Friday, 28 August 2009

Stop trolling, Irfan!

I'm not going to link to Irfan Ahmed's latest idiotic posting, in which he regurgitates a lie from Tory Bear that the Lib Dems are set to drop their policy of abolishing tuition fees.

Not only did Irfan not check his facts (the Lib Dems reaffirmed our opposition to tuition fees as recently as our last conference), he chose to headline his posting 'Fib Dems?'

If you look at the post, you'll find Irfan's struck through the text after comments from myself and others which demolished his argument.

But this is only the latest instalment of idiocy from Mr Ahmed, following his accusation recently that our party president is a crook. He has had posts in the past which have verged on the anti-semitic and homophobic, as well as one which said women were incapable of taking political decisions and should leave it to men. He has also claimed that there was a moral equivalence between a Tory MP who tried to stop youths from playing football where they shouldn't and the youths who then beat him up.

A word of advice, Irfan: stop being such a bloody fool. I'm not the only person who's concluded that you're nothing more than a troll.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Future of Devolution - draft amendment

Another motion on the agenda at Bournemouth next month is The Future Of Devolution, proposed by the Scottish and Welsh Liberal Democrats.

This is OK as far as it goes, but there is one glaring hole in it, which is that the motion focuses only on Scotland and Wales. There's absolutely no mention of that big bit directly below Scotland and to the right of Wales - what's it called again? Oh yes, England.

To have a motion about devolution which doesn't mention the single biggest bit of the UK seems somewhat naive, and possibly a little dangerous given the views sometimes expressed south of the border about the way Scotland and Wales can control their domestic affairs but England can't.

Now, it's not really for me to suggest how England ought to govern itself, although I have some ideas on that score. But the issue does need to be discussed at some point.

That's why I've drafted the following amendment:

Add at end:
Conference also believes that government in England is far too centralised and unaccountable and instructs the Federal Policy Committee to bring forward proposals to Federal Conference within the next 18 months on how this can be tackled.

As with the Real Women one, if you support this amendment and are a Lib Dem federal conference voting rep, email me at bernardsalmon[at] with your name, membership number and local party.

Real Women - draft amendment

I've finally got around to reading the new Lib Dem policy paper Real Women today.

On the whole, I think it's pretty good stuff. It tackles issues that affect women, without making me as a man feel I'm engaged in a massive conspiracy against the entire female population. It proposes lots of sensible, practical ways in which to enable women to improve their own lives.

But there are flaws in the motion that Lib Dem federal conference will be discussing next month when we get together in Bournemouth. There are parts of it which assume that some of the problems it seeks to address can be solved by state regulation, rather than through cultural change, which I think is a wrong-headed approach.

In particular, I'm thinking of the proposals relating to how women are portrayed in the media. These are either utterly impractical and unenforceable (eg the proposals governing how pictures can be modified) or involve the sort of petty state regulation that Lib Dems should be opposing. The proposals on lessons on body-image involve the sort of centralised control of education that I thought we were against. And the idea to introduce 'name blanking' for job applications is just silly bureaucratic nonsense.

That's why I've drafted this amendment, which I'm seeking support for. It's only a draft at the moment, so this may not be quite the final version, but if you're a Lib Dem federal conference voting rep and wish to support it, email me at bernardsalmon[at] (replace the [at] with an @). I'll need your name, Lib Dem membership number and your local party.

This is the amendment:

Delete sections 3 and 4 (lines 39-52) and replace with:

3. Proposals to challenge the often narrow portrayal of gender roles within the media, but recognising that this can best be done through a process of cultural change rather than by regulation by the state.

4. Proposals to empower young girls (and boys) to challenge conformity and to decrease their chances of developing eating disorders by encouraging schools and local authorities to develop age-appropriate lessons on body-image and media literacy as part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) in schools.

Delete section 6(d) (lines 65-66).

These are the relevant sections of the motion as they currently stand:

3. Proposals to challenge the narrow and overly sexualised aesthetic presented in the media and popular culture by:

a) Requiring OFCOM and the ASA to mainstream gender equality into their regulation of the media.
b) Requiring all advertisements to declare the extent to which digital retouching technology has been used to create overly perfected and unrealistic images of women (and men).

4. Proposals to allow young girls (and boys) the space to challenge conformity and to decrease their chances of developing eating disorders by:

a) Banning the use of digital retouching technology in advertisements aimed at under 16s, which creates overly perfected and unrealistic images of women (and men); we would work with industry professionals to ensure that legislation was appropriately worded to reflect these aims.
b) Providing age-appropriate lessons on body-image and media literacy as part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) in schools.

6. Plans to tackle discrimination at work and in pay by:
d) Introducing a 'name blanking' policy so that job applicants apply with National Insurance numbers.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A few additions to my blogroll

Partly following on from my last post, I've now updated my blogroll. As well as Mark Reckons and Himmelgarten Cafe whom I've already referred to, the Honourable Lady Mark, Fraser MacPherson, that elephant in the room, the Social Liberal Forum (whose two recent posts on the health debate I'd recommend that people read), Norfolk Blogger and the excellent Welsh Lib Dem site Freedom Central all make it for the first time. I've also got round to updating the often infuriating, frequently plain wrong but always interesting Charlotte Gore from her old site to her new one.

Banning MPs' outside jobs would be bad for democracy

Mark Thompson's Mark Reckons blog is always thoughtful, well-written and interesting. He's certainly been one of the stars of the Lib Dem blogosphere over the past year. I really must get around some time to adding him to my blogroll, as well as one or two others like the cafe owner.

But (you knew there was a but coming, didn't you?) I think his posting today about stopping MPs from having outside interests is wrong. In a battle of the Marks, Mr Bureaucracy also takes issue with Mr Reckons. I largely agree with Mark V that it's none of our business, but I also have other concerns.

I want our parliaments to be composed of as wide a range of people as possible. If MPs were banned from having second jobs, I suspect the sort of people who get elected would become even narrower than they are already.

Mark Reckons does allow some exceptions, for people who have been directors of their own businesses who might wish to keep involved in the running of their firms. But if that's OK, why should a GP not be allowed to practise at least part-time? Given the vagaries of politics, they could be out of a job in a few years and face the prospect of either getting a new profession or having to undergo retraining to update their skills. Indeed, we've already had GP Howard Stoate deciding to stand down as an MP, as he feared new rules about second jobs would not allow him to continue to practise.

Or what about a journalist? Part of the job of a politician is to debate ideas and policies, which can be done through writing articles for the media. It seems rather unfair that a journalist who becomes an MP could continue to get paid for writing articles, but a GP couldn't continue to practise.

And if being a doctor or a journalist is also OK, why not a lawyer or a forex trader or an astrophysicist? By denying those people the right to continue to have paid outside interests, you're more likely to find they'll decide that standing for Parliament just isn't worth it in terms of the career sacrifice.

We already have a problem with politicians being drawn from an increasingly narrow section of the population, with student politics being followed by a job with an MP or a think tank, followed by election as a local councillor and then on into Parliament, and so on up the greasy pole. I want people in politics who have a wider experience of life than just politics. Stopping MPs from having paid outside interests would only make that problem much worse.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Porkie pies on ham sandwich risk?

Blimey, it's easy to get out of the habit of this blogging lark, isn't it?

But I've been prompted to get back into things by today's story about a cancer charity's call for ham sandwiches to be no longer part of kids' lunchboxes due to an apparent increased risk of bowel cancer from processed meats.

My first reaction on hearing this story this morning was to think it wasn't anything new - and indeed it isn't, as a quick Google search comes up with these items from March 2008, November 2007 and June 2005, amongst others.

But the evidence behind this claim is not quite what it seems. Yes, there almost certainly is a link between consumption of red meat and increased risk of bowel cancer, but it's not as hard and fast as the call to stop giving kids ham sandwiches might suggest.

For a start, the World Cancer Research Fund, which made the call, acknowledges that little research has been done on red meat consumption in kids. Many of the studies which make up the research are like this one, which focuses on elderly people in the USA. It's certainly plausible to speculate that elderly people might be more prone to developing cancers linked to red meat consumption or that there is something about the way food is processed in the USA which might lead to the results. This study also notes that increased red meat consumption was linked to colorectal cancer when adjusting for age and energy intake, but when additional factors such as obesity or smoking were taken into account, the link is less clear.

It's also important to put the increased risk, such as it is, in context. As the American Institute for Cancer Research notes, the increased risk of bowel cancer from eating red meat is somewhere in the region of 20-25 per cent, which compares with an increased risk of lung cancer from smoking of up to 2000%. The rate of colorectal cancer in the UK is 55 per 100,000 people for men and 34.1 for women. A 25% increase in the risk of getting bowel cancer from excessive consumption of red meat would therefore mean a rate of about 68 per 100,000 for men and 42 for women. It's also worth noting that mortality rates for bowel cancer are falling, although more young people are developing the condition.

Even putting these issues aside, it's not easy to isolate the exact impact which red and processed meat has when compared to other aspects of diet. For instance, it seems that a diet with plenty of fibre is associated with a reduced risk of bowel cancer. Would a diet which is high in both red meat and fibre be good or bad? The evidence is unclear.

There are also questions about exactly what the figures show. In this study of 500,000 elderly Americans, it appears that those in the top 20 per cent for red meat consumption had a 25 per cent greater likelihood of developing various cancers than those in the lowest 20 per cent (although their incidence of leukaemia and melanoma were reduced). That indicates that eating A LOT of red or processed may be bad for you. But it certainly doesn't indicate that moderate consumption of red meat will give you cancer - and I can't find any evidence that it does.

Indeed, some experts question to what extent diet generally is an important factor in combating or causing cancer. This article, for instance, claims that regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are most important and that eating fruit and veg to prevent cancer is more significant in preventing cancer than eating red meat is in causing it.

So, should you give your kids ham sandwiches for lunch? I don't see any great reason not to, especially if you also slip an apple and a cereal bar into their lunchboxes. If they then run around the playground a bit after having it, so much the better.

Anyone who tells you that ham sandwiches will give your kids cancer is being unduly alarmist and is not giving you all the facts.

Right, I'm off to get a bacon sandwich for my tea.

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