Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Blog posts I've been meaning to write...

I've had a rather busy October and as such my time blogging has been rather on the light side, so here's a short version of my take on a few things I wanted to write about but didn't get round to (each of which deserved their own post):

Col Gaddafi 

Probably the biggest piece of news I failed to comment on was the capture and death of Col Muammar Gaddafi.  Mark Cole is spot on when he says that it is easy for us to judge sitting in our "comfy sofas" thousands of miles away but I can't help the fact I side with George Potter in the opinion that he didn't deserve to die like that. In particular the quote from Martin Luther King:

"I mourn the death of thousands of precious lives, I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy"

I've always loved that quote and found it quite inspiring.  Anyone who knows me knows I am against the death penalty and believe firmly in human rights.  No-one can deny Col Gaddafi did terrible, terrible things and the people of Libya had great and valid reasons to want revenge, however human rights have to be universal - he should have had a fair trial, then he should have been locked away for the rest of his days.  Human rights can't only apply when we think they should otherwise it gives too much scope for states to abuse their citizens.  

I found the media coverage particularly distasteful, many of the scenes/pictures I saw should not have been viewed outside of the watershed - and definitely not put on the front pages of newspapers.  I realise that this is seen as a victory, I have not shed a tear for Gaddafi's passing, but neither have I raised a smile.  

My main thoughts are with the Libyan people.  I hope that they manage to rebuild their country and turn into a fully functioning democracy.

European Union In/Out? 

I am unashamedly pro European.  I believe it is in the best interests of the UK to be as closely aligned to our neighbours as possible.  The world's population will hit 7 billion next week yet the UK's population is under 70 million - that's less than 1% and therefore not much influence .  However when combined with our neighbours that grows to over half a billion and is therefore in a much better position to be influential on the world stage.  There is also the trade benefits of no taxes and yes it may cost us some money, things like the Common Agricultural Policy has always been contentious and there appears to be too much bureaucracy and waste in the system itself but for me that means that improvements need to be made within rather than renegotiating our position within it.

I admit I wanted us to join the Euro and hindsight being the wonderful thing it is I can say that I was wrong.  However, my long run position is that we should join it, I am now just looking into the very long run, if it is ever settled, stable and the countries in it have fully adjusted to monetary union, making our entry smoother - admittedly this day may never come.  

All of that said however, I probably agree with Simon McGrath - our MPs should have voted for a referendum, not because it's right (any referendum would have far too much xenophobia flying around and too many people would not realise the full implications) but because it's what we said we'd do - and no get out clause of precise wording regarding "change" can change that, it's all about perception.  At very least I would have wanted them to be allowed a free vote - it's not as if we were bound by the coalition agreement and plenty of Tories were going to defy the whip.  Saying that, I would have been with Tim Farron and voting no - although I'd rather be doing it in defiance of the whip which should stick to the parties position.  Lets face it we aren't doing well economically so to give people the chance to put a great big wedge between us and our major trading partners would be ridiculously foolish.  I fear many would look at the ongoing catastrophe that Greek/Italy/Spain/Portugal debt situation and think that if we withdraw from the EU that would magically stop the problem effecting us - well it wouldn't!  (Notice by the way I didn't mention Ireland in there - they call for a single post dedicated to their recovery).  I also think that it is insulting to the other members of the EU for us to be talking in such a self centred way about this.

Woah!  That's a scary headline... have tuition fees increasing meant that 9% fewer 17/18 year olds have applied to university - if so this is worrying, lets step back and think these figures through.  Reading through the article it gets worse at one point, when they say that this includes an increase from overseas applicants, the actual figure from UK applicants is down 12%.  That is scary that tuition fees have had such an effect... hang on a minute though, applications from Scotland are also down 12% and their fee levels next year will be £0... something doesn't add up.  

Step forward Mark Pack with his excellent analysis on the real figures and his five questions.  

Intuitively there are reasons behind it, firstly, these are just preliminary figures (based on the fact that a minority of courses have a deadline of 15 October to apply), it may be that many are taking their time as this is such a big decision that has gotten even bigger.

The vast majority of the decline has come from mature students, this in itself is intuitive.  They were in a position to change their plans and advance their studies/might have decided against it.  

When it actually comes down to it there has been a 2.4% like for like drop on expected levels (based on 2009 figures) of 18 year olds applying to University... however in the school year in which they were born there was a 2.3% decrease in birth rate.  In other words, it is just a 0.1% drop in those feared to be most affected by the fees that can't be explained by birth rates.  

The true picture will emerge in January when the deadline passes, so for now we shouldn't be passing judgement - merely educating the potential students that they will probably be better off financially, not worse as the scaremongering is doing.  

Andrew Emmerson does a great comparison in his excellent blog, which is possibly one of the best I've read on the subject of tuition fees, suggesting that the new policy will save him circa £15k over his lifetime - I think most people would admit that that is progressive.  

Vince Cable

(Taken from the Evening Standard)
One story that has really disappointed me is that Vince Cable has landed himself a penalty for late payment of VAT.  I agree that this is most likely an oversight.  I don't think there is anywhere near enough knowledge in the country about VAT and I'm sure it catches out a lot of people who've started their own businesses.  

That said it is incredibly foolish  for the Business Secretary (granted he wasn't in that role when the earnings were made) to get caught out in such a way.  He should know the rules and he should abide by them.  Yes he rectified the mistake as soon as it appears that it came to his attention but it shouldn't have ever come to this.  It's not like he's not knowledgeable, he really shouldn't have gotten caught out in this way.  Fortunately though, it has mainly just been embarrassing and even Labour haven't been twisting the knife:

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing 

I was really dismayed to read in the Guardian that Ministry of justice is planning on extending mandatory sentencing.  I am against any sort of prescriptive punishment that takes away from a judge the ability to apply the facts of a case to the guidelines that they have upon sentencing.  Whilst it can be in no doubt that the sorts of crimes being discussed are serious I believe that each case should be looked at in it's own right with consideration of guidelines as well as president.  

One hope is that by introducing minimum sentencing for knife crime by 16 and 17 year olds is that it would reduce the number of knives on the streets.  I seriously doubt sentencing has any impact on this.  Of those who would carry knives I wonder if any would even be aware of the change.  The only way to tackle an issue with this is preventative measures and rehabilitative punishments if found guilty, I personally can't see locking youngsters up for four months will do anything to change the trajectory of their lives.

One good thing said by Mr Clarke is that he wants:

"to replace the "failed" IPP sentences with a more certain regime, adding: "We've got 6,000 people languishing in prison, 3,000 of whom have gone beyond the tariff set by the judge, and we haven't the faintest idea when, if ever, they are going to get out."

It can never be right or fair for a person to be incarcerated for longer than their sentence without committing another offence, this goes against their fundamental rights irrespective of their original crime.  


I guess since it is happening all over, including now in Bath I can't not comment on the Occupy movement.  Firstly I would like to point out that no matter how much I disagree with someone I will defend their right to protest and to voice their opinion (as long as it isn't hateful towards another person).  

I'll also start by defending them, lots of criticism has been aimed at the people for purchasing Starbucks or using their iPads whilst they are occupying as an anti-capitalist movement, however they are still living under the current rules that they wish to change so they will be living within it's boundaries.  You didn't see proponents of communism refuse to queue for hours to get their loaves of bread, pints of milk etc.  You didn't see those calling for privatisation refuse to use the services in the public sector - no thanks I don't want my water now.  

At the same time I guess this argument is that these conveniences (like the mobile phone technology, convenient coffee shops etc) wouldn't have come about if it wasn't for the capitalism that they are protesting against.  I don't think anyone would claim that it is perfect, I studied enough Economics at University to know that markets are far from the efficient ideal we'd like them to be.  It is also plainly clear that the game is rigged in favour for the ones who are at the top to stay at the top.  

For me this is one reason why I'm a Liberal Democrat.  They are always talking about social mobility, for me this is ensuring that a child's life will be of a better quality than their parents (not through the trickle down effect as this is an illusion).  When I look at my party, I'm proud to be a member, I may be naive but I really believe Nick Clegg when he says that as a party we are in nobodies pocket - be that the City and their Bankers, the Unions or the likes of Rupert Murdoch (they boycotted our conferences for long enough to make sure we stayed an insignificance) all of whom have a vested interest in keeping the people down.  People want to change the system, change the rules, the only effective way I can see this happening is from within the system itself - so like it or not I am still of the opinion that Nick is the best hope for the people in their tents to bring about any meaningful change but I admit we haven't yet gone far enough. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post I must say.. Simple but yet interesting and engaging.. Keep up the awesome work!

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