Monday, 6 August 2012

House of Lords Reform

Today saw the final nail in the coffin of the Lords reform bill as proposed by the Coalition Government. They're agreement in 2010, which I as a Welsh Liberal Democrat at the time supported, stated that the Coalition would seek to build a consensus on reforming the upper chamber and bring forth a bill to Parliament accordingly.

The Consensus existed. Liberal Democrats, two-thirds of the Parliamentary Conservative Party, and the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs supported the bill at the Second Reading. 91 MPs from the Conservative Party did not, as well as handfuls of Labour, DUP and smaller party MPs.

The UK's uncodified Constitution enshrines legislative responsibility to Parliament to act as the representative body to pass laws on behalf of the people. The House of Commons has power over the other place by virtue of its democratic mandate handed to it by the people through elections. In 2010 the people voted for parties that wanted to reform the House of Lords into either a wholly or mostly elected chamber. In July 2012, Parliament declared, through the Second Reading on House of Lords Reform Bill, that in principle it was in favour of exactly this.

Today we hear that the majority of the minority of MPs who voted against the bill at the Second Reading have thwarted any attempts to take it further. Parliament is not in the habit of being railroaded by any minority, indeed, bills need exactly the opposite to progress. Yet because this majority of the minority of MPs are government MPs, the rules appear to be different. Let me make it clear, regardless of colour or composition, PARLIAMENT IS SOVEREIGN, not government.

MPs therefore have a duty as Parliamentarians, to ensure that the will of Parliament is enacted. When passing a bill there is only 1 factor that matters, that it has the majority support of the house. No MP should forget this, and every MP should remind themself that they serve at the will of the people they represent. If Parliament feels thata decision should not be its' alone, then it can call a referendum, and allow the final arbitrayor to decide, the people.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

9/11 - 10 years on: My Memories

On September 12th 2001, my history teacher, Mr Berridge, walked into the classroom and wrote "11th September 2001" on the board at the start of the lesson. He then began by saying that, yes it was yesterday's date, but it would have significance for years, even decades to come, and explained why we would always remember it.

On 11th September 2001 I was in the second week of year 10 at secondary school and was just getting used to the GCSE routine. That afternoon, after lunch, we had afternoon registration from 13:40-13:50 (little did I know then what would happen at 13:46 on that fateful day), followed by double maths, ending at 15:30, almost exactly the same time as tower 1 collapsed. It was a warm sunny day for a school kid in a fresh term, and I remember eagerly scrambling out of the classroom, doing what I had to do, and then getting on the bus home, run by Eastville Coaches, and their tacky shells of buses. By that point I had established a routine of sitting next to Dan Bowden everyday, and because the bus was always over crowded, we struck up a seat saving agreement with each other.

When I got home at a little after 16:00 each day, I was in the habit of listening to Chris Moyles' radio show, (back then it was on from 3pm or 4pm in the afternoon on a weekday), while I did my homework in the dining room. The moment I switched on the radio, I knew something was not right. The show was different and the songs were different. Whats more, every 10-15mins Chris would read out a news bulletin about the situation. I remember clearly these fateful words as I became unable to focus on homework: "We can now confirm that both of the Twin Towers have completely collapsed." It was then explained that 'Two planes flew into the World Trade Centre buildings in New York earlier.' My first thoughts was that this had been a tragic accident, knowing that JFK was nearby, having had a 45min layover there 3 years earlier. After listening to this over and over, just to make sense of it all, I went and told my mother. Her reaction when I said the twin towers, was of those at Wembley (for those of us old enough to remember the old Wembley Stadium). I then explained and we then put the TV on to see for ourselves what had happened.

Amazingly, I was the first one in my immediate family to find out. This was long before the days of Facebook, Twitter etc. I think Bebo might have existed, but I wasn't on it. The internet in our house was through dial-up and the phone had to be taken off the hook with a wire dragged to the socket. While there was 24hr news, we only had four channels on our TV. However, during the afternoon and evening of that day, and of the days to come, especially on the first anniversary of the tragedies, I was glued to the TV, watching every show I could on the events. My instant reaction to political ramifications of the events was that Bush would declare some sort of war, and we would probably get involved some how, and I was right.

The events changed my life forever even though I had no link to anyone involved in the attacks that were 3,000 miles away from home. The organisation Al Qaeda and the name Osama Bin Laden, would become household names for all the wrong reasons. I also remember understanding that these actions were a reaction to American Imperialism, not in the traditional sense of the word, but in the economic and political sense, as opposed to the more traditional military sense. The events were also a catalyst to my enthusiasm for political awareness and education. I was keen to understand what could happen and how the powers could be could act, both in the UK and the USA.

Little did I know then, but I was also affected by the events socially. In 2000 the process began for the applications and interest in the 2002 American Exchange with the 26th Northcote Bristol Scout Troop that I was a member of. During the 2000 Exchange I was ranked No1 in the Peewit Patrol, with only the APL (Assistant Patrol Leader) and PL (Patrol Leader) above me. After the shuffle round we had after Summer Camp, I was asked to lead the Falcon Patrol, which I did. In early 2001 the 12 applicants for 6 places, went through an interview stage. I believed I was in a stronger position than some of the others. I was wrong. I didn't get selected. On Wednesday 12th September 2001, I attended Scouts as usual. The leaders spoke about how they had tried, with little luck due to the phone lines being jammed, to get in touch with Troop 39 in North Carolina, and how we should be thinking of them, my reaction was sympathetic, but knew at the time, I would not be affected personally.

Later on in 2001, a vacancy for the exchange opened up. My mother's advice after I had got rejected was that I was to attend every Scout event ever mentioned, and show the leaders they had made a mistake. My efforts did not go unrewarded, as I was offered the place. When I flew this time to the US, the differences in security were clear compared to 4 years previous. Baggage checks were more rigorous, especially after landing in North Carolina. I can remember, we picked up our hold luggage instantly, before then having to go through security with both bits of luggage again, gambling about whether your belt would set the beeper off,  forcing you to be frisked, before declaring your hold luggage again. Then going through passport control, which took forever, before finally picking your luggage up at the end. I remember throughout the entire process, making jokes about having our Class A on us, much to the frustrations of our accompanying leaders, fearful that we would be reprimanded by an official. (We had recently gone through a change in uniform, and Class A was the more formal type). In New York in 1998 I was able to go up to the cock pit and be given a high 5 by the co-pilot, in 2002 the closest I got to the cockpit was a glimpse from inside the airport. We went to DC, I saw the damaged Pentagon from the road, and security checks were stepped up across the capital, but not to alarming degrees.

Bush's response to the events, sadly earned him another 4 more years in office. America doesn't have a record of dethroning a war president, and 2004 saw that rule sustained. The Spanish were hit with train bombs a few years later, as was London's Underground in 2005. Now the US is rebuilding on the same site of the Twin Towers in a very humble fashion. Moving forward, but marking the memory of a date that will be as important in US history as 07/12/41, and as important in World history as 28/06/14.

Tomorrow's date is one that shall be forever ingrained on the memories of those of us who can remember what happened, and forever embedded in the memory of human existence. While we must seek justice for the victims of the attacks, we must also seek peace in acting with greater understanding of different cultures to secure a more prosperous and harmonious world for future generations to enjoy.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Motorway and dual carriageway driving in the UK


Some of you will know that I have had the delightful companionship of my other half for a week, and some will also know that I have been to 3 interviews in as many days in 2 different locations in the UK. Naturally, this involved a lot of driving, which in itself created food for thought (in addition to stress).

The Motorways I found myself on this week were (in numerical order): M1, M4, M5, M6, M11, M25, M32, M62. I also frequented notable A-roads in the form of A14, A50, A500, and there was one thing that became blindingly obvious to me as I traveled, and that was the difference in traffic levels varied greatly depending on if the road was part of a pan European E-route.

Such routes are designed to make it easier for individuals driving long distances through one or multiple countries with navigation (fair enough) and for some reason the UK (and Ireland) refused to have E(number) signs on these routes (goodness knows why). But one thing was clear, the amount of lorries and traffic was vastly higher on an E-route compared to a non-E route. This is in turn exampled by the fact that many E-routes have variable speed limits on them, to ensure traffic flow in typically congested parts.

I, as some of you know, that while being a liberal, I am highly conservative about driving rules. I have long had these opinions, and they were backed up the teachings of my uber conservative driving instructor (who actually turned out to be helpful in my A-Level Politics revision, through debating issues). I have even been known to cause a highly unusual phenomenon, 'passenger-rage' as a result of driving to the rules.

Experience has taught me that driving at or below the speed limit tends to ensure that your vehicle tends to stay moving for a longer amount of time, and allows greater anticipation windows should you need to change speed or direction.

This is where the usefulness of varied speed limits becomes useful. Their whole function is to keep traffic moving. No-one likes to sit in traffic jams, and we all like to keep moving when we travel, as its less stressful and more relaxing. It also means, that when varied speed limits slow you below the typical 70mph for a car on a motorway, it takes you longer to get to the point where you might need to stop completely, and it means there is more time for the authorities to manage and clear the blockage to ensure traffic can flow as freely as possible past the incident location. What could be the problem?

It strikes me, that the more of our motorways that have the option to vary the compulsory speed of travel, the more consistent the flow of traffic will be. My driving instructor used to say 'there's no point in going faster than 70mph on the motorway, as it just means you hit the traffic sooner,' which rises your stress levels, which isn't healthy.

We all want to get where we need to go in a safe and stress free manner, and with our increasing dependence on electronic navigational devices, reducing the need to store local knowledge of roads in our heads, or the ability to read a map, (two things that still bewilder me today, in the cases of out of town routes, and cities you've lived in your whole life), varied speed limit signs assist us with information about the traffic conditions ahead. This gives us as road users preparation time, bringing the 5Ps (Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance) truly into play, allowing us to look at our options of alternative routes.

I believe that the greater the information we can receive through roadside signage about travel conditions ahead, and the radio, the lower our stress levels as road users will be.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Bristol bids for the KGB!


Some of you will know that I have just started to intern with Cllr Tim Kent in Bristol, and working with him on the proposed new public transport scheme for Bristol. As a train nut, the idea of more buses than trains didn't appeal to me until I got to grips with what this could actually mean.

In the case of Bristol, as in most of the Rapid Transit Systems around the UK (list of where you can find them is here), they use kerbs as guidence (as opposed to a train-like tracks or overhead wires), and this method is known as Kerb Guided Buses, or KGB for short (not to be confused with the Soviet Intelligence Agency).

Essentially these buses run, as normal buses do, but can also run in special raised kerb routes where no other vehicle can run, and are guided with little side wheels attached to their four wheels. What this means is, when on a kerb guided track, they are not subject to traffic, vehicles using their lanes when they break down for example, they, like trains, can just go. While in them, the driver just has to break or accelerate, no need for stearing, that's done by the kerbs.

Naturally, when it comes to the issue of public transport, those elsewhere in Europe are miles ahead of us. In this case, the Germans have been there, done that, and tested all the options several decades before us, as demonstrated here in Essen. The link also highlights the successes of KGBs.

The Bristol bids focus on the following routes:
1) Long Ashton to Temple Meads and the Centre
2) Hengrove to the North Fringe
3) Long Ashton to Hengrove

More details can be found here (Images wouldn't copy over clearly to this blog post)

What I am going to talk about now is the possibility KGBs raise, not just in terms of Bristol, but nationwide.

Having looked at Bus Rapid Transit Schemes around the UK and around the world, I have learnt a few things:

1) These buses can go on existing roads, and on purpose built roads
2) KGB exclusive roads create an added bonus of extra speed and freedom from other forms of traffic
3) Like trams, trains and london transport, ticket buying before boarding reduces the amount of time the buses need to be stationary and therefore decreases the travel time for commuters.

What this means is that unlike a train or a tram, or indeed a normal bus, these buses are the most flexible type of public transport vehicle, and have the potential to revolutionise public transport today, and here's why.

1) Re-opening parts of former rail lines, and rebuilding the track as was (in areas where there aren't any single track cycle paths), is in most cases impossible simply because the ground has been built on in parts, turned into roads, or has been leveled to match the surrounding landscape so that farmers owning the land can maximise their use of it.
2) Trains can only go on train lines, trams can only go on tram lines, trolley buses can only go where there is overhead wires in place for them to utilise, KGBs require kerb guidance as a BONUS, not as a necessity.
3) Buses can go up and down steeper gradients with greater ease than trams or trains.
4) Former rail lines can be used IN CONJUCTION with existing roads to create rapid transit routes that facilitate demand and reduce the use of cars.
5) As KGB legislation requires a maintenance lane (just like the channel tunnel has a maintenance tunnel), this lane can be used as cycle path when no work on the route is required, increasing the number of cycle routes.

Some of you may think that I am talking out of fantasy here, but let me prove you wrong.

Cambridgeshire, hosts the longest KGB route in the world! It opened earlier this month and it runs from St Ives to Cambridge. It utilises the former St Ives to Cambridge train line as well as existing roads. It also provides a route cyclists and horse riders on its maintenance track that runs down one side. To ensure that prices stay reasonable, three different routes with competing companies use the KGB-only section along the former train line. Details about how exactly it works can be found here.

Now it wasn't all a raving party for the KGB over in Cambridgeshire, and as a transport enthusiast myself, I can speak with confidence that there is as much unity on which direction the country should take regarding the future of transportation, as there is with the unity on the topic of the EU amongst Tories, (ie none whatsoever). Therefore unsurprisingly the groups CAST IRON  and focusing on the issues of cost and a lack of a direct link between the East Coast Main Line and Stansted Airport, without the need to go through London first. They focused on re-opening the railway between Huntingdon and Cambridge via St Ives highlighting the success of the Wensleydale Railway.

1) the Cambridgeshire KGB has covered more the distance between Cambridge and Huntingdon, than the Wensleydale line has between its two main North-South railway lines
2) There are route connecting the two stations via the Bus Guideway
3) The Wensleydale line took 8 years to be constructed and running services on its current route, compared to the Cambridgeshire KGB taking just 4 years.
4) The line between St Ives and Huntingdon has had the last mile or so built on with buildings and the A14, requiring land to be purchased and work required to simply create a bed for the track to exist on before one could be laid, however buses can utilise existing roads to connect Huntingdon and St Ives.
5) Bus companies were overwhelmed with the amount of passenger journeys made on it during its first week, and had to lay on extra buses to cope with demand.

In many cases, bendy buses are used. This offers 3 entrances/exits instead of 1 or 2, therefore making it easier and quicker to board/alight the bus. They also have 50% extra seating than double decker route-master buses. Also passengers must buy tickets before boarding, meaning stingy buggers like me don't spend three minutes counting out the pennies in front of the bus driver to prove we have the right amount of money for the fare, and don't hold up everyone else on board.

All in all, KGBs are faster, safer (as they have their own routes), greener (as the reduce the number of cars on the road), and provide a better usage of land (as in the case of former Beeching lines, create two tracks PLUS a cycle/bridle path).

Quite frankly, it would be foolish to say no.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

My Porn Stats so far

To Follow the example of Mark Cole who's blog can be found  here, I am going to report on my viewing stats for the first time.

My Blog entry views:
Tuition Fees: 77
Gender Roles Mark 1: 50
Elections: 48
Conference: 29
Gender Roles Mark 2: 11
House of Lords: 6
Wales Constituency Boundaries: 3

My peak pay views it seems was in July this year at 2,382, but it would also suggest that nobody read any particular post :S Other than that, I got 75 in November last year, 65 in September last year, 70 in May this year and the Jury is still out on August this year.

It appears particular thanks need to go to Mark Cole for providing, almost all of my traffic, from, well, since, forever He has provided me with 1 shy of 3,500 people referred from his blog.
77 come from Facebook, 32 from (More on my Russian support later), 9 from, 5 from mobile Facebook, 3 each from Google translator and and 2 each from (thank you Linden) and

Now here's the interesting part, audience:

United Kingdom
United States

And that's just the top 10 Nations. Thank-you to all those people. I am most humbled by you reading my words.

The tools used to read my blogs are as follows:

Pageviews by Browsers
Internet Explorer
1,686 (43%)
747 (19%)
699 (18%)
481 (12%)
80 (2%)
Mobile Safari
77 (2%)
59 (1%)
3 (<1%)
3 (<1%)
2 (<1%)
Pageviews by Operating Systems
2,969 (77%)
412 (10%)
175 (4%)
88 (2%)
75 (1%)
75 (1%)
9 (<1%)
9 (<1%)
Other Unix
5 (<1%)
4 (<1%)

I had never heard of a Unix, Version, Chromeframe or Ubuntu til now, so thank-you to those people for expanding my knowledge of browsers and tools.

I shall do a post later on today on my views this month. Thank-you for reading, and please continue to do so.