30 September 2007

Will There Be An Election?

I'm finding all the election speculation fascinating.

Research from Plymouth Uni points out that Labour would only have secured a majority of 48 if the 2005 election had been held with new constitutency boundary changes.

So, Brown will have to win bigger than Blair -- despite a stronger SNP, a weaker Welsh Labour, and a Tory party that won the popular vote in England in 2005 -- to equal Blair's majority of 66.
If Labour doesn't have to have an election until 2010, why does Gordon Brown need to go to the country to seize a larger majority? If he's practicising big-tent politics, what reforms does he have in mind that would threaten large backbench Labour revolts that require a larger majority than 66?

What if he calls the election, and the Tories are able to outspend Labour enough to return Labour with what they already have, a 60-seat majority, or a 20-seat majority, or a hung Parliament? He'll look like a worse electioneer than Blair.

The question is more, should there be an election at all?

Brown is working his way through a second checklist. This time the list is of Conservative positives ... have-a-go heroes, British jobs for British workers, zero tolerance, tougher controls, stricter codes. If the early polls are any guide, this too has been popular, feeding a second boost for Brown ... The hegemonic centre ground project is back in business, with the Tories shoved to the right, the Liberal Democrats eclipsed and the left effectively destroyed. Some may call the result a one-party state on Japanese lines. A few may even whisper about fascism.

Prime ministers call elections under one or more of three circumstances: because the government lacks a majority; because it has used up the bulk of its legislative timetable; or because it faces a defining crisis. None of these criteria applies in any way today. A 2007 election would be an act of opportunism and no little vanity. It would elevate campaigning above governing. It would be an election driven by pollsters and partisans, not by the people or by propriety. It would be a dereliction of responsibility. It would be morally wrong.

28 September 2007

The Lancet And MRSA

Labour's plans for tackling MRSA has been criticised in an editorial in The Lancet.

The government wants to deep clean hospitals ward-by-ward over the next year and eliminate clothing such as long-sleeves and ties.

In contrast:

The Lancet said the focus should be on disinfection of high-touch surfaces ... and making sure "doctors, nurses and visitors wash their hands properly, the proven way to stop hospital acquired infections," the editorial stated.

Professor Richard James, director of the Centre for Healthcare Associated Infections at the University of Nottingham said in addition to hand washing, other useful strategies would be screening patients for MRSA on admission, regular use of hydrogen peroxide vapour generators to kill bugs in the hospital environment and educating patients and visitors on ways they can reduce risk.

29th September Compassionate Living Fair

This Saturday, there will be a Compassionate Living Fair, held at the Friends Meeting House in Coventry (Hill Street, off Corporation Street).

It will be from 10:45 am to 4:45 pm. It's a cruelty-free fair combined with a full programme of talks and films with speakers from national and local organisations including Animal Aid, Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, and Animals Asia.

There will be nutritional advice, vegetarian recipes, animal-free goodies (chocolates, cruelty-free cosmetics and toiletries), ethically-sourced clothes and jewellery.

For more information, contact Coventry Veggies and Vegans on 024 7663 4115, or see http://www.blogger.com/www.coventryveggies.makessense.co.uk for full details.

26 September 2007

Gordon Brown Breaks AIDS Funding Pledge

Britain currently gives £100 million each year to the Global Fund for Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

Douglas Alexander (not only the international development secretary, but the coordinator of the next general election) now says the UK will give £1bn over 8 years.

So, a 25% increase over its current funding.

The problem is that the grand G8 promises from June 2007 were to triple the funding to the Global Fund by 2010.

Elton John, writing in the Guardian last Saturday:

In many regions governments are hostile or reluctant to provide services for the most marginalised groups: men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and prisoners. In responding to this need, my foundation is guided by what is effective rather than what is politically expedient. I have met brave activists who face threats and harassment as they help marginalised groups access basic services. Here again the fund is crucial. It has the flexibility to channel funds without toeing a particular political line.

Gordon Brown's leadership and vision on this issue are needed right now. Were the UK to provide £700m over three years, tripling its annual contribution by 2010, it would challenge the rest of the world to follow suit. A bold pledge would encourage countries such as Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the US to do their part.

These decisions directly affect whether people live or die, and I urge the British government to take a lead in ensuring these promises are kept. Honour the pledge.

25 September 2007

Human Activity And Climate Change

22 000 people were surveyed in 21 countries to find that:

An average of 79% of respondents to the BBC survey agreed that "human activity, including industry and transportation, is a significant cause of climate change". Nine out of 10 people said action was necessary, with two-thirds of people going further, saying "it is necessary to take major steps starting very soon".

Gordon Brown And MRSA

Under Gordon Brown as Chancellor, we had years of cutbacks in bed capacity, and private companies were hired to cut cleaning costs in hospitals.

Now, Gordon Brown as Prime Minister rides to the rescue, promising money to deal with the effects: MRSA and clostridium difficile.

If Labour had addressed the problem over the last 10 years, we wouldn’t have 5400 people dying from these infections each year. Or, if you wish, we have a Madrid train bombings worth of MRSA every 13 days.

It's part of a perplexing trend. What Labour considers its strengths (health, education) are among their greatest weaknesses.

Health -- NHS dentistry; 5 million people having clinical depression or clinical anxiety, and there simply not being an infrastructure to deal with it; MRSA/clostridium difficile

Education -- the expansion of faith schools, of city academies; allegations today on the lack of rigour of university courses; top-up fees; nearly 700 000 places in adult education being cut in 2006

12 September 2007

Coventry Climate Change Strategy

The council has, finally, come out with a draft climate change strategy. It can be found here. It's a 65 page PDF file, so you'll need Adobe Acrobat reader.

The consultation period will last until the end of December. Then, it goes back to the cabinet/council/Coventry Partnership, and the final version will be adopted in March 2008.

I haven't read the entire document in minute detail. But, on first impressions, there are some good ideas (green roofs, microgeneration), some key admissions (that the council is only 3% of the carbon footprint of the city), and some missed opportunities (how will peak oil interact with climate change ... no mentioning of oil in 65 pages).

Read it, and maybe we can start a discussion amongst the comments to this post. Alternatively, in a few weeks, I can post a longer analysis of the document.

11 September 2007

School Fruit and Vegetables With Pesticides

Yesterday, the annual report of the Pesticide Residues Committee looked at the government's fruit and vegetable scheme (free pieces of fruit or veg to all 4 year old to 6 year old children).

They looked at a sample of 138 apples, bananas, carrots, cucumbers, pears, strawberries, tomatoes and soft citrus fruits such as tangerines and satsumas. Pesticide traces above the "maximum residue levels" were only found in one apple. But, pesticide residues were found at lower levels in in 97 samples, including all the pears, soft citrus and strawberries. Nothing was found in carrots or cucumbers.

Now, 1 apple out of 138 fruits doesn't sound all that much, but the government's scheme amounted to 400m pieces of fruit and veg being issued in 2006. So, looking at only the apples (say, 1/10th of all the fruit and veg that year), that's 145 apples each month in Coventry being over the maximum levels, not to mention the other 70% of fruit which had lower levels of pesticide residues!

First thing, have your children ask for carrots or cucumbers. Second thing, we need to have all school fruit and veg be local and organic.

10 September 2007

Anita Roddick - 1942-2007

"In 1985, Roddick used the shop windows of her by-now burgeoning Body Shop business to promote Greenpeace's Save the Whales campaign."

"Instead of buying ingredients such as brazil nuts for shampoo from commodity markets, she went straight to the source and set up development projects all over South America and Africa. The overriding message was that a business could be good and consumers could be a force for change."

"Twenty years ago, the business community said to Anita, "What in god's name are you doing?" Her fair trade ideas were peripheral. But she created the space where it's acceptable to set up an environmental business. Now everyone's doing it. That's a huge achievement."

09 September 2007

Nuclear Transports To Scotland

Alex Salmond will be holding a summit of anti-nuclear/anti-Trident campaigners next month.

One of his ideas is to try and ban the transportation of nuclear weapons on Scottish soil.

Convoys of 10 or more vehicles from the Atomic Weapons Establishment (Aldermaston, Berkshire) to the Royal Naval Armaments Depot (Coulport, Argyllshire) up to six times a year.

You might have seen a convoy yourself. Here are some tips to spot one.

What is dangerous is that each convoy travels 400 miles by public road. A MOD freedom of information release revealed that there have been 50 "engineering incidents" and 17 "operational accidents" to convoy vehicles on Scottish roads in the past seven years. Safety incidents recorded include fuel leaks, a series of broken valves and instances of engine and brake overheating. In May 2007, a convoy on its way to Scotland even lost its way near Nottingham and ended up in a residential estate.

Eventually, there will be a major incident, either by accident, or through terrorism.

08 September 2007

BBC And Planet Relief

In an age where half of children between the ages of seven and 11 are anxious about the effects of global warming and often lose sleep over it,

in an age where the melting of Greenland's ice sheet has accelerated so dramatically that it is triggering earthquakes for the first time,

in an age where more than 50 active wildfires are raging throughout a million-and-half acres in the West of the US,

it seems not just odd but immoral that the BBC has abandoned its plans for a day-long focus on climate change, tentatively called "Planet Relief."

The comment by Peter Barron, Newsnight's editor, that "It's absolutely not the BBC's job to save the planet" is strange since it does seem to be the BBC's job to save Africa (Comic Relief) and disadvantaged children (Children in Need). Our view at Trees for Cities is that it is the job of all of us to do what we can, however big or small, to save the planet and it is disappointing that Mr Barron and others at the BBC who have the opportunity to do something big, should lose sight of this responsibility as they gaze at their corporate navel.

Graham Simmonds
Chief Executive
Trees for Cities

07 September 2007

Prevention Of Heart Attacks

40% of all early heart attacks could be prevented if the partners and relatives of people with heart disease were routinely screened.

It is not routine to screen the families of heart attack victims in the way that the relatives of people with hereditary cancers are offered advice. About 29.2 million adults were at risk of premature heart attacks in England and Wales in 2001. In 2004 there were 15,616 hospital admissions for premature heart attack. If patients with a family history had been counselled, monitored and, if necessary, given drug treatment, their risk could have been reduced by 88%, and 6,485 heart attacks could have been prevented.
The NHS needs to be oriented around prevention.

- Healthy eating and active exercise would lead to less long-term costs in diabetes and obesity.
- Lower salt intake, less processed foods, and more fibre leads to less strokes.
- Regular NHS dental checkups leads to less need for dental surgery in the long-term.

Solar Panels In Coventry

If you have solar panels on your home, you can export more electricity than you actually use and still get a bill from your utility company.

That isn't right.

Sian Berry is one of the Green Party's principal speakers:

"For example, in the daytime when it's sunny, they might be at work and not using any electricity, so it will go to the National Grid. They'll be paid for that, but a really derisory rate - whatever the electricity company feels like giving them. Then in the evening when they go home and they need to pull electricity from the grid, they're paying the full sum. You might get 5p per kilowatt hour to export it and 11p to buy it back in again."

A "very simple system" was needed instead of "eight complex, contradictory policies, none of which are working", she added.

Her report also called for low-cost, interest-free loans for households with lower incomes, so they had greater help in taking advantage of renewable energy.

06 September 2007

Flying In Organic Food - Pro and Con

Should the Soil Association withdraw the "organic" label from produce flown in from abroad?

No: "The trade of fruit and vegetables from Africa to the UK accounts for only 0.1% of all the UK's emissions. Many poor people in Africa depend on that trade, so, for them, banning organic air freight means fewer children in schools, no investment in small businesses, less development of the economy and more poverty."

Yes: "Farmers in the developing world may have a sense of security from exporting fresh produce, but air-freighting will soon become economically unsustainable as the demand for oil starts to outstrip supply. Farmers in Kenya who are growing organically are becoming almost entirely reliant on air freight to sell their goods. In the short term, that will bring some development benefits but it is a high-risk strategy."

05 September 2007

Loss Of Arctic Ice Accelerating

The Guardian:

The Arctic ice cap has collapsed at an unprecedented rate this summer. Levels of sea ice in the region now stand at a record low. An area almost twice as big as Britain has disappeared in the last week alone. If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.

Mark Serreze, an Arctic specialist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre at Colorado University in Denver: "If you asked me a couple of years ago when the Arctic could lose all of its ice, then I would have said 2100, or 2070 maybe. But now I think that 2030 is a reasonable estimate.

It seems that the Arctic is going to be a very different place within our lifetimes, and certainly within our children's lifetimes."

We Need A Global Arms Trade Treaty

"With many rifles now light and simple enough to be stripped, reassembled, and used by a child of ten, it’s not surprising that an estimated 300,000 children are working as soldiers in conflicts around the world."

Angela Merkel Supports C&C

Contraction and convergence is the idea of equal carbon emissions per person, wherever they live in the world.

- Under "C&C", all countries would agree a target for a stable amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, say, 450 parts per million.
- A "global emissions budget" would be calculated, derived from the target figure.
- The atmospheric concentration target would be reviewed annually so that it could be revised with new scientific findings.
- Developing countries would be allowed to increase their emissions per capita while industrialised nations cut theirs, until both sides reach the same level.

Last week, the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, came out in support of C&C.

Over to you, Gordon.

04 September 2007

Centre For Alternative Technology

"Our founder, Gerrard Morgan-Grenville, was really concerned how society was using technology. He wanted to found a living community that would live with the emerging alternative technologies to find out which ones really work. We have to make the right decisions when the crunch time comes."

Primark In Coventry

Primark is one of two high street retailers (the other is Mothercare) who have launched inquiries into allegations by The Guardian that factory workers who make their clothes in India are being paid as little as 13p per hour for a 48-hour week.

John Hilary from War on Want, said: "Exploitation of workers in developing countries such as India is standard practice for British retailers right across the spectrum. This just underlines the urgent need for Gordon Brown to step in now and stop these abuses once and for all."
For more information, you can look at the site: Labour Behind The Label.

03 September 2007

Organic Store Wars

"Cuke, the Farm is what gives us our power. It's a kind of a ... Field ... that creates all edible things. Alas, the market has been taken over by the Dark Side of the Farm, an empire of pollution and pesticides, with unsustainable short-sighted practices."

Jamie Oliver And Airlines

The Pandora column in the Indie:

For four years, Jamie Oliver has very vocally opposed the planned extra runway at Stansted airport, close to his Essex home. "I object to the destruction of vast swathes of countryside and the huge increase in noise and pollution to be suffered if the expansion goes ahead," he said.

When the chef travels to the US, he uses Eos – a "premium business class airline" – which strips all 220 seats out of its Boeing 757s and replaces them with just 48 cabins (reclining chair bed, desk, guest seat, etc).

Each Eos passenger [emits] 4.5 times more carbon per journey than a regular 757 passenger. And from which British airport does Eos take off? None other than Oliver's very own Stansted.

01 September 2007

Decentralised Energy Versus Nuclear Power

"Already, we’re stuck with more than 2 million cubic metres of nuclear waste. That’s enough to fill nearly 500 Big Bens. With the government spending £13bn on research and development for the nuclear industry, add that to the £70bn just to manage the current nuclear waste, and a mere £1bn for research and development into renewables. It is any wonder renewables haven’t had the chance to reach their full potential."

Taser Expansion To Non-Firearms Officers

Two years ago, 50 000 volt taser guns were issued to firearms officers in the West Midlands, with the slippery slope proviso that:

Q. Will all police officers be issued with Taser?
A. No, the Taser will only be used by highly-trained, authorised firearms officers.

Now, from today, onwards, police officers in 10 forces (not including West Midlands) who are not firearms specialists will be able to use the 50,000-volt guns.

Amnesty International has found that, since 2001, more than 220 people have died after being shot with tasers in the US. In many of these cases, the coroner listed the use of the taser as contributory factor or indeed a direct link to the death. Amnesty has also found that many US police agencies are "deploying tasers as a routine force option to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others."

Since 2005, the Police Federation has called for tasers to be issued to every police officer in the country. With the every-two-years-we'll-introduce-tasers-a-bit-more policy of New Labour, that's exactly what's going to happen.