February 28, 2015
by Paul

Money saving expert Martin Lewis on Labour’s fees policy: ‘Poorer students will subsidise city investment bankers’

Here’s part of what Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, said on the BBC’s World at One today:

This is the worse type of politics for me. It is the politics that may appeal to people on the surface but it is financially illiterate…If any other party was launching a policy that effectively meant that poorer students would be subsidising city investment banking graduates, which is what this does, there would be protests in the streets and it would be led by the Labour party. I simply don’t understand how they’ve launched this. Continue Reading →

February 28, 2015
by Paul

To hit the LibDems, Labour give £2 billion to graduates earning 32%+ above the average wage

Details of Labour’s tuition fees policy are emerging today. There is a proposed higher maintenance grant and higher interest rates for higher earning graduates. It will remain to be seen how much those two changes alter the regressiveness of the main proposal to reduce the fee cap to £6,000.

That basic policy proposal is to take £2 billion from pension tax breaks and give it to graduates who earn 32% above the national average wage. Continue Reading →

February 27, 2015
by Paul
1 Comment

Tuition fees – Labour can’t have it both ways

So Labour finally confirm their policy on tuition fees. A cap at £6,000 a year, funded by curtailing pension tax relief.

So, this will mean that high earning graduates pay less, while low earning graduates pay the same.

What baffles me, is that Labour’s argument for the change is that graduates are not paying back the “loans” at the rate predicted, thereby ‘loading more burden on the national debt/taxpayer’.

But that is rather a foot-shooting argument. They are basically accepting that the post-2012 tuition fees scheme is not as onerous on graduates as they – Labour – said it would be. Well, it’s great for them to accept this at last!

So they seem to be saying that they are not going to even attempt to make the tuition fees scheme more progressive – indeed they will make it more regressive. Instead they are going to give relief to high earning graduates and fund that from pension tax relief changes. But that won’t reduce the burden on the taxpayer will it? Unless they get more money into the national coffers from the pension tax changes than they pay out to high earning graduates through the £6,000 cap.

Labour’s policy here is a complete mess. They don’t really seem to know what they are doing.

And we have more Guardian writers talking about ‘saddling a generation with debt’. Well, can I have some of this “debt”? “Debt” where I only pay it back when I earn more than £21,000 a year and then I only pay 9% of my income above £21,000, so that if I earn £25,000 I just pay £6.92 a week, which is half what most families spend on booze and fags in a week. And the “debt” gets written off after I only pay 40% of it. And the “debt” doesn’t go on my credit file, and if I stop working I don’t have to pay it, and I won’t get chased by debt collectors if I don’t pay it, and I won’t lose my house if I don’t pay the “debt”.


February 22, 2015
by Paul

The fascinating hidden history of Woodley

headley road east woodley
This is Headley road east in Woodley, Berkshire. Woodley is a town of some industrial units and much housing just outside Reading.

I have driven along this road many times. Many people do. And I am sure most people do not think twice about the area. It’s a dormitory town.

But some of the road names give a little clue to an exciting local history:

  • Hurricane way
  • Lysander close
  • Victor way
  • Nimrod close
  • Spitfire way

In fact, this road is on the edge of the former Woodley aerodrome, where 6,000 civil and military aircraft were built and first flown between 1933 and 1962. It was where Douglas Bader had a flying accident, which led to both his legs being amputated at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, recorded in his diary laconically as:

Crashed slow-rolling near ground. Bad show.

It was also where some of the first ballpoint pens (Biros) in the world were mass produced, firstly during the war for the RAF and the navy, followed by general mass production after the war.

The building on the right in my photo (with apologies for my rather befuddled geography) was part of the Miles Aircraft factory, later used by Handley Page aircraft company and then by Adwest.

The Digital Noise photography website has some great photos and commentary on the old Miles aircraft factory.

And the nearby Berkshire museum of aviation is a mine of information and artefacts, including whole planes, related to this subject.

February 20, 2015
by Paul

How the British Parliament works

Over the last three years I have put up with a rather old and indiosyncratic laptop. I always had to use it on mains – the battery didn’t work. And a particularly fun feature of it was that I had to open and start using Internet Explorer three times before the session finally “stuck” and continued uninterrupted.

Suffice it to say that I was in extensive correspondence with a trading standards officer about that purchase.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with both iPad and iPhone which have filled the breach. But there are certain things which need a laptop. I have blogged very successfully on a phone and on an iPad. But there are annoying little “features” of both. Each gives about 90% coverage of the tasks needed to do real heavy duty blogging. If you really want to get down and dirty, with links, photos and extensive typing, then you need a laptop or PC.

I long considered buying a new laptop. I nearly succombed to a Maccydooddle of some nature. But in the end, declaring an interest in that I work for the company that make them, I got an HP Pavilion 360. Professor Green had one in a rather dodgy video he made. It’s a godsend. – The laptop, not Professor Green’s rather dodgy video.

Anyway, tonight my new laptop really came into its own. I have spent the night in a house without the full 9999 channels via Sky which are now considered a basic requirement of life. (But of course, I am of the annoying generation who, apart from insisting on drinking out of glasses and not bottles, also remembers when there were only two black and white TV channels that broadcast only in the evenings, accompanied by pop music played only for an hour a day on one radio channel or through a variable audio scrambler in the evenings from Luxemburg).

All the good advice I receive comes from my wife or daughter. My wife advised me to pre-load some programmes to watch from BBC iPlayer, which I did. This will now sound like a commercial. I then watched the programmes in “tent mode” on my laptop. It’s a 360 you see. It works in four different position-thingymes.

Anyway, coming round finally to the subject of this post, (and perhaps it is better when I am constrained to brevity by using a phone for blogging) I watched the third episode of “Inside the Commons” – which was a corker. The programme is a co-production between the BBC and the Open University. So, no doubt, it will be a part of the staple diet of students of politics for many years to come. It will serve them very well. Dear old Michael Cokerell is superb at producing this sort of stuff. It’s made by Atlantic Productions with assistance from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Quite what the Aussies will make of the following shenanighans from this week’s episode, I know not:

  • There was scheduled to be a vote at 10pm on a subject which was not mentioned in the motion which was going to be voted on.
  • Then at 9pm, before the vote on the subject which it wasn’t really a vote on, the opposition called a vote on the proposal that the vote at 10pm on the subject that it wasn’t a vote on be not held, or “not put”.
  • So, then the government supporters had to talk about nothing for 30 minutes while their members were brought back early from the middle of dinners throughout central London. Risking Bullingdon Club references, the Prime Minister came back in white tie and tails from the Lord Mayor of London’s dinner.
  • So, finally, there were enough government members, so that the government supporters could stop talking about nothing and then the vote was put that the vote not be put about the subject on which the vote was not about.
  • The house voted, clearly, that the vote on the subject that the vote was not about be not not put.
  • In other words, the house voted that the vote on the subject that the vote wasn’t about should be put.
  • But then, as far as I can make out, the vote on the subject that the vote was not about was not put anyway, and everyone went home.
  • The government won the day, but it was considered a great victory for the opposition, and particularly for an opposition MP called Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is a member of one of the governing parties, so he isn’t an “opposition MP” at all, except that he is.
  • In amongst this farce of British Parliament at its finest, poor little Master Willotts, son of Jenny Willotts, was being passed from pillar to post, as he waited for his mummy to vote before he could finally go to bed.

It makes explaining the rules of cricket to an American seem like child’s play. You know the one:

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side thats been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!

February 19, 2015
by Paul

The strange campaign videos of Benjamin Netanyahu

First of all, we had this truly weird video where Benjamin Netanyahu turns up at someone’s house to baby sit for them. It took me a while to work out whether it was a spoof or whether it was the real Benjamin Netanyahu. No and yes, seem to be the answers – incredibly:

Now we have Sara Netanyahu, his wife, showing a sort of Israeli Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen around the Prime Ministerial home, to prove that they don’t live in luxury, as supposed by many. Only, it turns out that the areas shown are used by administrative staff, not the Netanyahus, apparently. And they don’t look bad to me….

February 18, 2015
by Paul

Broadchurch scenes filmed at John Nike Leisuresport, Bracknell

Last September, the ITV Broadchurch team were filming around Bracknell, including at John Nike Leisuresport – which just happens to be where my gym is.

In this week’s episode of Broadchurch, the subway under John Nike Leisuresport was shown as a car wash.

You can see the full episode on ITV Player here. Below are a couple of snapshots from the scene, and, at the bottom, the subway as it was today:

john nike broadchurch

john nike broadchurch2

john nike1

February 17, 2015
by Paul

An old name returns to Newbury’s Market Place – complete with a hint of Dumbo

elephant market

Last weekend, I was walking past the Queen’s Hotel in Newbury’s Market Place. It’s currently surrounded with scaffolding, as they refurbish it. I noticed the letters “EM” and “No.8″ painted on the big door. A quick Google failed to reveal the meaning of these letters. But when I got home I found that the “EM” stands for “The Elephant at the Market” which is the new name of the pub/hotel there, set to open in March.

That was quite a surprise. An elephant? In the market place? How strange.

But not quite that strange. I find that there was an “Elephant and Castle” pub in the market place in the 1851 census. Marston’s, who own the outfit, have obviously been doing their homework.

I noted the embryonic pub’s elephant logo, with the flag in the trunk (above).

Then, a few days later, I remembered what it reminded me of.
The first film I watched was Dumbo, the Disney cartoon about the circus elephant who could fly. I remember a scene when an elaborate circus trick collapsed in chaos, leaving poor little Dumbo (pictured) to carry out his bit in the trick, bravely waving the flag in his trunk.

Yes, it’s Dumbo in the Market Place!

February 15, 2015
by Paul

Who could this honourable member possibly be?

BBC2 are running an excellent series called Inside the Commons. Michael Cockerell and his team were allowed unparalleled access to the House of Commons. They have produced a fascinating record of the behind-the-scenes goings on there.

In the latest episode there is extensive coverage of Andrew George as he pursues his private member’s bill, the Affordable Homes Bill.

During the proceedings, my eye was caught by this Honourable Member (blue box) on the Conservative benches, who is looking, ahem, rather relaxed and in what might be called “baying mode” as a bill on a possible EU referendum is read out.

Who could this honourable member possibly be?

February 14, 2015
by Paul

The story of blogging, or “How to feed the Googlebot”

Based on just shy of nine years blundering around at it, blogging can be summed up as follows:

You spend hours writing a post about something you really care deeply about – hours of lovingly fact-checking, putting in links, photos etcetera. And then two people and Googlebot read it.

Let’s call that type of post “the Googlebot post” – virtually unseen by the human eye. An example is this post which I wrote about the Leveson Report. I spent hours poring over that report. And it is thick! I put enormous energy into carefully picking out relevant quotes and assembling them together with a cogent argument. I think it got two visits and one of those was from “Mountain View” – the Googlebot.

In contrast, the second type of post – let’s call it the “quick flick” post – is when you spend a few seconds sticking up a quick post and it receives SHEDLOADS of views. An example is the post I did speculating on whether Top Gear actually went to the North Pole. I did it in two minutes flat. But, I have had loads and loads and loads of hits for it, over several years. It is the gift that keeps on giving. Everytime that episode of Top Gear gets showed or repeated somewhere in the world, like Kazakhstan, then I get loads of hits from the local Google. I can track where that episode of Top Gear is being shown in the world by the suffix of the Google site which the latest traffic comes from. (They really like Top Gear “down under”, I can tell you.) At one point I put a notice at the top of my sidebar saying “Liberal Burblings – the home of the answer to the question: ‘Did Top Gear really go to the North Pole?'”

My latest such “quick flick” post is a post I am very fond of. But it was another one done in a few minutes. That is my post on the origins of the “Death in Paradise” theme tune, which included a charming sixties reggae dancing video I unearthed. That post was another quickie but the hits just keep on rolling in for it. Thank you Google! I am now considering putting up a sign saying: “Liberal Burblings – the home of the answer to the question: “What is that little tune that they play at the start of ‘Death in Paradise’?”

So there you are. The posts which loads of people look at are the quickies about silly little things. The serious posts you spend ages on, about things that you think are thunderously important barely get a look-in from anyone.

Although, thankfully, there are exceptions to that rule. Occasionally, when some kind person links to one of my political posts, I get a respectable number of readers for something serious.

February 13, 2015
by Paul

One of my funniest TV memories – Oh get off me foot!

I was actually watching this (below) when it happened live in 1969. The famous Blue Peter baby elephant ***tting and ***ing episode.

The bit that clinches it, is when the keeper starts skiing in the pee. I so love that bit. Always have.

But, looking back on it, it’s brilliant when they all go into silhouette at the end.

I think what is really funny about the clip, is that it is so classically British. It involves poo and wee, so it hits the British funny bone square on from the get-go. But you have the wonderfully British Val, Peter and John. They show the British composure and attempt to carry on while all is chaos in the background. But then, they see the funny side of it and realise they will have to go with the flow and just let the elephant do what it wants to do and have a good laugh.

We really have the heart of Britishness, right there.

The elephant was called Lulu.

February 11, 2015
by Paul

Easing the trauma of home care finance

Last week the government started a consultation, flowing from the Care Act 2014, on the draft regulations and guidance to implement the “care cap” and policy proposals for a new appeals system for care and support. You can read the consultation document here.

That may sound as dry as toast, but, trust me, these things are really important. I happen to believe that the Care Act 2014 is one of the most significant pieces of legislation we’ve seen for many years. It goes a very significant way towards easing the human trauma of self-funding care home provision. Continue Reading →

February 11, 2015
by Paul

Questioning newsagents about Charlie Hebdo sales – the police need to sort themselves out

The Guardian reports that police from several UK forces have questioned newsagents about sales of the Charlie Hebdo post-massacre issue. It’s a patchy phenomenum. Police in Wiltshire have apologised for doing it. There was a phone call from a Cheshire police person. And in Dyfed-Powys a newsagent reports being questioned for half an hour by police in her shop. A police spokesman there said: Continue Reading →

February 8, 2015
by Paul

For those with a taste for Gentleman’s Relish

shrimp paste

I am a great fan of The Gentleman’s Relish, an achovy paste. It is also known as Patum Peperium. I enjoy it on toast with tea on a cold Sunday afternoon. Delicious.

However, it is not a regular treat because it costs £1.59 for 42.5 grams. Quite steep, but worth buying as an occasional treat.

After much searching, I have found an alternative. Tesco Shrimp Paste, which is “Thai style”. It costs £1.89 for 110 grams. To me, it tastes just as good as The Gentleman’s Relish.