Sunday, December 24, 2006

Snuggery 2: light a small candle

Oh dear ! The Rev, Snuggs would be proud of this one. Children will not be allowed to hold candles at Christingle services, because there might be accidents. Of course, we can't allow for the possibility that like the generations before them they might learn that fire is a good servant but a bad master. That would involve two things we must never do - learn by experience and pass on the wisdom of the past. Snuff it out, says Snuggs.

Malo periculosam libertatem quam tranquilem servitutidinem

Dog Latin, quoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in a footnote to The Social Contract as the motto of the Margrave of Posnania (whoever he was). I prefer a dangerous liberty to a tranquil slavery - should be the motto of the Manifesto Club . These people have come together to sound the gong for liberty. I have just read their manifesto and it's excellent. They say they have no political affiliation but their manifesto reads like pure Liberalism, unlike shamefully the various and voluminous vacillations of the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We regret any inconvenience caused

The Chief Constable of Gloucestershire is clearly a fan of the Quandary Phase of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in which Arthur Dent treks miles to see God's final message to his creation, which turns out to be - you guessed it - "We regret any inconvenience caused." Marvin the paranoid android wasn't impressed. Nor was I when the Glos Top Cop responded thus to the House of Lords decision that holding 120 anti-Iraq war protestors on coaches near RAF Fairford breached their right to protest peacefully (Please note unsplit infinitive).

You may remember that the police turned the coaches around and sent them back to London. The protestors were not allowed to disembark even to relieve themselves.

The Chief Constable gave a non-apology apology, saying that his officers acted in good faith, on intelligence received - perhaps they expected the protestors to become violent in 45 minutes !
He also pointed out that other courts (i.e. High Court, Court of Appeal) had reached the opposite conclusion to the Lords. I suppose next time a Gloucestershire bobby is in trouble with the Chief Constable, he can argue that he acted in good faith and his sergeant and his inspector agreed with him.

Liberals need fathers: a plea for shared parenting

An open letter to the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Work and Pensions
on the government's white paper on child support

I still believe that the fundamental flaw in the current system, which the proposed reforms do little or nothing to address, is the complete absence of any idea of shared parenting.

The usual pattern for a newly divorced father is that he loses his property and his daily contact with his children. He is then told that he will be allowed to see them once a fortnight, unless his ex-wife blocks contact in which case he faces a long, expensive and usually futile chase through the courts. Then comes the coup de grace. Nothing that he spends on his children in future will count as child support. All that will count is the money which he pays directly to his ex-wife or via the CSA (or its successor). There will of course be no check on how the ex-wife spends the money. If when he gets to see his children they turn up inadequately clothed or underfed, any money he spends to clothe or feed them will not count, unless they spend at least 100 nights a year with him (unlikely given standard contact arrangements). If he pays himself for a school trip or books or anything, it will not count. Please excuse the gender-specific language but it describes the vast majority of cases.

The frequently quoted figures of fathers owing child support do not only refer to the feckless and irresponsible but also to all those fathers whose support for their children does not count. In my own case, my limited income forces me to choose between actual support for my children and the payment of notional and disputed arrears of assessed child support. The CSA acknowledges my choice but pursues me for money which I believe I should not have to pay. At present I can challenge their assessments, their mysterious and opaque calculations and their undisclosed errors. The measures proposed in the White Paper would allow the new agency to determine the level of assessment and to enforce it without any recourse to the courts. The new agency may be able to remove passports and driving licences or impose curfews (enforceable by tagging ?) . Will these powers also not require a court hearing ? These sanctions exceed those applied to minor criminals, who at least have the luxury of a trial. All these sanctions can be easily applied to fathers who remain in contact with their children. It will be much harder to apply them to fathers who have abandoned all such contact, of whom we can expect there will therefore be many more.

I appreciate that you and most MPs will be primarily concerned with enforcement. I maintain than effective compliance depends upon fair and reasonable assessment. The party, under the guidance of Annette Brookes, has already rejected the principle of shared parenting in residence and contact arrangements (both in parliament and at conference). If we only focus on enforcement of child support paid to the mother, we will confirm that Liberal Democrats see the role of fathers only as providing money, without any guarantee that it is spent on the children. Please give consideration to a model which gives fathers a full share in the care of their children, including spending money directly on them.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mingismo - a neologism

Watching Blair and Cameron at the dispatch box yesterday, the word machismo came to mind. What then to describe Ming Campbell's fence-sitting, a word to describe sounding firm whilst not actually dealing with the substantial arguments on either side of the argument, you know, running with the fox and hunting with the hounds, that sort of thing.

Ah yes ! Mingismo

If this is New Liberalism, give me the old kind any day.

Run out or stumped ? Trident and Ashes

What a dreadful week !

On Monday, Tony Blair announces that he wants to spend £20m (Do I hear 30 ? Do I hear 35 ?) and Ming Campbell comes up with the Liberal Democrat Housemaid's Baby (more later). On Tuesday England throws away a test match.

The arguments about Trident are not as complex as they appear. For once I agree with Tony Blair - in the end it comes down to political judgement - in his speech on Monday. Killing millions of innocent civilians is wrong. Poisoning the environment for generations is wrong. Using nuclear weapons is wrong. Saying that you will keep but never use them but the enemy must believe you might is either a lie or not a deterrent; it's a balmy contradiction. Saying Trident is independent when it depends upon American technology and goodwill and cannot be maintained for more than 18 months without their co-operation is a lie. Saying we need it to protect ourselves from the unknown and the unlikely whilst keeping our armed forces overstretched and under-equipped is like insuring your house for very high premiums against a tsunami in Chard, whilst not locking the door or repairing the fence (which I need to do).

Ming's response was rightly jeered in the Commons as sitting on the fence. I prefer the old Punch cartoon of the housemaid who is going to be sacked for having a baby and says, "But it's a very small baby !" It's right that there's no need to make a decision yet but postponing it until 2014 won't change the arguments. The future will still be uncertain and the use of nuclear weapons will still be wrong.

And England will still have lost the Ashes.