Fury, resentment and a general feeling of being hard done-by is reported to be the prevailing mood amongst MPs as they reconvene after the Summer break to find brown envelopes of an unwelcome sort waiting for them.These are the already infamous “Legg letters,” the latest symbol along with duck houses, moats and mole-catchers of the expenses scandal which did so much damage to all parties earlier this year.Written as a result of the inquiry headed by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg, they assess the expenses claimed by each MP between 2004 and 2008 and, where anomalies have been found, they either demand repayment or clarification.Gordon Brown is to pay back 12,415 pounds, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg 910 pounds and SNP leader Alex Salmond 700 pounds. David Cameron has been asked to provide more details about his mortgage repayments.But three things have particularly annoyed backbenchers.The first is that Legg has imposed retrospective limits on various categories of expenses that the MPs themselves obviously cannot have known about at the time. He has said the maximum allowable for cleaning for example is 2,000 pounds and that for gardening 1,000 pounds, according to newspaper reports.The second is the perception at Westminster that those MPs who made the really big claims, the ones on mortgage payments, are getting away with it. Saying “sorry” seems to be enough, as in the case of former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.And the third is that some MPs feel they have been unfairly singled out for reprisal by party leaders eager to be seen to be taking action.Do you think they have a point? Is it time to stop harassing MPs and get on with government?
After weeks of regional disruption, a national postal strike now looms.The Communication Workers Union accuses managers of bullying and harassment in the drive for modernisation. Managers accuse the workers of being obstructive and bloody-minded.Meanwhile nimbler competitors, who do not have to provide the one-price-goes-anywhere service, make gains and big clients like the Internet shopping services withdraw their custom.What’s the postal service like in your area? Do you think the union has a good case for a strike?
As the public spending axe starts swinging, attention inevitably turns northwards to the chilly waters of the Clyde where Britain’s nuclear deterrent is based.The four Vanguard class submarines which make up what is left of the UK deterrent come to the end of their lives around 2019 and their Trident missiles will need updating in the 2020s.The go-ahead for replacement, which will cost some 20 billion pounds, was given by Tony Blair in 2006.Cheaper alternatives, like having a ballistic missile system or a plane-delivered bomb or cutting the number of subs to three have been mulled over the last few years.Some people would like to scrap the deterrent altogether, arguing it was never necessary in the first place and that the nature of threats to Britain has changed radically since the Cold War.Others believe a minimum level of deterrence is vital given the proliferation of nuclear weapons into the Middle East and Asian regions.What do you think? Is the need to balance our books so great as to end the 52-year British independent deterrent?
The Mexicans have an apt rhyme for it: “Para ser presidente, hay que paracer presidente” – to be a president you have to look like a president.Maybe Nicolas Sarkozy’s advisors had something of the kind in mind when they hired a suspiciously short crowd to surround their man on a stage this week in order to make him look taller.Not a bad idea, really — better than the old stalwarts like perching on a box or having those around you standing in trenches.Sarkozy, at a mere 5 ft 5 ” is reportedly very touchy about his height, especially since he married Carla Bruni who notably wears flat shoes in the presence of her husband to disguise the four-inch gap.But French leaders have form in this n’est-ce pas? Napoleon Bonaparte himself was just 5ft 2″ by some accounts, clearly so short that the only way of compensating for it was to subjugate Europe through war and conquest.The connection between stature and success is mixed in other countries. Abraham Lincoln was the tallest American president at 6ft 4″ and James Madison the shortest at 5ft 4″ — he made up for it by largely writing the American constitution – while in Britain the great Victorian prime minister Lord Salisbury was also 6 ft 4.” Not much around on who was Britain’s shortest premier. Could it have been Lloyd George?Do you think there is any correlation between height and achievement? Are there any outstanding short role models in Britain today?
Much to their annoyance, Samoans are having to get used to driving on the left from this week.The switch is the idea of Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who says it will be more economical for Samoans to buy new and used cars from Pacific neighbours Australia and New Zealand.It is the first time for some 40 years since a country has switched driving sides — Sweden made the change in the late 1960s.The (possibly untrue) story was told at the time of the transport minister of an African country that was also thinking of switching, who was asked how he planned to make the change from left to right. He answered: “gradually.”Britain looked at the idea of conforming with Europe after Sweden’s move but the logistics were so forbidding that nothing ever came of it. Apart from changing all the road signs, there were huge problems with motorway junctions, changing the side of bus doors, switching traffic lights and so on. It would have cost billions.But the idea of Britons being able to take their cars through the Channel tunnel and seamlessly join the continental road system without having to have the front-seat passenger as a white-knuckle advisor on potentially fatal overtaking decisions remains attractive to many.Do you think Britain missed the boat? Should we have made the switch to driving on the right? Could we still?
Repeat offenders who persist in illegally downloading music from file-sharing sites such as Limewire could be blocked from accessing the Web under government proposals.”Technology and consumer behavior is fast-changing and it’s important that Ofcom has the flexibility to respond quickly to deal with unlawful file-sharing,” says Minister for Digital Britain Stephen Timms.Opponents of the idea are more succinct. They say cutting people off is unnecessary and potentially illegal. Human rights have been invoked.Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, they say, has been successfully leaned on by lobbyists for the creative industries whose products are being hijacked.The music industry, which is losing millions through illegal downloads, is naturally pleased. The industry body UK Music says: “UK Music is pleased that Government is proposing accelerated and proportionate action to meet their stated ambition of reducing illegal file-sharing by 70-80% within 2-3 years.”What do you think? Is there a case for such drastic measures?Related blog: Who benefits from a file-sharing crackdown?
These are hard times for sweating hacks. Not a cloud in the sky, not an MP in town and — worst of all — not a whiff of a silly summer story in sight.We can usually count on a few sharks off the Cornish coast but even they seem to have thought better of it this year. Japanese knotweed is pretty scary, and doing its best to get us all worried down in the West country but it’s no substitute for a dorsal fin or two off St Ives.And now we’re cruelly told yet again there are no little green men from space. The Ministry of Defence has released files on UFO sightings reported in the 1980s and 90s, available on the National Archives.Quite promising, some of it. Two men, for example, claim an alien with a lemon-shaped head tried to lure them into a glowing red spaceship as they returned from a night out in Staffordshire in 1995.That generated a 15-page dossier, while the famous December 1980 sighting at Rendlesham Forest US air force base in Suffolk led to a former chief of defence staff warning Margaret Thatcher’s government not to be too scathing in its dismissal because the incident remained unexplained.But as usual, however dramatic the sighting, we’re always told it was a weather balloon or something equally as disappointing. No master races, no alien abductions, no cigar-shaped craft or anything remotely exciting.One day perhaps they’ll give us something to go on — and we all know they’re out there, don’t we? But until then we’ll just have to rely on daft squirrels popping up in tourist photos and the antics of celebs and politicos in the South of France to keep us going in the silly season.Roll on the Autumn.