February 2, 2011

Michael Steele meets himself on the Daily Show

If further proof was required that UK viewers need to see John Stewart’s Daily Show everyday VN has it. Former RNC Chair Michael Steele met his now infamous puppet version live on air tonight! 

‘Cos that’s how we do it on the street, lunch meat:

February 2, 2011

Mental health is health

Today, two key Lib Dem figures in the coalition government have announced a major financial injection into mental health services in the UK. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who may have wondered how the Liberal Democrats would deal with this issue in government. One of Nick Clegg’s first speeches as Liberal Democrat Leader was on this subject.

Now Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg said of the decision:

“The evidence is clear: mental health needs to be addressed with the same urgency as physical health. We need to end the stigma attached to mental illness, to set an example by talking about the issue openly and candidly and ensure everyone can access the support and information they need.”

Even if it didn’t bring a penny back to the Treasury coffers, the £400 million investment would still be worth doing. However, it is calculated that this investment will actually save £700 million. Sufferers will require less in welfare, less care, and will be more able to work and contribute more tax. The previous Labour government also woefully ignored the mental injuries endured by returning troops, and so there was the additional announcement of a £7.2 million care package for veterans. This will fund a variety of things, from a 24-7 Combat Stress phone line, to specially trained councillors.

Mental illness is pretty common, 1 in 4 people will suffer from it at some point, and 1 in 100 people suffer from serious mental ill-health. However, it often gets ignored because you can’t always see the symptoms and, as Alistair Campbell pointed out, it’s not really a sexy issue. However, the Liberal Democrats have pushed the government in the right direction, and put mental health on the same level as physical health. A person’s physical and mental health are one in the same, not least because one often affects the other. Public moves like this will also help break the stigma and taboo around mental ill-health, as will Nick Clegg’s attempts to remove the outdated Parliamentary provision whereby an MP who become mentally ill can be removed. No such provision exists for physical health.

Mental health is health, and Liberal Democrats in the coalition have made that point loud and clear today.

February 2, 2011

New poll: Ed Miliband’s PMQs approach

February 2, 2011

I agree with Ed/I agree with David

Do not readjust your television sets, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are actually having a civilised discussion about the important issues of the day. Flanked by new Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, Ed Miliband led off by giving a moving comment on his recent visit to Afghanistan, before asking a couple of questions on developments in Egypt. Cameron replied in kind – informative, cordial, consensual. It was all rather different to the normal nonsense, and all the better for it.

As Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband was ensuring the British government was playing a key role in supporting democracy, and protecting its citizens abroad in a time of crisis. He was also showing support for British troops, and tough British government decisions. Ed Miliband joked that he appreciated that this was a rather different PMQs. Well, quite. The world situation is rather different at the moment.

Bizarrely some people feel that this isn’t doing his job, and he should have provided another identikit performance on cuts and the economy. They might like to note that for the first time Ed Miliband looked like a leader, a Prime Minister, and a statesman. In fact, he looked rather a lot like his brother. The civility was only broken a couple of times, once for Cameron to remind everyone about Ed Ball’s ridiculous claim that the previous Labour Government didn’t leave a structural deficit, and right at the end when Barry Sheerman asked about the selling off of public forests.

PMQs has become increasingly dull and staged, with nobody learning  anything about any policy or decision. Far from holding the government to account, it discredits UK politics on a weekly basis. The PM and Leader of the Opposition do not have to agree, but their debates must be constructive. It would be great if this week marked a change in how PMQs was done, but VN reckons the bored backbenchers might have something to say about that.

February 1, 2011

Sunderland make signing of the transfer window, as David Miliband joins the club

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Miliband, S...

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David Miliband has joined the board of Sunderland as a Vice Chairman, the club have announced. He is there to use his international links and profile to boost the clubs standing, and will be paid around £50,000 a year for the role. Sunderland Chairman Niall Quinn is delighted with his new signing:

“As a former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with worldwide knowledge and links, he can also help us become better known around the world as we look to grow and develop the club on an international stage.”

Miliband’s South Shield’s constituency is only eight miles from the club, so it is arguable that he is doing something relevant to his local community, although his loose ties to football are said to revolve around Arsenal.

Since losing the Labor leadership to his younger brother, Mr. Miliband seems to have taken his role as a constituency MP as an inconvenience to furthering his career. He did though manage to pop up in Parliament to give an impressive performance in the NHS debate. This further embarrassed his under pressure sibling, as many Labour MPs and members would rather David, not Ed, was leading the party. In recent months, David Miliband has submitted television programme ideas to the BBC, set up ‘The Office of David Miliband’ company, and will also take on a voluntary teach role in his old school in North London.

Perhaps the people of South Shield would prefer it if he just got on with his day job of representing them.

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February 1, 2011

Ofcom to look again at Digital Economy Act

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has asked Ofcom to look again at controversial recommendations to block access to filesharing sites, contained within last year’s Digital Economy Act. The move comes on the back of submissions to the  coalition’s Your Freedom website, asking for public thoughts on what policy they would like enacted or changed. Deputy PM Nick Clegg commented that: “Although reform of the Digital Economy Act did not form part of the Coalition Agreement, we have listened to the views expressed. The Government will look at whether we have the right tools for the job in addressing the problem of online copyright infringement.”

The Act, brought in right at the end of the last Labour Government, received much criticism for its approach to dealing with copyright, and it’s one size fits all approach to punishing offenders. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt says that he still has “no problem with the principle of blocking access to websites used exclusively for facilitating illegal downloading of content.  But it is not clear whether the site blocking provisions in the Act could work in practice so I have asked Ofcom to address this question.”

The review is very welcome. Many of the provisions in the Act were deeply illiberal, making Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the internet’s policeman, and could have resulted in families losing legitimate internet access. The introduction of the Bill in Parliament  has also faced legal challenge, and there will be a  judicial review of sections 3 to 18 of the Act in March. The Judicial Review has been brought by ISPs BT and Talk Talk, on the ground that the Act was not notified under the Technical Standards Directive, and failed to properly comply with other European legislation relating to eCommerce, data protection and privacy, and is disproportionate.

The issue of the Digital Economy Act has been raised at Liberal Democrat party conference and by various Liberal Democrat campaigners, including Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, and GLA list member Bridget Fox. The blocking measures still need more legislation to be enacted, and the continuing debate will certainly be seen as another example of the Liberal Democrats directly influencing government policy.

February 1, 2011

Knowing crime on the street where you live

Today has seen the launch of www.police.uk, an interactive website providing maps and details about crime in an area the user can select. Except it keeps crashing. A pretty poor return for a £300,000 investment.

Home Secretary Theresa May says that the online maps have been borne “from a real feeling that people have lost confidence in national crime figures”, but VN is not really sure what the point of the site is. Far from being about people power, it just seems like a bit of gimmick. People don’t want to see a map of crime, they want crime reduced. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, while broadly praising the idea, said that  “since the General Election we have lost around 2,000 police officers and, with 20% cuts to police budgets, this is only the thin end of the wedge.”

Apparently the most crime ridden area in the UK is Glovers Court, Preston, which will be nice and reassuring for the residents. Policing Minister Nick Herbert insisted that highlighting areas of higher instances of crime on the site would not increase the fear of crime, saying “We can’t sweep the issue of crime under the carpet”.

Estate agents up and down the country quake with fear.

February 1, 2011

Andy Coulson leaves Number 10, but nobody notices

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Andy Coulson, t...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

David Cameron’s Director of Communications has served his last day in Number 10. After his not so shock resignation a couple of weeks ago, Andy Coulson formally left the role yesterday. It seems Coulson’s last communications masterstroke was to make sure the press didn’t know of his departure, and to sneak out quietly. Not surprising from the man who left his house for work at 4.30am the other week just to avoid being seen by cameras.

Initially nobody except PoliticsHome.com editor Paul Waugh seemed to have picked up on the fact that the man had left the building. This seems out of character of the British media, who have been hounding Coulson ever since he took on the role. It was always known that Coulson would remain in post for about a fortnight, but hack herds seem to have lost interest in the story, having claimed their victim.

Waugh also reports ‘good progress’ is being made on who will now take  on the role.  It does seem bizarre that Coulson has been allowed to leave with a replacement ensconced in Number 10, and Cameron’s first choice reportedly turned down the role. Seems like this is going to be a difficult gap fill, which is not very helpful for the Government when it is desperately trying to get its message across about the economy, and wide-ranging NHS reforms.

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January 31, 2011

Record breaking transfer deadline day closes, as Carroll, Torres, Suarez and Luiz all move

Fernando Torres after scoring goal against Vål...

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There was no sign of austerity on transfer deadline day , as Premier League Clubs spent a record £214 million on new signings. The bulk of this was made up by four major deals involving Chelsea and Liverpool. The blues splashed out £21 million on David Luiz, and £50 million on Fernando Torres. The bulk of the Torres fee received by Liverpool went on buying Newcastle’s Andy Carroll, who’s £35 million price tag broke the British transfer record. Oh yeah, Liverpool also signed  World Cup wonder Luiz Suarez for £22 million from Atletico Madrid.

Chelsea vs Liverpool on Sunday will be rather tasty then, although Caroll will not be fit for at least a month, which makes his already excessive price tag seem more ridiculous. Torres has been out of form too, but obviously Chelsea think they can get the best from him once again. Clearly Roman Abramovich has decided to back under pressure Ancelotti, allowing him to also bring in highly rated Brazilian defender David Luiz from Benfica. Luiz is only 23, and can play across the back four. The signings could really reignite Chelsea’s bid to retain the Premier League title they won last year, although it is seems that these are signings that Abramovich has funded are once again try and win the Champions League.

While the hype will obviously be about Torres and Carroll, VN reckons Suarez is the real man to watch. Fulham also have pulled of a top signing,  bagging the services of Eidur Gudjonson until the end of the season. Gudjohnson is a proven goalscorer, strong, and experienced. His contribution helped Tottenham qualify for the Champions League last year (remember that vital goal at Stoke,) and means that Fulham are certainly safe for another year, and could even challenge for the top half of the table.

Not all the deals happened though. Charles N’Zogbia will still be a Wigan player, after the club rejected bids of £10 million and £12 million from his former side Newcastle. Harry Redknapp put in his now mandatory last minute bid, this time for Blackpool’s Charlie Adam, but the Seasiders keep their man, as time ran out on the deal. Spurs also had bids turned down for Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguerro and, erm, Phil Neville, and must be disappointed with their months (lack of) work. North London neighbours Arsenal still havn’t sorted their goalkeeper problem, and there were no big new names coming in to Old Trafford either.

This time last year, the relatively poultry sum of £29 million had been spent, but four major deals blew that sum out of the water today. Clearly Chelsea and Liverpool’s owners have decided to back their managers long-term, and try and reinvigorate their seasons short-term with some big money signings. If Liverpool sneak into the Europa League, or even the Champions League, thanks to their new fire power, and Chelsea win the title or the Champions League, the money men will consider it worth every penny.

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January 31, 2011

End in sight for AV Bill in the House of Lords

It seems that after two weeks debate, the saga of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is finally going to end, with it passing the committee stage of the Lords. The BBC’s Michael Crick just tweeted: “Lord Strathclyde announces Lords committee on AV bill will finish Wednesday. Follows deal with crossbenchers.”

Lord Strathclyde, who is the Leader of the Conservatives (and therefore the Government,) in the House of Lords, gave a statement to the House in which he announced that the Government had offered a “package of concessions” to peers blocking the Bill. The Bill has to be passed by the middle of February in order for the AV Referendum to take place as proposed on May 5th. Knowing that a Government guillotine could be enforced, it looks like opposition peers have extracted as much from the situation as possible, after facing increasing dissent from non-aligned cross bench colleagues.

Frankly this has been an embarrassment not only to the Labour party peers filibustering, but the entire House of Lords. The image of unelected Parliamentarians, camping out in the Lords or asleep on the red benches in an attempt block legislation to make votes equal, proves once and for all why there is a need for greater political reform. While there are still other stages of debate to endure, at last this farcical situation seems to be coming to an end.

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