Wickham's soapbox rant

The way it should be

Why can't politicians, kings, emperors, dictators, etc. be less possessive?

Why can't various groups have their freedom?

Why can't national boundaries be more flexible?

In my Utopia democracy would work from the bottom up, not as now from the top down. What I mean by that is that when politicians have been elected they suddenly get power-mad and possessive of territory, but they should be more respectful of the wishes of those who elected them.

If a group of people, the majority in an area, want to run their own lives or associate with others in another part of this earth, then let them. Political boundaries are relatively rigid but needn't be so. They could ebb and flow according to the wishes of those living in an area.

The Basques, Tibetans, Joshua Nkomo's tribe in Zimbabwe, Tamils, Kurds on the borders of Turkey and Iraq, Indonesians in Aceh and Timor, all should have whatever degree of independence they want. I would even extend this to those communities in Northern Ireland who want to be part of Eire. Provided always that the majority view prevails which excludes meeting the wishes of a few terrorists or cranks.

I myself worked in Indonesia, got paid in Hong Kong and paid tax in the United Kingdom so there is no reason why a community or even an individual or family should not live in one area but pay taxes to another, receiving benefits from wherever they pay their taxes. For instance health care and defence from one area such as Eire but street maintenance and other local services from another where they pay local taxes.

The Falkland islanders come to mind who pay taxes to the UK government and receive defence but also pay local taxes for local matters.


*** Current Affairs --- My View ***

Tony Blair's voice was obviously cracking when he spoke to journalists in Japan after hearing of Dr David Kelly's suicide.

I was always uneasy about the war with Iraq, and more so now that the threat to us seems to have been minimal.

I know 25 people a week were being tortured and killed by Saddam Hussein, but Tony Blair has had a part in the killing of far more innocent Iraqis.

His voice didn't crack when he thought about them.

Perhaps he's really worried he may have to resign in disgrace over the BBC affair and the sexing up of the dossier on weapons of mass destruction.

Why is it that Andrew Gilligan (or someone else) can't at least say whether David Kelly was the source of the sexing up comment? Who first coined that phrase?


Travellers stranded at Heathrow airport by unofficial strike

Travellers are still delayed several days after the unofficial strike. They have been going home because of full hotels and returning early each day in the hope of a flight, unable to phone because of busy phone lines.

Compensation from British Airways is certain, but will hardly compensate them fully.

I wonder if they could sue the workers as a group? They have no contract with the workers but there must be some law that would allow them to claim that a reasonable person could have foreseen the cost to a third party and/or that the workers took deliberate action that resulted in loss and could have avoided causing it. Each worker could be identified and all-told their assets such as houses and cars would amount to a substantial sum to cover the loss.

The union presumably cannot be sued because it did not call for and instruct the strike.


Britain's future energy sources

John Humphrys in the Sunday Times has noted that by 2020 90% of our gas for electricity will have to be imported. This will have to come from countries such as Algeria, Turkmenistan, Iran and Nigeria. All these countries have dubious politics; they harbour terrorists and don't have a way of life that remotely resembles ours. Whereas oil is quickly loaded onto tankers that are reasonably secure, gas would be piped in long pipelines, easy targets for terrorist attack.

This means that these countries will become rich at our expense. Will they try to change western business methods and culture? An obvious comparison should be made with Saudi Arabia which moved from 1950s poverty to extreme wealth now. Although we disagree with Saudi traditions, especially punishment methods, they have adopted western business methods and relations are normally cordial.

We had trouble in the early 70s when Opec raised oil prices by a huge percentage, but recently Opec countries have on the whole realised that they have to cooperate with the importing countries and act responsibly otherwise everyone suffers. Will it be the same with the emerging rich gas exporters? It's a risk I would try to reduce as much as possible.

We are phasing out all nuclear power stations by 2010, coal-fired stations are also fading away due to environmental concerns, our North Sea gas won't last long and renewable sources can't provide a steady-enough supply and can't be built in sufficient capacity by 2020.

My conclusions:-

We will probably have to risk that gas-exporting countries will adopt reliable business ethics and form an organisation similar to Opec but at the same time we should push ahead with renewables as fast as possible to have some home-produced energy to offset the risk of supply disruption from gas-exporters.

Although I am green by nature, I am also sure that nuclear power will have to take the load at some point in the future - if not within our lifetimes then perhaps within a century or so. This means we should carry on with research into waste storage and disposal. I also believe that we should build a new generation of power stations on the same sites to provide core home-produced capacity and keep the technology advancing steadily. The radiation risk is already there - it won't go away for thousands of years so we might as well keep it in the same places under our control and recycle the sites to produce more power.

I believe the Swedes are constructing a deep under-sea depository for nuclear waste that will keep it well away from human contact. We should be able to do something like that. It would be difficult for terrorists to reach - especially if flooded for additional protection. We have been investigating sites such as deep clay depositories but these are on land and near human habitation. The Swedish approach seems sensible and worth further thought by British engineers. Like the Swedes, we have lots of granite under our seas which is dense and outside volcanic and earthquake zones (and is itself slightly radioactive).

It is too much of a risk to rely heavily on imported energy from risky sources and financially better to keep most of the production cost flowing around our own financial system, not escaping elsewhere.


I can hear the drone of combine harvesters from two directions and the sloes are going purple - is summer drawing to a close?
One of the robins has moulted and lost its tail - it is just a ball of fluff with a beak and two spindly legs and looks very silly.


British immigrants will need a million new homes

We seem incapable of keeping illegal immigrants out. Most are undoubtedly economic migrants and a system of sharing asylum seekers more rationally around the EU hasn't yet been agreed.

Whether immigration is legal or illegal, we have a housing problem.

Migrationwatch UK says that in the next twenty years one new house will have to be built for every four already existing in London, the south-east and south-west of England. This is a staggering number and raises the other issue of the drift to the south where work opportunities are more abundant.

We need a much greater effort to revitalise the north of the country - there are plenty of old industrial areas crying out for redevelopment - housing or industry.

Travel by car, train or plane is unlikely to get any easier in the next decade and the south will take the brunt of the congestion problems. Now that video-conferencing facilities are becoming more available, either within companies or in special centres for hire, there should be less need for the south to expand uncontrollably.

I know the problem second-hand. Colleagues of mine who worked for branch offices in Middlesbrough and Scunthorpe were asked to work temporarily in the London office so they moved down into rented houses. After a year or so when they asked about moving back north they were told that there was no work for them there. So they reluctantly had to mortgage themselves up to the hilt and settle permanently in the London commuter belt, travelling north at weekends to see friends and family. They feel exiled!


Why should some of us pay for the retirement of spendthrifts?

It has been widely reported that most people do not have adequate pension provision.

Some are in final salary schemes where the fund itself is ring-fenced (after the Maxwell fraud problem) but is under-funded due to the stock market fall, early retirement and greater life expectancy. The contributing company may be in financial difficulties and be unable to top-up the fund. If the company goes bankrupt the fund has to pay existing pensions in full first before considering new pensioners. Already some who have contributed for forty years and just retired have found that they have no pension entitlement at all. There appears to be no attempt to change the law so that the pain is shared equally. A law is being proposed to allow some form of compensation but it is not retrospective and it seems it will be voluntary for those providing the compensation.

Others may be in with-profits plans and some insurers have stated that they will pay no guaranteed bonus and no unguaranteed bonus for several years while reserves are built up. In fact they are reducing unguaranteed bonus that was built up in earlier years.

Yet others are in unit-linked plans which have suffered in the stock market fall.

Both the above groups suffer a double-whammy in that annuity rates have fallen by 25% in two years and a triple-whammy in that although they may be entitled to convert their fund into an annuity at age 50 (or 60 for section 226 policies) many insurers are applying a penalty of 10% to 20% if the age is not the age stated in the policy contract.

I look out of my window and see vehicles going to the hill-climb nearby. A few years ago people drove the cars to the show - old bangers, classic cars or road-worthy "specials". Then the race vehicles became more special, like Lotus super-sevens, and were brought on trailers. Now people arrive in expensive 4x4s with a completely covered trailer carrying expensive specially-built hill-climb cars.

I am thinking, will my taxes have to increase in a few years to provide hand-outs to these people who haven't set aside enough for their retirement? I am in favour of compulsory pension contributions of say 10% of earnings or to provide at least as much again as the basic state pension, perhaps starting at age 35 to allow young people to buy a house and start a family.

In addition, the risk that pension funds may underperform seems much too great at present. If the government feels unable to underwrite every pension plan then regulation should be much stricter to ensure liabilities are met by top grade gilts and bonds. This will mean lower growth for pension investments but the current shambles has shown that too much faith was put in risky investments. Recently the Financial Services Authority admitted that people expected too much of it and regulation with a "light touch" was all it could provide in the Equitable Life fiasco, in other words, it can't or won't do much to stop a crisis.


My automatic outside light has been coming on at night unexpectedly; I can see the light through my curtains just after I have gone to bed. I suspect a cat, fox, badger or bat. It is most likely a bat as I have seen one flitting around in front of my house recently. The other possibility is a deer but these only rarely wander around my house.


England's cricketers on the ropes again!

After a huge bowling improvement in the one-day series when we smashed the South Africans, bowling them out for the lowest score ever in a one-day final, yesterday all our bowlers were useless on an easy-paced pitch in the sun.

South Africa yesterday got 398 for 1, two short of 400 in a day!

The opening pair of Hershelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith put on about 308 for the first wicket before Gibbs was out for 179. At the close Graeme Smith was 178 not out and Gary Kirsten was 26 not out and just finding his feet. The fact that there were only 15 extras shows that they weren't letting many balls past!

Nasser Hussein tried all his bowlers except Anthony McGrath who is a bit injured:-
Darren Gough, back from a serious knee injury; his first long match as he only played in a one-day match recently; he was reasonably accurate but lacking penetration
James Anderson, very inconsistent, warned once for running on the pitch and his rhythm was terrible
Steve Harmison, fast but not able to be dangerous on the flat pitch Andy Flintoff, the best of the bunch but unlucky; lbw not given which 'Hawkeye' showed as hitting middle stump half-way up
Ashley Giles, no penetration either
Mark Butcher, only two overs but got a catch dropped off his last ball. Probably should have been bowled more
Michael Vaughan, better than average and tricked Herschelle Gibbs into pulling the ball high into the safe hands of Mark Butcher at deep mid-wicket; should have been brought on much earlier.

It rained hard earlier today and there was no play so England must play for a draw. I can't see our batsmen being good enough or having the self-discipline to score 150 each. I'd like to see us get a first innings lead though, even if the South Africans get more than 600 which seems very likely - and they could exceed this comfortably.


Uday and Qusay Hussein killed

The Americans released the photos of Uday and Qusay Hussein to prove to Iraqis that they are dead - killed in a shoot-out in Mosul.

The first photos were of terrible quality, all in darkness and one body only showed the side of the head, taken in the house where they were killed. Many Iraqis were unconvinced and I can see why. The Americans have shown the actual bodies to some local Iraqis who personally knew them and it seems they have confirmed that the brothers are dead. Few seem to believe the Americans even if they hated Saddam's regime. Some Iraqis are more convinced by the photo of Uday than of Qusay and an x-ray showed the leg pins that were inserted after the assassination attempt on Uday many years ago.

Later photos were taken in the mortuary after the bodies had been cleaned and stitched up, but then they looked terribly artificial with mono-coloured skin and Qusay had had his beard shaved (after death, it seems). Some Iraqis didn't like this because they don't touch a dead body, they bury it immediately, so the Americans haven't quite got it right either way.