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Fun, facts and fag-packets at Forest event

By Editor
February 27th, 2015 at 11:21 am | No Comments | Posted in Personal Freedom, Uncategorized

The Hands Off Our Packs “Stop the Nonsense: Plain Speaking on Plain Packaging” event was held on Tuesday night. What a joy it was.MArk Littlewood southampton FC

All Forest shindigs are must-go-to events as far as we are concerned. They are lively and fun; the speakers are invariably excellent value; the alcohol flows; and the pavements/terraces/balconies are alive with smokers and non-smokers alike celebrating life, the universe and everything else.

This event was no less fun, informative and innovative than we have come to expect. We had intended to write up the event in  more detail, but Dick Puddlecote has pretty much said it all – so just go read his post.

[PS his added note was an eye-rolling moment..

“*An interesting note on David Cameron and his view of plain packs. He came out with a quip during yesterday’s PMQs which went something like this – “Now we are committed to plain paper packaging of cigarettes, it will give more space for the opposition to write their policies on”. Yep, it looks like David Cameron doesn’t have a first clue about the policy he is legislating on! “

Let us just add our salute to Simon Clark (Forest Director) for coming up with such an innovative format (8 or so quick fire speeches- each lasting no more than 2 or 3 minutes).

Hats off to our very own Angela Harbutt who kicked of the formal speeches delivering the plain facts from Australia and ending up with an ask that MPs “consider the facts – not the wishful fiction of state-funded lobby groups and self-serving Whitehall bureaucrats”.

We should also salute Mark Littlewood, formerly of this Parish, and now Director General of the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs. Not only did he deliver a suitably rousing finish to the formal part of the evening, he managed to namecheck (yet again) his much-beloved Southampton Football Club!

Not without merit…(though he rarely needs an excuse in our experience).  He simply pointed out that he had acquired a (very robust and rather snazzy) “SaintsFC cig box” into which he drops his chosen cigarette pack. Given the interest in the room that evening , we suspect many more will be doing likewise (acquiring their own bespoke cig case – not necessarily creating a Saints FC one.)

Forest has promised to put a video of the speeches up on YouTube in the coming days. But here is a close up pic of the much-discussed cig case.

ML cig case

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What if Nick Clegg loses his seat at the election?

By Angela Harbutt
February 26th, 2015 at 1:48 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I read an interesting article on Nick Barlow’s blog a few days ago, posing the question, “What if Nick Clegg loses his seat at the election”.

In the natural order of things, the Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Party, the RT Hon Sir Malcolm Bruce MP would become “acting leader” until the party could set up and run a full leadership contest.  But the problem, staring us all in the face is that Malcolm is standing down at this election. Come May 8th, the Lib Dems may well not have a Leader or a Deputy Leader.

In light of the Deputy Leader’s decision not to stand for re-election, it is a question I too have been considering in recent weeks. After all, Nick’s Sheffield Hallam seat is by no means “safe” and the distinct possibility of yet another coalition of some sort looms large, given the current polling figures. Like Nick Barlow, I have no idea if the Leader will lose his seat, nor indeed do I have perfect insight into how the political landscape will look come May 8th. It is entirely possible, given the lamentable state of the Labour Party and the utterly appalling personal ratings of its hapless leader, that the Conservative Party will, in the weeks to come, surge ahead and end up with a clear (if small) majority.

Nick Barlow and I are not alone. Earlier this month, Matthew Norman wrote in the Independent that (a) “it is likelier than ever that the Liberal Democrats will retain the balance of power, even with a massively shrunken parliamentary presence” and (b) ” there is a serious chance that the Lord Haw-Haw of tuition fees will lose his student-laden seat.” He too asked the inevitable question. If Nick does lose his seat

“who will enter coalition talks as Lib Dem interim leader, and how might that person be chosen?”

Just in case people think that the Lib Dems are total idiots, the Lib Dems have an appointed 2015 negotiating team, for better or worse, consisting of Danny Alexander MP, Steve Webb MP, Lynne Featherstone MP, David Laws MP and Baroness Sal Brinton (President of the British Liberal Democrats). Of course, 4 of the 5 negotiators are MPs seeking re-election. Come May 8th it may be that 2 or 3 of these are likewise searching for new lines of work. Can a negotiating team really go into battle with 4 out of 5 of them now outside of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party? Well that kind of depends on the strength of the leader.

So the question we must address is who does this team report to? Who will be the Leader if Nick does lose Sheffield Hallam?

Nick Barlow suggests a kind of Lib Demmy coup d’état – whereby those Lib Dem MPs still standing, meet up pretty pronto (Friday) and quickly elect a leader (or “acting leader”) amongst themselves, with the Federal Executive meeting a day later (Saturday) to “authorise” the Parliamentary Party’s choice. He argues, quite reasonably, that this procedure could be adopted in a case where force majeure applies (misplacing both your Leader and Deputy Leader does surely count as force majeure).

I don’t agree with Nick Barlow’s proposal. Sure, I reckon that all Lib Dem MPs can (and probably will) congregate in one place on Friday 8th – but whether they can agree on a new leader in a matter of minutes or hours is another issue all together. And please NO NO NO to getting the Federal Executive to “authorise” anything!

But at least Nick Barlow has the cojones to put forward an idea.

Think about it. Imagine a scenario where, in the wee small hours of May 8th, it becomes clear that the Conservatives are going to be 20 seats short of the finishing post. David Cameron surely gets onto the phone to Nick and asks if the Lib Dems are willing to open negotiations of some kind. In Nick Barlow’s scenario Nick will have to say “sorry Dave, I lost my seat. I reckon that by teatime the Parliamentary Party should have elected a new interim leader – fingers crossed – but I don’t know who that will be – do you mind hanging on for a while whilst they sort things out. Good luck, someone will get back to you”.

Later that day, and after much wrangling, an Acting Leader is selected by the Parliamentary Party – but wait, the Lib Dems still can’t open negotiations because the Federal Executive haven’t endorsed it yet!

OK, you say, but we have a negotiating team that can get to work on Friday morning. No they can’t. If Nick has lost his seat, he can’t send them in, and without a leader they have no authority. No leader (Labour or Conservative) worth his salt is going to agree that his party sits down with what amounts to a random bunch of “Lib Dem folks”, of which only one or two are actual members of the Parliamentary Party. The Conservatives may as well approach 20 individual Lib Dem MPs one by one and see if they can get to the magic 20 or so required.

In this option, at best the world is put on hold whilst the Lib Dems scramble around “trying to find a leader” and are rightfully ridiculed by the media, rival political parties and the wider public as they do so. At worst the Lib Dems are by-passed as Mr Cameron sees if another solution is available in short order – one that perhaps involves the DUP/UKIP (and maybe a handful of Lib Dem MPs with the courage of their convictions to get on with it).

Taking into account how the real world operates (something I know many Lib Dems are loathed to do), I would like to offer up two further options if Nick loses his seat.

Option 1. Retain the elected Lib Dem leader – Nick Clegg- as acting leader during the course of any coalition negotiations and see the party through until a new leader and deputy leader can be found by due process. After all it will be his negotiating team (or what’s left of them) who may have to go into battle with the Conservatives or Labour, and who knows better the ins and outs of the system than him? Ok, it may break half a dozen Lib Dem constitutional clauses, but if this is a case where force majeure applies, I don’t think keeping Nick in charge has any less validity than a proposing to exclude the entire membership from the process. (See how Ed Miliband likes that one!). By the way, I reckon (though I am not a constitutional expert) that until either David Cameron or Ed Miliband goes to the Queen, Nick Clegg is still the Deputy Prime Minister of this country. But correct me if I am wrong.

Option 2. My preferred option. Technically the full title of the Deputy Leader is the “Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons” and is elected only by the Parliamentary Party (the MPs – no Federal Executive or other committee “authorisation” required). And yes, that person would become the “acting leader” in the event that the current leader was indisposed.

There is nothing to stop the Lib Dem MPs electing a new Deputy Leader at any point. Would it not make sense for the MPs to get together sooner rather than later to elect a new Deputy Leader? Someone who is likely to hold their seat; Norman Lamb, Tim Farron, or Alistair Carmichael, for example. (If these guys don’t get re-elected the “negotiating committee” will be the entirety of the remaining Lib Dem MPs).

OK OK I get that the media would have a field day if this was seen as a panic measure by the Lib Dems to find possible stand-in for Nick in the dying days of the election campaign. But it need not be managed that haphazardly. The lovely Malcolm Bruce can make this happen all by himself.

If Malcolm should independently decide to stand down as Deputy Leader, say as, or just before, Parliament rises (end of March), the Lib Dems would have no choice but to elect a new Deputy Leader. This can be quick and easy and, providing MPs elect someone with a darned good chance of retaining their seat, all would surely be peachy? This person then has a good few weeks – not hours – to prep him or herself on what may be required in the event that Nick does lose his seat and one of the two main parties come calling. I am sure there would still be some cat-calling in the media – but this could be easily answered, and everyone would move on.

Whether you like one of my options or Nick Barlow’s option, at least they are options. The question we should all be asking, I think, is why on earth the Lib Dem hierarchy seems not to have tackled this before now? The Lib Dems have more committees than you can shake a stick at – surely one of them should have come up with a solution?  It is not like we haven’t known for some time that the Deputy Leader is stepping down, or that Nick may lose his seat.

The inevitable response to this question from within the Lib Dems has been to say “Please, please don’t let’s waste time on all this, just get out and deliver some leaflets or do phone canvassing“. Like Nick Barlow I find “the ‘don’t think, just deliver leaflets’ mantra” ridiculous. It is exactly why this party is dying on its feet.

Because this issue DOES matter. The leader, or acting leader, of the Lib Dems may well be in a position to determine who the next Prime Minister of this country will be. If that is not important, what is? A great many voters, me included, want to know which one of two people will be charge of any possible negotiations BEFORE they vote, not after. And we certainly want to be reassured that a vote for the Lib Dems is not a vote for chaos on May 8th as they rush around trying to find someone take charge.

If Liberal Democrat Party can’t tell us what its plans are to solve this relatively simple problem – worse, by its silence, show that it has no plan, why should anyone trust them to be part of any government?

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Centralised planning on its way to a place near you…

By Editor
February 23rd, 2015 at 12:05 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Check out this infographic showing Public Health’s plan for top-down food planning here in the UK which appeared in The Lancet last week.  Truly chilling….

http://www.thelancet.com/pb/assets/raw/Lancet/stories/commissions/obesity-food-policy_lrg.jpg

H/T to Christopher Snowdon for spotting this. As he says

“This is Government with a very big G. It is state control of what can be made, what it looks like, how it is sold, where it is sold and what it is sold for. The only thing the government doesn’t do is make and sell the food itself (except in schools).

It is no wonder that the ‘public health’ model of top-down control of people and industry tends to be more popular with parties of the left than those of the right, but it is surprising that so few people on the centre-right fully recognise the ‘public health’ movement as the socialist enterprise that it is.”

Couldn’t put it better ourselves. The truly frightening part of this is that Public Health actually believe in this. How long before they start calling for state-ownership of supermarkets; compulsory purchasing of  farms; no … stop… we are giving them ideas…

It all started with tobacco regulation. Blame the big evil companies not the individual – demonise them, penalise them, regulate them them, take away their property rights and ultimately drive them out of business. Paint a picture of the individual as the weak victim in this scenario – not the discerning consumer.

“Individual responsibility” has no part to play in their doctrine (for doctrine it most certainly is). Politicians seem eager to lap it up – always easier to tell voters that they are victims of evil forces than it is to tell people that they need to change. Who wants to be told go get off their butts and go do some exercise, when they can be told to sit back and play the victim.

Non-smokers foolishly believed the mantra that tobacco was a “unique product” – and that the penalties applied to tobacco would never, could never, be applied to everyday stuff. And yet , here is the blueprint for top down planning – because, as they see it, people are stupid and all companies are evil.

 

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Nick’s nursery-school economics

By Angela Harbutt
February 19th, 2015 at 2:50 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

The new Family and Childcare Trust report , out today, is receiving wide coverage. Dramatic headlines proclaim that “The cost of childcare so high that it does not pay UK families to work” (Guardian headline). The price of a part-time nursery place for a child under two has gone up, the report states, by almost a third in the last five years with parents now being forced to pay more than £6,000 a year.

The cost of childcare is undoubtedly an area that political parties are likely to squabble over as the general election approaches. Indeed Nick Clegg has already come out of the traps promising more for “hard working families”.

At present, parents of three and four-year-olds, and some two-year-olds, are offered 15 free hours’ childcare per week in termtime. Nick has pledged today to extend this to give away 15 hours a week “free” for all two-year-olds and for those children of working parents aged between nine months and two years “saving families thousands of pounds”. He also said Liberal Democrats aimed to increase free provision to 20 hours in the longer term.

Good for the kids, great for the parents, fantastic for society. Maybe….

But let us consider for a moment why childcare is so expensive and indeed why costs have risen so dramatically and look set to rise further.

Let’s start with the basics. Childcare is labour intensive. The law says (last time I looked) that one nursery worker can look after no more than three children under two, where children are over two the ratio is 1:4 and for over-threes it is 1:8. National Insurance, pensions and salaries for workers account for 77% of a nursery’s costs – that’s a healthy slug of the cost. Added to that, nurseries are also now expected to have more qualified staff, adding to the costs. And lest we forget, nurseries’ staff costs are set to increase in 2015 with pension auto-enrolment responsibilities coming in for many small and medium size businesses.

Government giveth with one hand and taketh away with another.

And if nurseries are forced to pay all staff the Living Wage, as many Councils appear to be considering, this would push up costs further (by an estimated 13%).

Then there are the additional costs facing a typical nursery. Insurance is very expensive (and rising every year it seems). Add in rent, heating and lighting, cleaning, food, maintenance etc most of which have risen dramatically in one way or another over the past few years. Then consider business rates and VAT (up from 17.5% to 20% in 2011) pushing up the cost of childcare. The average annual business rate paid by nurseries is almost £16,000. Most nurseries are not able to benefit from small business rate relief, as their rateable value at an average £30,000 is well above the threshold. And let us not forget that compliance with the never-ending list of Government rules and regulations has also added to costs (providers of childcare are subject to Ofsted inspection in the same way as schools for older children).

This can explain part of the rising cost in childcare fees, but by no means all of it. The biggest cause of the rising costs of childcare is the “free” Government subsidy.

Nurseries have to provide 15 hours of free childcare for children over the age of three. Although the Government (i.e. the taxpayer) pays for this, according to the National Day Nurseries Association, (NDNA) they only get paid £3.80 an hour per child from the Government to provide the care. This payment does not cover the cost of care, it argues, leaving a shortfall per child per year. Underfunding has been reported by NDNA in six successive nursery surveys over four years.

So how do nurseries make up the shortfall? By effectively increasing the costs to parents who pay for care above and beyond the 15 hours and those with children under 2 years old.

Simple economics!

The more hours nurseries are expected to provide at a loss to their business, the more they will pass the cost on to parents paying for additional hours of childcare beyond the free 15 hours, or for children below the entitlement age.

Don’t take my word for it. The NDNA says

“The money that childcare providers currently receive to deliver free hours falls short by an average of £800 per child per year for each funded three to four-year-old place and £700 for each two-year-old place.

“Nurseries are being forced to increase their fees to parents who pay for additional hours, or for younger children not eligible for funded places, to make up the funding shortfall.

“For most nurseries, the average sum received of £3.80 per hour does not cover the cost of high-quality childcare, let alone make a surplus.”

“This is the biggest single reason that nursery fees are rising for some paying parents who end up subsidising the free places.”

The more governments tinker with the market, and meddle in matters best left to parents the more problems they cause.

So Nick please note, offering more “free” places is not the solution, nor is the planned extension to 20 hours. It’s most likely to exacerbate the problem, driving more nurseries out of business; limiting choices to parents and driving up costs still further for parents seeking more than the “free” entitlement. It may get you a few extra votes this May, but, voters wont thank you in the long term.

“Free” is not “free” it always costs somebody something – more when the Government get’s its sticky fingers involved.

Of course some will say that the simple solution is to pay nurseries more. That might reduce childcare costs in the wider sense – removing the subsidy effect.

But what will get cut to fund this act of largess to those who choose to have children? And is it fair? Nick appears to be penalising parents who elect for one parent to stay at home to nurture their children in pre-school years. Why are they excluded from this election gift to parents? Indeed why make it free for all? Much like the winter fuel allowance, why provide this those who don’t need it.

This is the worst kind of lib demmery. No wonder the party is the mire if this is typical of it’s offering.

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EVENT: Stop the Nonsense

By Angela Harbutt
February 16th, 2015 at 3:18 pm | No Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

STOPthenonsense_RSVP_webJust in case you have not heard about this elsewhere, here is an must-not-miss event scheduled for next week. Plain speaking on plain packaging.

Tuesday 24th February at the IOD in London. RSVP to events@forestonline.org or click here for more information on the event.

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