Monday, 26 April 2010

Lib Dems roller coaster towards Government

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The election 'game change' to break the Lib Dem glass ceiling occurred during 90 minutes of the first leader’s TV debate. Nick Clegg shattered the barrier holding back the Lib Dems in the time it takes to kick a ball around a pitch.
The BBC thoughtfully supply a transcript to allow checks on what exactly was said in case anyone thinks that the words of Solomon were spoken. However, the key was not just the actual words but the presentation and clear delivery by Clegg that brought him to the viewer’s attention and they liked what they saw.
In spite of the Tory smears and attempts to reverse the Lib Dem surge in the polls, Cameron failed to deliver any kind of knock out blow in the second TV debate against either Clegg or Brown, although I think he was much better than in TV Debate 1 and deserved to take the plaudits for a narrow win. It should be noted though that Brown too was much more fluent and at ease and this was shown in a closer result between all three on opinion polls (specifically on the TV debate ‘winner’).
We are now left (as expected) with a little slippage by the Lib Dems to a settled score of around 29% in the polls. This is an impressive 8% higher than the same polls were showing before the first TV debate.

Latest BBC Poll Tracker                  Election Seat Calculator
Conservative         35%                        274
Labour                  28%                        260
Lib Dem                29%                          87
Other                      8%                          29
Total                   100%                       650
Note – a 1% swing from Conservative to Labour (34% vs 29%) and the seats change back to give Labour the largest number of 282 vs 251 seats. The narrow margins of error, when you throw in the inevitable swings in marginal seats, mean that it is impossible to accurately predict.

Now if the smears continue or Clegg makes a gaffe before polling day, the Lib Dems will keep nudging lower to perhaps my predicted 26% but they are looking good for a higher vote and number of seats than anyone predicted prior to the campaign.
I think though that in Clegg’s clear attempt to head off the Conservatives successful counter attack that ‘Vote Clegg get Brown’, he (and his advisors) has made his life a little more difficult in the coming weeks. At the weekend Clegg sent out slightly fuzzy signals. In his interview in The Sunday Times he said that, “I tie my hands in the following sense: that the party that has more seats and votes, but doesn’t get an absolute majority – I support them”.  This is Clegg’s Rule on a Hung Parliament.
That seems fairly straightforward. Under Clegg’s Rule the party with the most votes and seats but short of a majority (326 seats) will get Lib Dem support in parliament. So the Lib Dems will have to support the Conservatives(if the actual result was above), right? No.
Given Cameron’s stated hostility to voting reform and that is a ‘deal breaker’ for any previous Lib Dem leader, I simply can’t believe that Clegg would throw out of the window any sort of serious commitment to a Bill on PR and agree to prop up the largest party come what may. Labour is promising reform but a very limited AV reform (chances are that it could be amended into a bill that would satisfy the Lib Dems and since a large minority of the Labour Party believes in PR , a deal could be stitched together). However, both Cameron’s assertion that he is against voting reform and a lack of appetite in the Conservative Party for such change, there can be little prospect of voting reform by the Conservatives other than a Bill in Parliament on a referendum and then the Tories would campaign against it!
However, clearly spin doctors had been talking to journalists on the Sunday evening BBC Radio Four programme Westminster Hour. There seemed to be real confusion as to what Clegg actually suddenly meant.
Today, in The Times, Clegg went further and stated he wants to overthrow Brown before dealing with a new Labour leader.“I think, if Labour do come third in terms of the number of votes cast, then people would find it inexplicable that Gordon Brown himself could carry on as Prime Minister, which is what the old convention would dictate.” So fair enough he has gone further by now saying he not only will not deal with a party in third place but also not Gordon Brown. Right? Wrong. In an interview with Sky News he was asked if he was prepared to work with alternative Labour figures such as Alan Johnson or David Miliband. He said: “I will seek with whomever else to deliver those big changes that I want, in the way the economy is run, the way the tax system works, the way our education system works and, of course, cleaning up politics from top to toe.”
Well how can he work with any Labour leader who has come third in the national vote and yet has the most seats (but short of a majority)?
You see Clegg has to be very careful about being tripped up in all the confusion post-6th May to find a new Prime Minister who commands a majority of support in the Commons.
1. First, Brown as the sitting Prime Minister will be invited to form a Government so he will naturally talk to Clegg and the Lib Dems. Under Clegg’s Rule though he should be immediately be turned away regardless of what he offers them. That would be madness to turn down say a deal on PR (breaking the two party duopoly forever and fulfilling the Lib Dem dream of Government after a hiatus for most of the Twentieth Century). Is Clegg really going to turn Brown away at that stage? I doubt it but let’s assume he does.
2. Then Cameron and Clegg sit down and what happens if they can’t agree a programme (inc. voting reform) for Government? Either unofficial channels have already agreed that some sort of deal can be made and in recent days David Laws emphatically denied that was the case (but heck if it is ‘unofficial’ he could deny it). Or no deal is put together and then what happens?
3. Well, either Clegg has forced Brown to resign (the Labour Party will hate it if it is seen that they have lost their leader because the Lib Dem leader forces him out), a temporary Labour leader then comes in and Clegg perhaps gets a second chance to make a deal. In that scenario, Clegg has perhaps twisted his logic to near braking point but would claim he hasn’t broken his word. He would argue that he could not do a deal with the man who voters placed in third ie Brown but a new leader (albeit temporary) would not be as tainted. Likewise, he has given Cameron a chance but a deal was never going to happen, although it makes Clegg look like he gave them an opportunity.
4. Finally, a new Labour leader is elected by the party and the new Lab-Lib Dem Coalition can be formed. It would take a few weeks and the country will be sick and tired of the newspapers repeating over and over every single nuance to the story.

This then relies on Brown being ousted or resigning in step 1. or 2. above. Still with me? Problems start to arise at every twist and turn but what happens if Gordon Brown refuses to resign and carries the support of his party? Clegg could be forcing a second general election down everyone's throat and the electorate would give him and his MPs a good kicking for yet another four weeks of electioneering. Clegg has to make a deal (with Brown if he has support from the Labour Party) rather than go back to the electorate with everyone blaming them for a paralysed Government.

 The question is; has Clegg just created a risky strategy in the hopes of seeing off the ‘Vote Clegg get Brown’ attack and placed himself at the mercy of the ‘what if’ scenarios about to play out post 6th May? He better get this right otherwise his party will not forgive him if they are left in the cold for most of the Twenty First Century.
All of this excited chatter about Clegg’s Rule though evaporates under some opinion polls that suggest the Conservatives edging back up again and only slightly short of a majority.
Whatever, the final outcome there are about twenty Lib Dem ‘MPs’ who will owe their re-election to Clegg’s 90 minute wonder and perhaps another 30 new Lib Dem MPs who will be swept into parliament against the odds. Before the election campaign it looked like they would be reduced to 45 MPs, now they are heading for 90 MPs. It will be the most Liberal Democrat/Liberal MPs since 6th December 1923 when 158 Liberal MPs were briefly elected until just 29th October 1924
So the Lib Dems/Libs will be back in power since 1979 after a 31 year absence, but something far more important could be about to happen. If Clegg pulls off PR (or at least a fairer voting system), it may mean that the Lib Dems are finally back permanently as a serious force in British politics after a rollercoaster ride for 86 years.
So did a 90 minute television debate change the course of British politics forever?  We will find out in 10 days time.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Lib Dems enjoy poll surge towards hung parliament

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After the sensational boost to the Lib Dem fortunes following Nick Clegg’s outstanding first TV debate, the opinion polls have followed suit.

Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown in the leaders' debate

The BBC Tracker (poll of polls) shows the average today of :-
Conservatives        33%
Labour                  28%
Lib Dem                29%
Other                    10%
Now we shouldn’t get too excited as there are three weeks to go and the polls will continue to bounce around for all sorts of reasons. Inevitably, the Conservatives and Labour have rapidly turned their guns on Clegg and the Lib Dems over key policies. Yet whilst this may pull away a few votes from them, when people understand more about their policies, ironically it may embed their core vote to a higher level than before as people get to know them better (before the election most voters struggled to name Clegg as Lib Dem leader and didn’t recognise him).

Nick Clegg

Based on the above percentages, the BBC Election Seat Calculator (agreed a bit rough and ready but gives us some idea to the number of seats on a uniform swing) suggests:-
Conservatives        247 seats
Labour                  280 seats
Lib Dems                94 seats
Other                      29 seats
Total                      650 seats
That leaves Labour the largest party (but perversely in third place in the poll rating) but short by 46 seats of a majority.

Dates confirmed for TV election debates

A week ago the Lib Dems were on 21% so that is a much bigger boost (so far) than I thought. However, the polls will settle back down no doubt leaving the Lib Dems on say 24/25%. But there may not be time for a settling down period. The second TV debate is looming. Cameron must get his party back on track with a strong performance if the Conservatives are to be in the driving seat again. He can do it and expect him to really go for Clegg and Brown this time with witty put downs and incisive comments on the other two parties’ policies. If that happens the Lib Dem vote can drop right back down again to 21% and the Conservatives will surge back to 38 to 40%. It shows how fickle voters are thinking at the moment.
However, if Clegg holds his own, the Lib Dems may be able to hold on to a bigger share of the vote at perhaps 26/27% by the time of the actual election. There can be only one outcome to the election then – hung parliament.
The ball is in Cameron’s court. He needs a big win on the second TV debate and another impressive performance on the third and final debate. Otherwise, the Conservatives could be staring at a few more years of Opposition.

David Cameron on the TV debate

On to Thursday 22nd April and Sky News.



Friday, 16 April 2010

Clegg wins first TV debate by a mile

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Well after all the hype and fuss, the Prime Ministerial Debates on TV turned out to be fascinating for the hacks and politicos and vaguely interesting for the rest of the 9 million who tuned in to ITV. Alastair Campbell [Ed - After comment below Stewart!] the host was very annoying with his shouting at the candidates and constantly uinterrupting them, just as they sometimes were getting into interesting exchanges. He seemed desperate to hurry them through the prescribed agenda and list of questions, rather than professionally guiding the event and making it more natural.
Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron

Nick Clegg won it by a mile. Generally relaxed, confident and full of clear ideas. Yes there was less pressure on him to perform but hey try saying that when you are up in front of the cameras on the most important hustings of your life. Heck the pressure was on all three. Clegg though worked the TV studio audience and whilst still indulged in a little of the yah boo politics, he generally stuck to substantive policy statements. The Lib Dems were ecstatic afterwards and so they should be, Clegg deserves to take the plaudits after that performance.

Now for David Cameron. I was amazed at how poor he performed. He didn’t seem comfortable sandwiched between the other two. He gave luke warm answers and was too feeble when Brown tried to attack him. Cameron clearly was feeling the pressure and keen (if not desperate) not to drop a clanger that could cost him the election. Unfortunately, that wariness came over and he looked blown away by the cock sure confidence of Clegg next to him. Cameron was the biggest loser of the night.
Gordon Brown lived up to expectations, which were pretty low. Gordon is no Tony and it showed. He tried very hard to land a few punches by drawing Cameron on the specifics of where the Tory cuts of £6 billion would land within 9 months of coming to power. Brown gave substantive replies but his delivery was clunky. But that’s just the way he is and no one could seriously expect him over night to turn into JFK. So overall I thought he did better than expected.

So the key question now is what will happen to the opinion polls?

YouGov poll afterwards gave Clegg 43%, Cameron 26% and Brown 20% in terms of who won the debate. The Times Populus poll gave Clegg an even big lead. That may give the Lib Dems a shot in the arm of 2 or 3 points (after the polls settle down) over the coming week. The chances are that if say they go up by 3% then 2% will come from the Tory support and 1% from Labour.

Whilst the polls are bouncing around it is very difficult to decide where they currently are now. However, if we take say the BBC Tracker then yesterday Conservatives 39%, Labour 32%, Lib Dem 20%.

Already today that has changed to Con 37%, Lab 31%, Lib Dem 21%. I suspect that the Lib Dems may even edge up another point or so in the next few days.

On a rough and ready uniform swing over the country:-
Party
Seats
Con
285 seats
Lab
278 seats
Lib Dem
58 seats
Other
29 seats
Total
650 seats

This gives us a hung parliament with Cameron 41 seats short of the magic 326 to form an outright party. However if Brown can do the deal with Clegg then Lab-Lib Dem have 336 seats and would have a working majority (for now).

Note – If the Conservatives lose 1 point and the Lib Dems gain 1 point directly (Con 36%, Lab 31%, Lib Dem 22%) the numbers change as follows:-

Party
Seats
Con
271 seats
Lab
291 seats
Lib Dem
59 seats
Other
29 seats
Total
650 seats

Whilst the Lib Dems may gain one extra seat the Conservatives lose 14 seats and Labour gain 13 seats putting Brown in the driving seat with a potential 350 Coalition majority. All of this, of course, is based on uniform swings across the country, which simply will not happen. There will be umpteen local variations BUT the message is clear; if Clegg does well in the next two debates and continues to snick a point or two off the Conservatives then Cameron’s expectation of the keys to Number Ten will start to collapse. 

No wonder Peter Mandelson looks so quietly confident as he trails Brown around the studios watching over him do the interviews. 

Mandelson knows that after all the talk that Labour were finished last year and Brown could not possible win, the odds are shortening on a Lab-Lib Dem Coalition.

We await the next TV debate with interest.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

UN overhauls Malawi website communications

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Paul with the Agriculture Minister and World Vision representatives, Aug 2002, Lilongwe




At the beginning of this year, I formed the Friends of Malawi Group on the business networking site, LinkedIn. With a real fondness for the country and a love of the wonderful people in such a poor part of Africa I wanted to try and help raise awareness of the potential for investors and demonstrate that business cares about faraway places in a small corner of Africa. Within just a few days the Group was largest of twenty groups on LinkedIn focused on Malawi.

I was taken aback at the long list of UN Internet sources with out of date pages and reports. With the backing of Group, I wrote to the UN Secretary General to urge action.
___________________________________________________________

10th January

Dear Mr Secretary General,

I am the LinkedIn Owner and Manager of the 'Friends of Malawi' Group created just two days ago and already ranked number 2 on the country Group listings. LinkedIn Group - Friends of Malawi

I am a long standing supporter of the work of the UN and I currently sponsor a child in Malawi. As a former UK Member of Parliament (1997 to 2005) and Shadow Health Minister, I have visited the country and I take a great interest in the country and its wonderful people, who are some of the poorest in the world.

My priority is only to inform the wider world of the issues affecting Malawi and how more assistance can be given to the country in a completely non-political manner. Good, up to date communications are vital for business to invest in the country and for volunteers to visit, train and help local people. I appreciate that local UN staff have a very difficult job to do and are no doubt working very hard to provide assistance to Malawi.

Upon checking the United Nations website I was very concerned to see that there is little current information:- 

The latest press release is January 2009 - one year ago:-

The link to the  Road Map to Maternal Mortality seems to be broken:-

The Equity in health and healthcare in Malawi report is now over three years old (Oct 2006):-

Are the Human Development Index Trends up to date (I appreciate there can be a time delay with this sort of data)?

The UN monthly newsletter was last updated in July 2009:-

I can't see any future UN events listed for Malawi, which is greatly concerning:-

I trust the UN communications in Malawi can be reviewed and updated.

As a former MP if I can assist the UN in anyway with the UN development programme in Malawi please contact me. 

Very best wishes.

Yours sincerely

Paul Marsden MIoD, FCMI
United Kingdom

___________________________________________________________

Whilst I receive an acknowledgement and I perfectly understood the very limited resources available for updating the websites, it is critical in the digital age that a country such as Malawi has up to date information for accountability and transparency as to what happens to investment in the UN. More importantly for private business investors, they need to see the current situation in the country and the priority that the UN gives to communicating the opportunities for assisting and creating wealth in the country.



I also wrote to the UN Co-ordinator in Malawi and other key people in the United Nations Development programme, UNDP and UNICEF to urge them to intervene and assist with the updating of the website sources.
I wrote again to the Secretary General on 24th January after receiving no reply and again reminded him of how poor the communications appeared to the outside world, damaging the UN’s image and potentially affecting support for Malawi. On 7th February I received a reply from Nguyen Thi Ngoc Van, Head of the UN Co-ordinator’s Office acknowledging the issue and confirming that work had begun to start to overhaul the systems.

I kept the Friends of Malawi Group informed of the issues and a number of members registered their support for the campaign.

Today I received a welcome letter from Ayman M. Elsheikh in the UN Co-ordinator's Office in Lilongwe, Malawi setting out the real improvements made and updated on the UNDP, UNESCO, and UNDP websites. I have to say they look very impressive with the latest Annual Report, Strategy, Newsletters and many new pages across the family of UN sites.
___________________________________________________________
13th April 2010

Dear Mr. Marsden,

I would like to invite you to visit the updated UN Malawi website at: http://unmalawi.org/

Please note that the following pages have been updated:

the process is ongoing, but we thought of sharing this information at this time and will keep updating the site as priority to benefit all of our site visitors.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to go through the pages and provide us with any further comments.

Thank you and best regards

Ayman










Ayman M. Elsheikh
Coordination Specialist.
UN Resident Coordinator's Office,
Lilongwe, Malawi
Land Line:  +265-1-773 500 (ext: 236)
Direct Line: +265 1-772 838
Mobile: +265 99 588 2485
___________________________________________________________

This is a success story for Friends of Malawi Group and the wider LinkedIn 'movement'. We can be very proud that now we have a fresh, dynamic image of the positive improvements through the UN in Malawi and highlighting where more assistance is needed in the near future if the country and President Mutharika is to continue to build on that success.


[Malawi national flag]
FOTW Flags Of The World website at http://flagspot.net/flags/
Sometimes, it can seen like creating groups on social media sites is simply a way to network or create a talking shop. Friends of Malawi has demonstrated that they have put words into actions and made a difference. We will continue to back the tremendous hard work by the UN staff in the country and continue to encourage investment to build the Malawi economy so that it can become self sufficient and make further progress in eradicating poverty.


Paul Marsden
Manager, Friends of Malawi LinkedIn Group

Monday, 12 April 2010

Labour Party Election Manifesto

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Labour - A Future Fair for All


Today was the fanfare of the Labour Party manifesto launch. As I sit as an outsider looking in, I realise how embarrassing, futile and generally awkward all these launches are for political parties. These days they are perfectly choreographed down to the micro second with a hand picked audience and lots of white teeth, Hollywood style videos and cherry picked words. I wonder; do any voters seriously sit down to watch the launch? Yes I am sure that the serious minded will tune into the PM debates and maybe the odd party advertisement but the Manifesto launch?  The parties have to do it but a bit of grit, down to earth tough talking would go down very well with people trying to pay the rent.


So don't misunderstand me, this launch was like any other launch of the Big Three Parties over the past twenty odd years. The reactions so far have been predictable. But this time as I take a closer look as an outsider I can see it from a different perspective. As a Parliamentary Candidate you hope that it will boost the party's fortunes, you hope that when you knock on doors that evening, the voters have some inkling of the party policies from seeing the news coverage of the launch (usually it just means you are still interrupting some poor exhausted worker just back from the office or factory who wants his or her dinner in peace and quiet and watch East Enders). In 1997, it was case of just get the launch over and done with and plough on with the six week campaign in the hope that nationally we didn't blow it. It was different in Shrewsbury and Atcham as I wanted a long campaign to personally meet as many voters as possible (in the end we covered off around 70 villages and most areas of the town of Shrewsbury).


In 2010, though you can see that most people are disinterested in politics and struggle to find the time to get to know what the policies are for each party. It will be interesting to see if the turnout increases. I suspect that there will be some real upsets in certain key seats with terrific fights going on that will generate a lot of interest and drive up the turnout. However, I fear the turnout generally will only increase a little on 2005, which was around 61%. 


In a world of cynicism and constant negativity, it is worth reminding ourselves that voting does matter and does change things. Whether it is the passion and determination of The Suffragettes, ending the shame of slavery or the great reforming governments of the 1906 Liberal Government, or the 1945 Labour Government, votes have brought about meaningful improvements to millions of people in Britain.


So back to the Labour Party manifesto launch. The document has a strange cartoon picture of a bright sun rise over the hills as a family looks on in wonderment with the words, 'A future fair for all' in the middle of the light. Yes I know it is supposed to be uplifting and it is quite catchy as a sound bite, but the cynicism left after two years of dreadful news stories on MP's expenses and a deep recession costing hundreds of thousands of jobs and loss of income to most families means that they are not in the mood to be uplifted. The fact remains that after the election, whoever wins there is going to be a bitter round of deep cuts to public services and more tax rises to pay for the national debt we had to acquire to stave off a banking collapse. The public seem to want brutal, cold honesty of how bad is bad.


Gordon Brown delivers Labour manifesto

I actually think that Gordon Brown is looking a lot better these days on the stump than he used to. For one thing, Sarah must have wrenched off him the badly fitting suit that drooped off the edges of his shoulders and he is looking smart, fresh and the old crispness of his delivery is back. I remember that punchy delivery when he confounded expectations by making the Bank of England independent within a few weeks of being elected in 1997. He was energetic and brimming with new ideas. He is not quite back to that but after the awful stale, look of just a few months ago this is looking a lot better in front of the media. He is not the charismatic Tony but he is appearing as a party leader who believes he can win this election (or at least get enough votes to put together a Coalition and stay in power). History will judge him more kindly than at present. 


As Prime Minister, he took the right decisions at a crucial time to steer the British economy through a storm. It would have been much, much worse if the Conservatives had been in power and followed through on what they were saying at the time. On that single issue brown deserves more credit than he has received thus far.


And the manifesto says? Basically a pledge of 'steady as she goes' through the traumatic next two or three years of tough economic battles, with a sprinkling of promises to continue to uplift low income families through the National Minimum wage increases, better quality apprenticeships (about time), re-establish the link between pensions and earnings and a new Toddler Tax Credit. The pledges to bring in much needed constitutional reforms is to be welcomed with fixed term parliaments, written constitution (excellent news although I await the actual wording - see paragraph 5 of The Independent back in 2001), referenda on voting reform and an elected second chamber and clamping down on MPs taking paid lobbying jobs.


Likewise there is encouraging promises on improved education and an improved NHS but given the creaking sounds from the two pillars of society, even after the billions have been invested in them in recent years, I wonder whether there will be anything other than a slow decline in services (whoever is in power)? Nettles need to be grasped and open debates are needed to decide how we intend to pay for the medical care of an ageing population in a consumer rights society.


There are some encouraging words about digital and green jobs although the devil will be in the detail on what that means and I fear it is only a small improvement on what is needed to make a step change in the way this country grasps the opportunities from the digital age and the potential for environmentally sound jobs.


The big disappointment is the less than convincing chapter on climate change. There is a lack of urgency and belief that climate change is a threat we simply cannot ignore. All the parts to this Chapter are to be welcomed and applauded but there is no rock solid commitment to passionate leadership to help wake up the lethargy around the globe on climate change. There is an understandable luke warm response from some Environmental campaigners. After a missed opportunity in Copenhagen and the warning signals year in year out of the warming of the planet to critical levels over the coming decades, these pledges are not good enough.


We await the Conservatives and Lib Dem manifestos next. 




Labour Party Manifesto - A Future Fair for All
A future fair for all

50 steps to a future fair for all

  1. Secure the recovery by supporting the economy now, and more than halve the deficit by 2014 through economic growth, fair taxes and cuts to lower priority spending.
  2. Realise our stakes in publicly controlled banks to secure the best deal for the tax-payer, introduce a new global levy, and reform the rules for banking to ensure no repeat of past irresponsibility.
  3. Create UK Finance for Growth, bringing £4 billion together to provide capital for growing businesses, investing in the growth sectors of the future.
  4. Build a high-tech economy, supporting business and industry to create one million more skilled jobs and modernising our infrastructure with High Speed Rail, a Green Investment Bank and broadband access for all.
  5. Encourage a culture of long-term commitment to sustainable company growth, requiring a super-majority of two-thirds of shareholders in corporate takeovers. 
  6. 200,000 jobs through the Future Jobs Fund, with a job or training place for young people who are out of work for six months, but benefits cut at ten months if they refuse a place; and anyone unemployed for more than two years guaranteed work, but no option of life on benefits. 
  7. A National Minimum Wage rising at least in line with average earnings, and a new £40-a-week Better Off in Work guarantee.
  8. More advanced apprenticeships and Skills Accounts for workers to upgrade their skills.
  9. No stamp duty for first-time buyers on all house purchases below £250,000 for two years, paid for by a five per cent rate on homes worth more than £1 million. 
  10. A People’s Bank at the Post Office; a Universal Service Obligation on banks to serve every community; a clampdown on interest rates for doorstep and payday loans.
  11. Spending increased on frontline Sure Start and free childcare, schools and 16-19 learning.
  12. An expansion of free nursery places for two year olds and 15 hours a week of flexible, free nursery education for three and four year olds.
  13. Every pupil leaving primary school secure in the basics, with a 3Rs guarantee of one-to-one and small-group tuition for every child falling behind; and in secondary school, every pupil with a personal tutor and a choice of good qualifications. 
  14. A choice of good schools in every area – and, where parents are not satisfied – the power to bring in new school leadership teams, through mergers and take-overs, with up to 1,000 secondary schools part of an accredited schools group by 2015. 
  15. Every young person guaranteed education or training until 18, with 75 per cent going on to higher education, or completing an advanced apprenticeship or technician level training, by the age of 30.
  16. Legally binding guarantees for patients including the right to cancer test results within one week of referral, and a maximum 18 weeks’ wait for treatment or the offer of going private.
  17. Preventative healthcare through routine check-ups for the over-40s and a major expansion of diagnostic testing. 
  18. More personal care, with the right in law to choose from any provider who meets NHS standards of quality at NHS costs when booking a hospital appointment, one-to-one dedicated nursing for all cancer patients, and more care at home.
  19. The right to choose a GP in your area open at evenings and weekends, with more services available on the high-street, personal care plans and rights to individual budgets.
  20. Access to psychological therapy for those who need it.
  21. Provide the funding to maintain police and PCSO numbers with neighbourhood police teams in every area, spending 80 per cent of their time on the beat visible in their neighbourhood; improve police performance through online report cards and ensure failing forces are taken over by the best.
  22. Intervene earlier to prevent crime, with no-nonsense action to tackle the problems caused by 50,000 dysfunctional families.
  23. Guarantee fast and effective action to deal with anti-social behaviour, including a right to legal injunctions for repeat victims, funded by the police or council who let them down. 
  24. Expand tough ‘Community Payback’ for criminals who don’t go to prison, giving everyone the right to vote on the work they do.
  25. Control immigration through our Australian-style points-based system, ensuring that as growth returns we see rising levels of employment and wages, not rising immigration, and requiring newcomers to earn citizenship and the entitlements it brings. 
  26. More help for parents to balance work and family life, with a ‘Father’s Month’ of flexible paid leave.
  27. A new Toddler Tax Credit of £4 a week from 2012 to give more support to all parents of young children – whether they want to stay at home or work.
  28. The right to request flexible working for older workers, with an end to default retirement at 65, enabling more people to decide for themselves how long they choose to keep working.
  29. A new National Care Service to ensure free care in the home for those with the greatest care needs and a cap on the costs of residential care so that everyone’s homes and savings are protected from care charges after two years in a care home. 
  30. A re-established link between the Basic State Pension and earnings from 2012; help for ten million people to build up savings through new Personal Pension Accounts. 
  31. A golden decade of sport with the 2012 Olympics as a great national and world-wide celebration.
  32. Registered Supporters Trusts enabled to buy stakes in their club bringing mutualism to the heart of football.
  33. Operational independence for major museums and galleries, with more lottery funding returning to the arts, sport and culture after 2012.
  34. Protection for the post offices and pubs on which community life depends.
  35. The BBC’s independence upheld; and Britain equipped with a world-leading digital and broadband infrastructure.
  36. Achieve around 40 per cent low-carbon electricity by 2020 and create 400,000 new green jobs by 2015. 
  37. Make greener living easier and fairer through ‘pay as you save’ home energy insulation, energy-bill discounts for pensioners and requiring landlords to properly insulate rented homes.
  38. Move towards a ‘zero waste’ Britain, banning recyclable and biodegradable materials from landfill. 
  39. Link together new protected areas of habitat; maintain the Green Belt; increase forest and woodland areas.
  40. Ensure fairness for food producers through EU reform and a Supermarkets Ombudsman; and support post offices, shops and pubs in rural communities. 
  41. Referenda, held on the same day, for moving to the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons and to a democratic and accountable Second Chamber. 
  42. Improved citizenship education for young people followed by a free vote in Parliament on reducing the voting age to 16. 
  43. Legislation to ensure Parliaments sit for a fixed term and an All Party Commission to chart a course to a Written Constitution.
  44. A statutory register of lobbyists, with MPs banned from working for lobbying companies and required to seek approval for paid outside appointments.
  45. Stronger local government, with increased local democratic scrutiny over all local public services. 
  46. Conduct a Strategic Defence Review to equip our Armed Forces for 21st Century challenges, and support our troops and veterans.
  47. Use our international reach to build security and stability – combating terrorism and extremism, curbing proliferation, preventing and resolving conflict, and tackling climate change.
  48. Lead the agenda for an outward-facing European Union that delivers jobs, prosperity and global influence. 
  49. Re-energise the drive to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, supporting sustainable growth and combating poverty. 
  50. Reform the UN, International Financial Institutions, the G8 and G20, and NATO to adapt to the new global challenges.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

United Nations saving lives - prevention better than cure

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Whilst the economic prospects for places like Malawi are hopeful and real progress has been made over the past few years, there are important lessons to be learnt on how to save lives and mitigate against emergencies in developing nations.


A malnourished child and exhausted mother in Malawi in 2002

The World Food Programme in partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute have issued a paper  - Linking Research and Action urging earlier intervention to protect vulnerable people from slowly slipping into crisis as situations worsen. I remember seeing at first hand in Malawi in the Southern African famine in 2002, how people try to find coping mechanisms when the rains fail.


First they cut back on food and their health starts to suffer (especially young babies and older citizens). Then they start to sell off belongings to buy food such as clothes and pots. Next, they sell off the very tools they need to dig the land. Finally, they are left scratching around to eat worthless plant root before having to abandon their homes and find help many miles away. the needless suffering if they had simply had a little bit of extra help to prevent the cycle of despair is so frustrating.


I saw how a borehole meant that women weren't walking ten miles to a dirty well to collect water each day and could spend more time helping their husbands in the fields and with the animals. They had more energy to care for their children after school and they had a very good chance of survival if the rains failed since the borehole went down ten or more metres to established underground streams.

Paul in Malawi in 2002 at a clean, fresh water borehole

As an example, The WFP have reported this month,  in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is estimated some 530,000 children under the age of five years and over one million pregnant women are now in desperate need of help. The long running conflict in the country doesn't help (with 124,000 refugees at the last count fleeing into neighbouring countries)  but the global economic down turn has affected the mining industry and high food prices are leaving many hunger children and adults. The UN have called it a "silent emergency" given the lack of reports in the Western media.
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All credit and praise to the WFP for the tremendous work they undertake, often without fanfare or appreciation. As their aims state:-


As the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against hunger, WFP is continually responding to emergencies. We save lives by getting food to the hungry fast.
But WFP also works to help prevent hunger in the future. We do this through programmes that use food as a means to build assets, spread knowledge and nurture stronger, more dynamic communities. This helps communities become more food secure.
WFP has developed expertise in a range of areas including Food Security Analysis, Nutrition, Food Procurement and Logistics to ensure the best solutions for the world's hungry.  
In 2010, WFP aims to bring food assistance to more than 90 million people in 73 countries. See operations.

Thank goodness for the staff and volunteers at the United Nations, the World Food Programme and the multitude of worthy charities.