Friday, 30 September 2011

This US-style gerrymandering is a terrible mistake

By John Lloyd for the Financial Times

The word “gerrymander” derives from an electoral redistricting scheme devised by Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts in 1812 for his own party’s advantage. He came up with one area which was so convoluted it looked like a salamander. Even now in the US, corruption in drawing political boundaries is, in most states, simply part of the game. So there are such charming but disgraceful confections as the 34th state senate district of New York (“the dangling lobster tail”) and the 17th congressional district of Illinois (“the rabbit on a skateboard”).

Britain got rid of rotten boroughs such as Dunwich, which had fallen into the North Sea, in 1832. After that the process of altering constituency boundaries to keep up with population changes, though inevitably contentious, became largely fair and sensible. At least until now.

The other day I saw a map of the constituency in which I am supposed to vote at the next election. It is called Ludlow and Leominster. It looks to me like a moose’s head. It will stretch from Ewyas Harold, in south-west Herefordshire, to Rowley in Shropshire, a journey – according to Google Earth - of 65.5 miles, taking an hour and 47 minutes. But I drive these country lanes more often than Google Earth and I reckon that’s optimistic. The new MP will presumably be based in Ludlow, which is an hour’s drive from my house when roads are quiet. By public transport – allow for an overnight stay. These places have totally different councils and totally different issues.

This is one extreme consequence of the latest changes but there are other examples across the country: county boundaries have been routinely forgotten so that Cornwall, a discrete political entity for 1100 years, will share an MP with Devon. Middlesbrough, which has had its own MPs throughout modern history, will now be split between three different constituencies, and Stockton-on-Tees, which is not a large place, between four.

This is not the fault of the Boundary Commissioners who have made these proposals. They are operating under absurd criteria cooked up by David Cameron in opposition. He thought it would be popular to demand fewer MPs (600 not 650), claiming it would save money. He also sought political advantage by insisting constituencies should have equal electorates. Under the rules he has pushed through, only a five per cent tolerance will be allowed on the quota for each seat (now 76,641 electors per MP) with very minor exceptions for highlands and islands. This is much too deterministic to allow sane boundaries.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Richard Desmond’s Health Lottery: ‘profiteering on the back of the British public’s goodwill’

Charity leaders have criticised a new lottery, being launched next week by Richard Desmond, for giving less to good causes than the National Lottery. The ‘Health Lottery’ will compete directly with the National Lottery. Mr Desmond plans to promote it across his (self-regulatory system exempt) publications including the right-leaning Daily Express, the EDL-supporting Daily Star and gossip photo-magazine OK! [class act! – Ed]. The draw will be shown at prime-time on ITV1 and Desmond’s own Channel 5 on Saturday nights; the maximum prize will be £100,000.

54                          Richard Desmond: re-defining ‘look after yourself’

The Health Lottery will give 20.34p of each £1 ticket to good causes, just 0.34p above the legal minimum it is required to give as a “society lottery” and it will not be required to pay lottery duty. The National Lottery, which is not a society lottery, gives 28p per £1, plus another 12p in lottery duty. Camelot, which runs the National Lottery under licence, is permitted a maximum profit of 0.5p per £1 gambled. The Health Lottery, in which Mr Desmond is the sole investor, declined to say what level of profit it expected.

If the Health Lottery meets its target of selling at least £250 million of tickets in the first year, it will give £20 million less to good causes than if the same sum had been spent on National Lottery tickets. Under the Gambling Act 2005, a society lottery can sell a maximum of £10 million of tickets a year. The Health Lottery has registered 51 society lotteries, giving it potential sales of £510 million.

While lotteries cannot be run for commercial gain, the Health Lottery can profit by acting as an “external lottery manager” for the society lotteries. Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, described the Health Lottery as “a pretty disgraceful development”, adding: “The Government needs to look at lottery regulations to ensure it’s made transparent to people who play that this new lottery is giving a lot less per £1 to good causes.”

Nick Wilkie, the chief executive of London Youth, a network of 400 youth organisations, said: “It seems to me that if one runs a lottery and gives away less to good causes than the National Lottery, then one is profiteering on the back of the British public’s goodwill.” Martin Hall, the chief executive of the Health Lottery, said that he hoped to expand it into “a billion-pound business”.

Mr Desmond has signed up more than 40,000 retailers to sell tickets for his Health Lottery; that’s 12,000 more than the number of shops selling tickets for the National Lottery. The maximum prize is £100,000, which is guaranteed for all five correct numbers. Three correct numbers wins £50 and four £500. In its instructions to retailers, the Health Lottery says:

“When telling customers about the Health Lottery, remember the main features ... proceeds go to support local health-related good causes.”

Have a good day.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Labour's vision

as seen by the Financial Times:

"If the job of any opposition minister is to criticise the government, to present alternatives to its policy and to persuade voters to support your ideas, then Ed Balls has a somewhat mixed record as shadow chancellor.

On the first count, he has certainly been a success. Since taking over in January, he has been unsparing and vocal in his criticism of the coalition’s austerity policy, warning tirelessly that it was cutting the deficit too hard and too fast. At a time when the economy overshadows every other part of British politics, he has raised Labour’s profile.

But on the second and third, Mr Balls has made less headway. In spite of an anaemic recovery – one that would appear to have borne out his warnings – he has failed to come up with a persuasive alternative. In part, that is because any message would struggle to get through. Public trust in the opposition’s economic competence is low. 

Trust must be rebuilt for Labour to be listened to. Mr Balls understands this. Hence his promise to subject Labour’s future economic plans to tough fiscal rules overseen by the Office of Budget Responsibility. But he will continue to struggle so long as the opposition is perceived not to offer a real alternative to the coalition’s plans. 

Mr Balls’ speech to the Labour conference illustrated the problem. While promising a “steadier and more balanced” plan to reduce the deficit, Mr Balls admitted that Labour would not reverse the cuts and tax rises the coalition had pushed through. Voters could perhaps be forgiven for not understanding just what Labour would do differently.

A recent YouGov poll underscores the problem. While a majority believes that the coalition is managing the economy poorly, the Tories still have a lead over Labour as the party most trusted to fix the UK’s economic problems. 

Mr Balls came up with several ideas of how to pep up growth. Some of these smacked of populism, such as the proposal to apply another bonus tax to the banks and use the proceeds in some unspecified way to guarantee work for 100,000 young people.

But the most eye-catching ideas involved bringing forward investment projects and temporarily cutting National Insurance for new hires to encourage companies to invest and take on workers. These are not bad ideas. They may also be ideas that the coalition is itself considering. If the government does ultimately adopt them, at least Mr Balls will have positioned himself to score a few points."

Financial Times

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Experts want to prune Labour's rose

As Labour MPs and activists gather in Liverpool for their annual conference, they face a thorny issue: experts hate the party's logo. When the red rose was adopted 25 years ago, officials hoped it would seduce middle England, showing how Labour could blossom in government. But now it seems the rose has wilted and withered on the vine, with brand specialists declaring it the worst of the main parties' logos.

Simon Bassett, managing director of marketing and communications recruiter EMR, said: "The current version of the red rose was rejected wholeheartedly by the marketing community." The hundreds of marketing professionals asked to rate the political parties' logos admitted the rose was "identifiably British", but suggested creating "a more modern and distinctive image" by rejuvenating the flower, adding colour and making it "less bland".

Mr Bassett said: "Clearly the political future of the country's three largest parties will be set by the public's reaction to their policies, their leaders, and their ability to communicate their brand promise. But logos are important, too. They're the focal point of identity for each party."

Meanwhile, the Conservatives, who ditched their flaming torch logo after 30 years when David Cameron became leader in 2005, replacing it with a scribbled oak tree, were advised to take drawing classes. Mr Bassett said: "It might have been created in an effort to represent the party's 'strength, endurance, renewal and growth', but the marketing professionals we spoke to felt the scribbled way the tree was drawn had to change."

There was better news for the Tories' coalition partners. Experts said the Lib Dems' Bird of Liberty represented the party's fundamental principle - freedom.

Press Association

Saturday, 17 September 2011

SLEAZE – and the government that’s up to its neck in it

Lib Dem donor on the run forced to surrender false passport

Michael Brown, the conman who gave the Lib Dems £2.4m, has passport seized after business dispute in Dominican Republic. Guardian

Tory party donations by insurance firms in marked increase since 2005


According to an investigation by the Guardian, financial firms with insurance interests have given the Tories £5.4m in the last decade, £4.9m of that since David Cameron became leader in December 2005. Guardian


Conservative MP piloting legal aid cuts may profit from the changes

The Conservative justice minister piloting controversial plans to cut legal aid and curb payouts that could benefit the insurance industry to the tune of a billion pounds a year will personally profit from the changes, a Guardian investigation can reveal. Guardian

Friday, 16 September 2011

Government intent on wiping out 10 million (Labour) voters from electoral register

As many as ten million voters, predominantly poor, young or black, and more liable to vote Labour, could fall off the electoral register under government plans, the Electoral Commission, electoral administrators and psephologists warned. The changes will pave the way for a further review of constituency boundaries that will reduce the number of safe Labour seats before the 2020 election.

MPs on the political and constitutional reform select committee only realised the implications of the plans following three evidence sessions with election experts over the past week to examine the white paper which proposes to introduce individual electoral registration rather than household registration before the 2015 election.

The committee chairman, Labour MP Graham Allen, said they were "genuinely shocked". Even Tory members such as Eleanor Laing expressed surprise. The policy has been described by Jenny Russell, the chair of the electoral commission, as the biggest change to voting since the introduction of the universal franchise.

Ministers have unexpectedly proposed that it should no longer be compulsory to co-operate with electoral registration officers (EROs) when they try to compile an accurate register, in effect downgrading the civic duty to engage with politics. Russell warned: "It is logical to suggest that those that do not vote in elections will not see the point of registering to vote and it is possible that the register may therefore go from a 90%completeness that we currently have to 60-65%."

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Monday, 12 September 2011

Proposed boundary changes for Brighton and Hove

The following is an extract from the Boundary Commission's proposals for Brighton and Hove.

33. There are currently 25 constituencies in 

this sub-region. Of the existing constituencies, 
10 have electorates within 5% of the electoral 
quota (Bexhill and Battle; Brighton, Pavilion; 
Canterbury; Dartford; Eastbourne; Hastings 
and Rye; Rochester and Strood; Sittingbourne 
and Sheppey; Tunbridge Wells; and Wealden). 
Of the remaining constituencies, 13 have 
electorates that are below the 5% limit, and 
two are above it. We propose to reduce the 
number of constituencies to 24.

34. We considered whether we could 

leave unchanged any of the 10 existing 
constituencies that have an electorate 
within 5% of the electoral quota. However, 
in developing proposals in which all the 
proposed electorates are within the 5% 
limit, and taking account of the reduction 
in the number of constituencies in this subregion, 
we propose changing all but three 
constituencies (Eastbourne, Hastings and Rye, 
and Sittingbourne and Sheppey). We propose 
only minor changes to the constituencies 
of Ashford, Dartford, Dover, Folkestone and 
Hythe, Gillingham and Rainham, Gravesham, 
and Rochester, with two wards or fewer 
altered from the existing constituencies.

35. The existing constituencies of Hove and 

Brighton, Kemptown have electorates which 
are below the 5% limit. We therefore propose 
a reconfiguration within the City of Brighton 
and Hove.

36. We propose a constituency that 

includes three wards from the existing Hove 
constituency, four wards from the existing 
Brighton, Pavilion constituency and the 
Queen’s Park ward from the existing Brighton, 
Kemptown constituency. We consider that 
this constituency brings together the central 
elements of the city. For reasons of clarity, we 
have taken a policy decision not to include 
commas in the names of constituencies. We 
therefore propose to name this constituency 
Brighton Pavilion and Hove.

37. We propose a Brighton and Hove North 

constituency which includes six wards from 
the existing Hove constituency and three 
wards from the existing Brighton, Pavilion 
constituency, including the Patcham area.

38. Due to the small electorates of the 

neighbouring Lewes and Brighton, Kemptown 
constituencies, we propose a Lewes and 
Brighton East constituency that contains 
eight wards from the existing Brighton, 
Kemptown constituency, four of which are 
City of Brighton and Hove wards, and four of 
which are District of Lewes wards. In addition, 
our proposed constituency includes a further 
eight wards of the District of Lewes, from the 
existing Lewes constituency. It broadly follows 
the path of the River Ouse along the eastern 
boundary and both parts of the constituency 
are accessed by the A27 road.

Et voilà.

Homosexuality more dangerous than terrorism, says Republican

On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Republican member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Sally Kern renewed her claim that homosexuality has killed more people in the United States than terrorism.

In 2008, Mrs Kern was secretly recorded giving a speech where she said that homosexuality is “deadly and it’s spreading, and it will destroy our young people. It will destroy this nation. Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades.” She became a nationally lampooned figure after lesbian chat-show host Ellen DeGeneres left her a voice mail and broadcast it on her television programme. Now promoting a book, The Stoning of Sally Kern, the politician says that as a result of HIV/ AIDS, homosexuality has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

In an interview given to Peter LaBarbera of anti-gay campaign group Americans for Truth, Mrs Kern said: “You know if you just look at it in practical terms, which has destroyed and ended the life of more people? Terrorism attack here in America or HIV/AIDS? In the last twenty years, fifteen to twenty years, we’ve had maybe three terrorist attacks on our soil with a little over 5,000 people regrettably losing their lives. In the same time frame, there have been hundreds of thousands who have died because of having AIDS. So which one’s the biggest threat?

“And you know, every day our young people, adults too, but especially our young people, are bombarded at school, in movies, in music, on TV, in the mall, in magazines, they’re bombarded with ‘homosexuality is normal and natural.’ It’s something they have to deal with every day. Fortunately we don’t have to deal with a terrorist attack every day, and that’s what I mean.

“It’s [homosexuality] more dangerous [than terrorism], and yes I think that it’s also more dangerous because it will tear down the moral fibre of this nation. We were founded as a nation upon the principles of religion and morality, if we take those out from under our society we will lose what has made us a great nation, we will no longer be a virtuous people, which we see happening already. And without virtue this nation will not survive.”

Pink News

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Localism Bill: Peers vote to cut tenants' access to ombudsman

An amendment to the Localism Bill that would have preserved the right of tenants to complain directly to the housing ombudsman has been defeated in the House of Lords. It follows a campaign by the National Housing Federation (NHF) - supported by 24housing magazine - opposing plans that will see tenants having to go though either MPs, councillors or tenant panels to have their complaints heard from April 2012.

The amendment called for tenants to be given the choice to involve an elected representative if they wished. Introduced by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab), the amendment pushed the peers to a vote where it was defeated by 207 votes to 183. Following pressure from peers, however, Baroness Hanham (Cons) has agreed to discuss issues around whether it should be a requirement for the MP, councillor or tenant panel to have the final say of when a matter is then passed on to the ombudsman.

Introducing the amendment, Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town said there were "several reasons for resisting" the move, not least because of the conflicts of interests that could occur. She said: "The first is the role of MPs untrained in this area and the conflicts of interest that might be involved, which I think are fairly obvious. It would be a brave MP or councillor who rejected a complaint maybe three weeks before an election. The councillor could, of course, be the provider of housing, which would be a serious conflict of interest."

In an emotive address Hayter referred to expert opinion, including that of the Law Commission, opposing the plans, adding that "there is no evidence of a problem from the right of direct access to the Housing Ombudsman". She said: "Without these amendments tenants will lose that choice and will lose access to justice. Residents who just happen to be in social housing will be further stigmatised. No other category of citizen is having their right to an ombudsman removed in the course of remedying a perceived democratic deficit. In the light of that, I hope we can retain the right of direct access to the Housing Ombudsman. I beg to move."

GP fury as Cameron claims their support

Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Clare Gerada, has reacted furiously to David Cameron’s claim during Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday that doctors and nurses, and specifically the RCGP and RCN, fully back his Government’s plans for health reform. The Health and Social Care Bill was being debated in the House of Commons; it was later cleared for passage to the Lords, by a margin of 65 votes.

Dr Gerada said: “To reiterate our position; the College supports putting clinicians at the centre of planning health services. However, we continue to have a number of concerns about the Government’s reforms, issues which we believe may damage the NHS or limit the care we are able to provide for our patients. These concerns have been outlined and reiterated pre- and post-pause.

“As a College we are extremely worried that these reforms, if implemented in their current format, will lead to an increase in damaging competition, an increase in health inequalities, and to massively increased costs in implementing this new system. As independent research demonstrates, the NHS is one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world and we must keep it that way.”

Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Dr Peter Carter added: “While we acknowledge that the Government have listened to our members in a number of areas, we still have very serious concerns about where these reforms leave a health service already facing an unprecedented financial challenge.”

GPs and medical and nursing colleagues are also furious about comments made by health minister Lord Howe in his speech to private sector healthcare groups yesterday, apparently in support of private providers. The BBC reported that he told delegates: “To be honest I don’t think it should matter one jot whether a patient is looked after by a hospital or a medical professional from the public, private or charitable sector”, as long as care remains free at the point of delivery.

Lord Howe is the minister who will back the Bill during its passage through the House of Lords, where it is expected to meet further resistance. BMA chair Dr Laurence Buckman told the BBC: “Lord Howe’s comments betray how deep the Government’s misguided obsession with competition goes. Encouraging private providers in, in this way, to compete against other providers will only make it harder for clinicians to work together effectively – and it’s that, not competition, which improves patient care and the cost-effectiveness of the NHS.”

MPs back Health Bill despite BMA warnings

The Health Bill is one step closer to becoming law, after MPs backed the reforms in a key vote on Wednesday

A total of 316 MPs voted in favour of the Health Bill yesterday, while 251 voted against the changes. Despite attempts by Labour to convince them to rebel, just four Liberal Democrat MPs out of 57 voted against the Bill. The Bill will now move to the Lords where it will be further debated. Many are hopeful that the Lords will provide an opportunity to get the Health Bill substantially amended.

Ahead of the Health Bill vote, prime minister David Cameron claimed in the Commons that the RCGP supported the NHS reforms, sparking an angry rebuttal from College chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada. Days earlier, the RCGP and BMA had joined forces to warn that the Health Bill could destabilise the NHS.

Speaking before the vote, Labour shadow health secretary John Healey told MPs that the government was in ‘denial about the damage it is doing to the NHS and the scale of criticism and opposition to it'. He said: ‘This government and this Bill are giving health reform a bad name. The Bill is unwanted and unnecessary. It is reckless to force through the biggest reorganisation in NHS history at the same time as finances are tight and pressures on the health service are growing.’

But health secretary Andrew Lansley said the reforms aimed to ‘safeguard and strengthen the NHS’. ‘Of course, the Bill has been through a long passage,' he said. 'There have been questions and new ideas, and many concerns and issues have been raised. We have done throughout, and will continue to do, what all governments should do: listen, reflect, then respond and improve.

‘Patients know that it is their doctors and nurses - the people in whom they place their trust - who make the best decisions about their individual care. The Bill is about helping those people to become leaders.

‘It is not about turning medical professionals into managers or administrators, but about turning the NHS from a top-down administrative pyramid with managers and administrators at its zenith into a clinically-led service that is responsive to patients, with management support on tap, not on top.’

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Sunset over Holcombe Hill

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Franck Ribery sports the new French away kit

Eleven days ago, I asked who had designed the new football kit for France (sadly, nobody's owned up to it), and said that I could not wait to see what Franck Ribery looked like in the away kit. Well, I need wait no longer. My worst fears have been realised. You too can share them with me.

Le fin