Month: January 2008

Lost government disks found

Well not really of course, I suspect they never will be. But as I was stood at the bus stop this morning on my way to work it was clear that the three of us waiting there had noticed the same thing – lying in the gutter outside the Department of Work & Pensions and in the same road that houses the Immigration & Nationality Directorate was a CD-Rom. I thought it was only me that had had the thought until the lady next to me in the queue said, “Do you think that’s another one of those disks they’ve lost?”

Witch burning, female road signs and women priests – feminism the Swedish way

In Britain feminism has been unfairly characterised as being purely about bra-burning and Germaine Greer, in Sweden it is a pretty mainstream political issues that seems to be growing in importance all the time.

To understand what I mean, take this collection of both weird and wonderful articles from The Local, a website containing Swedish news in English, from just the last few weeks.

Outrage at plan to symbolically ‘burn’ a witch on stage during the heats for the Eurovision Song Contest causes outrage amongst women’s shelters

Council plan to replace ‘walking man’ sign at pedestrian crossings with a walking woman is vetoed by Swedish highways agency.

More women are now being ordained as priests than men by the Church of Sweden (it wouldn’t surprise me if that was also the case in Britain too).

German beer maker Jägermeister has been criticsed for an ad that showed a woman’s nipples going hard as a result of buyin the beer.

Sweden is also currently thinking of banning sexist ads

I suppose this sort of debate is good, and Sweden tends to be seen as a leader in ensuringsexual equality, far more so than the UK. Having said that the UK has had a female Prime Minister, whereas Sweden (one of the pioneers of allowing women to vote) has still not had one. Mind you, if the current opinion polls are anything to go by then leader of the Socialdemocraterna (or Social Democrats in English) – Mona Sahlin – looks set to be the first one at the next general election in 2010.

What is also intriguing is that Sweden has its own feminist political party – Feministiskt initiativ (or Feminist Initiative in English), although their 0.68% of the vote at the last election wasn’t exactly a stunning result. We’ve managed to elect members of a pensioners’ party to the Scottish Parliament, so is there room for a women’s party in the UK?

Needle in a haystack – the ‘missing’ leadership mailing

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of Liberator magazine, and I particularly enjoy Radical Bulletin. But when one of the stories that it covers is one that you have some knowledge of, it does annoy you if they get it wrong.

In the January 2008 edition it inevitably discusses the two recent leadership campaigns. Much of what it says is true, but I found one comment interesting:

Clegg’s second mailing reposed in a Sheffield sorting office to the annoyance of Inverness MP Danny Alexander, who arrived late to stiffen the campaign’s resolve and discovered no-one had asked whether the sacks could be dispatched from elsewhere.

The ‘non-delivery’ of the second Nick Clegg mailing has become a bit of an urban myth. I know countless people who received it, many within only two or three days of it being posted second class from Sheffield and one of those lived in rural Sussex. But if the mail sacks really were hanging around the Sheffield Mail Centre then I would love to know how they would be retrieved and ‘despatched from elsewhere’. I can see the phone conversation now:

Hello, I’m calling from the Liberal Democrats. You collected about 60 mail sacks from our office in Sheffield last week. Now I know that some people have already received the mailings that we sent out, but we think you might have forgotten some of the bags, so I wondered if I could come down and pick them up from you and post them elsewhere

(confused reply from the other end of the phone)

What did they look like? Well just like every other mail bag in your building.

(further reply from Royal Mail on the phone)

Oh, what did the mailing look like? Well it was a fairly anonymous C5 white envelope with a printed label on the front. Do you have anything like that in your premises?

(further incredulity from the other end of the phone)

You mean you have lots of envelopes that look like that, and that you don’t store bags from the Liberal Democrats in a specific place where they can be found again when we want to retrieve them at a later date?

(irate reply with the word ‘wasting our time’ mentioned frequently)

So even if I came down myself and personally searched all 13,000 square metres of the mail centre you don’t think that would be helpful

(phone is put down by Royal Mail with some force)

I think that probably clarifies the matter.

The real scandal was that three times Royal Mail managed to lose the booking that I had made for a van collection from our office (it’s a good job I kept checking with them that they knew about it). In the end it was collected on the day it was supposed to be, but that was after much hassle and asking of favours. It might have been easier if I could ring the local mail centre directly, as I could a year or two ago, but now you can only ring a central number which is only open on weekdays until about 6pm.

Sheffield Tories claim Nick Clegg’s ‘first clanger’

Sheffield’s Tories appear to be continuing their crusade to cut poverty and health inequality in Sheffield by getting street lights repaired more promptly, roads repaired a little quicker (which in Sheffield will still be an age) and by cutting the grass in local parks a bit more. The reason I say this now is because of a bizarre attack by a former Sheffield Tory, (now living in Brent), Richard Holloway, where he accuses Nick Clegg of ‘dropping a clanger’ because he believes that improving the health of the city’s population might be just that little more complicated than their proposals.

Yes, the Tories really are that daft. Richard refers to Labour’s ‘Closing the Gap’ policy, (also backed by the city’s one Conservative councillor), which is a programme to give preferential treatment to certain areas of the city on core council services like those outlined above. Hence, Sheffield’s Liberal Democrats dubbing it Labour’s ‘favoured areas’ policy. The Liberal Democrat opposition to it is based on the view that whilst the poorer parts of the city may need extra support for certain things, on basic services like street lights and road repairs all of the city should be treated equally. You would think that as the one ward represented by a Conservative heavily loses out under the policy they might realise that it was unfair, but clearly not.

In contrast to this, Nick Clegg realises that the key to reducing inequality and poverty in the country comes down to ideas like improving the health of its population and by boosting education in some the poorest areas, using initiatives like his ‘pupil premium’ idea. These are sensible proposals, that will make a real practical difference, and are hardly inconsistent with what the council group is saying.

I might have more sympathy for the Tories if they were as clear on where they stood as Nick is. But in a recent local election, the Tories managed to put out two leaflets in the same ward in the same campaign – one saying they supported ‘Closing the Gap’, whilst the other one said they opposed it. You’d think that when there were so few Tories left in the city, they might find it easier to be consistent.

If anyone has dropped a clanger, it certainly isn’t Nick Clegg.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Sheffield Economic Masterplan launched

Sheffield launched its Economic Masterplan today in the London Stock Exchange.  The aim of the plan is to boost the city’s economy by promoting the virtues of investing in Sheffield, creating another 30,000 jobs and boosting the average salary.

Although the Liberal Democrats had their doubts about creating the quango ‘Creative Sheffield‘ to lead economic development in the city, the party is at least fully behind the latest initiative, albeit with some doubts about the location and quality of some of the development.  It gives proper recognition to the massive number of small and medium businesses that are so important to the city economy.  It also targets creative industries, which are a logical extension to the city’s manufacturing base, but harnesses that huge and surprising number of artistic and creative people there are in Sheffield.

For me this masterplan is also a serious attempt to make Sheffield’s economy compete with other cities of a similar size.  Sheffield is the fourth biggest city in England, it has two of the country’s biggest universities, it now has some of the fastest rising land values in the country, and it is known throughout the world.  But a legacy of its industrial past is that it still struggles to create private sector professional jobs on a par with more commercial cities like Leeds or Manchester.

That has always been one of the biggest weaknesses in the chain.  Sheffield is a genuinely attractive city in its setting on the edge of the Peak District National Park and supposedly more parkland per person than anywhere else in Europe.  It also has one of the highest stop on rates for students in the country – presumedly because once they move to the city they like it.  But once you reach a certain pay level you stall and often end up having to move elsewhere.  When I moved back to Sheffield I remember being told by countless local job agencies that I would never find the sort of professional jobs at the salary I was looking for in Sheffield and I would be better moving elsewhere.  The thing is that I don’t want to.  I like Sheffield, it is a great city to live in and with great potential for the future.  But we need more better paid jobs to allow people to stay and realise that potential, which will then allow them to contribute to the city economy as a whole.

The thing that did strike me though about the masterplan is that the average salary in Sheffield is currently £22,500.  That may well be the average, but it certainly isn’t the sort of salary that the majority of people in Sheffield will earn.  I earn less than that and I reckon I am better off than most.  The problem is that Sheffield is very divided in its affluence.  The South West of the city usually vies with Tatton in Cheshire for the title of the richest place outside the Home Counties, whereas places like Burngreave, Firth Park and Brightside are some of the poorest.  So whilst we do need to increase the average salary, it is vital that we do something to benefit the huge numbers who earn considerably less than that.  But more on that another time.

Tit for tat reporting damages politics

I can’t help but see the news that two Labour MPs have reported 80 Tory MPs for non-declaration of donations as just revenge for the Tories pursuing Peter Hain.

Maybe there will be something in it, but from what I can see it all looks above board.  All parties get money from unincorporated associations, which are completely innocuous not for profit bodies that receive lots of small contributions from loads of different people.  Examples of the sorts of bodies they tend to be are council groups, 200 clubs, Conservative/Liberal Clubs (where most of the money comes from people buying a drink at the bar), friends organisations and so on.  If these Labour MPs think it is practical to monitor every person who gives money to an unincorporated association then they either have no idea how voluntary bodies are run or they have completely lost it.

Unfortunately it now looks as though we are descending in to the problems we currently have in local government with the Standards Board.  If someone from Labour reports a Tory, then a Tory reports someone from Labour – tit for tat.  It doesn’t even matter whether the allegation is found to be true or not, (no one remembers that), the aim is simply to get their own back and to ensure that the councillor gets bad publicity whilst it is being investigated (which can take months).

The real loser in all of this is the image of politics.  We have enough problems with the public thinking all politicians are crooks as it is, without two stupid Labour MPs making it worse for a complete non-story.