at any Tesco store in their area.

Slivers of time, a social enterprise founded by the former BBC producer Wingham Rowan, is designed to tap into the pool of people who cannot work the usual hours expected even of the average part-time employee. It is aimed at parents with young children, disabled people who may not be available for work for most of the week, people who care for a dependent adult or the long-term unemployed who want to ease slowly back into work. "There are millions of people who need to work in a fragmented way," Rowan said. "Some of these people are real assets but they can be excluded from the labour market."

The government is keen to incorporate the slivers of time system into the new universal credit, the centrepiece of the welfare reforms unveiled last week by Iain Duncan Smith. Freud and Miller want to pilot the system for disabled and lone parents at jobcentres across Britain from next April with a view to rolling it into the running of the universal credit from 2013.

Its proponents claim the reform would mean that a disabled or lone parent would be able to book a few hours of work a week on their terms. Ministers believe current rules would have to be changed because the system has implications for the "earnings disregard" – the process by which benefits are reduced once earnings reach a certain level.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

If you've ever wondered what it's like to get fucked for an hour and a half


NUS starts campaign to oust leading Lib Dems

The National Union of Students will launch a "decapitation" strategy aimed at ousting Nick Clegg and other top Liberal Democrats from parliament in protest at the party's U-turn on student fees. The move aims to build on anger about coalition policies – which spilled over into violence on Wednesday – in Lib Dem-held constituencies with large student populations. The key targets will be Clegg in Sheffield Hallam, Simon Wright in Norwich South, Stephen Williams in Bristol West and Don Foster in Bath.

Aaron Porter, president of the NUS, said the campaign would aim to force out Lib Dems who break their pre-election pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees. The move has echoes of the Lib Dems' own "decapitation strategy" in 2005, when the party threw resources into efforts to oust leading Tories with narrow majorities, including Michael Howard and Theresa May. Porter said the NUS will make use of a coalition idea for holding MPs to account that was championed by Clegg himself. The "right to recall" initiative, which has yet to became law, proposes that a by-election can be called if an MP is judged guilty of serious wrongdoing and 10% of constituents want him or her removed.

More likely is that the NUS could mobilise support against selected MPs ahead of the next election. Extra efforts will be made in the four target seats – with 1,000 students taking to the streets of Sheffield in an attempt to get 10% of Clegg's constituency to sign a petition. The Lib Dem leader, who held Sheffield Hallam with a majority of 15,284 at the May election, has around 10,000 students in his constituency. Others could be more vulnerable, such as Wright, who beat Charles Clarke in Norwich South by just 310 votes. Porter said: "It will serve to undermine the wafer-thin mandate this government has on university cuts and debt."

Head of Croatia's football federation to be sued over anti-gay remarks

The head of Croatia's football federation is facing legal action after telling a newspaper he would not allow gay players to represent the country. Vlatko Markovic said in an interview with the Vecernji list newspaper on Sunday that as long as he heads the federation, a gay player "certainly" will not feature for Croatia. Asked if he had ever encountered a gay footballer, he replied: "No. Fortunately, only healthy people play football."

  Healthy people

The gay groups Kontra and Iskorak have now said via their websites that they will sue Markovic in Croatia and report him to Uefa, saying his remarks violate Croatian and international laws. Markovic apologised for his comments today, saying that he was "sorry for a clumsy interpretation. It was not my intention whatsoever to insult or hurt anyone. I have nothing against members of any minority, least of all against those of same-sex orientation."

Croatian media reported that Markovic could be fined or suspended by the federation, whose statute bans any act of discrimination, if it receives an official complaint. Markovic has been president of Croatia's football federation for 12 years, and last year was awarded an Order of Merit by Uefa for his long and loyal service to the sport. Uefa says it is yet to open an investigation.

Cutting the number of MPs will only serve to weaken the House of Commons

Reduce the number of MPs and you automatically reduce the size of the gene pool, says Anthony King in today's Observer

“Tomorrow the House of Lords debates the blandly named parliamentary voting system and constituencies bill. Their lordships will probably focus their attention on the alternative vote, but they might care to spend a little time discussing the government's proposal to reduce the size of the House of Commons from 650 MPs to 600. 
The idea sounds attractive but is actually a very bad one. Nick Clegg, the bill's principal parliamentary proponent, claims that the number of MPs has inexorably crept up. Not so. The number of MPs is lower today than it was a decade ago and no higher than 20 years ago. There are more MPs now than there were immediately after the war, but in 1945 there were 640. An increase from 640 to 650 over six decades hardly constitutes hyper-inflation.

More to the point, if the number of MPs has increased marginally the number of their constituents – the people they are supposed to serve – has soared. At the end of the war, the average MP had roughly 66,000 constituents of all ages. By 1980, because of the increase in Britain's population, that number had risen to more than 88,000. It now stands at nearly 96,000. If the government gets its way, by the next election it will be 105,000 – an increase since the war of roughly 60%.

That by itself would result – and has already resulted – in MPs having heavier constituency workloads. But, of course, constituents nowadays expect far more of their MPs than they once did. Far more constituents email, phone and write to their MP. The "good constituency member" was once a relatively rare beast. Now all MPs are expected to be diligent – and may be punished if they are not.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Rock n Roll Desire ...

State school funding to be decided by Whitehall, bypassing role of local authorities

Funding for all state schools in England could soon be decided by Whitehall rules, officials have said. The Department for Education is considering introducing a "national funding formula" to decide the allocation of school budgets. Officials said this did not mean local authorities, currently responsible for allocating funds, would be sidelined. The proposals will be in the forthcoming education White Paper, the Financial Times reports.

Ministers are planning to consult with councils about the level of their involvement in the construction and operation of the formula, and officials stressed the government wanted to work closely with them. The consultation is expected to take at least one year to complete. The move follows government concerns that many local council formulas currently used to decide how to allocate the so-called dedicated schools grant are out of date and do not recognise changes in schools in recent years.

Officials said Education Secretary Michael Gove believed too often two schools in different areas, but with similar intakes of children, were getting different levels of funding. Speaking to the Financial Times, he said the current system was "opaque and illogical" and needed levelling out. Ministers are said to want budgets to more closely reflect pupils' needs and head teachers' priorities.

BBC education correspondent Tom Symonds said the proposals were radical and controversial. "This is like saying all schools will, in some ways, be freed from local authority control," he said. "Michael Gove's idea is to devolve power to schools but many people will see it as bringing much more power back to the centre because it will be a national system."

Symonds said he expected local councils across England to be "very upset" at losing the ability to set priorities at a local level. He added that the plans would mean lots of schools would see changes in their funding. "In some places, that will be something that's welcomed. In inner cities, deprived schools are seen to do quite well, as opposed to deprived schools in rural areas."

No losers? I think you’ll find there are, Mr Duncan Smith, and you’re one of them.

The government may be winning the war of words – but inconvenient facts will erupt before long, writes Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian.

“Iain Duncan Smith's welfare plans were craftily presented, while laying mantraps for the opposition. Each day this week tasty morsels were fed to the press about punishments for scroungers and compulsory unpaid work, excoriating Labour's imagined laxness. Social security policy is notoriously incomprehensible, so people take at face value the claims that are made for "the greatest reform since Beveridge". But you can't bamboozle all of the people for long.

14“Look, erectile dysfunction doesn’t come without its own problems, you know”

Polls showed unsurprising support for the plans. Who could oppose saving billions in welfare while getting people into work? Everyone agrees there must be tough sanctions to stop idlers and cheats. Who doesn't want to "reward work and support the vulnerable"? What's more, Duncan Smith will do this magic while simplifying a system of mind-boggling complexity, so no one need bother with the laborious details (most of the press didn't).

What's not to like? Except, just possibly, the nagging sense that it's all a bit too good to be true. If it was that easy, why wouldn't the big and equally tough brains of previous work and pensions secretaries, Labour and Tory, have done it? Were they all so much stupider than Duncan Smith? Unlikely.

Examine this Wizard of Oz, and few of his hyperbolic claims hold water. There will be "no losers", he says, but wait for them to emerge by the million. Nor is there evidence in his lack of detailed figures for how or why 300,000 children will be lifted out of poverty. The "no losers" claim reminds those close to Gordon Brown of similar protestations for his rather more modest 10p tax band abolition. Asserting something does not make it come true – and it gets found out.

Civil disorder

08 Martin Rowson, the Guardian

McDonald's and PepsiCo to help write UK health policy

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald's and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five "responsibility deal" networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health. The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal's sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.

The leading supermarkets are an equally strong presence, while the responsibility deal's physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.

In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches, and to support them in removing obstacles. Using the pricing of food or alcohol to change consumption has been ruled out. One group was told that the health department did not want to lead, but rather hear from its members what should be done.

Even before the election, the Lib Dems had decided to abandon their pledge on tuition fees

The Liberal Democrats were drawing up plans to abandon Nick Clegg's flagship policy to scrap university tuition fees two months before the general election, secret party documents reveal.

As the Lib Dem leader faces a growing revolt after this week's violent protest against fee rises, internal documents show the party was drawing up proposals for coalition negotiations which contrasted sharply with Clegg's public pronouncements. A month before Clegg pledged in April to scrap the "dead weight of debt", a secret team of key Lib Dems made clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, the party would not waste political capital defending its manifesto pledge to abolish university tuition fees within six years.

In a document marked "confidential" and dated 16 March, the head of the secret pre-election coalition negotiating team, Danny Alexander, wrote: "On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches."

The document is likely to fuel criticism among Lib Dem backbenchers and in the National Union of Students that the party courted the university vote in the full knowledge that its pledge would have to be abandoned as the party sought to achieve a foot in government. Within a month of the secret document, Clegg recorded a YouTube video for the annual NUS conference on 13 April in which he pledged to abolish fees within six years.

"You've got people leaving university with this dead weight of debt, around £24,000, round their neck," the future deputy PM said in the video that was screened at the conference on 13 April. Clegg also joined all other Lib Dem MPs in signing an NUS pledge to "vote against any increase in fees". The leaked document showed that during the preparations for a hung parliament the Lib Dems still intended to fulfil that commitment.

The Lib Dems, who are now under intense pressure after agreeing in government that tuition fees should be allowed to rise, said the document was designed to work out how to reach agreement with the Tories and Labour, who were "diametrically" opposed to them. As the party was isolated, the negotiators concentrated on trying to win ground where they could find consensus. Source say that, in government, they have succeeded in tackling the discrimination against part-time students identified in the secret document.