Friday, 18 January 2008

Planes over London - not a good idea

The near-disastrous crash landing of the Boeing 777 just short of the runway at Heathrow yesterday highlights the danger to the city below that is posed by flights to and from this exceptionally busy airport. What if a plane did crash on London? A terrible disaster, especially if it were densely-populated central London. This is not a far fetched possibility: if I remember rightly, not many years ago a cargo flight from Schiphol airport crashed on to a suburb of Amsterdam. That the victims were mostly impoverished immigrants whose loved ones were not best placed to make a fuss may be why we did not hear a great deal about it afterwards.
We hear plenty from the well-funded PR people in favour of airport expansion, mostly talking about employment and economic benefits, but far less about the arguments against. Such disasters do happen. How do you weigh employment and economic benefits against such a risk - to say nothing of the accumulating weight of the environmental case against air travel?
For my part, my opposition to expansion of capacity at Heathrow has just hardened.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Russian "guaranteed" rights are trampled

The regime in the Kremlin is out to annoy the UK as much as possible, but the actual losers are Russian citizens. Article 44 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation provides:
"(1) Everyone is guaranteed freedom of literary, artistic, scientific, intellectual and other types of creative activity and tuition. Intellectual property is protected by the law.
(2) Everyone has the right to participation in cultural life, to the use of institutions of culture, and access to cultural values."
This provision is in practice waste paper as individuals lose the opportunity to use British Council services. And the British Council's local employees particularly suffer as they lose their livelihoods for no reason - security men visit them late at night and make it clear on flimsy pretexts that they had better not turn up for work any more.
Will any Russian citizens take steps to get redress against this affront to their rights? Will any of them win, or even bring, a court case over the loss of their rights or their jobs? I'm not holding my breath.
In the case of State of Mauritius v Khoyratty (2006) the Privy Council said: “The idea of a democracy involves a number of different concepts. The first is that the people must decide who should govern them. Secondly, there is the principle that fundamental rights should be protected by an impartial and independent judiciary. Thirdly, in order to achieve a reconciliation between the inevitable tensions between these ideas, a separation of powers between the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary is necessary."
I do not believe any of these concepts applies in the Russian Federation today. Whatever kind of state it is, it is not a democracy.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The pupil premium? We've had the debate

Being a veteran of the Federal Policy Committee ("FPC") and party conferences, and having read the party's constitution - yes, really! it's dull, but not that dull - which is downloadable from the party website, I'd like to put Nick Clegg's speech on public services last Saturday into context. First, the pupil premium, which I warmly supported at FPC, is Lib Dem policy already - it was adopted by the Federal Conference in September 2007 as part of a package on redressing poverty and inequality, backed by a paper which explains the concept at some length. Second, the party is distinctively democratic in its policymaking: policy, under the guidance and supervision of the FPC, is debated and adopted or rejected, and to a large extent proposed, by Voting Representatives at the party's conferences. Third, the Federal Policy Committee resolved some months ago to set up a policy working group on schools. The working group is being assembled now and will be working on its proposals over the coming months.
Therefore, it is premature to spend hours over-analysing Nick's speech. Members who have ideas to contribute on schools are welcome to get involved in the policy process. We believe in democracy in this party.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Keep going, British Council

In my experience, generally in litigation when your side is being reasonable and the other unreasonable, the wise strategy is just to go on being reasonable. After all, sooner or later each side's behaviour will be considered by a judge who is professionally reasonable and fair, and will take a dim view of the unreasonable side. So it was good to hear about our ambassador in Moscow's polite but firm stance yesterday when the Kremlin gave him a reprimand for the fact that the British Council offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg (somewhere in the Urals, I gather) have reopened, despite an order from the Russian Government to close them. Russian officials have described the action against the British Council as a retaliatory measure. If the British Council is really doing something wrong then the Russian Government should deal with the problem by fair and proper procedures. And if, as seems on the cards, in due course this comes before the International Court of Justice, the judges are unlikely to be impressed by bullying tactics.
In English law, unless I am mistaken, government by edict was proclaimed illegal during the reign of Charles I (by Sir Edward Coke, CJ, who told him he only had such powers as the law of the land allowed: see The Case of Proclamations, 1611). If the Russian legal system cannot enforce such a principle, it is scarcely functioning as such.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Our tainted coasts

This year has not started very well for me: my reaction to the Government’s announcement of the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations is a feeling of dread. I was brought up near the north Essex coast, and in my teenage years the view from my home across the estuary encompassed Bradwell power station. Though not particularly significant visually, it was in fact a Magnox type nuclear reactor which had been a source of plutonium for use in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. And, as we locals knew, it had a crack in it, so it had been shut down.
I often wonder whether my late father’s cruel and unexpected death from leukaemia was connected with the fact that he used to go sailing in the waters off Bradwell. Because I have learned that it discharged radioactive water used for cooling into the estuary. Radiation causes mutations and mutations cause cancer, geddit?
Now the Government wants to build a new reactor there - in fact lots of them, in lots of places. Our beautiful coasts will be tainted for (in practical terms) ever.
I hope you guys who would rather cause that contamination than confront the nation with its own energy wastefulness, will have a really bad day, in fact lots of bad days, unless and until you change your minds. Have you ever seen someone dying of leukaemia? Try it. Or rather, I hope you won't have to.

Racing post

In horse racing terms the favourite got off to a good start with the advantage of a lighter handicap (from MPs and journalistic pals, you understand) but soon began to flag badly, and it was just as well for him that the race was a sprint and not a steeplechase because the challenger was gaining on him fast by the home straight. I never believed the hype about a 60:40 lead. If the course had been a week longer, I believe the favourite would have lost.
But the ballots have been counted, and under the rules of the course the favourite won by a short nose.
Congratulations Nick, say I. The members have made their choice: you are the leader now. I’m following! This is the start of the real race.