Wednesday, December 26, 2007

King William's College Quiz

Maybe I've missed it in the Guardian over the past week or so, but they have had a tradition of publishing the fiendishly difficult quiz set for the students of King William's College on the Isle of Man. Apparently, the pupils can choose (it used to be compulsory) to sit the test at the end of the winter term and will universally fail - typically, they get a handful of right answers and spend the Christmas break researching the right answers for a resit in the New Year. Competition is tough and the question setter is known to Google his questions to check that the answers cannot be found with a Googlewhack.

So, if there are any others out there who have missed it - here's the quiz, hot from the college.

Cricket pops up on a regular basis and the question sections usually have a connection - a Hampshire city will help you in one and an NCO in another (I think). At first quick reading, I think I can muster around 20 answers without overworking the little grey cells.

If you haven't run across the quiz before, it is an ideal chance to revive brains wearied by the festive excesses of food, drink and shopping.

Enjoy.

The answers typically appear around mid January.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lib Dem Failures

I'm thinking of marketing a partwork which examines the Liberal Democrat manifesto of 2004 and shows just how far they've come from the plans that got them elected into a semblance of power. Remember that manifesto and the promises to
afford real priority to buses across the City using various advanced schemes for bus priority... reallocate road space for bus lanes.

Predictably, that's fallen by the wayside, as has so much of Liberal Democrat policy.

Another fight about to kick off is over the Tyburn Road bus lanes. Again.

There's a long list of things that Transportation Cabinet Member Cllr Len Gregory doesn't like, but near the top come 'bus lanes.' One of his first acts was to suspend the lanes along the Tyburn Road, which helped to cut bus use - predictably enough. This was to allow for consultation on their future - which has taken more than three years to progress. Even though most people have forgotten what a bus lane is, those who responded to the biggest ever consultation on a bus lane are pretty much equally divided over whether they should be restored or not.

Well, the decision isn't due until the spring, but it looks all but certain that Len will announce the closure of the lanes for good.

And yet again, that Hemming-signed promise to open up the council needs to be wheeled out.
The City is obsessively secretive and concentrates on keeping information about problems out of the public domain rather than acting to solve problems. This must change... It is only right that this process occur in the main in the public domain.'
It took over a year and a Freedom of Information Request to bring the results of that survey into the public domain, but the council is still refusing to release papers on the options available.

Of course, Tory councillor Timmy Huxtable, could yet make a difference and back up the support he gave to the Tyburn bus lanes during the campaign this year by signing the Birmingham FoE pledge - but I bet he won't.

Downfall II - mad about the boy

Having enjoyed the spectacle of the Gorgeous George Fan Club (the party formally known as Respect, the Dis-Unity Coalition) sub-dividing, amoeba-like, to produce two similar offspring, attention now shifts to the very far-right, where the BNP are also in freefall.

Fresh from his triumphant appearance at the Oxford Union, sponsored by a publicity-hungry President, Nick Griffin hasn't had the easy ride that he thought he might get from his members. Rumours of all sorts of shenanigans and impropriety are rife - depending on where you look. Financial accusations of all sorts are flying between different sides of the battle and Der Fuhrer is in real trouble. It all seems to stem for his undying support for his sidekick Mark Collett, a shaven-headed, callow youth, who has held various posts within the BNP and must know where the bodies are buried for Griffin to hang onto him, even as the membership abandon the sinking ship like rats. Activists are leaving the party in their dozens in protest, only just outpacing the rebel members who are being expelled by the leadership for assorted trumped-up offences and the few party employees left are on half pay. Whether this affects Griffin, holed up in his Newtown bunker in darkest Mid Wales, isn't clear, but the finances of the BNP make Enron look secure - the party is effectively bust.

Even the convicted drug dealer Jock Shearer (funny how the death sentence that the BNP demand for dealers translates into membership for their own - but I digress) has left his Fuhrer's side in the dying hours. He's not fled to Brazil, but back home to Oldham in disgust after BNP people raided a member's house and took away a computer, allegedly following taped telephone conversations between two senior members. This has even reached the ears of Labour's own John Cruddas, who has raised the matter in the House (under parliamentary privilege) and asked the police to investigate allegations of illegal bugging and theft.

The scandal even reaches into the West Midlands, as the nest of vipers turns on itself. Simon Darby, Griffin's loyalist right-hand man, is stalking around denying that there is a crisis, but the senior member in Birmingham, the be-ponytailed Rob Purcell - last seen leading a BNP-inspired demo in Acocks Green - has apparently also decided to mothball his brown shirt and not renew his subs to the BNP. If he's leaving, the end can't be far off for Griffin.

And all in time for Christmas.

I'll raise a glass to all that.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Deja vu all over again

Cameron's failed to attract Lib Dems to join the Tories, so now he wants to replicate the Birmingham experience across the country and forge the two parties into a single Progressive Partnership Alliance to defeat Labour. Or 'decentralise British politics' as Dave puts it.

This plea might have had more impact after Clegg wins on Tuesday, but Charlie Kennedy was sober enough to jump on that idea:
'I don't see a great consensus between the leaders of the Tories and Liberal Democrats on Europe, for instance, we are in favour of the new EU treaty - they are against it.'
And Strictly Liberal Cable weighed in as well
'A Conservative party that wants to cut funding on public services and talks the talk on green issues but fails to deliver any meaningful policies has little to offer today's Britain... Only recently the Tories have revealed their true colours on environmental issues by supporting nuclear power and backing the expansion of major airports.'

Little to offer Britain, perhaps, but much (thousands of pounds at least) to offer Liberal Democrats in Birmingham, at least that's what we can take from their continued love-in with the service-cutting and anti-green Tories here.

Whether Clegg will take the same view after this week is a different matter. He's known to have been one of the LDs who were courted by the Tories earlier in the year, so will his leadership signal a drift to the right, or have the former and acting leaders tied his hands for a while?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Partnership? What Partnership?

Not for the first time, I ask - What do the Liberal Democrats get out of the Regressive Partnership coalition in Birmingham with their Tory friends and masters? Answers on a postcard please.

I'm tempted to offer a prize for the best answer.

Apart from a few thousand quid from their cabinet and scrutiny committee posts, the answer would appear to be the square root of sod all.

Back in 2004, the Liberal Democrat manifesto briefing promised that a
Lib Dem vote will promote and expand swimming opportunities within the city
Well, in Yellow-Peril-Infested Yardley, the opening hours at the Fox Hollies Leisure Centre have been slashed by 12 hours a week - including late opening and early closing on Saturdays and complete closure on bank holidays, further restricting access for those 'hard-working families' beloved of all politicians. Other cuts - sorry, cost savings, have seen reduced hours at Stechford Cascades. (I really must refer to my officially approved council thesaurus - sponsored by Tesco - before writing).

That same document also includes the promise
Moseley Road Baths must be kept open with seed funding from the one off funds currently available
And now it seems that despite a fine campaign by Martin Mullaney, the Baths and the magnificent building that encloses them are both doomed as fellow Lib Dem Cabinet Member Ray 'Philistine' Hassall doesn't like older facilities and doesn't see the point of spending money keeping them open. If that's the case, why was a million quid spent on reopening one of the pools? As this article points out, the baths are of national importance - there is no older Grade II* listed pool in the country and many of the original features are believed to be unique. (Yes, I have now said something nice about Martin in two successive posts - call it the Christmas spirit).

There is a feasibility study carried out into the further options for updating the baths, but we aren't allowed to see it. One of the regulars on the Stirrer message board has submitted a FOI request, only to have it turned down because the council apparently intend to publish it. (No, I'm not convinced either).
The City is obsessively secretive and concentrates on keeping information about problems out of the public domain rather than acting to solve problems. This must change.
John Hemming, Liberal Democrat manifesto 2004
Regular readers will remember that John once faced down a Standards Board inquiry over his 'release' of confidential information to the press. Let's see some courage from him and his fellow Lib Dems - put the report into the public domain now.
I won't hold my breath for the answer. They don't have the guts for the job - they're happy with their fatter pay packets and the prestige of nodding whenever Whitless demands it. Every day they sustain this incompetent administration demonstrates just how far from their 'principles' the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham have drifted.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Wheelie Good Idea

Curiously, I find myself on common ground with Martin Mullaney - something that always makes me nervous. He and I are both supporters of bringing wheelie-bins to the homes of Birmingham. I find it hard to believe that when many other local authorities have worked out that the wheeled bin is easier to handle and provides better protection for the rubbish contained within than any sort of black plastic bag. The piles of black rubbish bags dumped on our streets every day provide a fine food source for the ever-increasing population of rats in our City - indeed, some of the binmen have complained that they have been attacked by rats as they do their rounds.

Obviously, the wheelie bin may not be suitable for every home or street - but Martin explained on the Stirrer that it doesn't have to be a blanket solution. Other cities cope well with mixed collections - even on the same round, either by using vehicles designed to cope with bins and bags (the lip on the back of the truck is at a different height) or by having a bin on the vehicle that is filled with bags and emptied into the compactor when full.

The Transportation & Street Services Scrutiny Committee Report into Containers for Waste (a MAN Booker contender if ever I saw one) shows how far ahead other cities are.

Bristol collects paper, card, glass, plastic, tins and cans in weekly boxes, green waste in wheeled bins weekly, plus a weekly collection of clothes, batteries and aerosol cans. A real focus on doorstep recycling has meant that in 2006/7, they recycled a third of all the municipal waste in Bristol, while Birmingham only managed 18.3%, the lowest in the West Midlands and 377th out of 393 local authorities in this year's DEFRA statistics (no trumpeting of THAT performance indicator by John Hemming on the Politics Show this week, I notice). Only 12% of households in this city get more than two recyclable collections, compared to 95% in Bristol, 83% in Manchester and 94% in Newcastle. Incidentally, while we do incinerate a lot of our waste - which goes to produce power through the Tyseley site - 13 of the 15 authorities that incinerate a greater percentage than Birmingham does also manage to recycle more.

And the people aren't happy - the council's own survey shows that people are increasingly unhappy with waste collection under the Tory/Liberal Democrat Regressive Partnership, as satisfaction with the service has declined by twice the national average in recent years.

And yet Len Gregory, the Tory Cabinet member for street services, still has this mental block that prevents him from even considering the possibility of wheelie bins. Even though the Scrutiny Report demonstrates that after two years or so, cost savings would come in that would make wheelie bins a cheaper option, he won't have it. The matter came to council last week, with a plan to run pilot schemes in the City and the Labour benches were ready to vote as one, alongside enough Lib Dems to embarrass the coalition.

Even facing their first defeat as a coalition, Len wouldn't back down. While he knew that he couldn't stop the renegade Liberal Democrats voting with Mullaney and the Labour Party to force through a trial scheme, he realise that they weight of the coalition could throw a wrecking clause into it by insisting that there has to be evidence that the public would support a trial scheme. And you can bet that the Tories won't find any support for it.

Steve Bedser, the Labour councillor praised for his involvement in the scrutiny committee and a supporter of wheeled bins, added that
This is the last of the evidence we will hear of the work done by that scrutiny committee
and I think he's right. For all the evidence and hard work, I doubt that anything will come of it. Yet again, the right-thinking Lib Dems on Birmingham City Council - the ones who don't spend their time obeying their Tory masters like lapdogs - will find that they get nothing out of this partnership at all.

Of course, the greatest irony for those Liberal Democrats is that their very own Dear Ex-Leader, John Hemming, is the cause of all these problems (as ever). We've wasted almost four years in the run up to what might be a trial, when we could have had the answers, but John scrapped a Labour-designed pilot scheme within hours of taking possession of the Deputy Leader's swivel chair in 2004. With a flourish, he announced that Birmingham would not be getting wheelie-bins - something that doubtless cheered old Len up no end.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Gone North

Apparently, Whitless' brain, the charming James North, is off to pastures new. Mike is getting the hang of this new freedom by leaping off message and speaking for himself.

Responding to a report by Ian Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice, Mike has come out swinging, with a press release slamming the report as
'inaccurate, out of date or misleading'

But that could apply to many Tory statements.