Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A few facts about H2O

It was only when I started travelling to hot countries as a young adult that I started to realise what a precious commodity water really is but even so, it always astonishes you when facts and figures put it in its proper prospective.

Zehra Zaidi (the SW Conservative MEP Candidate) has done just that in a fascinating article for World Water Day on the 22nd March.

You can read it in full here but some of the highlights include:

  • 40 billion working hours are spent carrying water each year in Africa equivalent to France's entire workforce for a year
  • Women are disproportionately affected by poor water and sanitation. For example, they often have to fetch and carry water which keeps them out of school. According to DFID, 11% more girls attend school when sanitation is available.
Tap into WaterAid is a new scheme asking for donations everytime anyone asks for a glass or jug of tap water in participating restaurants.

A nice idea which I hope catches on but shouldn't there also be an automatic donation on all bottled water served in restaurants - not forgetting the Palace of Westminster? That way people might start using tap water instead of bottled, which can only help save the environment AND help WaterAid.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Time to Re-Index Inflation

Everyone except Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown believes that inflation is much higher than 2.5%. Indeed, even the Office of National Statistics allow you to calculate your own personal inflation and say that National Inflation is nearer 4%.

NB: You will need to download Adobe's SVG Viewer first to calculate your own inflation - scroll half way down the adobe page to the download links, click on Win98-XP and run it, then go back to the National Statistics website.

My inflation (see graph on right) is running at around 5% and has been as high as 8% last year.

I'm a pretty average person, although I don't use my car much, so my inflation will be a lot lower than other people's.

The "basket of goods" change today and more new technology will undoubtedly be added, which isn't relevant as the price of technology naturally falls.

Unless mortgages and fuel prices are added to the inflation calculation, what hope have the Bank of England got in setting interest rates that are relevant to the country's economic state?

This fudging of the inflation figures could end up being dangerous if interest rates bear no resemblance to the real world.

Big Trouble in Little China

What's happening in Tibet is worrying - especially as the protests are spreading to other Chinese provinces.

If this was any ordinary year, the Chinese Government would deal with any protests in their normal thumping fist way, blindly ignoring any overseas protests. But in 144 days, the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics will take place.

What we don't want are boycotts: The Chinese Olympic Committee have nothing to do with Tibet, plus a tit-for-tat boycott could decimate the London Olympics in 2012.

Is there anything that foreign diplomats can do? I doubt it. The protests are internal politics and we certainly wouldn't like the Chinese interfering with ours. But the way they deal with the protests could become the world's responsibility if they further destroy their human rights record.

I doubt the Beijing's diplomats will be getting much sleep in the next few weeks.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Puppet Masters Budget

This was always going to be a bad budget (but we didn't realise how boring a budget could be until Darling stood up). It was going to be bad because the Treasury has no room for manoeuvre after the economic mis-management for the past 10 years. Brown has left us in debt up to the eyeballs with the Treasury needing more and more money.

We're the worst-prepared developed country going into this worldwide downturn and Darling's only response is that we're actually "well placed" and that our debt is half what it was in the early 90s. If that is the best comeback Darling's team could come up with, we're in serious trouble.

After the 7th consecutive budget that the Treasury have underestimated their public sector spending figures, UK debt currently stands at 574 billion pounds and will reach 809 billion pounds by 2010/11. And they're probably the only figures that they can't fudge, as the rules are set out in the Maastricht Treaty.

As Darling couldn't reduce the tax burden, what he should have done was what Nigel Lawson did in the mid-80s: Simplify the tax system. The only people making any money from Labour budgets are the accountants.

Instead he squeezed us even more and pretended that inflation really is at 2% and that the economy will be back on track by the end of next year. That's one hell of a gamble, considering everyone else thinks that Britain is poorly placed to face up to the credit crunch. Either everyone else, or this Government, is living on another planet.

The booze taxes won't even begin to dent binge drinkers (an extra £1 onto cider and alcopops might have done) and as for the time spent rabbiting on about plastic bags..!

I don't mind paying for plastic bags (I already buy black bin bags but nobody seems worried about them), what I mind is Central Government sticking their nose into what is a naturally occuring event: Supermarkets will get rid of plastic bags or charge for them eventually - we don't need yet another new law piled on top of all the other ones that aren't regulated.

What defines the ill-thought out madness of this 'budget', though, is the new so-called Showroom Tax. When people are put off from buying a new Ford Mondeo because they'll be £250 a year worse off, all this means is that people will buy more second hand cars - and older cars are less efficient and therefore higher polluters.

This is the same crazy logic that Ken Livingstone uses when charging luxury car drivers £25 to drive into London. It's nothing to do with CO2 emissions, it all to do with taxing people who have struggled to become successful against the odds of living under nuLabour.

Why not tax the 25 year old cars that gleefully pump out CO2 (and a host of other nasties) and get them off the road: Encourage people to buy newer, more efficient models. Saying that, I drive an astounding 3 whole thousand miles per year. So why should I pay the same car tax as someone who drives 100,000? Yes, fuel duty regulates this to an extent but my personal choice of having a comfortable car to drive those 3,000 miles is mine to make - not the Government's.

It's this twisted, nonsensical administration over our economic policies that will leave the Conservatives with yet another headache similar to the state they inherited in 1979. We need a Conservative government to get us back on course.... and quickly.

And finally... One more thing on our increasing national debt burden. In January 2008, Brown said in an interview with The Observer: "Yes, there will be people that take advantage of a liberalised economy and sometimes make the wrong personal decisions for their own debt. And we must have the best advice and the best help for people in these circumstances."

Hello, this is the pot calling... can I speak to the black kettle?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Award for the Worst Carbon Emissions

On the eve of the Australian Grand Prix, data published by authorities in both London and Melbourne (Australia), have found that, per year, London pumps out an average of 1.2 tonnes of carbon per person and Melbourne pumps out 3.1 tonnes per person!

The problem is the abundant supply of brown coal found in the state and 97% of Victoria's electricity supply is from burning it.

According to a 2005 WWF Report, the Hazelwood Power Station in Latrobe Valley, Victoria, is the dirtiest power station in Australia and the most polluting power station in the industrialised world.

It also doesn't help that 80% of Victorians use their cars every day, leaving the reliable, clean and remarkably cheap (by UK standards) rail and tram travel to the poorer inhabitants and tourists.

There is good news though. Melbourne City Council has initiated a dramatic policy to reduce the city's net greenhouse emissions to zero by 2020. Watch this space.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Whingeing Clegg

Nick Clegg as just finished his speech to the Lib Dem faithful in Liverpool.

Walking around the stage (a lot) without notes, Clegg managed at least to prove his eyesight was excellent, reading his speech off a 60-inch plasma autocue at the back of the auditorium.

The speech, although better than most Lib Dem leader speeches, was unfortunately filled to the brim with scaremongering rhetoric. And then there was the whingeing... and whining... and moaning... it went on and on and on.

He threw his dummy out of the pram while he promised to continue to walk out of the Commons; he stamped his feet while he promised to continue to abstain; he thcweemed and thcweemed and thcweemed while he promised to not go to meetings or dinners that he didn't agree with.

Apparently, the Lib Dems are taking a long holiday and going to do absolutely nothing at all. Not much difference there then.

So to their policies - and aren't they different from those tyrannical Labour people and the "sham" politics of the Conservatives?

From what I heard the Lib Dems are going to:

1) Cut VAT on fruit juice that mostly contains more sugar than normal Coca-Cola
2) Decentralise control over hospitals (have I heard that one before? Oh, yes, from the Conservatives)
3) A Derek Conway clause to allow local people to vote to get rid of their MP if they're suspended (not a bad idea but can we do that with a government as well, say, every 6 months?)
3) Invest in children's education

The last one was a peach, as it was for children's eduction that he (and I quote) "will find the £2.5 billion it will cost". Bless. And this was the man who called Conservative policies a sham.

Clegg wants to tax "only what we need and not a penny more". Apart from the obvious back track on their penny on taxes campaign at the last election, the U-turn leaves me thinking that the Lib Dems want this country run as a charity. Sorry to have to tell you, Nick, but UK plc needs to make a profit and the books are well into the red at the moment.

And as for all the "Now this is the time for change" and "The chance for change is there... within our reach... it's ours to take... so let's seize it."

Could all political speechwriters please close the book on Obama speeches, once and for all?!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gender Neutral Tosh

Jack Straw has once again been beating the Gender Neutral Terminology drum. This has been going on for years.

Yet again, in a written statement today, he wants titles like 'Chairman' banned from Parliament (to be replaced by Chair) as "the use of male pronouns reinforces gender stereotypes and could be confusing".

Yesterday, I was extremely priviliged to become Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Women's Organisation.

Ooops... did I say Deputy Chairman... as in Woman... and Human... and Mankind?

Grief! I do apologise. I meant to refer to myself as a deputy piece of furniture, a woperson, a huperson and a member of the personkind race.

The term "man" has always been inclusive. However, if I thought that there could be any confusion, then Madame Deputy Chairman is fine too (just longer!)

And if we're going to ban names because they could be confusing, then I feel sorry Hilary Benn.

CWO Leading the Way

One thing that became blatantly clear throughout the Commons debate on International Women's Day was the importance of the work that the CWO is doing behind the scenes and in its Forums and Summits.

The main issues highlighted by the Commons were honour killings, forced marriages, rape, prostitution, violence against women, women in war zones, women in the armed forces and sex-trafficking... all subjects that either have, or are planned to be discussed and worked on by the CWO.

These are not easy subjects and yesterday's mini-conference on Violence Against Women was a good example.

If you were unable to attend the AGM and conference, a full report of the day will appear on our website soon, but suffice to say that it will not be the last time we discuss the subject and if you want to take part in a debate, come and listen, or help us, please make sure that you keep an eye on our diary for future events, or contact us directly.

International Women's Day

Today was International Women's Day and I was extremely pleased to see a large part of both the Commons and Lords business dedicated to the subject.

The debate was started by a particularly partisan speech by The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman), who consistently refused to give way to Conservative Mark Pritchard, giving her reason as this:

"I am not giving way to one of the 91 per cent. I suggest that Conservative Members should give way to more women"

Not giving way because he's a man? I was hoping that she would want to interrupt one of the male speakers further into the debate and be given the same reason (because she's a woman) but unfortunately she left the chamber not long into the debate.

The 91% referred to the percentage of Conservative male MPs over their female counterparts. She wasn't wrong about the statistic and it will be improved in the next Parliament, but her tone to open what could have become cross party support over so many important issues, was contemptible.

Apart from Ms Harman, there were many excellent speeches from both sides of the house, including some extremely generous compliments to the newly elected CWO President, and former Chairman, Fiona Hodgson, and to the work done by the CWO. These came from Alistair Burt, Eleanor Laing and Brooks Newmark.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Punishing Patients and Treating Prisoners

On the 1st July 2008, the smoking ban will come into effect for all mental health institutions - both in the buildings and the grounds.

Mental health patients are not allowed to leave the grounds to have a smoke but are more likely to smoke - 70% compared to the UK average of 26% - which is hardly surprising.

Two patients are taking their local NHS Trust to court under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees respect for private and family life; another is taking on the Secretary of State for Health for introducing the law in the first place. You'd think common sense would allow a mental health patient the odd cigarette in an outdoor smoking area.

Prisons, however, will continue to remain exempt.

Are we seriously now treating prisoners and punishing patients?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Final day and coming home

So we're back. Hotfoot off the plane last night and home to family and friends.

The last day in New York was as busy and varied as the others. An excellent session booked by the permanent UK Mission to the UN on the subject of resolution 1325 with a good panel which included UK reps and a very good US lawyer who specialises in this field.

The presentations were excellent, but as with a number of sessions the Q&A session yields the most information and sharing of views and detail. We all now know that we have much more of a handle on Res 1325, but a good read of the 18 points is also called for. Questions need to be asked of our own Government as to how much they are maintaining the resolution (not a huge amount of evidence in their favour...) and questions also need to be asked of our own Front bench as to future plans.

Pauline attended a presentation on widowhood and the agonies of how widows are treated in some cultures. Being widowed is always tragic - but being put out of house and home by your husband's family and literally thrown onto the streets is not something we generally have to consider here in the UK - but make no mistake there are also parallels in the treatment of widows here and in other developed countries by families, banks, and others.

Fiona headed for further discussion on 1325, and Eve met with a group from the Mothers Union throughout the world to discuss their field work in training Parish workers to work specifically with women and children in the basics of budgeting, cooking, and starting small businesses.

Our experience at the 52nd CSW has been a very powerful one. We have met with women from all around the world, and find that regardless of culture and creed, our passion to help those in conflict situations, in poverty, and in violent and abusive situations binds us together more strongly than anything that would divide us.

Our goals on return are to speak to politicians from all sides to find out several things:
  • How much do they know about violence to women?
  • Resolution 1325 - how is it being included in field action and legislation on a day to day basis?
  • What action are they taking to ensure that these issues are raised at the highest levels?
  • How do they see the future - when will women be able to be safe?
I think we have our work cut out......