Friday, 27 April 2007

Lies, Damned Lies...

Today's main Telegraph poll shows the Tories down 2 and Labour unchanged. So if you were a Tory supporting newspaper, how would you spin that?

You would ignore the result of your main poll, and instead focus on the hypothetical question about whether people want a Labour government under Brown or a Tory government under Cameron. Sure enough, the Tories have a 10 point lead. Only thing is, that's exactly the same lead as last month.

So on the hypothetical question, nothing has changed. And on the 'real' question about voting intention, the Tories have gone backwards.

Must be annoying when you've paid for a poll and it doesn't give the answer you wanted....

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Being a Severn bore...

Today I had the chance to debate the issue of power generation from the River Severn at Westminster with DTI Minister Malcolm Wicks. These so-called 'adjournment debates' don't lead to a vote or necessarily lead to immediate action, but they do give you a platform to challenge a Minister about a local or topical issue in far more detail than is normally possible in a brief oral question.

My emphasis today was very much on the need for a fresh appraisal of the many different types of schemes that have been proposed for harnessing the tidal power of the Severn. These include everything from a full-blown 10 mile long barrage across the estuary from near Weston to near Cardiff, to underwater tidal current turbines, via other options such as tidal lagoons. Each has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost, power potential and environmental impact, and the champions of each approach make their own claims and counterclaims which are hard to reconcile.

In response, the Minister said that next month's energy white paper will have something to say on power from the Severn and that the 'Sustainable Development Commission' will report in July on the results of its own analysis. I hope that this work can then be built on so that we get a full evaluation as soon as possible and can then make some decisions.

As Shakespeare might have said, "There is a tide in the affairs of men..."

Friday, 20 April 2007

Giving MPs a bad name

Today is one of those days which gives Parliament a bad name. A Private Member's Bill is being debated which seeks to exempt MPs from various parts of Freedom of Information legislation. Given that Parliament passed the legislation in the first place, it seems a bit rich for MPs to seek to avoid being covered by it. Lib Dem MPs are opposing the Bill but it looks as though the Government are giving it a 'nod and a wink' which may mean that it gets through in any case. Obviously MPs (like lots of other people) need to be able to deal with peoples' individual needs with confidentiality, but in general the assumption should surely be that we should be seeking to be as open as possible about what we do, rather than give people reason to suppose we have something to hide.

Another own goal for Parliament.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Does the Internet increase political engagement?

Spoke last night at a Hansard Society meeting about the role of the Internet in generating political engagement. The main focus of the meeting was some academic research by Professor John Curtice which said that although people who used the Internet tended to be more politically engaged to begin with, there was no evidence that ongoing Internet use made that difference more pronounced.

My angle was somewhat different - over the years I've put a lot of time and effort into using e-mail, and more recently social network sites like Facebook - to open up a two-way flow of communication with local people. Young people are particularly likely to use social networking sites and are also particularly likely not to vote. So if I can be available through these routes as well as more traditional ones, then maybe the Internet can make a difference.

PS I'm in the 'Bristol' network on Facebook and I'm also at www.myspace.com/stevewebb1 if you prefer

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

'Sarah's Law'

My local newspaper had a front page splash earlier this week about the 'joy' of a neighbouring MP that a new 'Sarah's Law' giving parents information about the location of local paedophiles was going to be trialled in his area. The Home Office subsequently issued a statement which put a rather different gloss on the story - suggesting that the main change was to give a woman the right to know if a man who was about to move in with her and her children was on the sex offenders register. But either way, this is an emotive and difficult issue.

I think a common starting point is that if a sex offender is released after serving his sentence, there needs to be an effective system of ongoing risk-based monitoring. Whilst it is impossible to reduce the risk to zero unless every sex offender is imprisoned until they are infirm, there must be clear evidence as to which sex offenders in the community pose the biggest threat to the public. My impression is that the police and probation services are so over-stretched that the level of supervision is pretty minimal. I would like to see it boosted, and over-seen by someone like a magistrate.

But I don't support the publication of names and addresses of offenders. Whilst it might at first sight 'feel' more secure to know where offenders are living, past evidence has suggested that lynch mobs quickly form and offenders are driven into hiding. I would far rather know that someone like a magistrate was checking that the Police and probation were supervising past sex offenders than know that no-one had a clue where they were living. This is a case where the Government should stand up to a tabloid campaign, however well meaning.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

A little learning...

Fine, I thought. Not many people in the office today, so a good time to sort out a niggling computer problem I've been having with my wireless network. First thing I did was power down the router and power it up again - at which point it fused. Fortunately, we'd been supplied with an upgraded router which I'd never got round to installing, so I plugged that one in instead. That was fine until I tried to get my wireless access point to work with it. I'll spare you the details of what happened in the next 3 hours...

This is a classic case of where knowing a bit about something is worse than knowing nothing at all. If I'd been totally ignorant I'd have just looked a bit pathetic, phoned the helpline and let them fix it all for me. As it was, I kept trying, kept failing, got the helplines to take me a bit further (or undo the last mess) and I'm leaving the office with it 'semi-mended' but still not working properly.

I'll be popular after the Bank Holiday weekend when I start unplugging cables when everyone is trying to work on the network...