Labour’s 1997 tuition fees con

Labour's 1997 manifesto

In April 1997, when asked about tuition fees, Tony Blair said that “Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education”. I would suggest that was misleading at best.

On the same day in July 1997 that the Dearing Report regarding the future of higher education was published, David Blunkett announced a plan to introduce tuition fees. Obviously the plans were not based upon careful consideration of the report’s findings, Labour’s plans were being reported even before the report came out.

Phill Woolas
, who in more recent times has been found guilty of knowingly making false statements as part of his 2010 general election campaign, described the Dearing Report as being “a result of a political conspiracy. But one between political parties which did not want to face the problem before the general election.” The timing of Labour’s announcement would support the idea that the Dearing Report was primarily a tool for keeping the problem of higher education funding out of the election.

The 1997 Labour manifesto however did hint at the possibility of tuition fees; “The improvement and expansion needed cannot be funded out of general taxation”. It also said that the party had made proposals for funding to the Dearing Committee.

Considering the manifesto was launched in early April, it would be very interesting to know what Labour had at that point submitted to the Dearing Committee. Is it really conceivable that by April 1997 Labour didn’t have a plan to introduce tuition fees? I don’t think so. They had to consider the issue to make their representations to the Dearing Committee and their manifesto clearly set out that they didn’t think the situation then could continue. If only we could know what it was that Labour had submitted to the committee.

Labour’s introduction of tuition fees was not a response to the Dearing Report. The Dearing Report was a response to a desire by both Labour and the Tories to introduce tuition fees whilst minimising the cost of doing so to their electoral performance.

I wonder how many people in 1997 were misled by Blair’s statement? Don’t be fooled. Labour aren’t the loyal friends of students they appear to be trying quite successfully to be seen as.

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The Wikileaks D-Notice That Wasn’t

There seems to have been a lot of excitement recently following the apparent issuing of a “D-Notice” relating to Wikileaks by the Government. Strictly speaking however, no D-Notice has been issued, not least because D-Notices have been known as DA-Notices since 1993.

What has happened here is that the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee have simply reminded editors of the standing DA-Notices which have been in existence for many years and of which most editors should already be aware. There are five standing DA-Notices which can be found on the website of the DA-Notice system. These are:

  • DA-Notice 01: Military Operations, Plans & Capabilities
  • DA-Notice 02: Nuclear & Non-Nuclear Weapons & Equipment
  • DA-Notice 03: Ciphers & Secure Communications
  • DA-Notice 04: Sensitive Installations & Home Addresses
  • DA-Notice 05: United Kingdom Security & Intelligence Services & Special Services

The idea of this is that most eventualities are already covered and so when the DA-Notice Secretary considers it necessary he can just highlight the standing notices. That is all that has happened here. As the DPBAC website explains, “DA-Notices are not issued for particular incidents. The 5 standing Notices cover various eventualities, and, if necessary, the editor’s’ attention is just drawn by the DA-Notice Secretary to the advice in the appropriate Notice”.

The email from Andrew Vallance is an attempt to ensure that editors are aware of the relevant DA-Notices. There was no Wikileaks D-Notice.

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Prospects for the extension of the Meltham Greenway

Meltham Greenway at Mean Lane bridge by Richard Kay (CC-BY-SA)

I have for a while been interested in the development of the Meltham Greenway. In this post I intend to try to pull together information from various sources to look at the current status of the project.

For those not familiar with the Meltham Greenway, the long term aim of the project is to create a cycle route linking Huddersfield with the small town of Meltham, about four and a half miles to the south-west. Until 1965, Meltham was connected to the national rail network at Lockwood by a 3.5 mile branch line.

The most obvious route for any cycle track linking Meltham and Huddersfield would of course be to use the disused track bed of the old railway line. Inevitably though, things aren’t that simple and there are a number of challenges for the project. These include two tunnels, Butternab at 234m and Netherton at 304m, and issues relating to the ownership of the land along the intended route.

Tunnels are not an unusual obstacle to the conversion of disused railway lines to cycle routes however not all tunnels will be suitable to be opened up for use by cyclists. In the case of Butternab tunnel, the southern entrance to the tunnel is in the back garden of a house on Butternab Ridge. Immediately then, when the tunnels become a problem, alternative routes have to be found which in this area mean negotiating more hills and so the appeal of the route may be compromised.

In January 2008, planning permission (app ref  2007/48/94949/W3) was granted for the construction of the first 1km section from The Cobbles near Morrisons in Meltham to Huddersfield Road. The section opened in mid 2008 at a cost of £250,000

The Friends of Meltham Greenway group, which is chaired by Cllr Terry Lyons, was formed in 2008 with the aim of enhancing the path. They have been involved in the provision of information boards, bins, seating, and litter picking and planting.

In January of this year Kirklees confirmed to me that they do “have long term plans to extend the Meltham Greenway to Huddersfield but we don’t know when”. The Kirklees Capital Investment Plan for 2010/11 to 2015/16 which was approved in February allocated £246k to the project and included an estimate of 2019/2020 for its completion at a total cost of £1.21m. This estimate does look rather low in light of the cost of the first section. However, a revised Capital Investment Plan was approved at a Council meeting in June which now allocates no money to the project.

Earlier this year, I made a Freedom of Information request to the council for a copy of a feasibility study which the Examiner reported in 2004 Kirklees had commissioned. This came in two parts, an “options report” which details various options for the route, and a “conclusion report” which provides an assessment of those options. Both were provided in hard copy with the majority of the conclusions report being at A4 size whilst the options report is A3 and larger in some cases. For the benefit of others who may be interested in this, I’ve scanned the conclusion report and you can find links below. Unfortunately it isn’t really practical for me to scan the options report due to its size.

Other Freedom of Information requests I have made reveal that Netherton Tunnel is owned by BRB (Residuary) Ltd, who are responsible for structures associated with closed railway lines, whilst Butternab Tunnel is owned by three parties. BRB (Residuary) Ltd own a portion of the middle of the tunnel, Kirklees Council own the northerly section including the northern portal, and the southern section will be owned by the resident of the house adjacent to the southern portal.

Things were looking bleak for the project until, whilst I was drafting this post, I spotted a post by Cllr David Woodhead which provides an interesting update. Cllr Woodhead reports that a meeting between the Friends of Meltham Greenway, Kirklees Council, and Sustrans has taken place and it seems that Sustrans may have funds available. He says that discussions will take place to sort out some of the landownership issues. Hopefully then we may say some progress being made in the not too distant future.

Posted in Freedom of Information, Local | Tagged | 1 Comment

Lembit Öpik “does tend to get confused sometimes!”

Whilst former Lib Dem MP Lembit Öpik endures life in the jungle appearing on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, a response to my recent Freedom of Information request to the Department of Transport reveals he was being joked about in emails to the department during his time in Parliament.

Email from Chelgate to the Department for Transport

The sender is someone from Chelgate, “public relations and public affairs consultants”, who were working on behalf of Segway to promote the use of their self-balancing electric vehicles.

Lembit appears to be a supporter of the vehicles. He signed Early Day Motion 444 in 2007 which, amongst other things, asks that the government allows a trial of Segway PTs requested by the Police Federation.

The email relates to a meeting that Lembit attended along with officials from the DfT, the Metropolitan Police Service, and representatives of Segway and Chelgate, at which some of the legal issues regarding the use of Segway PTs and a potential trial by the MPS was discussed.

I became aware of Chelgate in some quite interesting circumstances. Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, had been criticised for comments he made on Twitter (@SJacksonMP) in which he seemed to blame the rise in sexually transmitted infections on greater sex education. I noted how Jackson’s Wikipedia article had been edited by someone using the Houses of Parliament’s internet connection. It seems that in response to my tweet Jackson decided to block me from following him on Twitter.

@coruskate highlighted that someone using an IP address belonging to Chelgate had also been involved in editing the article to play down the controversy. So, curious about this organisation, I’ve made a number of Freedom of Information requests to a selection of government departments to try to better understand some of what they get up to. The DfT are the only department to respond so far.

Posted in Freedom of Information | 1 Comment

Barry Sheerman’s Grand Central grandstanding

Grand Central train at London Kings Cross station

Barry Sheerman, the Labour MP for the neighbouring constituency of Huddersfield, is apparently refusing to register a first-class train pass he has received from Grand Central, an open-access train operator, because he isn’t willing to estimate its value.

This is particularly concerning because he considered it appropriate to sign Early Day Motion 219, which praises Grand Central and encourages the Department for Transport to support open-access operators, whilst having at that point received the pass.

So, despite the primary reason for requiring members to register gifts being to allow others to identify possible conflict of interests, Barry Sheerman won’t register a gift from an organisation that he is happy to sign a motion supporting.

Sheerman is by no means the only MP to have been given such a pass. It seems many of those representing constituencies which are near the locations served by Grand Central have been given one. I’ve not heard of anyone else refusing to register it though.

Whilst the other recipients will no doubt be focusing on their duty to represent their constituents, Sheerman is instead continuing this pointless dispute with the House of Commons authorities. He’s said, “I’m trying to settle this in the House of Commons but I’ve not yet got any satisfaction and I will now take the matter to the Speaker. I will also take it to the head of the House of Commons Commission.”

This all seems rather unnecessary.  I’m sure his constituents will be delighted to see that rather standing up for them, their MP is wasting time engaging in pointless disputes about train tickets.

UPDATE (18 November)

The above was prompted by the Huddersfield Daily Examiner article, “Barry Sheerman accuses House of Commons of ‘daft ruling’ over free first-class rail pass”, which was published on 15 November. This article was at least the second the Examiner had published regarding this topic and I did check the Register of Members’ Financial Interests a few weeks ago which would have been the version as of 25 October, and noted the pass wasn’t mentioned.

Whilst the Examiner article of 15 November says Sheerman “has not registered his free first-class rail pass in protest”, that is incorrect. The latest copy of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests dated 8 November does mention the gift. Foolishly I assumed the Examiner article was accurate and hadn’t checked the register myself until now. So, Sheerman has registered the pass, the difference between him and the other MPs who have received one seems to be that Sheerman has only registered the value of the benefit to date rather than estimating the full value of the benefit.

It seems that the dispute relates to whether he periodically registers the benefit he has received in using the pass or, as others have done, provide an estimate for the maximum potential value. There are advantages and disadvantages of both in my view but Sheerman’s method would create more work for him and the House of Commons so it is perhaps understandable that they have asked him just to provide an estimate.

My view on this whole situation hasn’t changed however in light of this new information. This remains a pointless dispute which will be distracting Sheerman from his real duties as an MP and it doesn’t seem unreasonable for the House of Commons to ask that he provides an estimate of the maximum potential value so I fail to see why Sheerman is complaining about this.

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NO2AV thinks the public can’t be trusted

For anyone wondering, I don’t intend to only write about AV.

The NO2AV campaign offer some interesting reasons for opposing AV. One of them is that it might help the BNP’s election performance. They say “A no vote stops minority party voters – like BNP supporters – getting more than one vote when the votes are counted”.

Why that might be the case? As a small party with less chance of being elected they might suffer from the bandwagon effect I’ve previously mentioned. Those who might wish to vote for them may not because they think it will be a wasted vote and instead vote for one of the larger parties.

The problem comes when you consider that the same “benefit” of FPTP would also affect other small parties. The Greens, UKIP, the Pirate Party, the English Democrats Party, or the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. These are all examples of smaller parties which I don’t support but should our voting system be effectively rigged to protect society from those that may do?

What the NO2AV campaign are effectively saying is that the voting public can’t be trusted to not vote for the wrong party and we need protecting from ourselves by FPTP. NO2AV want to insult us whilst telling us how we should vote in the referendum.

This does rather call into question some of the other statements from NO2AV, such as their suggestion that “A no vote will defend fair votes and is a call for real reform”. Reading that one might think NO2AV want us to vote no to signal that we want something better than AV, STV perhaps? However, if NO2AV don’t trust us to vote for the right people under AV, why would they support proportional representation?

NO2AV talk about defending democracy, people power, and real reform. It is hard to see how that fits with their opposition to having an AV referendum at all and their fear of the public voting incorrectly in elections.

They say a ‘no’ vote “is a call for real reform” but it is difficult to imagine what real reform they might support which would be an improvement on AV. If the public do vote ‘no’ then are we realistically going to see other proposals for voting reform brought forward? Then, if we did, would the NO2AV camp be prepared to accept spending more money on another referendum? The choice might either be changing the voting system without a referendum or just sticking with FPTP. So much for democracy, people power, and real reform.

A vote ‘no’ is not a call for “real reform”, it is a vote for the status quo and would probably just sweep voting reform under the carpet for years to come. In a truly fair and democratic society we must accept there will be some minority elements we will despise but trust our fellow citizens to make the right decisions.

As for NO2AV’s declaration that it “is not a party-political campaign”, they don’t seem to have got off to a particularly good start. Their campaign director Matthew Elliott has received the rather interestingly named “Conservative Way Forward’s One of Us” award, chairman Rodney Leach is a Tory peer, and Charlotte Vere, said to be the national campaign organiser, was the Tory candidate for Brighton Pavilion in the general election. Rather ironically, Brighton Pavilion is the same constituency which elected the only Green Party MP. No surprise then perhaps that Vere doesn’t want the potential of smaller parties getting any more votes.

Whilst NO2AV say their “fight for fair votes enjoys support across the political spectrum”, their current team does seem to be somewhat biased towards one end.

Part,Respect Part

Posted in Alternative Vote | 5 Comments

Why does NO2AV exist?

Why does NO2AV exist? That may seem like an odd question but bear with me.

Just over a week ago, on November 5, it was exactly six months until the date of the alternative vote referendum. To mark the occasion, NO2AV put up a video on their website. What I find odd though is that, rather than setting out their reasons for opposing AV, the video simply states their opposition to the referendum taking place at all.

Aren’t NO2AV wasting their time campaigning against the referendum itself? The referendum is in the coalition agreement which commits both parties to support it. Unless both parties were to agree to scrap the referendum, which seems very unlikely, NO2AV are just distracting people from the real debate about the alternative vote.

NO2AV might say that we shouldn’t have a referendum because some polls might suggest there isn’t the support for AV so there won’t be a positive result anyway. Crucially though, if the people behind NO2AV didn’t think that the ‘yes’ campaign might be effective and change opinions about AV then NO2AV wouldn’t need to exist and campaign against AV.

The existence of NO2AV undermines their own argument that we shouldn’t have a referendum on AV because it is a voting system that “nobody really wants”. If that was really the case and couldn’t possibly be changed by a well-run ‘yes’ campaign then the NO2AV camp wouldn’t feel it necessary to be campaigning against AV.

Supporters of AV should feel strengthened by the existence of NO2AV. It shows there is a real fear amongst opponents of AV that it might not be a voting system that “nobody really wants” after all.

Posted in Alternative Vote | 2 Comments