Cameron’s clash with constituencies


Prime Minister

David Cameron seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest when he told his MPs to ignore the views of their constituencies in deciding how to vote in the EU referendum and I am not surprised.  A parliamentary election campaign needs two things: money and canvassers.  For many MPs, both of these are supplied by the local constituency association.  To learn that their views on the EU issue are to be ignored is not going to enthuse many Conservative associations and there may be some MPs out there who are nervously thinking about the next General Election and how much support they can expect.  This is not their only worry because Cameron is planning to downsize the House of Commons at the same time he equalizes the sizes of constituencies to eliminate the Labour rotten boroughs that have given Labour an unfair advantage for too long.  Thus there will be wholesale boundary reviews and MPs wishing to stand again will need friends if they are to secure the offer of a seat in the new parliament and they will need supporters to go out and knock on doors for them as well as stuff envelopes and write out cheques to pay for the local party machine.

I gave the Conservative Party 24 years of my life as a county councillor and a political campaigner and I have judged that is enough.  The standing down of Tony Baldry as our MP was the end of an era for me and marked the time when I decided to opt for a quieter life.  I don’t expect to knock on another voter’s door or wreck my hands stuffing leaflets through vicious letter boxes or stand in freezing weather outside a polling station.  I will pay my annual sub to the Party and that will be about it apart from an occasional rant on this Blog!  Despite making this decision pretty clear, it does not stop the party machine bombarding me with begging letters.  At the moment it is to go to Party Conference in Birmingham this year.  When that subsides it will be to support the Party financially.  During election time, I will get endless requests to travel miles to canvass in a strange and politically hostile place or to telephone canvass from my own home.  Well at coming close to 70 years of age, I think I deserve a rest and I know I am going to take one!

But what to do about this arrogant disregard for the views of the grassroots of the Party?  For the constituency associations that pay for the campaign machine and provide the shock troops to get Conservatives elected? Well there is one little idea in my mind.  My own Association has its Annual General Meeting later on in this month and so will other constituencies up and down the country.   I suggest Party members up and down the country demand an item on their AGM Agenda to debate the EU Referendum and to give advice to their MP.  MPs are representatives and not delegates so their constituencies cannot mandate them but they can make their views very clearly known and then see whether their MP listens to them or their Party Leader!  There could be some interesting debates in the next few weeks among Conservative activists and this could turn the usually turgid and, thankfully, short AGMs into a good spectator sport!  Not to mention a means of giving Members of Parliament some food for thought!

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BT Broadband crash

technology_1There are a few events in life that pull one back to a sobering reality. Most are a phenomenon of our reliance on modern technology like turning the ignition key in the car to no avail or putting the card in the cash machine to find it has run out of cash!  Then there was the time when we had a power cut at Nell Bridge House which lasted a long time and I said to Lynda “Oh hell, let’s go and have an Indian meal given we are in the dark here and cannot cook” only to realise that the absence of electricity meant our drive gates were locked shut with our cars on the inside!  No – a three mile walk to the nearest reasonable restaurant was not on the cards.

Yesterdays failure of BT Broadband falls into that category.  Although retired, I do a lot of voluntary work for Freemasonry, for The Mill Arts Centre and for the Adderbury Library Friends Group and I can do a lot of this using my computer in my study at home.  However, you need power to drive the computer and, just as important, you need a Broadband connection to the Internet. Without the latter, one is stopped in one’s tracks pretty quickly.

Years ago, when the telephone system went down, one dialled the local exchange and sought assistance. Today, one goes to the internet but not if Broadband has gone down and, suddenly, we experience the helplessness of being lost in a technological desert.  So it was yesterday around 2:30 pm when I realised the e-mails I was writing were stacking up in my Out Box and my web browser was showing signs of confusion.  I have two BT lines with Broadband and two routers so checked first one then the other.  Warning lights were flashing on both.  To get help in such an eventuality, one goes to the Internet but this was not possible and I had to rely on good old-fashioned paper technology.  My BT bills gave me a telephone number but this was not taking any calls.  My file of instruction books told me that the flashing lights on the routers indicated a fault on my Broadband.  I had thought having two BT lines was a bit of a precaution against one of them failing but there is not much to do when the whole BT system apparently melts down.

My Blackberry tried to help but was not really up to the job.  However, BBC TV news came to the rescue and explained that BT Broadband had suffered a major failure and, inexplicably, it seemed to affect many parts of the country.  Oxfordshire was certainly one of them but, just as the comfort of knowing the problem was out there and not inside my home, Broadband magically returned to life as instantly as it had gone off.

We live out in the sticks.  You can count the number of houses within a one mile radius on the fingers of both hands and it is idyllic to live away from the urban bustle.  However, it does mean that power cuts come pretty regularly and without warning.  A few weeks power cut_1ago, our power supply went down three times in one day.  At 5:00 am for 45 minutes; at 7:30 am for 11 minutes and at 9:00 am for 56 minutes.  The implications in a modern house are extremely frustrating: no lights; no oil-fired heating; no Broadband; no Internet; no telephone and a need to re-set clocks, cookers and alarms that do not have battery back-up.  Now, we can all change our electricity supplier if we think we can get a better price but the supply is carried over a single distribution network for which we have absolutely no alternative.  It is the distribution company that has responsibility for outages caused, I suspect, by some disturbance to the overhead power cables or the myriad of sub-stations that bring electricity to our homes.  Nothing to be done here if the distribution company will not invest in strengthening the network.  It seems to be the same with Broadband.  While there are different suppliers, they all rely on the one network and, if that fails, we are all stuck in a technological desert when we have learned to rely so extensively on IT that we take for granted.

I have no idea what the solution is but we need someone to find one.  The implications of a terrorist attack on our IT networks is too awful to contemplate so I think there is some considerable urgency to this question.


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Bloxham’s Red Lion given a new lease of life

Red Lion, Bloxham

Red Lion, Bloxham

I hear the Red Lion in Bloxham is likely to be purchased by the current landlord of the Joiner’s Arms which is opposite to the Red Lion.  If this is true, I think it is good news for Bloxham village.  Quite some time ago, the Red Lion was run by Paul and Carol Cooper.  Lynda and I were very regular customers and the service was wonderful.  They were lucky enough to sell the pub and to move on to Broughton where they ran another successful hostelry.  However, the Red Lion nose-dived spectacularly after Paul and Carol and never recovered its reputation or clientele.  Eventually, the brewers closed it and the site soon became sad and neglected.

This has left Bloxham with just two pubs, the Elephant & Castle and the Joiners Arms.  Whether this is enough for a village of Bloxham’s size and given social trends is a question that is difficult to answer.  I always think of the Elephant & Castle as a drinkers’ pub with a hard core of locals who like their pint while the Joiners Arms doubles up as bar and restaurant and does well at both.  The village has reacted strongly to the closure of the Red Lion, less at the loss of a hostelry and more at the threat of the site being sold for housing development.  The Parish Council has done all that it can to prevent the sale of the site and has encouraged the formation of a Red Lion Appeal Hub whose aim was to preserve the Red Lion as a community resource.  Cherwell District Council was persuaded to name the site as an Asset of Community Value which made it much more difficult for Fullers, the brewers and owners of the site, to sell it.

A good number of Bloxham residents attended public meetings held by the Red Lion Appeal Hub to display their desire to prevent housing development and, therefore, the retention of a public house on this site that most of them had never supported while it was open.  Some put their hands in their pockets and purchased shares in the Hub to support the purchase of the site as a community asset.  The Red Lion Appeal Hub never raised enough to make an offer that Fullers would accept and I always feared that they would never have sufficient funds to renovate a building that was in need of considerable investment plus the working capital to run a working pub and restaurant.

I also had fears that a pub owned by a collective of village residents and run by a committee headed by a leftie lawyer and with a number of local worthies but not a lot of expertise from the licensed trade would struggle to create a viable business out of one that had destroyed a prior reputation for excellence and withered away until it closed.  I think Bloxham has now got the best of all worlds.  The successful purchasers of the Red Lion, Mark & Sandra Page, have established a good reputation at the Joiners Arms and offer a product that clearly works.  Providing they have the resources to develop the Red Lion – and there is plenty of potential on this large and central site – they should be presiding over a modest gold mine.  Meanwhile, the challenge for the owners of the Joiners Arms will be to avoid the dreadful mistake that Fullers made after Paul and Carol Cooper left the Red Lion.

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EU is incapable of reform

EU flag

EU flag

I am afraid I think the European Union is set on a path of empire building and ever closer union and that it is incapable of major change and unwilling to consider the scale of reform we should be demanding. I say this with considerable regret because I have liked David Cameron at close quarters and respected William Hague and Michael Gove.

I begin to wonder the extent to which our MPs are thinking more about their careers than our country?  I do not include Cameron in that condemnatory view;  I am afraid he has been sucked into the power vortex that exists at the top of the tree as have William Hague and Michael Gove, not to mention John Major and Michael Heseltine, the latter always having been a hopeless case.

Which brings me to Boris. I fear he is waiting his time and balancing beliefs against career prospects. This is very sad because we need a leader to advocate the Leave cause and we do not seem to have one yet. Boris is the obvious leader and I think he has the sense of history and personal freedom that should be rejecting the EU’s ambitions.  I suspect he will be offered a ministerial job (do I mean bribe) under Cameron as a price for supporting Stay; I hope I am wrong.

At the moment, I expect the great British public to vote to stay in the European Union, probably 55 to 45 and mainly because of the fear factor that Cameron’s team will stoke up and because we are essentially conservative with a small “c” and risk averse.  I hope I am wrong because I think the European Union needs a jolt and we need to realise we can thrive outside of this sclerotic,  anti-democratic bureaucracy.

What is most likely to change the entire scene is the impact of immigration on this country and the recent judgement that opens the floodgates a little further plus Jeremy Corbyn’s support for similar opening of the floodgates and this may well shift opinion towards the Leave camp.  I certainly hope so.

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Dreaming spires need to wake up

Oxford's New Vice-Chancellor

Oxford’s New Vice-Chancellor

Oxford University is probably reeling at the arrival of the new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, who is, fairly obviously, a woman and the first lady to fill that post at Oxford.  She has got off to a good start by telling the anti-Rhodes brigade to grow up and get a life. The Chancellor, Chris Patten, has done the same, hopefully returning an air of sanity to a debate that threatened cowardice from Oriel College.

Oxford Spires_1I read that she spent her first day walking the streets of Oxford to identify the 39 colleges that comprise this collegiate university.  Now this would have proved quite difficult because many of them provide no external evidence of their identity. This, I believe, is quite deliberate. It is not about the cost of a brass plate. I think it represents an Oxford arrogance that assumes one must know the location of an Oxford college or one is simply a nobody.  I saw Oxford town and gown at close quarters for the eleven years I was leader of the County Council and worked with the previous Vice-Chancellor (Chief Executive to ordinary bods like you and me!) who was a great guy and, like his successor, had a Harvard background.

High Table Oxford_1The University and its colleges are fascinating, quaint and frustrating all at once. They remind me of the church at the time Henry VIII started the reformation.  Immensely wealthy and powerful, they may not mirror the perversion of the ethos of their founder that happened in many monastic orders but they jealously guard their power and their privileges like the barons with King John. You only need to see the palatial state in which many senior dons live; to dine at high table or to hear their views on the world outside their cloisters to wonder how they escaped the reforming zeal of a Margaret Thatcher or a Kenneth Baker. And that of course, is another issue that I think damns Oxford University.  They denied the greatest peacetime prime minister of this century the dignity of an honorary degree.  This says so much of this old institution that needs and deserves a jolly good shake by the scruff of the academic neck!  Whether the new Vice-Chancellor is up to the challenge remains to be seen but I hope so and I wish her good luck!  She will find the entrenched interests of the dons quite powerful and quite challenging.  In fact not unlike  the union barons that Margaret Thatcher took on and vanquished.

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Gambling fever

National LotteryThere has been a lot of media hype about the lottery prize which has grown to £66 million this week and I gather two people have won half each. I am not sure I envy them!  I suspect they will be badgered endlessly by a collection of good causes and scroungers, not to mention the pressure such a win can put on families.

I understand 80% of the population regularly buy a lottery ticket. I am not just one of the 20%; I have never bought a lottery ticket and I never will. I have a number of pet hates about the lottery:

  • I find all of the hype surrounding the weekly lottery thoroughly obnoxious but it is very easy to avoid it so not a big problem;
  • I think the huge prizes are obscene. Too many people are just not equipped to cope with the scale of the prize and find it brings misery rather than happiness;
  • I strongly suspect that an awful lot of regular Lottery punters are drawing government benefit so make the trip from the post office to the Lottery machine and to the bookies, buying some fags in between.  It is their choice but it is sad that the media hype psyches up the most vulnerable to waste their money;
  • I am no Puritan and I enjoy a trip to the races and a flutter while we are there but I do dislike industrialised gambling, particularly of the Lottery-style.

raffle ticketsThis brings me, I suppose, to the nub of my objections.  Many years of membship of the Conservative Party and of Freemasonry has exposed me to the dreaded raffle. It is difficult to attend any political party’s social function or any Lodge meeting without being asked to join in a raffle.  In my experience of Masonry, where there is a charitable collection in the Temple as well as a raffle at Festive Board it is clear that the raffle will raise a lot more per head than the charity collection!  I am led to the conclusion that people are more motivated by the prospect of winning than by the enjoyment of charitable giving.

In my Masoinc visiting, I have adopted the practice of putting a fiver in the raffle but requesting no tickets. I sometimes have to fight off the Charity Steward who wants to insist I take them!  The result is wholly beneficial:

  • I never win anything and therefore do not incur the envy of those who do not win;
  • i do not have to carry home a heavy bottle of wine I would probably not choose to buy;
  • I have supported a charity without expectation of a return which gives me a warm feeling.

I have no problem with others who enjoy the fun of the raffle and the draw but I am very happy to observe rather than participate.

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Why free services fail

thumbs_downWhich UK public services have consistently failed to achieve good quality?

Top of the list must be the NHS and our school system.

Why?  I think four reasons:

  • they are both massive near monopolies;
  • they are heavily unionised;
  • they are badged as being “free at the point of delivery”;
  • the service providers – doctors, nurses and teachers – have built a level of public trust they may not always deserve.

Missed GoLarge organiasations, whether in the public or private sector, become unmanageable and this is so obviously true of the NHS and of our state school system that it is amazing it has not been addressed. In fact, it has been with the academies movement in schools but the NHS has become too much of a sacred cow for any politician to dare to try to break it down into manageable chunks.

striking doctorsUnionisation is another issue. The God-like status of doctors and nurses has been promoted by concealing the true nature of their trade union with grand titles. The British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing are both trade unions, bound to put provider interests before patients’ but the public do not realise this.  The strike by junior doctors may spark some questions in the public mind. I hope so.  Their militant attitude strikes a new low in the history of the NHS and the stated desire to put patients first.

striking teachersThe teachers are little different. Anyone watching the antics of the National Union of Teachers ought to worry that these people are responsible for the education of our children. They are a classic example of provider dominance in a market. They have been hugely influenced by an education establishment (the Blob) that has embraced failed left-wing doctrines that seek to promote an equality of opportunity by delivering the lowest common denominator rather than promoting excellence and elitism. They have failed generations of children with their left-wing doctrines.

FREEAt the heart of the problem of public service failure is the doctrine of “free at the point of delivery”.  If people did not pay for their petrol, car use and pollution would rise hugely; if food was a “free” commodity, people would binge on the most expensive offer but quality would fall through the floor. Markets create purchaser power to combat provider power. If parents were paying for their children’s education, they would demand greater accountability of schools and teachers.  If patients were charged for GP consultations, they would be less inclined to miss them as often as currently happens.

nurseProvider reputation remains a real issue. People attribute God-like qualities to doctors, nurses and teachers. This is not always deserved and this provider dominance creates an unequal market with service users – would they were purchasers – at a disadvantage. Government has failed to counter this provider dominance. Governments of the left are in thrall to their union paymasters. Governments of the right are vulnerable to the accusation of “privatisation” which frightens the customers.  This is ironic, given that GPs in the NHS have traditionally been independent business men and women working in partnerships  and to make a profit. The left have ignored this fact and the right has failed to exploit it. I suspect the opportunity is passing because I sense there are fewer entrants to general practice wishing to operate as businesses and more of them  happy to be part of the public sector. Not a good sign!

So, what is the answer?  It has to be market forces. They are starting with academies but the logical extension is education vouchers which allow parents to purchase their child’s education at any school of their choice and, hopefully, with the ability to top-up the fees at independent schools.  This would sort out the Blob (the education establishment, including the unions) and failing schools pretty quickly.

The NHs is trickier, mainly because of the God-like status of the NHS and its providers.  A good start would be charging a modest sum for a GP consultation.  I think this is under consideration. Then we need to strengthen the independent provider status of GPs, based on a private sector model to continue what we have enjoyed since 1950. Longer term, the NHS needs to be disaggregated and to face more market discipline. This will be a long and a hard road but it is the only route to avoid perdition


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