Can the Sun/News of the World get any worse?

Now, I’ve never been a particular lover of the Sun or the News of the World. My dad was on the periphery of the Wapping dispute. I watched the Hillsborough disaster unfold live on TV and then a few days later was delivering the Sun as it published utter lies about the event. I think that Rupert Murdoch’s influence on the media is malignant and corrupting the world over.

But even today the torrent of stories about phone hacking and other nasty behaviour have been shocking. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mast Site plans

Last night I went to the Eastlands & Hillmorton Community Forum meeting at the Hillmorton school. These are organised to bring together the County Council, Borough Council and Police to discuss issues with local people. Every three months, for example, the local beat officers present updates on their work and there’s a discussion about the three areas they should prioritise for the next three months.

There were a lot of people there who wanted to talk about the proposals for development to the East of the town, on the old radio mast sites. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Byles MP – did he benefit from Lobbett’s claims?

When I looked up the Tory candidate in the 2010 General Election, the one who won by a margin of 54 votes and who was being backed by Barry Lobbett, who was getting Warwickshire council tax payers to subsidise his campaigning, I found that he was being highlighted for his election spending last year.

Then, it was a question over whether buying a new hoarding with his name, face and the 2010 election slogan should be fully charged to his 2010 election campaign or (as he actually did) only a third of it need be – with the remainder to be charged to future campaigns we assume. The difference was between £1600 and about £500, and had the larger figure been used, he would have been in excess of his allowed spending.

In the end, there was no action taken against Dan Byles on the basis that it is ok to shift the cost over future campaigns, and he remains the MP for Warwickshire North and Bedworth.

However, we now know that during the same ‘short campaign’ period, claims were being made to Warwickshire CC for a councillor to drive to events in support of the election campaigns for that councillor and for Dan Byles. Given that Cllr Lobbett feels he should be recompensed, what would be the effect if Byles’ campaign paid the costs? Would it tip the amounts over the legal limit?

At the very least, Byles could do worse than distance himself from the penny-pinching councillor.

Two kinds of fraud?

Keen Green activist Keith Kondakor has for the second year running pulled his fine-tooth comb through the County Council’s member expenses. Last year he doggedly pursued Martin Heatley over the irregularities in his very large expenses claims (first class travel, curiously long journeys between home and Shire Hall, double claimed journeys). This year he’s obtained via a FOI request another year’s worth of claims by Warwickshire County Councillors.

Along with a very expensive hotel break (£2,500 for five councillors to spend three days in Bournemouth!) and I’m sure a few other inconsistencies, there’s one particular scandal.

It seems that Cllr Barry Lobbett is being told to repay over £600 he claimed for travelling around to do election campaigning. This is clearly a breach of the rules of councillors’ expenses, because election campaigns are not council business. I expect Keith Kondakor will be pressing for more action than just getting the money back and a symbolic rap on the knuckles, as happened with Heatley.

However, there emerges another question. What about Cllr Lobbett’s notification for election expenses? By law all candidates have to declare how much has been spent on their campaigns. So did he include this cost? Because if he didn’t, that would be another matter. If it puts the total over the allowed limit, then he’s in a serious breach of the rules.

Mark Pawsey replies – but doesn’t respond

Ok, so in my last post I mentioned that Rugby MP Mark Pawsey voted in favour of Nadine Dorries’ move to introduce ‘abstinence’ sex education aimed solely at girls. As well as my post, I wrote him an email directly. Here it is:

Sunday 22 May 2011

Dear Mark Pawsey,

I was disappointed to see from Hansard that you voted in 
favour of the Private Members' Bill introduced by Nadine
Dorries MP to change sex education.

During the debate, she made various statements that have been
found to be false. For example, she claimed to be citing Joan
Bakewell when producing statistics on prime-time
television. However, the statistics come from a US study from
about 10 years ago. The US definition of prime-time is later
than the UK one, and includes post-watershed programming. So
the statistics were irrelevant to a UK debate.

She also made misleading statements about what was taught to
young children in schools under the current system. 7 year
olds are not shown how to put a condom on a cucumber/banana - 
contraception is not part of the curriculum at anything like
that young an age.

Several of the incorrect statements made have been addressed 
here: http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2011/05/10/dorries-abstinence-speech-the-fact-check/

The principle of changing the message to concentrate on girls
abstaining while not dealing with boys seems to be utterly
short-sighted. It will not address the issue of peer-pressure
from boys, and has the danger of increasing the propensity to
blame girls alone for under age sex. 

Additionally, while it seems at a superficial level a good
idea to encourage abstinence, it has unintended consequences.
An over-reliance on abstinence may mean that young people are 
ill equipped to use contraception. This may lead to more
underage pregnancies, STDs and other problems. 

In the light of this, do you still support the proposed Bill,
and can you explain your reasoning?

I would also like to ask if you are in agreement with the
comments that Nadine Dorries made recently suggesting that 
her Bill would reduce sexual abuse. This seems to be
dangerously close to suggesting that young female victims of
sexual abuse are to blame. 

Please note, this correspondence and the reply will be shared.

Yours sincerely,

Owen Richards

A reply came by post, and here is what it said:

Thank you for contacting me about Nadine Dorries' proposed
changes to sex education.

I am pleased that Nadine has raised this particular issue, as
it is one which is very important to the overall debate about 
educating pupils about sex. All maintained secondary schools
are required to provide sex education as part of the national
curriculum.

Additionally, schools are encouraged to provide a broader
programme of sex and relationships education (SRE) as part of
non-statutory personal, social, health and economic (PSHE)
education. This provides opportunities for all young people 
to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to 
resist pressure to have sex and support them to delay sexual 
activity.

An ongoing issue has been the quality of the sex education
that pupils receive. I am pleased, therefore, that the
Department for Education has announced an internal review of
PSHE education to look at how schools can be supported to
improve the quality of PSHE teaching, including SRE.

It is encouraging that the Government wants to see a change
in emphasis in the delivery of SRE, with a stronger focus on
relationships. I understand that this does mean the inclusion
of issues such as: sexual consent; respect; building young
people's capacity to say "no" to things that don't feel right;
and recognising the negative and positive portrayals of sex
and relationships that they are exposed to in the media

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Pawsey MP

So, did he answer my questions?

Nope. Not directly at least.

He did not address the distortions in Nadine Dorries’ speeches and other comments in support of her proposals. He did not address the fact that her Bill is specifically aimed giving one message to one gender and has no regard to the other. He didn’t address the shameful linking of sexual abuse of children to her idea, which by implication seems to be saying that if only girls said “no” they wouldn’t be victims of sexual predators.

He didn’t even say whether he still supports the Private Members’ Bill.

What I am not concerned about is that Mark Pawsey seems to think that Sex and Relationships education (SRE) doesn’t already include the issues of consent, respect, the capacity to say “no” and media portrayals. Perhaps he has bought the narrative being sold by Dorries and the media that it’s all about playing with condoms and empowering people to express their own sexuality.

In reality, sexual education at schools today already contains all of those, as well as the important issues such as what sex is, how to detect and protect against STDs, the reality of pregnancy, etc etc.

All of those things are important. An over-reliance on promoting abstinence can (as has been observed in the USA) lead to more problems of under-age pregnancy and STDs. I would rather that our MP was considering the issue based on evidence than, as it seems, based on the views of moral crusaders who distort the truth.

Pawsey backs the Dorries plan

A couple of weeks ago, Nadine Dorries moved her Private Members’ Bill to propose a law on sex education. She made several dubious claims in the debate, and so perhaps some MPs might have been suckered into accepting her argument.

But it wouldn’t take much to see that what she’s proposing is to treat girls differently from boys – to promote the idea that if only girls were taught to say ‘no’, that under age sex would not happen. That it takes two to tango appears not to enter into the thinking.

She made claims about what appears on TV in prime time which she put into the mouth of Joan Bakewell. This was not true. The stats bear an uncanny resemblence to those produced in a US study from ten years ago, and where the definition of prime-time is later than ours (and so includes post-watershed television).

Rugby MP Mark Pawsey voted in favour. Here’s an open question to our MP – if you knew that Dorries had misled the House, would you still have voted this way, and if so why?

Do the government hate the Police Service?

This ‘New Politics’ is weird. I’d expect that a Labour government might be accused of hostility towards the police by a senior member of the Police Federation. But a Tory-led government with a Tory Home Secretary?

At the same time, someone (nameless) in the Warwickshire Force has linked increased burglary and robbery rates in the last few months to cuts.

While there are things that the local force should do to cut costs (such as get rid of the white elephant that is their HQ at Leek Wootton), they are having to do far more. Stations are being closed or their hours cut. Neighbourhood policing will be based on PCSOs working in teams with only one police officer in charge, which means fewer officers with full powers on the beat.

Posted in Politics. Tags: . 11 Comments »

Second Best

The elections and referendum are now over, and I’ve had a weekend to absorb the results. First off, the most local:

Eastlands Ward, Rugby Borough Council results

Neil Sandison (Lib Dem) – 1057
Owen Richards (Labour) – 506
Paul Newsome (Tory) – 495
Bert Harris (TUSC) – 67

Last year I came third, some 150 votes behind the Tory (same candidate), and about 1100 behind the Liberal. The turnout was higher then, but comparing to previous years when it was only local elections, the Labour performance was quite an improvement. The swing from when Neil Sandison last stood is over 11% from Lib Dem to Labour. In the leaflets put out by the Liberals they said that the Tories are their main competitors and that Labour is always some way behind in third. Not any more!

So, thanks to all those who voted for me, and to the people who helped out in the campaign. We did more work in other areas where Labour had a better chance of winning, but every step forward helps.

In Rugby as a whole, the only change was pretty much expected – the Tories took the last Lib Dem seat in Dunchurch and Knightlow. Elsewhere there were a few patterns:

1) In most wards, as was the pattern nationally, the Tory vote was about the same. However, the only place they gained much support was Dunchurch.

2) In most wards, Labour’s vote went up. Not all by the kind of swing achieved in Eastlands, but enough to clearly secure the already held seats and to bring some Tory seats towards marginal status – Admirals, Overslade and potentially Hillmorton and Brownsover North.

3) The Lib Dems lost a lot of ground. They collapsed in Dunchurch, and in some wards where they’d been ahead of Labour they slipped behind (Hillmorton and Brownsover North most notably). However, in the two wards where the Tories hoped to make gains – Paddox and Caldecott, their vote went up and they extended their majorities. It’s interesting to note that in Paddox, Labour’s vote also went up quite a bit. However, the Lib Dems could only find 10 candidates this time, which suggests they will have problems outside their strongholds

4) The Greens had been on the slide before this year, but appear to have picked up disaffected Liberals and recovered somewhat. In two places they beat the Lib Dems leaving them in fourth place.

5) TUSC (Trades Unionists and Socialists against the Cuts) are a new slate. They did a deal with the Greens to not stand against each other and between them covered all 16 wards. They came last wherever they stood (and the guy in Eastlands received their lowest vote). Labour concerns about splitting the anti-Coalition vote were not borne out.

Overall, Labour didn’t get the same kind of swing that was seen nationally – if there’s a North-South divide in fortunes, then Rugby is perhaps more Southern. However, someone at the count said that Rugby always seems to be about 1 year behind the national trends. I suppose we’ll find out next year. Or will we? Next year will be an all-out election on new boundaries, and so measuring trends will be much harder.

In the local and regional elections as a whole, I would say that Labour did ok. Not brilliant, but not poorly. Wales was a very good result, Scotland was awful. Making gains in many major cities was certainly welcome, but the Tories won more seats than they lost as the Liberal collapse benefited them as well as Labour.

As for AV – I was surprised at the margin of victory for ‘No’. I do wonder if that was what helped the Tories in the locals, bringing out more voters than usual. I voted ‘No’, but not because I liked the No2AV campaign (it was based on a load of lies). It was more that I saw AV as making very little difference in most places (so would not affect the large number of safe seats), and that it can have perverse effects when the second and third placed candidates are close together. The order of elimination can decide the result, so it’s possible for a party that won last time to gain support but lose the election (if they gain the support from the wrong voters).

Buses, carers, libraries, youth centres… cut cut cut

The Tories around here really are getting into their stride:

Rural and evening bus services are going to be slashed, thanks to the County Council halving the money they provide. All kinds of people will be affected all over Rugby and the surrounding villages.

At the setting of the Council budget last month, the Tories at Rugby Town Hall claimed that services would be protected and the impact of their changes would be very low. Tell that to the people reliant on Crossroads, which provides respite care for the elderly – the couple in that linked story are also going to lose out with the closure of Abbotsbury care home in Hillmorton.

Consultations are ongoing over which small libraries are going to be closed, and whether to reduce hours at others.

I am also finding out that the County Council is opening consultations on the closure and transfer of many of the county’s youth centres. Hill Street, Fareham Road, Brownsover, Dunchurch and Binley Woods Youth Centres are all under review. Wolston is recommended for closure.

I can see that these cuts are likely to disproportionally affect the most vulnerable – the young, the old, the ill, the poor.

The Tories gleefully wield the knife, and the Lib Dems are backing them (while at the same time crying tears over each local cut in case it costs them votes).

Warwickshire leading the way

The local police force is having to deal with a lot of flak over its cuts. I certainly can’t see how they will avoid making a massive difference to front line policing.

I heard that the neighbourhood policing would be pretty much left to PCSOs, with one police officer per team to supervise. We’ve already seen that some stations will close and others will have their public opening hous cut back, and that long serving coppers will be forced to retire.

Now it seems that Frontline police will be moved into office jobs. Why? Well, they are getting rid of a load of the civilian staff, but the work they do will still need doing, won’t it?

Apparently, according to last week’s Rugby Observer, the local Police Federation chair is wishing that his members had the power to strike.