Friday, November 28, 2008

Misuse Of The Journalists Prefix

I think it's safe to say that the two weeks encompassing all of the hustings for your party's leadership election are a pretty bad time for a blogger to be distinctly unwell and in the middle of moving house. At such times, what you really need to get your blogging energy flowing is for a journalist to say something pathetically, moronically insulting.

Matt Withers of The Western Mail, you are the weakest link, goodbye.

In fairness to Matt, the offending article has the whiff of sub-editorial incompetence to it. With Patrick Jones' poetry and its non-reading still a live issue, I'll forgive him for taking a press release from an insignificant “religious discrimination” (read: institutionalisation of religious hatred) campaigner and turning it into a “controversy” over an appearance by Brian Gibbons AM, Minister for Social Justice, at a conference on religious equality organised by the British Humanist Association and funded by way of a £35,000 grant from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Then again, the press release is clearly a classic of blinkered stupidity, as the fuller quote reported in the Torygraph demonstrates;

"It's a bit like paying the Taliban to lecture on women's rights. There's nothing wrong with the British Humanist Association organising seminars, but it's the fact that they're getting public money. There is the question of whether this is what Government money should be going for, particularly in a time of recession. If we're having a debate on religion, should we be paying one side of the argument to hold it, especially with public money?"

I'll let the National Secular Society's fairly extensive list of government handouts to faith groups for propaganda purposes do the job of rebutting the “controversy” itself. I'll even allow the casual propagating of the Dr Death moniker for our own Evan Harris slide (but way to go cribbing from the Daily Mail there!) No, what got my hackles up was the opening paragraph;

"The Assembly Government has defended the decision of a senior Minister to speak at a controversial conference organised by an anti-religious group."

Let's be absolutely clear; neither the BHA nor the many thousands of humanists across the country (myself included) have any problem with any individual practising any religion of their choice. We do however have serious concerns about the institutionalisation of religious privilege in service provision and in law. Summarising such a position as flat-out anti-religious is nothing short of insulting, both to the BHA and to humanists nationwide.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Unhappy Divergence From The Work Of Handel

See, there I was ready to break the habit of a lifetime and trumpet a party press release only to find that, in a moment of supreme irony, it failed to turn up on time...

Actually, that's a little unfair; recourse to Google finds the errant document on Cllr Steve Beasant's website and in the news section of the Institute of Transport Management. But this does not represent the sort of fanfare we need for a policy announcement we should be wrapping round a brick and hurling at Geoff Hoon's head.

Admittedly, I wish it was still Ruth Kelly's head we'd be hurling it at. I was always going to find her to be morally repugnant at the best of times, but remarkably I found her pronouncements on expansion of the rail network even more offensive than her moral CV. Question after question from local members desperate for new railway lines to relieve congestion and improve transport links in their area were batted away with, “we believe that lengthening trains and platforms is the best way to increase capacity on the network”, a statement so intensely moronic it isn't funny.

You'll imagine how much my heart was lifted to see us publishing a list of line and station reopenings, line redoublings and electrification projects . The list includes my old favourite the Varsity Line and is so comprehensive it includes schemes even I hadn't thought of. With a headline talking of rolling back Beeching, it's a fantastic announcement, a bold investment in infrastructure that the public want and the other parties are too stupid to propose.

And yet, upon the party website there's nary a mention and not even a story wedged down the back of BBC News Online. I don't for much, but when I get it, it'd be nice if we could make a song and dance about it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tales Of The Overexpected

I suppose one of the other reasons for my dearth of council-related posts is that it's been pretty rare so far for me to come away from a council meeting angry. No doubt that's one of the advantages of being a member of the ruling coalition, but either way it is the way of things thus far. I was particularly surprised, therefore, to find myself angry on my return home from two consecutive council meetings today. But then, in both of those meetings senior councillors attacked a service that the Liberal Democrats saved in the face of craven political incompetence, in some cases by their own parties.

The tale of 101 starts with Labour's 2005 Manifesto;

“Not all problems need a 999 response, so a single phone number staffed by police, local councils and other local services will be available across the country to deal with anti-social behaviour and other non-emergency problems”

And lo it came to pass that a year later there was a trial...

And a year later, they found that the trial was such a phenomenal success that they abandoned it...

You'd think the whole thing was being run by the Home Office under a Labour secretary of state...

As is often our wont, the Liberal Democrats jumped to the defence of an important local service and did a sterling job of retaining the existing trials (of the five trial areas, it's not exactly a coincidence that the three to retain were Cardiff, Sheffield and Hampshire...) In the Assembly, Mike German jumped into the fray, eliciting this Scunner Broon award nominee from Rhodri Morgan;

“It would set an undesirable precedent if, every time the UK Government could not afford to continue a scheme through its departmental budget, the automatic assumption was that it would be funded by the Assembly instead. You can imagine that it would start to withdraw from a range of schemes in the hope that the Assembly, the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive would start picking those up instead”

Nevertheless 101 did survive in Cardiff, a result I can but hope was assisted by the Facebook campaign run by yours truly. And yet, plenty of councillors are unhappy, although today was the first time I'd heard such criticism in such vituperative form or in a public meeting.

The primary problem, however, is a simple case of unrealistic expectations. 101 is only a phone number; it does a fantastic job of ensuring that non-emergency issues are reported to the right authority more easily and more rapidly. Its mere existence does not cause those issues to suddenly become emergencies, however; it just means that they are dealt with in good time as opposed to not being dealt with at all.

Those councillors who have a problem with 101 should remember that that in itself is a massive step forward; perhaps the most remarkable result of the 101 trial was that referrals to the noise nuisance team went up by 500%. One of my commonest refrains as a councillor is that, while the system may be a bit slow and creaky, it is infinitely better to be inside the process than outside of it. There may be legitimate concerns about feedback from 101 on case progress, but we as councillors should be able to go beyond individual cases to look at the performance data and realise what an outstanding job 101 is doing.