Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bel is reading

Sorry it's been a bit quiet around here. I have a pile of books I want to read, and putting them off just makes the pile grow higher. I am therefore taking some time out to do some proper reading. I will also be traversing the blogosphere, discovering new blogs and such like. In the meantime, my fellow bloggers will keep you entertained as always. Please see my link list for some interesting blogs. Back in a few days.
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Friday, October 20, 2006

Clare Short resigns Labour whip

Clare Short has taken the next logical step in her political career and resigned the Labour whip (from Sky News). She narrowly escaped having the whip withdrawn after her anti-Labour outburst a few weeks ago. This resignation is a good move on her part. Certainly better than sitting around and waiting to be expelled, which would no doubt have happened eventually, given the way she was going. Independent MPs are a good thing for democracy, and I am willing to forgive her her past misjudgements. Let's wipe the slate clean and see how well she does as an independent.
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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Get back to work, Aishah - without the veil

Aishah Azmi has lost her claims for discrimination and harrassment against the school which suspended her for wearing the veil in the classroom. She however won her claim for victimisation. The Telegraph reports Azmi as saying:
'Sadly the intervention of ministers in my case (against the ministerial code) makes me fearful of the consequences for Muslim women in this country who want to work.'
The woman is mad. If she is as strict a muslim as she is claiming to be, she shouldn't be anywhere outside the house, and certainly not working. And what does she mean, she is 'fearful'? Whatever fear she has, it is nowhere near that which many in this country harbour towards her and her band of mad men. What exactly has she got to be 'fearful' about?

True, the minister involved (Phil Woolas) ought to have kept his trap shut until legal proceedings were over, but it is not Government ministers holding back women like Azmi from working in this country. She is being dishonest in making that claim. Aishah Azmi knows that the one obstacle to her advancing in British society is her religion. Either she is too cowardly to state this, or she is being cynically dishonest. It is her religion (or her interpretation of it) that required her to cover herself up in such a way that affected her ability to carry out her work. Phil Woolas is not responsible for the subjugation of muslim women in this society. For that, she should look to her men and the koran.

Aishah Azmi is no fool. She was canny enough to attend her job interview without the veil. And what happened on that day? Did the heavens cave in? Did lightning strike? She went out and returned home in one piece. When it suits her, she allows men to see her face. All this fuss has been in aid of an altogether more sinister end. Her aims, and those of her extremist brethren in our midst, are as transparent as anything. They picked this fight simply to stake some ground in the battle for the islamicisation of Britain. I expect there to be many more such attempts in the future. They must not be allowed to win this battle. Should that happen, it would signal the death of everything for which this country has stood over the centuries. This is a Christian country, and it should stay that way.
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Leave universities alone

A 'brilliant' initiative to address the low standards of education in the state sector. Dumbing down examinations is no longer enough. Neither is the strategy of bribing our sullen youth to stay on at school. No amount of Connexions card points will motivate a wild-eyed lout to go to university. So what is a caring Government to do?

The 'solution' is presented in a report by education quango Aimhigher. The good folk there believe it would be a wonderful idea if universities can do a bit more to 'widen access' to higher education. They would like universities to be given background information about candidates so that, in some cases, they may impose lower entry requirements, from an A grade to a C grade, for 'deserving' candidates. These include candidates from poorly performing schools.

It is not clear whether Government will adopt Aimhigher's proposals but nothing will surprise me. It is one thing to suggest that a candidate's background be taken into account, but to suggest that different academic standards should apply to those from disadvantaged backgrounds is something else altogether. What is the point in admitting students who are clearly below the required standard? University tutors already have a hard enough time teaching remedial English to the so-called bright sparks who turn up clutching A* grades, but cannot spell to save their lives. What hope, then, for the C grade students who are smuggled in by the back door?

There is a wider point here, relating to State control of universities. Should the State really have that much say in a university's admissions policy? Most decent universities already exercise discretion in admitting students who may not have made the grade, but whom they consider deserving of a place. There is no need for the Government to interfere to this extent.

The only reason that this happens is because universities are dependent on Government funding. Even with the freedom to charge tuition fees, because these are capped at £3,000, universities still need supplemental funding from the Government. In addition, any university charging top-up fees has to contend with any requirements set out by the Office for Fair Access. This compromises any independence that such universities may otherwise have had. Perhaps it would be a good idea for some of them to cut the apron strings and go their way. The current policy of capped tuition fees is far from ideal for everybody. It makes a mockery of the Government's claims to introduce 'choice' into the provision of higher education. If tuition fees were uncapped, however, universities would have complete discretion over what fees to charge, and they could ignore with impunity any mad counter-productive diktats from above.
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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Veil good, balaclava bad

A man has been arrested for donning a balaclava in protest against the veil. James Scott, from Ipswich, was out in town collecting signatures in support of Jack Straw's comments. He had already acquired 200 such signatures when police caught up with him. He was arrested on suspicion of causing a breach of the peace and taken in for questioning. About what, I wonder? The whole ordeal lasted three hours. What could they have had to ask him that took all that time?

Anyway, Mr Scott has been warned that he faces re-arrest if he puts the mask on again. Ridiculous. Is there now a law prescribing what one may not wear in a public place, and if so, why does it extend to the balaclava and not the veil? Is this the criminal law equivalent of what will soon be known as the 'British Airways exemption'?

Advice for Mr Scott: next time you feel inclined to make any public protests, put on the niqab.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Riot control the Blunkett way

Much hilarity over claims by the former head of the Prison Service that David Blunkett, while Home Secretary, had 'shrieked' at him to machine gun rioting prisoners. Blunkett is (of course) denying the claims. It's not hard to choose which of the two to believe, especially as one of them is a New Labour politician. Added to that, Blunkett has shown a tendency to lose both perspective and control at critical times. Remember his bizarre conduct during the Kimberly Quinn episode? And let's not forget his reaction on waking to the news of prisoner Harold Shipman's suicide. On that occasion, he wondered whether it was 'too early to open a bottle'. Let us leave to one side the issue of whether guilty prisoners deserve our concern. If he could show such naked delight at the death of a prisoner under his care as Home Secretary, why is it so hard to believe that he may have wished to gun them down?
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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

They must love us

How blessed are we to live under the beneficence of St Tony. The powers that be are so concerned for our health that they want to make sure we all eat our vegetables. Word has reached the highest place that we are indeed 'scared' of strange fruit, and the Government, our worthy defenders, will ensure that they do all they can to help us overcome the fear. To this end, Caroline Flint, the Health Minister, has asked supermarkets to hold in-store demonstrations to show us all how to eat fruit.

How long before a task force is set up to enforce this, led by none but the sainted Jamie Oliver? And how long before it becomes a statutory requirement for supermarkets to hold such demonstrations? Don't laugh. If the past nine years have taught us anything, it is that as far as this Government is concerned, anything and everything can be legislated.

On a more serious note, though, we should worry. Not content with interfering in every other area of our lives, the Government is now itching to take a look inside our pots and pans. Not content with legislating to ban smoking even in private members' clubs, the Government is now looking at banning smoking in the street. But no, we must not complain. It is all for our own good.

But is it? Daily the State encroaches on more and more areas of our lives. Some of these matters, such as diet and smoking, are issues of personal responsibility, and therefore nothing to do with the State. I accept that there is a public health argument, especially given that the health service is funded out of general taxation. However, most times, that is not even the issue. Running through these Government pronouncements is a prescriptive 'we know what is good for you' theme, as though they had responsibility for our lives. It is about time we made it clear; they do not.

Never mind fear of fruit. As the Government want to rid us of all our fears, I can tell them of a few real fears to which they could turn their attention. What about the fear, in some inner city areas, of walking down the streets at night, let alone setting foot outside your front door? If they could take steps to address that, I would be most grateful.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

No room at the inn

As at last Friday, the prison population was only 110 away from full capacity. The Home Secretary, John Reid, is planning to beg police chiefs to allow convicted prisoners to stay in their cells until ... until when, exactly? Until he builds new prisons, or what? Or until they create more prison space by releasing the next batch of violent murderers well before the half-way point in their sentences?

At first, I was surprised, given the crime rate, that it had taken this long for the prisons to hit full capacity. Then I remembered that this Government has managed, by a strange mix of policy and incompetence, to keep criminals out of prison. If, inspite of all their efforts, the jails are now finally full, it can only mean that crime is way out of control. The battle to maintain even a semblance of law and order has been well and truly lost.

So what do they intend to do in the long term? There is talk of 'creating more prison places', but don't hold your breath.

(For more on prisons, please check out the excellent Prison Works initiative.)
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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ken is going nowhere - yet

Mayor Ken Livingstone's suspension from office has been overturned. Back in February 2006, the Adjuducation Panel for England issued him with a four-week suspension for bringing his office into disrepute. This arose from an episode in which a possibly drunk Livingstone was characteristically odious to a newspaper reporter.

Anyway, Livingstone appealed, and a judge has today quashed the suspension. This decision is nothing to do with the impropriety or otherwise of Livingstone's conduct. That matter is still to be decided on appeal.

It is however right that the suspension be quashed. Ken Livingstone was (albeit inexplicably) voted into office by Londoners, and it is only they who can decide when to remove him. It is totally wrong that an unelected and unaccountable body, such as the Adjuducation Panel for England, should have the power to prevent an elected official from fulfilling his mandate. This goes against the basic principles of representative democracy. It is therefore heartening that this abuse of power has been checked.

That notwithstanding, every time he opens his mouth, Ken Livingstone brings his office into disrepute. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, I only hope Londoners will be wiser next time.
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Monday, October 02, 2006

Employment rights for all the family

The Work and Families Act 2006 came into force on 1 October 2006. Among other things, it makes provisions for maternity pay and leave.

These provisions apply to an employee whose expected week of childbirth begins on or after 1 April 2007. Such an employee will be entitled to take a whole year's maternity leave, and to return to her job at the end of the year. The size of the company she works for is irrelevant. Also irrelevant is how long she had worked there in the first place. Before this law, one year's maternity leave was only granted if the employee had been working for that firm for roughly six months. Under the new laws, even if an employee were hired while pregnant, she would still be entitled to a year off, and to return to her post, or a similar one.

This law will be welcomed by many, but it will most likely hit small firms hard. Many of them will not be able to hold open an employee's post for a year. Before the new law, small firms with fewer than five employees were exempt from that requirement. Now they must all comply.

While family-friendly employment laws are desirable, surely some regard must be paid to their impact on small business? A CBI report published today shows that new employment laws have cost UK businesses up to £37bn in the last nine years. Perhaps it is time that someone took into account the concerns of small businesses. There seems to be a mentality among this Government that business is a bad thing, and therefore to be regulated with a heavy hand. They should however note that it will be in nobody's interests if businesses close because they cannot cope with the legal and regulatory burdens imposed by the Government. Not only would the Exchequer suffer through lost taxes, such a situation would also imperil the prospects of these employees about whom the Government claim to care.

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