Friday, April 30, 2010

Plaid come top in voting experiment

I gave my postal voting paper to my 6 year old daughter and asked her which of the candidates she thought I should vote for. No prompting was given, she asked a few questions about what an election was for and what the name of each party was.

She suggested, after some thought, that I should vote for number 3, Penri James from Plaid Cymru. That in itself was not that interesting until I asked her to explain why. She pointed at the Plaid symbol which is a flower and said it was the nicest.

Driving home on thursday night I listened to the PM debate on Radio 4 and some of the subsequent analysis. Much of the comment was on style, how robust they were with each other and how confident each party leader came over. Attributes which I don't put far about the design of the party logo, but it does beg the question as to the extent to which non-policy and non-capability factors such as logo design, colour and font of promotional material, being media savvy, how many posters your party can litter the countryside with, effect the direction of the voting public. If such factors are really election deciders, then the key post election issue must be the extent as a nation we can continue to delude ourselves that we live in a functional democracy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Green answers to 10 questions

I asked the Green Candidate if I could post her answers to the 10 questions (which I sent to all the Ceredigion Candidates) and got confirmation that was OK to post here this morning. So here it is.

Dear Clive,

Please find the answers to your questions below:

* What is your party’s position on the reform of UK libel laws with reference to the case of Simon Singh and similar?
This is a very recent case, and the Green Party has not yet had an opportunity to formulate an agreed policy position about this issue.

My personal opinion is that the case was a misuse of the law of libel; and that in future, the scope of libel laws should be restricted so no similar case can be brought.

* What specific plans do you have to improve the quality, speed and reach of Broadband in rural areas?
The Green Party does not have a specific policy on rural broadband. This is just the latest of a long line of policy areas where the majority urban population benefit at the expense of the minority rural population, largely as the result of the privatisations brought in by Thatcher back in the 80’s. In general terms, the Green Party recognises that the cost of living in rural areas is greater than the cost in urban areas, and should be addressed in various ways. Given that BT is a limited company and no longer an arm of government, this essentially means that the next government will have to negotiate with BT to develop a mechanism whereby BT will be compensated for the extra cost of providing the necessary technology to enable remote rural areas to enjoy the same bandwidth connections as urban areas.

* What is your policy on reform of local government pension provision?
All pensions are in a mess. Partly, this is because successive governments have worked on the assumption that the economy will continue to grow over the next 50 years at a similar rate to the preceding 50 years. The Green Party recognises that the UK economy will not continue to grow indefinitely, especially in view of the impact of Peak Oil – which you refer to in your Q7.
We propose a “Citizen’s Income” combined with a progressive system of taxation as a replacement for the current benefits system and state pension. Naturally, people can still save for a pension in addition to the Citizen’s Income, but we envisage that all stock market-based pensions will provide steadily dwindling incomes for pensioners over the next two decades. Although it will be problematic to implement, the likelihood is that all public sector pension schemes will end up being merged in with Citizen’s Income, as there will not be enough government funding to continue the present separate schemes for Local Government, NHS staff etc, which are all much more generous than the equivalent schemes in private industry.

* What are your proposals to remove to road blocks for cycle routes connecting rural areas (example Bow Street, Penryncoch with Aberysytwyth) with the local small town?
We have a detailed transport policy which you can see by going to our website: → Policy → Transport. Here is a part of the policy relating to walking & cycling. Implementation of this policy in North Ceredigion would be by Ceredigion Council after discussions with local residents and users of cycle paths.
Walking and Cycling
General Policies
TR150 These will be given the highest priority in transport planning for the following reasons:
a. They both benefit the user through increasing their health and well-being, which no other mode of transport does.
b. They have the least environmental impact.
c. They are both available to use by the greatest number of the population, particularly children. It is of course recognized that there are some people who are not able to walk or cycle, and for this reason disabled access is given equal priority. (see TR030)
d. They benefit the social environment in which they take place by increasing contact between people. They also enhance the vitality of our cities, towns and villages.
The aim of these policies is to make it possible for walking and cycling to account for most short distance journeys made.
TR151 Both walking and cycling are dependent on their facilities being well maintained and cleaned. The Green Party will ensure that priority is given to this, in funding and enforcement, including fines against those allowing dogs to foul the footway.
TR152 The Green Party will ensure that signing of pedestrian and cycling routes is given priority, with clear signs to those places that people actually wish to travel to, e.g. shops and public facilities, including public transport stops. We would also encourage the placing of maps at regular intervals that give information that pedestrians need, such as surface barriers, road crossings and bus stops.
TR153 The shared use of pedestrian space with cyclists is recognised as a source of nuisance and conflict to pedestrians. The Green Party will make all efforts to reduce these conflicts through its measures to make roads safe for cyclists. Where proposals are made for shared use, all other measures will have to be first studied to ensure that there are no other ways of making safe cycling. Loss of road space from other vehicles to accommodate cyclists will be seen as preferable to loss of footway space from pedestrians. (see TR173)
TR154 Walking and cycling have become popular leisure pursuits with the development of long distance paths and rural cycle paths. Such activity can often imply a dependence on a car to access these places. All publicity for these should show how these can be accessed by sustainable modes of transport, including public transport.
TR155 Where rail services are proposed for disused lines that have been converted to pedestrian or cycle paths, where possible safe and convenient paths for pedestrians and cyclists would be maintained. Decisions on the provision of these rail services must recognise the extent of current sustainable uses of the lines, and must involve consultation with users of the existing and proposed facilities.

* What are your proposals for sentencing guidelines for those convicted of selling Class A drugs?
The Green Party has a detailed policy on drugs which you can see on our website. Here is the section giving our general approach:
DU300 In keeping with the Green Party's health promotion policies, the Green Party would aim to minimise the misuse of drugs.
DU301 At the same time, we recognise that drug use will never be entirely eliminated. Our policies would aim therefore to minimise the social, psychological and physical harm to those who use drugs and to society at large.
DU302 Green policies on drugs will be directed towards accepting the reality of drug use and will strive to minimise harm, both to the user and to society at large. This will require a more pragmatic approach to the issue of recreational and cultural use and should highlight the broader socio-economic forces which drive people towards escapist use.
We do not have any actual sentencing guidelines in our policy on drugs.

* Which are the 1st 3 quango's (of possible many) that you propose get the axe?
We recognise that some Quangos do provide a useful public service, and many of them do give value for money. There are so many hundred quangos, that I do not propose to go through the list and pick my top three for elimination.
In general terms, my answer would be that there are many examples of Quangos which had to be set up in response to Government legislation; and that the problem lies in the original legislation and not the Quango itself. A recent example would be the “Human Tissues Authority” – a totally unnecessary Quango which was formed as a result of the Human Tissues Act. Better drafted legislation would have avoided the need to set up a quango in the first place.
However, we would also look at more systemic changes. For instance, in renationalising much of the infrastructure and services that have been privatised in the last couple of decades (such as water, railways), the need for quangos to regulate these would be vastly reduced, thereby cutting out a vast swathe of quangos.
Finally, I would remove any quangos whose main purpose is to facilitate multi-nationals and corporate interests; one example is the existence of the Export-Guarantee department, who have been severely criticised by many overseas development NGO's, including the Jubilee 2000 debt campaign for their role in creating badly regulated debt in the poorest countries.

* What are the 3 most urgent actions to deal with the impending energy crisis slated to manifest itself around 2014?
Ø Immediately implement a programme to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.
Ø Enable all buildings to generate small amounts of energy.
Ø Bring in legislation to force all Utilities to change their pricing structures. (At present, the more energy you use, the cheaper the unit cost becomes – this is the way any conventional market operates. The Green Party would force energy companies to invert this pricing system. The first units would be cheap, and the more units of energy you use, the higher the unit cost becomes. The benefits are two-fold. Firstly, there is a great incentive for people to save energy and to invest in energy-saving measures, because the units they save are the most expensive units. Secondly, it goes a long way to help with fuel poverty – the single elderly person does not use much energy, but at present they pay the highest unit cost for what they use.)

* What is your position on sterilisation of parents who have had 2 or more children taken into care because they are unable to look after them?
This is not something the Green Party would support. While recognising that there is a problem, our approach is to support people and families to help them with their problems, rather than taking actions which are irreversible, and which could easily become the start of a slippery slope to a Nazi-style society.

* What plans do you have to make becoming a charity trustee a realistic option for younger people, rather than the preserve of the retired and those with charity career or political aspirations?
I think like many aspects of public life these opportunities are not presented to younger people. If they were made more aware of the types of commitment, the respect, and opportunity to influence charitable policy and operating, plus the valuable life skills they could gain from volunteering I think more could come forward. However, this would also require a realigning of attitudes to welcome younger people - especially women and other under-represented groups, plus more support for charities in becoming limited by guarantee so that trustees are no longer personally financially liable (which is off-putting to many). I also believe that if there were a better work-life balance, then more people would have the time to contribute to the causes they care about.

* What has been your specific contribution to the running of a charity?
I have been involved as a supporter of many charities both practical and financial since I was young. In particular, I have fond memories of stuffing envelopes for days to help Elizabeth Fitzroy homes, but also I have done tons of sponsored walks and so forth. I have never been a Trustee (the opportunity has yet to arise), I would seriously consider it, although being a Trustee is not very compatible - see above - with a young family and regular employment.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plaid : Wales, Welsh or Welsh Speaking?

As Billy Bragg also points out, Plaid are the only credible left leaning party south of Hadrians wall in British politics. Based on policy alone, if you have radical views with a social agenda, then it is the obvious choice if you live in Wales.

My wife comes from northern Scotland and has worked in Aberystwyth in 1993. The SNP has a similar agenda, but it is clear that the SNP is the party of Scotland, based on geography, rather than birth or language.

I have had a few discussions around who Plaid represents

  • Wales as a distinct geographical area
  • People who are Welsh born
  • The Welsh Speaking
No doubt the official line is the 1st one, but the handful sample of non-Welsh speakers have discussed this with have commented that they see Plaid as an item 3 party. I personally am in a grey zone between the second and third, so it is important to see a party that represents that geography, not just a subset of people.

My view? The limited research I have done and the party members I have meet, I have come down on the side of option 1. However, perception is reality as my very wise Director sometimes comments. Plaid need to be seen to go further than the 3rd option and remove this doubt from the minds of the 68.3% who are not Welsh speaking.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cognitive bias : Reactance bias

I find the various Westminister candidates for Ceredigion are writing to me on an almost daily basis with a flurry of envelopes drop through the letter box each morning.

One of my reactions is to vote for the candidates who tries to influence me the least(or not vote at all) and this is an example of Reactance Bias where I am bias to do the opposite of what an attempt is being made to influence me to do.
Reactance is an emotional reaction in direct contradiction to rules or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. It can occur when someone is heavily pressured to accept a certain view or attitude. Reactance can cause the person to adopt or strengthen a view or attitude that is contrary to what was intended and also increases resistance to persuasion.
I think I will vote for John Francis, they have the most and best coloured boards I have seen on my travels in Ceredigion and don't just put them up at election time.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The need for a Public Interest Defense for Scientists and Writers

My eyes were opened to the very sad situation involving the UK libel laws and how they can be used to persecute Scientists trying to engaged in open discussion aimed at moving science forward. I attended a Westminister skeptics in a Pub meeting in January which had various libel law survivors talk about their experience. It was quite scary, though a few beers helped the evening along, but made next mornings run a challenge.

This state of UK libel laws is a drag on scientific progress, in the area of medicine in particular. The result, people die and suffer needlessly.

Some may wish to question if the 1983 mental health act could be appropriate people like this, no matter what awards they hold. Is it wrong to ask if this type of "treatment" is just taking advantage of the vulnerable for profit. Suggest an answer to this question in public and UK libel laws might be brought to bear against you.

Some good new in this area, which is documented in many places, with regards to the Guardian Science Journalist, Simon Singh and the case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association for libel. The BCA has now dropped the case. If this is news, I suggest you might want to read a bit more here, here, here and here.

In my view UK libel law reform is an important election issue. Scientific progress is at stake. So if you have a visit from one of the happy candidates before May 6th, please consider asking them what there position is on a Public Interest Defense for scientists and writers.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ceredigion voters punch 1.22 times above their weight

I found this quite interesting and good to know we are worth 1.22 votes each. Nice to also know we are very marginal.

Incumbent MP bias : Cambrian News highlights a new cognitive bias

I buy the Cambrian News (local paper for mid Wales infrequently, much in the same way I buy the Farmer's Weekly every few months to keep an eye on what is going on in the area. I was out of Aberystwyth the day of the 1st set of "hustings".

From the comment section by Patrick O'Brien in the paper based Cambrian News this week, it was probably a good thing I was away. I can't find a web based version of this article, but the story goes along the lines of "they all agreed on just about everything. Questions were submitted upfront, the audience was well behaved, the 4 candidates were all careful not to say anything which could offend".

What was interesting was the last few paragraphs where the writer suggested that the incumbent MP looked most comfortable and being on face value the stronger candidate. This is what I think is the bias.

Lets examine what the 4 of them have spent the last 5 years doing

  • Plaid : Penri has spent most of the last 5 years lecturing in agriculture and being part of the Plaid party machine
  • Luke : has I guess spent most of last 5 years either doing a law degree or Solicitor training, with some element of being part of the party machine
  • Richard : has I guess spent most of the last 5 years either in school or being a student (assume this from him being 20) and been a town counciler.
  • Mark : has spent most of the last 5 years being an M.P. at Westminister where he had practise walking the walk. He made speaches, saw others make speakers, draw out the good and bad, helping people with problems, dancing around the local council. He will appear a stronger canidate because he is already in that world. If you want to train for something, then do it.
This makes the decision of suitability(where you vote) for the office of Ceredigion M.P. a difficult one unless you already party aligned. I meet with both Mark and Penri in my role as acting chair of the C.A.B. Both were proactive and very supportive. I have meet them both in other contexts and exchanged a few emails. Apart from Mark having the experience of the last 5 years, both would be equally competent at helping local people with their problems, the MP's surgery. Give Penri a year to find his feet, learn the train timetable off by heart, I suspect they would be at parity in terms of constituency level work.

For me the real question is which one is going to be a better strategic thinker, be part of driving their parties policy, tell their whip to **** off when they feel strongly about an issue, indeed to feel strongly about an issue beyond keeping their job and to be a real pain in the arse to the likes of George Osborne and Ed Balls.

Hustings are not a suitable medium to see beyond "Incumbent MP bias" and to really get inside the head of each candidate to understand what they might be capable of. A candidates blog which gives informed comment is a far better indication of a active and capable mind and of what the candidates really stand for.

Patrick was no doubt on the money, but I think forgot this rather important bias. Unless we take it into account, there is little point in having elections until an MP dies or retires.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Three men in a float : across England at 15mph

A last minute purchase at W H Smiths at Birmingham Airport, was quite surprising in a positive way. I have read a few books along the lines of "we did something silly/challenging in with something unusual".

  • Around Ireland with a Fridge
  • Around Ireland in a Kayak
  • Around Scotland in a Kayak
What surprised me about this book which is basically buying a 1958 milk float on Ebay and driving from Lowestoft to Lands End was the range of subjects it covered, including but not limited to
  • Peak Oil
  • Where the myth/story of Merlin came from
  • Pace of life
  • Role of wildlife in modern society
  • How to get electric from complete strangers
  • How to electrocute your friends
  • The "Health and Safety" excuse
  • The darker side of Supermarkets
Worth the time to read it, hard to put time and very though provoking and a good limited linear Geography less to boot. A good holiday read over the 1st day or 2 when you are trying to remember what a holiday is for.

As you might imagine with the authors being deputy editor and a writer for "The Idler" publication a fast pace was not order of the day. Quite a lot of beer and pub lunches were consumed. The very different writing styles alternates as they take turns to write about a section of the journey. It was quite a challenge, not in the physical sense, but in terms of what can be learned on the journey if you take the time to look and experience.

I have for some years wanted to prove that Wales is an Island and Kayak around it. One thing at a time Clive. Lets get the Bob Graham Round (probably the last thing the Idler magazine will write about) completed 1st in June.