Tuesday, 28 June 2011

2015 Cricket World Cup to have 14 teams.

Good news for Irish (and Scottish, Dutch, Kenyan, Afghan, Canadian etc) cricket fans, the ICC have announced a reversal of plans to reduce the 2015 World Cup to 10 teams, instead there will be 14 teams taking part.  I have blogged previously (here) on this issue and it is a great victory for common sense.  If the governing body are serious about their wish to encourage smaller nations then they must give them the chance to perform at the highest level, this is still be biggest international tournament and they must be able to aspire to reach it.

It has taken some time coming, but at least the right decision has been made.  One way football does provide a positive message is the fact that any country in the world can qualify for (and win) it's premium international tournament - even if it is hard for the worst teams to reach it.  Teams will only improve with this incentive and the competition against the better teams.  Cricket is often thought of as a game for the elite, I'm pleased that they have withdrawn a step that would have made them even less inclusive.

Craig Thompson suspended

I blogged yesterday about the strange goings on at Hearts Football Club and their disappointing decision to keep Craig Thompson in their squad.  I am therefore pleased to read (in a much clearer, concise statement) that the club have suspended him with immediate effect, shame on them that it's taken such public pressure to do so.

Hopefully the club will see sense and extend this to revoking his contract, then the club, the girls (and relatives) involved and the player himself can move on - out of the spot light and away from having an influence on children.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Cruelty to animals is never acceptable, especially just for human enjoyment...

I know that I often write negative blogs.  This is something I tried to change but it is much easier to write a negative post, criticising something, than a positive post.  Therefore I am pleased to be commenting on the passing of a back bench motion in the House of Commons last week calling for a ban on animals being involved in circuses in England.  

My own MP (Don Foster) has campaigned for this and has been a long time supporter.  I completely agree with his statement:

"This is a matter of principle. It is not right for humans to keep animals in unsuitable conditions for their own entertainment."

 The excellent Mark Cole posted a blog on this subject including his own experiences in Thailand.  The UK should be leading on issues such as this.  Animals don't have the chance to vote or have a say in the conditions in which we keep them once a human has decided that they want them.  They don't have a voice, but this doesn't mean that they don't have feelings.  I am a firm believer that we shouldn't be preaching to countries whilst doing the opposite ourselves - hence my opinions on nuclear weapons.  A zoo is one thing, the keepers attempt to keep them in as natural conditions as possible - I am not the biggest fan of this, but at least they have room to move and act in a fairly natural way, probably with a safer and easier quality of life than in the wild, travelling circuses however cannot offer this.

I would like to say well done to Mark Pritchard for standing up for what he believes in - even against the will of his party leader.

 In a loosely related subject I quickly want to bring up, recently The British Horseracing Authority have been reviewing the decision as to whether the jockeys should be allowed to whip the horses in order to encourage them to go faster.  This is not before time in my opinion.  I am against horse racing, and any sport that uses animals as their participation is not for their own benefit but for the human spectators enjoyment.  I think this in itself is wrong, at least household pets have been domesticated and both species benefit from the interaction.  I don't agree with forcing an animal to do anything - I bet their will would not be to be forced to run for x distance - potentially jumping over hazardous fences, for no reason other than the enjoyment of people.  Then to throw into the mix the "encouragement" of whipping, well I find this shameful.  How would you like it if your boss was able to whip you in order to improve your productivity - I would bet you wouldn't be too happy and wouldn't exactly want to do the task in the first place!  I can tolerate just racing (whilst disapproving) but for me whipping has to go - hopefully this will go the way of the circus animals.

Where's the Heart(s)???

I think I am one of the more liberal people around when it comes to rehabilitation with regards people who have been convicted of crimes and subsequently ensuring that they are not punished further than directed by a judge, and I also would rather not comment on specific cases where it is obvious that I don't know the entire facts of the incident.  However I am appalled that despite being placed on the sex offenders register Heart of Midlothian Football Club have seen fit to keep Craig Thomas in their squad.  

As far as I am concerned, whilst you are on the register then you should not be in a position that has any ability to influence, as well as have direct and indirect contact with children.  Craig may just want to play football and have no part in that side of the job - however, rightly or wrongly footballers are role models, they do have children looking up to them and they do directly influence them.  

What makes this story even more worrying and strange has been the response by both the player and the club.  Firstly, the player appears to accept his guilt and then go on to apologies to everyone - except the two girls (aged 12 and 14) involved.  Surely these are the first people he should be apologising to - he does apologies to "all those involved in the unfortunate affair", however I don't think this is enough.

Secondly, there is this statement from the club. I for one found this rather bizarre and not at all what I would have expected as a response from a professional football club, if you read it I'm sure you'd agree.

Pension changes are necessary...

There's a lot of talk around at the moment of the proposed pensions reforms (or at least there was when I started to write this about a week ago) so I thought I'd throw my opinion in, I'm not sure it'll be the most popular opinion but here goes.  From what I see there are two distinct issues going on which seem to have been muddled in a number of the commentaries I have read (citations are lacking as they are now a while ago).

Aligning the state pensionable age of women with that of men

I am a firm believer in equality.  I don't believe in discrimination in any form, positive discrimination is patronising and at the same time any positive discrimination against one sector of society is effectively negative discrimination against the rest.  As such I believe this alignment is well over due.  

At the same time however, I recognise that it will make a lot of people worse off with very little time to adapt.  Guidance has been issued that 15 year's notice should be provided, I think this is a little extreme, however bringing it forward as the Government plans on doing will be a shock to a number of people who will have to work on average 18 months longer before they are eligible   This is one area that I therefore think it is wrong to speed up.  I reckon this is the first thing from the review produced last year that I haven't at least tentatively backed, the main reason for this from my point of view is that there are many sensible members of the population who have actively planned for retirement.   Take my parents for instance, spent many years sitting down working out how much they will have when they decide to no longer work and how their lives will be effected accordingly.  By adjusting proposals like this in such a short time period these people have effectively had the rug pulled from beneath them and that doesn't seem to be that fair. 

Changing the pensions of public sector workers

Over in the Lib Dem Voice Mark Thompson outlines the progressive case for aligning public pensions to the retirement age - however it does cloud the issue with a lack of clarity between the state pension and the public pensions earned through employment by the state.  I tend to take the figures on who has the higher average wage with a pinch of salt as they can't be equally comparable.  The private sector should open up the possibility for people to earn super normal profits and therefore themselves super normal wages, the public sector is inherently in areas where profits aren't the over riding objective, the main objectives are subjective.

The prevailing issue here for me, rather than fairness is that it must be affordable and sustainable.  At the end of the day, in this capacity the state is acting as employer not carer or charity.  It is important that no previous entitlements will have been changed, that would have been unlawful I am sure (as people would have provided their service of employment under false pretenses).  

This may sound harsh but if the Government thinks that the age necessary for a state pension is 66, or 68 or into the 70s as it will probably be when I (if I am lucky enough to reach that age) will retire, then this is when the Government normally should start paying out on their own pension policies as well.  One can easily argue that the Government should be acting as a shaper of society but it also has to be realistic on what it can afford to provide.  I don't know the whole ins and outs of the current system, however I would be very skeptical if someone told me that the current pension requirements are being met and will continue to be met from the accumulated reserves that have been put aside from years of contributions.  The only way I can see this happening is if the public sector makes vast reforms to their pensions - as the private sector have had to do over the past few years.  

One caveat I have to add to my opinions above though is that it must be recognised that not everyone is the same.  In my career, although I am young, health permitting it is one I feel that you can do for as long as you have the desire.  On the other hand, someone who grafts all day on a building site will have less capacity to continue once they reach a certain age.  Certainly most of these labour intensive careers have options for alternative roles, however there would not be enough of these to cater for everyone wishing to step back.  It is also true I believe, that people in these industries often have a lower life expectency.  As such I am happy for the Government to structure it's pension policies so that people in say the police force, the fire service etc can take their pensions earlier. 

Monday, 20 June 2011

Philip Davies reminds us of why we are not Tories...

I often seem to be a bit behind the times with news stories and catch up a bit later which makes my blogs a few days behind, but still here goes.  One story that did make me fairly angry was Conservative MP Philip Davies saying that people with learning difficulties should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage to get a' foot on the ladder'.  This I feel is just simply wrong. 

I am usually against most market interventions by the Government, however I agree with the concept of the minimum wage.  This is set as the minimum fair amount to pay someone for their time and effort for doing a job for you.  I admit I am often overly critical of Labour, however introducing this one piece of legislation is something that they should be proud of.  

By allowing exceptions to this as Philip is suggesting it is effectively saying that they don't believe that people whom have unfortunate conditions are as worth as much as those who don't.  Just because someone is disabled or has some other difficulty does not mean that they will not be as productive as someone else.  By implementing this suggestion it would lead to just pure discrimination with employers who would have previously been happy to pay the minimum trying to drive down the cost of any person who could fit into such category.  

I do like when stories like this come out though, at least at the moment, the reason for that is that I can't see any sensible Prime Minister ever adopting this as policy and at the same time it helps to reinforce the differences that exist between the Liberal Democrats (the thought of this suggestion is unlikely to cross anyone's mind) and the Tories, who I'd be surprised if they didn't view lots of the public as second class citizens.

A good blog on this by Spidey.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Forcing outlets to make bigger profit margins on alcohol... surely there's gotta be a better way?

Willie Rennie, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland (in case anyone happened to have missed that information) has announced that the Liberal Democrats will be supporting the SNP with their policy of minimum alcohol pricing. I have to say I'm surprised about this U-turn, and disappointed by the support it appears to have generated amongst the party - though I was pleased when he said it would be ratified by the conference.  

Firstly I think this is a poor time to be performing such a policy U-turn, it will come across that in the previous term we were standing against the SNP for the sake of it, now as it doesn't matter so much and they can do what they want we are supporting them.  Obviously I am not the best to talk about the intricacies of Scottish politics but it is the impression that I get.  

Secondly I am against this on a matter of principle.  I understand that there is a health issue with regards alcohol abuse and that politicians want to minimise this issue, however I am 100% against political micro management of people's lives, which this appears to be.  If you can turn around to me and provide me with evidence that by introducing this it will halve the number of people admitted to hospital for alcohol related problems and no other policy could achieve this, then I could sympathise, however I don't think it will and I still don't think the government should be trying to manage the market to influence people's freedom of choice (as can be highlighted by all of my pro drug posts despite me not being a drug user).

I know this is conjecture, but in my opinion, I don't think a person who already has a drinking problem will suddenly stop purchasing alcohol because the price has risen - they are used to rising prices.  No, instead they will ensure that they can afford it by cutting other expenditure to allow them to get their fix.  In my poor student days I always found money for my nights out drinking - it was seen more as a necessity than a healthy diet that's for sure.  

Would a minimum alcohol price effect my consumption of alcohol?  No, well not unless it is put to ridiculously prohibitive levels.  The only people I feel that this will effect (and obviously I repeat, this is conjecture) are those who are particularly poor that the change in price will price them out of their purchase.  These would be people who I feel wouldn't be problem drinkers and see it as a genuine choice and are therefore not the people the legislation would be targeting.  

I understand duties on alcohol and agree with them - people are free to choose alcohol but at the same time there are likely increased health costs so extra tax revenue is required to meet these costs.  What makes this policy worse however is it is forcing outlets to raise their prices, and hence their profit margins without directly increasing the funds to the governments (other than increased corporation tax).  Therefore surely the wholly more sensible policy is to ban the products from being sold below the duty and VAT placed on them - this way the Government has their minimum price.  

I emphasise that whilst I understand duties, I don't necessarily fully support them but I can tolerate them in policy, what I can't understand is setting minimum prices.  At the end of the day I will always favour letting individuals make their own minds up with the governments role as ensuring the public make educated decisions. 

One further note on this story, as reported by the BBC.

"Alcohol Bill was supported by doctors, nurses, the police, churches and health experts. "

I resent organised religion being used as support for any government legislation - unless it is one directly involving the rights of organised religions, they should have no role in setting the laws in a secular nation.

Stop censorship...

Item in the Metro today: 

This is the story that the British Board of Film Classification have ruled that 'The Human Centipede II' "poses a real, as opposed to a fanciful, risk that harm is likely to be caused to potential viewers". 

Any regular reader will know that I am opposed to any intervention which limits an adult's freedom of choice.  I have no problem regarding the BBFC classifying films, nobody wants children exposed to imagery that they aren't ready for, however once we hit adulthood I think we should be left to choose our own paths (as long as this doesn't impede anyone else's freedom) and not being forced or manipulated into being the population that the ruling class would like us to be.  Just because one person doesn't find something suitable doesn't mean that others wouldn't enjoy it - and it also doesn't mean they are going to go straight out and recreate the scenes.  

As far as I'm concerned if the BBFC has any worries about a film such as this, then a warning message should be prominently displayed on any packaging and perhaps massive advertising restrictions should be in place but still leave it up to the individual if they want to watch it.  To ban it altogether though goes against everything I believe in - and will probably generate more publicity for the film and it's predecessor possibly leading to more people seeing it.

Monday, 6 June 2011

One over to go, yeah lets call it a night guys...

England are currently playing Sri Lanka in the second test of the summer at Lords, after what was a surprisingly dramatic climax to an otherwise dull test in Cardiff last weekend.  Because of studying (and work) I haven't been able to watch as much as I'd have liked (I'd be at every day of every test if money and time were not an issue) and today I only caught the last 3 overs.  I am writing this blog because I only saw 3 overs.  I feel a little cheated as I should have seen 4!  

Now anyone reading this I expect is thinking 'big deal' last few overs in a days cricket hardly anything happens anyway.  However this isn't the point.  The ICC recently changed the regulations regarding bad light so they (regulation 3.5.3 (B)) now read:

If at any time the umpires together agree that the conditions
of ground, weather or light are so bad that there is obvious
and foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire, so
that it would be unreasonable or dangerous for play to take
place, then they shall immediately suspend play, or not allow
play to commence or to restart. The decision as to whether
conditions are so bad as to warrant such action is one for the
umpires alone to make.

 The particular emphasis is on danger.  The umpires have been encouraged to allow as much play as possible - after all it is entertainment.  However in this circumstance, all of the floodlights were on (great move to allow this to help to encourage play) and there was just one over left in the day.  With the greatest respect to the Sri Lankan bowling attack one word I would not use to describe them is dangerous.  None appear to get close to the likes of Brett Lee, Shoib Aktaar and the likes for pace or anywhere near the amount of bounce some of the England seamers can get.  Enough play is lost due to the weather, it is great to see players staying on under floodlights but that one decision made no sense to me.  

At the end of the day these are batsmen at the top of their proffession, when playing in under 17 cricket we played all of our games in the evening, often finishing around 10pm.  When you were as bad as me (I would bat at 10 - which said more about the guy at 11 than it did my ability) I can tell you facing someone who can bowl at 80mph is not your dream scenario, however I don't think I once found it dangerous.

Ridiculous post on the Telegraph website...

Ken Clarke should keep women out of jail...

As far as I am concerned and as one commenter posted on the item:

"The law should be blind, be it to race, religion or gender."

i.e the law should not discriminate in any way, in the eyes of the law, put in front of a jury everybody should be considered equal.

As a point of interest I do not believe that prison is necessarily the best punishment in a large amount of cases.  Like the author (Ms Mary Riddell) I believe that it is often the case that the funds spent incarcerating someone could be better put to use rehabilitating with community sentences.  However this would be irrespective of gender and whether or not the punishment is the correct one given the nature of the crime.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The "War on Drugs" is not working...

I always find it an enjoyable start to the day when I pick up a Metro and the main headline is something I agree with - the war on drugs most definitely isn't working!  

I have blogged about this many times before however it's good to see so many places running this story.  The Metro obviously leads with the fact that former global leaders are speaking out against the current policy, but also the BBC, Express and Politics.co.uk have the story that celebrities are writing to the Government to suggest they change their tactics.

It's all basic common sense.  One of the major sources of income for organised crime is drugs.  Make them legal, allow legal channels of production and distribution and you take away their ability to make huge profit margins.  Faced with the choice of drugs from a licenced operator who has strict rules on their ability to supply and the content of their produce and an illegal seller who could cut their drugs with anything and no legal duty of care I'm sure that the vast majority would chose the legal route.

It is also healthier/safer for the users, a large number of overdoses I'm sure are due to the fact that the underground drug market offers produce of differing strengths, so users take more expecting to need it to achieve their hit.  In addition you bring them out of the shadows, instead of hiding away fearful of being caught programmes to help addicts can be targeted directly at them as you know who they are.  

I haven't even mentioned the positive effect that could be seen on the Government's books - taxed produce, reduced criminal expenditure likely to offset the additional educational and health costs that would result.

It's quite clear that prohibition isn't working

"UN estimates that opiate use increased 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine by 27%, and cannabis by 8.5%. "

This is in comparison to Portugal's small fall in hard drug usage since decriminalisation.

The annoying thing about this though is that these former leaders speak up after they have been in power.  I'm making the assumption that just like most leaders they knew the current course of action is detrimental yet they also knew changing it could be bad for their political career.  Our current Government shows no sign of even contemplating evidence based policy, which as a Liberal Democrat I find very disappointing that our ministers aren't at least trying to start a debate.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Teach don't preach...

I've been a little light on the blogging - studying for my (hopefully) final ever exam has taken priority and there hasn't been a lot in the news that's taken my interest.  It is always a lot easier to write a negative blog than a positive one and I haven't noticed a lot that I feel strongly about.

One such matter though is that proposed by Nadine Dorries regarding the compulsory teaching of abstinence to girls in schools.  This is absolutely ridiculous and Spidey get's it spot on in her post (here) and Sarah Ditum in the Guardian also has a good piece (here).  There's not much I can add with regards this and both of the above make many points much more elegantly than myself.  However in my opinion singling out girls sends completely the wrong message, boys can be effected just as much as girls through under-age sex (though less likely from the teen pregnancy angle but still).  Also when I was a teenager someone telling you not to do something that others were allowed to do made it even more appealing.  

I haven't read the bill but I am an advocate of educating children rather than preaching to them.  Obviously very few people want children exposed to sexual imagery whilst they are still in primary school but I feel that once they reach their teen years they should be given all of the information necessary for them to make informed decisions rather than relying on playground rumour and peer pressure.  They should be encouraged to wait until the time is right for them but not preached to that they should effectively remain chaste.  My sexual education was a short talk at aged 11 by an uncomfortable teacher who then separated us (girls vs boys) to watch two separate videos - ours didn't work so we went back to class.  After this my education was pretty much from the internet and then fumbled teenage experience.

What disappoints me most though, and why I'm writing on this subject without adding a lot is how disappointed I am to see yet another motion passed with a low turnout just 67 voted in favour and yet it is getting through for another reading.  I have mentioned this subject before in relation the prisoners voting when the turnout was actually much higher.  Now I have no objection to MPs abstaining from voting due to perhaps an issue being too specialist and them feeling that they have not had sufficient time to learn the intricacies of any discussion however I doubt that this could have been the case here.  Surely in this day and age with all of the technology available MPs should be voting on almost every issue that arises in the Commons, if they don't then how are they representing their constituency?  Now I know that this was just a vote as to whether or not there should be further discussion, but still I think that any vote in the Commons should have over half of the members casting their vote.