Saturday, 30 October 2010

What's the point of the monarchy?

We have a country full of pomp and tradition, and in its place that can be welcome. But as much as it may excite the tourists to head to London and see the changing of the guard, why exactly in the 21st century do we still have as our Head of State someone who did nothing more than be born from one particularly lucky womb?

It really is quite bizarre when you think about it that we still give so much money and status to someone based on their class when we live in one of the most developed democracies in the world. We long ago decided that no-one's bloodline should mean that they are given more power than someone else, but we forgot about the monarch.

We all pay for the grace and favour lifestyles of people like Prince Charles, who without the ability to piggyback on the position of Prince would never be able to function in a normal society. The idea that this man could one day be King should frankly be terrifying.

The man had the most prestigious education money can buy, and yet came out with a B and a C in his A-levels. With those grades you'd laugh at most people if they applied to Cambridge, but no, he used his position to get into one of the world's best universities where he again spectacularly failed to live up to his position, scraping out with a 2:2. Now, many people come out with hard-earned 2:2's from university, but not only did he only scrape this despite the UK's best possible education, but this is the man who claims that when he becomes King he will speak up for the country's interests? I'd rather you stayed out of it Charlesy boy.

So what are these views that he'll be 'standing up for'?

Well, he's an ardent critic of modern science, saying it lacks a soul. As such, his charity, The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health (now closed as of this year due to accusations of fraud), were fervent supporters of 'Alternative Medicine', and huge lobbiers trying to force the NHS to pour ever more wasted funds into these quack treatments. They spent money on teaching medical students to 'embrace complementary approaches to medical care. You could replace the word 'complementary' with 'bogus' and it would make much more sense. (For more on why I hate Alternative Medicine with such a passion, other than the fact it doesn't work, read here.)

He also claims to be an environmentalist, standing up against GM crops and warning of climate change. Whilst its a rare positive that he's standing against climate change, and I applaud that, it'd maybe be a little more convincing if he didn't undo all that good work by taking private jets for all manner of trivial visits.

But even if he wasn't an idiot, the argument would be no weaker for scrapping the monarchy. It's a bygone from an age that has passed, and we should be rid of it.

Right now as our Head of State we have someone who was unelected and who is totally unaccountable. The monarch may not have as many powers as they once did, but don't presume they have none. It's through the Crown that some of the most undemocratic aspects of our government are allowed to remain.

  • The royal prerogative allows the Prime Minister to start wars and sign treaties (amongst other things) without having to ask parliament. Laughing in the face of democracy.
  • The privy council, senior politicians who act as advisors to the monarch, can enact laws without having a vote in parliament.
  • The power of the monarch to appoint whomever they likes as Prime Minister. In reality, this goes to the leader with the majority in the commons, but it is not impossible for this to be unclear, (as in 1957) and the monarch could have the deciding vote.

What we need is a change, a change so that we can elect our Head of State. The campaign group Republic have an excellent example of how this could be introduced, with us keeping the power of parliament, whilst gaining an elected head of state who would have the limited powers that are needed to be held outside of government. By being elected that person would be accountable, and finally we could rightly claim that we truly live in a democracy.

Friday, 29 October 2010

We can't afford the Browne review.

The final lie has been given to the idea that we need land students in ever larger mountains of debt because of the country's finances. The change will cost us more, not less. Not only is it unfair, it doesn't even make sense in the warped economic policy vision of the government.

Clegg's pledge, the one he abandoned in exchange for his ministerial car.
Some brilliant number crunching by Andrew Harding at 2me2you has shown that rather than us needing to increase tuition fees to save the country money, it will do the opposite. Implementing a doubling of the tuition fee cap will actually cost the taxpayer an extra £3bn a year, thus quashing the very last defence of all who support it.

We'd been led to believe that that Lib Dem's had been 'forced' into changing their policy due to the need to cut the deficit. As Alan Johnson neatly put it, "Somewhere between the ballot box closing and his ministerial car door opening, Nick Clegg changed his mind". Never mind that their arguments made no sense (for the bazillionth time, we are nothing like Greece! As confirmed by a Nobel laureate.), we had to raise fees because the country couldn't afford it.

I'd like to see if they change their minds now that it's come out that increasing fees will cost the taxpayer more in the short-term.

Because the government will have to cover the fees up front, and then be paid the money back in the long term, the cost of the Browne review per year in the short term is up £3 billion, and that's after you include the £6 billion cut to core funding that universities receive. In short, the whole things a bloody mess, pushed through by people who have taken no effort to listen to the people who actually frequent these universities, the students.

Annual government spend on HE funding



Core funding£7,478,145,985.80£1,637,700,686
Fees maintenance£10,824,313,850.00£19,740,390,000.00
Total (core + fees)£18,302,459,835.80£21,378,090,686

Not only will we have this extra burden on the taxpayer, but you'll at the same time land student's with massive debts that will leave those on the middle incomes paying more than those on high incomes. And whilst they may claim to have made provision's to keep attracting poorer student's, the reality is that the insecurity about possibly being landed with a lifetime of debt will put off those from the poorest backgrounds. We should be attracting the best, not the ones with the best childhood.

I am glad to see the Lib Dems telling us there won't be a free market in the university fees, which would inevitably lead to a two-tier system, but it really is a tiny bit of silver lining on the edge of a hurricane. It's the equivalent of them telling someone they'll shoot them in the head, and then deciding they'll just kneecap them instead. It's better, but not exactly good.

Let's move on from this calamity, and actually have a serious discussion. And I don't mean the kind where people simply say, 'Oh, you want a pure graduate tax, how quaint, it won't work.' Nobodies arguing for a pure graduate tax, but there are other variations out there that we should be looking at. If the argument for not tweaking a graduate tax is that it doesn't work as it stands, then how is that different to the Browne review, which patently doesn't achieve any of its objectives.

Time for a serious debate, and this time round, let's include the students yeah?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Guest Post:- Cyber Warfare: Fact or Fiction?

You may have noticed, my last post was also on 'Are you reading?', so today Liam has retured the favour and wrote a post for this blog. You should check out his blog sometime, there's plenty of different topics covered and they're all well written and thought out, even if some come from a slightly different viewpoint to mine. Worth a look! Anyway, here's his thoughts on 'Cyber Warfare', unedited.

Today's blog is actually being posted as a guest blog elsewhere, so you might see it twice!

Last week the government released it's newly-published National Security Strategy, which listed cyber-terrorism as a Tier 1 threat, alongside international terrorism such as July 7th bombings in London.

Cyber attacks are actually very common, for example identity fraud, in 2009 one in ten people in the UK was a victim of online identity theft. On an individual level this shows how frequent the problem is, but this isn't terrorism. So what could happen?

Well the threats stem from the fact that a terrorist organisation (or another state) could hack into the UK's systems and turn off what they please, or leave massive viruses, corrupting the systems. These systems include the stock exchange, the national electricity grid, security systems etc.

Stock Exchange Attack

A bit of fact and (hypothetical) fiction here. The UK's reliance on the internet when it comes to the stock exchange is paramount. In May this year, the American stock exchange crashed for ten minutes, resulting in the US' top 30 firms to lose one tenth of their overall value, pensions and savings of Americans were lost in an instant.

Now imagine if the UK stock exchange was hit for an hour, billions of pounds instantly wiped from the economy, thousands of jobs lost, pensions and savings vanish, the pound loses it's value, making UK currency worthless, more job losses, the country truly plunges into a depression. Starvation and poverty would be rife, food prices would rocket, anarchy could reign. All because of our over reliance on technology.

National Electricity Grid Attack

Very similar consequences, even worse in fact. All of the above would still happen, but on top of that hospitals would crash, people would die on the spot, train crashes, food wastage, the country plunged into not only darkness but chaos.

Security Systems Attack

The problem here would be two-fold, not only would the UK be totally defenceless to an attack, but there is the possibility that a terrorist could hack the systems and launch an attack from the UK on another country, killing millions in an instant either way.

An improvement in our technological defence is needed. The £500m being spent seems like a wise investment to me.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

To win the 'War on Drugs', we have to legalise them.

(This is a guest post written for Are You Reading?, check it out)

For this first post I've been asked to do, I settled on writing about something which I think both our respective parties are getting wrong, as is the country as a whole. Drugs.

One of the most annoying things to me is the way the prohibition of drugs is somehow lauded as a moral stand and the banisher of evil. It does the opposite, prohibition didn't work with alcohol, and it's certainly not working with drugs today. But bring this up, and somehow you've 'gone soft' and the whole country would turn into drug-crazed maniacs if you had your way. It's ridiculous.

Politics demands you're 'hard' on drugs. The evidence says that being hard on them is stupid and counter-productive.

Our idea of drugs is warped, and completely against what science tells us the truth is. We gleefully retell stories from when we were so drunk we ended up sleeping in a dog shelter but take a less harmful drug than alcohol and you could end up in jail. But my problem with drugs isn't that people don't understand the relative harms, it's that by banning them we're making the situation many, many times worse.

Did prohibition work in America in the 1920's with alcohol? Why do we think that banning other drugs will have a better outcome than it did back then? Prohibition these days has exactly the same problems as it did back then, only magnified because of being international.

We should be blunt, you can ban things all you want, the fact is people are going to be able to get hold of drugs. If I hadn't already realised that before now, a year at university certainly has made me. If someone like me who really has no interest in taking drugs knows how I could easily go about getting them, what does that say about who's winning the 'War on Drugs'?

I don't doubt that the people who defend this 'war' have their hearts in the right place, but when faced with the bare facts it really is hard to defend.

Drug gangs scar the face of communities right around the world, with ordinary people getting caught in the crossfire of turf wars. There is such an immense profit to be made that dealers can simply pay off anyone who might get in the way. The only thing they fear is legalisation, because then they'd be out of business. When something's legal, you have no need for shady gangs to get it for you illegally. In America it's been known for dealers to bribe politicians to appear excessively keen on prohibition precisely so that it wouldn't be legalised and they could stay in a job.

Then you have the issue with the quality. Contrary to what you might read in the Daily Mail, you are not going to die the second you take your first puff of a drug, so long as it's pure. And that's the key point. Drug's are much, much more dangerous when bought on the street than they should be because of all the extra shit that's mixed in with them to increase the quantities. With no legalisation, you have no regulation, and without regulation you have drugs which are far more deadly than they might otherwise be. Is a dealer really going to be overly concerned about your health?

I always worried that legalising drugs would lead to an explosion in drug use, but that's just not backed up by any real facts. Portugal decriminalised personal possession of all drugs in 2001 and there was no impact whatsoever on usage, in fact, there was a small decrease in usage amongst the young.

Imagine we could replicate that, but go further. People taking drugs wouldn't be criminals, but addicts who can ask for help. And being able to ask for help earlier would mean they were far easier, and cheaper, to treat. Drugs would be regulated, they would be kept pure and safe, with nothing dangerous mixed in, so many lives could be saved. And armed drug gangs would be out of a job. Nowhere would be left to peddle their imported goods and the turf wars that blight the streets would be over in one fell swoop.

We could have that, if only politicians would look at the facts, and not what the scaremongers would have you believe. When the last governments drugs advisor, David Nutt, said it was more dangerous to ride a horse than it was to take Ecstasy, he was simply stating scientific fact. Yet what did he get for looking at the evidence? He was sacked. Not one party in parliament complained, and that's a sad illustration of how little debate we have right now.

Talking about legalising drugs is taboo for senior people. It's a dangerous taboo, and one we need to break.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Case for Universal Benefits

This isn't specifically an attack on the government's decision to scrap child benefit for the most wealthy (with it's clear problems of allowing a family on £80,000 to keep it whilst a single mother on £45,000 would lose it), but more a general defence of the idea of keeping some benefits universal, and that means the rich keep them. Hopefully, it'll answer the questions about why the left is keen to keep money going to those with the most as much as it is those with the least.

It may seem a little out of the ordinary for me to defend money going to the rich, it would seem progressive to scrap it, but at the end I hope it'll be clear that you can help the poorest more by keeping it universal than you can by targeting it at them. I'll use Child Benefit as an example, but you could substitute any universal benefit and it'd be the same arguments.

We have had universal child benefit for more than 60 years, and it's been vital to countless family's over that time. One thing that CB has going for it is that it has an uptake of near 100%, as you might expect for a universal benefit, but it shouldn't be forgotten that it has a very high take up rate compared to other means tested benefits. That's for two reasons.

First, because it's available to everyone it's very easy to claim, there aren't pages and pages of forms assessing your income and circumstances which get in the way of many people trying to claim means tested benefits. Plus, there is no doubting whether or not you are able to claim. Many people don't receive all the money they're entitled to because they assume they aren't eligible for it. Universality gets round both these problems effortlessly, meaning that no poor family misses out on this vital money.

Second, a problem with many benefits is that people don't claim them because of the stigma attached to them. Regardless of what some rags will tell you about benefit scroungers, there are a great number of people who refuse to claim the benefits they're entitled to because they want to be self-sufficient. Whilst this is very noble indeed, it means they miss out on money that is rightly theirs, and that the benefit is failing in its plan. As was said near the time CB came into effect, 'services for the poor will always be poor services'. We shouldn't automatically simply target money at the poor, because in some circumstances it only serves to ghettoise people into class statuses.

As research from the Fabians has comprehensively shown:

“… both the coverage of welfare policy and the distributive principle underpinning it are crucial in shaping attitudes to welfare… policies with narrow coverage divide the population into groups, who may then think about their interests and identities in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’, whereas policies with wide coverage align interests and identities so that we are ‘in this together’.”

They have shown that welfare initiatives which focus on the poor don't do as well in their job of reducing poverty as similar schemes which focus across the board and promote a sense of shared responsibility.

Which leads onto my final point. If you take away everything the state does from the rich then you will gain money in the short term, but lose something much more fundamental in the long term. If the rich see no gain from the state then their support for it will fail, and there will be less support for the state being as generous, indeed there will be calls for it to be scaled back. Once that happened, it would be the poor hit hardest. So, you would gain in the short term, but lose so much more in the long term. The rich already put more into the system through tax, so it isn't the poor paying for their benefits, more a recycling of money if you will. And for that small price you can keep confidence in the system from those who contribute the most.

The poor already get more in benefits, and arguably should get more help, but to take away all benefits from the rich would be counter-productive.

So, hopefully now you can see how giving money back to the richest can actually benefit the poorest, and how taking away universal benefits from the richest shouldn't automatically be considered 'progressive' as it could end up meaning the poor get less.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Great American Health Care Joke

Turns out that a good number of American's really will never know what's good for them, or at least be made that way by some of the more bizarre parts of their media. (On another note, check out the top of FOX News' website. Under the badge their slogan is 'Fair and Balanced'. Akin to the Daily Mail saying 'We don't hate immigrants)

I'm talking about that demon of the right, American health care reform. Reform that doesn't go half of the way to taking the country up to the standards of the rest of the developed world, but at least its a start. So you'd have thought people would support helping even out the horrendous inequalities in their system and helping money go to the patients care rather than the insurance companies, but no, the majority hate that idea. 55% of them support repealing the whole thing, and 6% aren't sure.

In a commonwealth fund study (that compares Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Holland, Germany, the UK and the US) the US came bottom overall, and either bottom or second bottom in every single measure. All this despite spending by far the most money on its health care system in the world. (Interestingly, the UK spent the second least, and came 2nd, despite some seeming intent on slagging off the NHS)

So, for the most amount of money of any country spending on health care, they get a system that's not as good, not as effective, and leaves millions of people without any cover whatsoever. They're simply left to their illness. It's frightening.

You can't leave your health to the mercy of the markets, these insurance company's have no desire to help people beyond the point that they can make money out of them, and when it's a matter of life and death that's just not good enough. In the same way a I advocated for reform of drug companies to take away the demons of profiteering, American's need to accept that to have a civilised health care system you need to share the burden between everyone. If you leave it up to people then obviously they won't want to be on the same policy as someone who is ill and will cost them money, but that's the way it has to be so that no matter who you are or what you earn, your life is considered worth saving.

So, we can only hope that this new fad of going to the courts to overturn the law in 20 states will die out, and that over time people will see that it really is in the interests of everyone to share the burden of health care.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

WikiLeaks' next big scoop.

I have to say, I really do admire the people working behind Wikileaks, who come in for criticism from the leaders of so many country's, but stick to what they do because they believe in the freedom of the press. Their latest big scoop is the release of 400,000 secret US military records from the Iraq war, which contain some pretty shocking accusations.

It's no small secret that Iraq was a botched job, a job that started for the wrong reasons as it was, but these files show a far uglier side than many would think if they hadn't studied the war religiously.

It shows that the US did keep a count on civilian Iraqi deaths, contrary to what it had claimed, and that the figure stood at 66,000 out of 109,000 total deaths. More than 20 times as many civilians have died in Iraq as died in the 9/11 attacks, but they rarely get a voice.

Then there are the reports of torturing detainees with electrocution, with drills, and even executing prisoners. They also show that the military command knew full well what was going on, but chose to mark the files as 'no further investigation'. They hushed it all up.

There are reports of Apache helicopters firing on groups of insurgents after they had surrendered, amazingly the same crew that were involved in this horrific attack on journalists and then the people who came to help them. Never will you see such blood lust in your life. It's monstrous.

There will always be those critical of people who leak information that they would rather hadn't been seen, but I think it's vital. They go through a painstaking process to make sure no individual is identified and could be hurt as a result of the leaks, and the real danger would come from this information being buried and us not learning from our mistakes.

It's on the very edge of the law, but it's an edge we need to keep open.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Poor Neglected Blog

I've neglected this blog for a while, maybe a reason why I lost two followers recently (which shouldn't have bothered me, but you know, its like friends on Facebook, it may be narcissistic but you always want more). So, spurred on by the return of Liam's blog I'm going to try and return to my heyday, which means I waste time here rather than on iPlayer.

So instead of jumping in with a long rambling post, here's some tidbits of what's happened on all kinds of different subjects that I was mean enough not to give my opinion on at the time:

Comprehensive Spending Review

Obviously, I had to include this in here briefly. In short, it was a shambles, a dangerous gamble by a ragtag government where half are intent on helping their pals by shrinking the state and the other half, well, the other half are Lib Dem's. The less said about them the better.

What's frankly scary and hilarious at the same time is that Osborne and Clegg can claim that these cuts are 'fair and progressive', a claim it took the IFS less than 24 hours to completely debunk, not exactly watertight. The only way Osborne has been able to claim that this CSR and his budget were fair and progressive were by including measures that Labour introduced in Darling's budget! The pure cheek of the man claiming that his budget is fair on the back of changes that they scathed at the time. I can't remember much support from the Tories for the 50% tax rate or the supposed 'Jobs Tax'.

Then you learn that the budget hits families twice as hard as banks, hits women far harder than men, will weaken the incentive's for people to work, and other than the top 2% of earners those who lose the most of their income are the poorest 10% of people. How is that fair? How is that progressive?


Well, I should start with Blackpool, who were frankly robbed of a victory against City at the weekend, though I suppose that's the way it goes in football sometimes. We played as well as I've seen all season, better even than at Liverpool, but just couldn't make it count. (Though a wrongly disallowed goal and a goal that shouldn't have stood for them doesn't help) If we can carry on like that all season though, we'll be fine. The test comes after January, if we can keep up the standards and if we have enough strength in depth to keep plugging along to the end.

And the other big football story, Wayne Rooney. He has now apparently signed a new deal with United, after a messy and silly tiff he seemed to have going on. To claim that Manchester United didn't have enough ambition was silly and to not show a little more respect to a manager who protected him from so much in his time was plain rude. Yes, United may have lost some big names without bringing in equally big names, but that isn't how they operate, and I don't doubt for a second Alex Ferguson's ability to spot young talent and keep his club challenging at the top end of the table for years to come. (But for this year the league is Chelsea's to lose)

Also, if you want comedy gold mixed with an incisive football mind, look no further than Ian Holloway.

Jamie Oliver

Recently, I've been watching quite a lot of Jamie Oliver's stuff on 4od, starting with his new documentary on the American Food Revolution, it really is great. I was never really that much of a fan when I wasn't exaclty sure what he did, but he's taking on a massive problem (no pun intended) in obesity and doing remarkably well.

The things that are served as school dinners are disgraceful (not just in America) and its no wonder that obesity is now the biggest killer in the western world. Our diets aren't fit for purpose and it takes a strong man to take them on. Whatever you think of his techniques, you can't deny that his ambitions come from a good place and if not his way, then how?

Illusions on iPlayer

A while ago I mentioned some really interesting things that had been on Horizon about essentially bringing people back from the dead. They've got another great one out now about how our eyes, ears and even touch don't always tell us the truth about what's going on, and about how that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Worth a watch if for nothing more than getting to have a go at a lot of pretty cool illusions.

(You may have noticed I've gone a little more link crazy than normal. I just thought it'd make it a little more credible if I showed you where I got some of my stuff from and that it isn't all made up baloney.)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The rich get the best, the poor get the rest.

Apologies for two posts in a row on the same subject but this really is unbelievable. We were told only recently that the thing we'd learnt from the banking crisis is that we can't build a future based on debt. Months later and now we're expected to swallow the lie that the only way we can keep our world-class universities is to saddle students with debts of over £30,000. For someone like me on a 5-year medicine course that figure would be much higher.

The idea that Vince Cable has said it's no longer possible to scrap tuition fees (despite claiming at the time it had been fully costed) and that this new system that has been proposed is 'progressive' is frankly laughable. It will create a two-tier system, throw social mobility into reverse and, completely polar to what he's claimed, it will cost more for those on a middle income than those on a higher income. A high flying graduate in finance earning £60,000 would pay £14,500 less for their degree than a middle income civil servant on £25,000. How can that ever be considered fair? It's horrendously regressive. The poor will be supported (although likely to be pushed away from applying to elite universities), the rich can afford to pay back the fees quickly, and it will be left to the middle income families to feel the full force of this avalanche of debt.

When the £3000 cap was introduced, all but one university chose to charge the full amount, why will it be different this time? The difference being that this time there is no cap for those elite universities that will be able to pull in students regardless. They'll charge extortionate amounts, unleashing the forces of the market and leave us with a two-tier system. One for those who had a good start in life, and a cheaper more basic one for those who've had to work hard from a disadvantaged background just to get into a position where they can even think about going to university.

We all agree that the status quo isn't workable, I will even accept the argument that now is not the time to scrap fees altogether, but its a fallacy of reduced options to suggest that because I accept those two things I have to agree with Lord Browne. There are other ways, and he hasn't given them the light of day. What happened to business making more of a contribution to the system from which they so readily reap the rewards?

The winners from all this are the universities, the losers are the students, and I really don't think Lord Browne ever intended on taking the students reservations seriously. He brushed them aside without a second thought. If he really thinks that no students will be put off going to university because they will end up with £30,000 worth of debt and unpromising job prospects in the poor graduate market then he's clearly living on another planet.

A University education will be open to the wealthiest, not the brightest. Those who were born into money will make more, at the expense of those without the great start in life. Yes, a market in universities will create winners, but it'll also create a whole load of losers, and when winning or losing is based on the income of your family, that can never be considered fair or morally right.

Although I don't imagine Cameron (Number 2) has much of a problem with elitism.

We can afford to fund education, we choose not to. As a percent of GDP we don't spend as much as many of other developed country's. The UK punches above its weight in so many ways, and funding a great education system so that we can stay there is not something that should fall solely on the backs of students.

Expect the government to bury this in the mess that will be next week's spending review. Simple idea for them, hit them with all the pain now and they'll forget the individual details, then maybe they'll forget in five years time and vote us back in. We'll see.

I expect this kind of short-term gain seeking for an ideological small state future from the Tory's, but I never expected the Lib Dem's to play a part in an explosion of tuition fees. Vote against it you spineless goodfernothings.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Students are being sold out.

Once upon a time there was a party that had the noble ambition of scrapping tuition fees for university, and letting the poorest in society aspire to better themselves. Now they've sold them out. In one fell swoop the Liberal Democrat's have died.

I might be Labour but I admired the Lib Dem's for sticking to their guns and vowing to abolish tuition fees, and I know they won a lot of student votes on the back of that promise. Now they've decided that getting into government means that you don't have to stick to what you've said before and they've abandoned their plans for a graduate tax, opening up the way for a rise in tuition fees.

I hope they prove me wrong, but I'm not counting on it. All the expectations are that tuition fees will rise to £7000 and an end to the interest free repayments. Frankly a disaster for students.

Vince Cable is now trying to con us into believing that somehow making everyone pay higher fees and tagging on making those in better employment pay higher interest repayments is progressive. It's insulting to students intelligence. Nothing about this whole shambles is fair or progressive. You're still crippling students with an extra mountain of debt.

So many of the Lib Dem MPs signed a pledge before the election saying they would vote against a rise in tuition fees. But now that they're in the coalition what are they 'allowed' to do? The only way they can show they oppose any rise is to abstain from the vote, they're not being allowed to vote against it. Now with the Tory's having more seats than Labour, and the Lib Dem's not voting, that vote will go through. They might not actively vote for it but make no bones about it, they're letting it happen just as much as the people who do vote for it.

The broken NUS pledge, as signed by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.

It's completely the wrong way to go, when the economy needs a jump start you should invest heavily in education, not make life much harder for students. If you want to see growth in the future you need to train them in the here and now. You can't snap your fingers and have a highly skilled work force, it takes time. That means supporting people through their education so that you can reap the rewards when they're creating wealth for the country.

But then again, I suppose that's what you get when you ask for a review and put a former boss of BP in charge. Wow, isn't a shock that the former head of a massive business favours a free market approach to education. Since fees were raised courses haven't got better and student satisfaction is the same. They're asking for more money for less.

Saddling people with debt will put people off coming into university in the first place but will also stop those who are already in from moving on when they graduate. The left is often accused of being 'anti-aspirational'. What could be more anti-aspirational than putting up a huge roadblock in the way of people's learning?

At the last election over 60% of students said they were swayed in their vote choice by the parties position on tuition fees. I think the Lib Dem's have just alienated their very last dregs of support, can they really slip much lower than their current 12% polling? And another statistic, 70% of students would have to reconsider going to university if fees were raised to £7000. Guess who the hardest hit would be? Yep, those lower down the social ladder that the government is so keen to claim its helping in the name of 'fairness'. Those with the most to lose and without a safety net of rich mummies and daddies can't take the risk of going to university with graduate prospects so poor at the moment.

Edit: In fact, from what I've just seen things could be even worse, apparently the report's now going to suggest NO limit on fees, meaning elite universities could charge as much as they want. Do that and our country goes back decades in terms of social mobility.

Frankly horrendous, I hope students are feeling militant over this because it just cannot be allowed to happen.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

We should be wrong more often.

I write a lot of things on here which are just opinion, I try to think them out as well as I can to make sure they're not easily dismantled, but they're still opinion. There's one thing that I think is very important in having respectable ideas, you have to be not just okay with, but actually glad to be wrong.

It sounds pretty odd, and completely against what seems to be the normal ideas of what makes a good opinion, but I really think looking to be proven wrong makes you much better at arguing your own position. I say it goes against mainstream ideas because you only have to open a paper or watch the news to see people who admit making a mistake being portrayed as weak, unprincipled and questions coming about how anyone could ever trust them again. That's completely the wrong way to look at things.

It's not a new idea to try and prove yourself wrong in order to support your ideas, it's exactly how science has worked for decades, and  by any measure I think you'd be hard pressed to say it hasn't worked well for science. Anyone can find evidence to support their ideas. The only way to be more sure its right is to look as hard as you can for anything that might prove it wrong, and if you can't find anything, then that's a good indication that you've stumbled close to the truth.

It's also part of the reason why I will never respect religion, it refuses to question its own beliefs, and that  just isn't healthy. Being dogmatic isn't noble, it's something to fight against.

It's impossible for anyone to be right about everything, there just isn't enough time in life to be able to gather all the information you'd need. And even if there was, the human mind is too flawed to be able to sort through it.

There's an old experiment that is carried out regularly and always shows similar results which shows just how poor we are at being right. Two actors simulated an argument at the end of which one pulled out a gun and shot the other (obviously it was a blank but is made to look thoroughly realistic). Afterwards the participants in the study (who don't know that this is an experiment) are interviewed and asked to recount what happened, after just minutes ago witnessing it first hand with their own eyes.

The majority of people got the whole incident completely wrong.

They put words in the mouths of the two arguing that never happened, they imagined they'd been arguing about girls or money when nothing of the sort had been said and generally mixed up all the events so that it didn't even closely resemble what had happened. The very best witness only gave 75% of the truth. Even the very best made up 25% of the story.

They weren't intentionally lying, they all genuinely believed what they said was true, it was just the way that their brains work that let them down. Every human brain is designed to work best in the world we live in, and that doesn't always mean there's a premium on getting all the facts right.

So if we can't even trust our eyes, how can we expect to be right when we argue about politics, morality, economics or anything else we have opinions on. We can only try to be as sure as we can, and by trying to prove ourselves wrong we can be that bit more sure.

I still hold my beliefs as strongly as ever, and I will argue my corner, the only difference is I'll be happy to be proved wrong if someone comes along with a better idea.

So next time you see someone admit they were wrong, realise that means they are willing to change their mind in light of new facts, and that makes them more trustworthy, not less. Next time someone U-turns because they realise their first idea wasn't good enough, congratulate them. And next time someone tries to make their strong-mindedness and dogmatic approach seem like a positive, give them a quick slap and be very dubious of anything that comes out of their mouths in the future.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Lining up to stop Lansley

Remember how I said last time that I liked being backed up on how bad this NHS reform is? Well, happy days for me because since then another two unions have come out against the proposals. Considering they were supposed to be about giving clinical staff more powers, doesn't it seem odd that they're lining up to criticise them?

Now it's not only the Royal College of GP's who've said it would amount to 'the break up of the NHS', but the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing standing against the speed and scale of the change. A change that isn't needed and will waste billions of pounds at a time when resources are already stretched!

The BMA said this: 'The insistence on a market-based approach risks fragmentation, inefficiency and increased transaction costs.’ whilst the RCN plumped for this, 'we are concerned that flexible local implementation of the reforms could result in the development of unacceptable regional variations in access to services or quality of care.'

Oh, and of course, put that on top of the fact that UNISON are taking the reforms to court because they haven't been consulted on them and you have not a single voice in support.

Now, to any normal person, being told you're wrong by the collective wisdom of GP's, Nurses, Doctor's and other healthcare workers would seem pretty damning and you'd radically change your ideas to keep them happy. After all, they're the ones on the front line of the service that you need to keep on side for it to work.

Oh no, not when you're Andrew Lansley and the world's biggest jackass. His response? 'Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who will address the Conservative Party conference on Tuesday, has rejected the criticisms, arguing reform of the NHS is a necessity.'

Oh well, if you say so, after all you know best right, better than all those people who've worked there day in and day out for most of their lives. Idiot. He harps on about how the people who know how best to sort out the health system are the ones who work in it, but then completely ignores them when they all stand shoulder to shoulder to tell him his idea is pants.

I wish he'd stop with his crazy crusade to break up the NHS, people like it the way it is, leave it alone man!