Politics Iceland style – Pirate Party poised for victory

“A party that favours direct democracy, complete government transparency, decriminalising drugs and offering asylum to Edward Snowden could form the next government in Iceland after the country goes to the polls on Saturday.

Riding a wave of public anger at perceived political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, Iceland’s Pirate party looks on course to either win or finish a close second.

The radical party, founded by activists and hackers four years ago as part of an international anti-copyright movement, captured 5% of the vote in 2013 elections, winning three seats in Iceland’s 63-member parliament, the Althingi.

This time around, analysts say it could win between 18 and 20 seats. This would put it in pole position to form a government at the head of a broad progressive alliance of up to five parties currently in opposition.

The party’s leader and figurehead is Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a 49-year-old feminist MP, poet, artist and former WikiLeaks collaborator. Jónsdóttir says she has no ambition to be prime minister, pointing to the Pirate party’s horizontal structure. Rather, she wants to sweep away what she sees as Iceland’s dysfunctional system.

“People in Iceland are sick of corruption and nepotism,” she has said. She likens Iceland to a chilly North Atlantic version of Sicily, ruled by a few “mafia-style families” plus their friends, whom she nicknames “the Octopus”.

Of her political movement, she says: “We do not define ourselves as left or right but rather as a party that focuses on the systems. In other words, we consider ourselves hackers – so to speak – of our current outdated systems of government.”

This anti-establishment message has resonated with large swaths of Iceland’s 320,000-strong population, especially the young. On Monday Jónsdóttir and two party colleagues took part in an AMA, or “ask me anything”, on Reddit. Their wide-ranging discussion covered the EU (the Pirates would put Iceland’s membership application to a referendum), fishing quotas, whaling, climate change and the party’s name.

“We’re called the Pirate party in reference to a global movement of Pirate parties that popped up over the last decade,” parliamentary candidate Smári McCarthy explained. “Despite our name, we’re taken fairly seriously in Iceland, in particular because of our very aggressive anti-corruption stance, [and] our pro-transparency work.” …

… All too often in Icelandic politics, the party says, electoral pledges are reneged on after elections, with “the parties forming a government … hiding behind compromises in coalition – enabling them to cheat voters again and again”.

Saturday’s election was prompted by the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson. He became the first major casualty of the Panama Papers in April after the leaked legal documents revealed he and his wife had millions of pounds of family money offshore. Gunnlaugsson hadn’t declared the British Virgin Islands company.

This was not illegal, but the news sparked outrage and some of the largest protests that Iceland has ever seen. The ruling coalition replaced Gunnlaugsson with the agriculture and fisheries minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson and promised elections before the end of this year.

Gunnlaugsson’s Progressive party is now languishing at about 8% in the polls, barely a third of its score in the 2013 elections. Support for the Independence party, the Pirates’ rival for the position of largest party, seems to be holding. …

… Built on the belief that new technologies can help promote civic engagement and government transparency and accountability, the Pirates also advocate an “unlimited right” for citizens to be involved in political decision-making. It wants voters to be able to propose new legislation and decide on it in national referendums.

The Pirate party is part of a global anti-establishment trend typified by parties on the left such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and on the right such as Germany’s AfD and Britain’s Ukip. As well as promising to accept Bitcoin as legal tender, Iceland’s Pirates have pledged to maintain the country’s economic stability. …

… Unlike some other anti-establishment parties, the Pirates have made clear they have no intention of doing anything likely to upset the economy. Analysts say there is little panic at the prospect of the radical party entering government.

“Across Europe, increasingly many people think that the system that is supposed to look after them is not doing it any more,” Jónsdóttir said. “But we know we are new to this, and it is important that we are extra careful and extra critical of ourselves to not take too much on.”


FWS Carter and Greendale Business Park – trees, who cares?

East Devon District Council has moved to prevent more trees being felled at a business park near Woodbury Salterton.

“A tree preservation order has been made after concerns were raised about trees being removed at Greendale Business Park, off the A3052.

It comes as owner FWS Carter & Sons Ltd is set to appeal against the council’s refusal of planning permission for an extended compound, warehouse and office building on the eastern edge of the site.

Groundworks on the scheme, including the removal of some trees, started in March last year, before a planning application was submitted in November.

Planning consent was refused by East Devon District Council in July this year.

Earlier this month, the council confirmed a tree preservation order to safeguard the remaining trees on the eastern side of the business park.

The trees were planted some years ago to provide screening to mitigate the impact of the industrial estate on the surrounding rural area.

Councillor Geoff Jung, the local ward member on the district council, claims between 300 and 450 trees have been removed – but the developer says only 50 have been cleared.

Georgina Turner, owner of the nearby Brooklands Caravan Park, which overlooks the site, said: “It’s affecting my house as well as my livelihood.

“When we bought this place 18 months ago, the holiday park was protected from the industrial estate by this thick band of trees, so you couldn’t hear it or see it.

“Since they removed the trees, people coming here on holiday have commented on the noise. It has put some people off. People want to go on holiday somewhere peaceful and quiet.

“Even if they were to replant the trees, it will take another 15 years for them to grow, so it’s not going to be an immediate solution.”

Councillor Jung said: “These trees were specifically planted to act as a semi natural screen to help shield the industrial area from the open countryside and local residential properties.

“We will have to start again and await further planting and years of continual growth to replicate what has been ripped out.”

The planning officer’s report notes that works have been ongoing on the site, where a concrete compound and light commercial unit have been constructed.

FWS Carter & Sons has said around 30 jobs are associated with the new development.

Director Alec Carter said: “Greendale Business Park is a major employment site in East Devon, supporting over 1,300 jobs and contributing well over £16 million to the local economy each year.

“The planning application in question was submitted in November 2015 with a target date for determination in February 2016. The application was not considered until eight months after it was lodged.

“The refusal of the application was surprising given that the majority of the site in question had previously been granted planning consent for a large 1,661 square metre office building.

“The business occupying the site employs 30 people and is predominantly using the area for open storage. A small 120 square metre warehouse is also on the site.

“A planning appeal is being lodged with the Planning Inspectorate against the refusal of the planning application. Two detailed planning applications are also being re-submitted to East Devon District Council.

“Around 50 young trees were removed to accommodate the business site and a number have been replanted on the boundary of the proposed development. The trees were not covered by a Tree Protection Order and their removal is not in breach of Forestry Commission regulations, who were notified at the time.”

The developer has agreed to repay part of a grant from the Forestry Commission which was used to fund the original planting.

It added that over the last 15 years, around 23,000 trees covering 21 hectares have been planted around Greendale Business Park.”


Swire still pines for the Maldives

Hansard source
(Citation: HC Deb, 25 October 2016, cW)

“To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, if he will have discussions with the Commonwealth Secretary-General on the Maldives leaving the Commonwealth.

As the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) said on 13 October, the UK is disappointed that the Maldives Government has decided to withdraw from the Commonwealth. We believe in the Commonwealth and its commitment to improving the lives of people across all its member states. It is an organisation dedicated to developing free and democratic societies, and to promoting peace and prosperity.

There are no current plans for Ministers to discuss the Maldives with the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Officials are in regular contact with the Commonwealth Secretariat.”


Sidmouth seafront: how to say nothing much in several hundred words

” Seafront project is a ‘golden opportunity’ for Sidmouth
“Landowners Sidmouth Town Council (STC) and East Devon District Council (EDDC) are together conducting a scoping study and will be commissioning experts to appraise the area.

The authorities have pulled together valley organisations and Devon County Council to form a reference group that will ‘act as a bridge’ between the expert consultants, the stakeholders and the wider public.

The Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan Group, the Sid Vale Association, Vision Group for Sidmouth and Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce are all represented.

Councillor Jeff Turner, who chairs the reference group and the town council, said: “We have a good representation of the major bodies from the town on this group who have shown historic leadership and a keen interest in the future of Port Royal.

“With the help of our experts, the study will provide us with information on the constraints and opportunities for the area with options and how viable they are.

“This will help us move forward toward a detailed vision for the area.

“Sidmouth is one of the best coastal towns in England and, with land being in public ownership, this is a golden opportunity to look at ways of renewing the eastern gateway to the town, ensuring that it is both enhanced and protected.”

Cllr Turner stressed that no decisions have been made about the future of the area.

“The scoping study is the start of a process that will involve detailed visioning for the area that will inform decisions in the future,” he said.

“The study is likely to take three to four months to complete and during this time consultants will carry out consultation both with tenants and members of various clubs as well as our residents and businesses.

“Wherever possible, we will work together with Sidmouth’s organisations to ensure that consultation is carried out in a coordinated way.”

The reference group decided it will involve existing work already carried out on Port Royal, and send out communication to tenants to update them after every meeting.”


The real rationale for bed cuts? And where is the evidence?

Upgraded comment from Paul F to previous post:

“Behind these proposals is an organisation desperate to cut costs. The “Success” in the title of the “Success Regime” is success in cutting spending in Devon to meet the NHS budget – it is not about successful healthcare for people, it is all about saving money.

They talk about “efficiency savings” rather than “cost cutting” and the difference is vitally important. “Efficiency savings” are when you can provide the same level of care for less money by being more efficient, whilst “cost cutting” is when you reduce your costs by reducing the quality of care.

The underlying principle of their proposals is that home-based care is as good medically but can be provided at a fraction of the cost.

On top of the reduction in hospital beds that would result from home care, they claim that beds are already under-utilised and that even more beds can be cut if we can cut bed blocking (so that social care support is available for patients who need it so that they can leave hospital).

All these make sense if the evidence is there to back them up, but these claims need to be independently analysed and verified. Additionally there is the inevitable fight about where the cuts in beds will be made, and questions about whether the replacement home care and social services will be in place and fully ready before the cuts in beds are made.

Like Claire, I set out to see whether the written evidence actually supports these proposals or whether the evidence has been fudged.

The Home Care proposal is based on pilots already undertaken in North Devon – and on formal reports that have been written following these pilots. When reading analyses like these, I want to see them take the data, ideally using objective measures of health improvement (such as mobility resulting from physio on some standardised scale) though subjective surveys of patients also have a value, and then summarise the good and bad points and only then draw conclusions about whether the pilot should be extended to the whole of the CCG area.

Unfortunately the reports are lacking in objective medical assessments of home care vs. hospital care, relying almost exclusively on subjective patient surveys of home care and without comparative subjective patient surveys of hospital care.

Even more worrying is that the reports seem to have been written in the wrong direction, starting with an objective in mind (i.e. a decision to roll home care out across Devon) and then selecting data to support this case (i.e. they give lots of individual survey comments about how good home care is but gloss over the negative comments).

The analysis is also deficient in highlighting potential down-sides to their proposals (for example increased difficulties for patients and visitors who do need hospital care to travel to the now much more distant hospitals) or the risks that might be inherent in these changes of approach (i.e. availability of immediate help from hospital nurses cf. planned visits from home carers, ability to handle emergency complications that need hospital facilities which are not available when people are being treated at home).

The reports do not give proposals for improving availability for social care for people who should be leaving hospital, because that is not funded by the NHS and so outside their control, but nevertheless they are going to cut those beds.

I guess they see this as a one-off issue, because once they have implemented home care, the people won’t be blocking hospital beds because they won’t actually be in hospital. Of course, that doesn’t deal with either this one-off issue of people who are in the beds when they are cut, or the resulting long-term issue of people now being treated at home who start to need social care in the same way that they would if they had been in hospital – but their thinking is presumably that at least these people are not blocking their beds.

The bottom line on home care is that it may well be as good or even better (for certain types of patients and conditions) but the evidence is insufficient to show this, and there are no guidelines set to ensure that the new approach is only chosen for patients who will benefit and not be at risk from home care.

BUT, suppose we assume that there is solid evidence that home care really works – the next issue is where to cut these beds.

The issue with the CCG approach is that they are looking simply at financial numbers, and not at the impact it may have on the ability of patients or visitors to get too and from hospitals which may now by 30-50 miles further away.

For example, the beds in Ottery St Mary [Axminster] and Budleigh Salterton hospitals are already gone, the beds in Honiton hospital are going in every option currently put forward by the CCG, and yet one of the options proposed also eliminates the beds in Sidmouth hospital. That would mean that ALL the community beds in central East Devon will be gone. How can this be right?”

Finally, we also need to be careful about use of terminology – whether to call it “over spending” or “under funding”.

We need to be realistic that if we decided to treat every medical condition, however minor, using the best possible drugs, however expensive, NHS costs would probably be unaffordable.

The reality is that NHS care has to be prioritised, with some treatments rationed or unavailable. So the issue is whether this prioritisation is undertaken nationally to set the national budget with regions spending what is needed to achieve this standard of care, or whether you continue as at present and fund each region individually (with inevitable inequalities in funding because demographics e.g. an older than average population or population growth due to massive house building or new towns are not properly factored in) and allow them to do the best with the funds they are given, which inevitably results in variations of care which get called postcode lotteries – and these regional variations in medical care (postcode lotteries) are likely to increase when you use local “Success Regimes” to cut costs (oops sorry – make efficiency savings) in individual regions rather than deal with matching treatments to budget at a national level.

(Disclosure: I have been told by my own doctor, for instance, that I can’t have a treatment I might need because it is not available in Devon, but if I lived in Gloucestershire – the nearest available location – I could have it. Fortunately not life threatening – just somewhat detrimental to my quality of life.)

Local NHS bed cuts protest – County Hall, 8 November, 1.30 pm

The CCG ‘consultation’ document will come to the November health and wellbeing scrutiny meeting of Devon County Council which is on Tue 8 November at 2pm.

Protest against the loss of half of the remaining East Devon community hospital beds:

Tues 8 November
on the steps of County Hall

(before the health and wellbeing scrutiny committee meeting where the issue will be debated).

Placards! encouraged!

Where do we get the important local news? Not in the Midweek Herald!

This week’s Archant (Honiton) Midweek Herald.

Bearing in mind the quote yesterday that “Journalism ask the questions people don’t want to answer, otherwise it is PR”, this week’s Midweek Herald is pure PR.

One short letter about losing community hospitals, a front page lead story on rent hikes for Honiton Rugby Club, with no coverage of the rent hikes at ALL sports facilities on EDDC land throughout the district, then mostly lots of pre-packaged press releases from local sources. Of course, with the weekly mention of the Thelma Hulbert Gallery.

NOTHING on the district’s fight to keep hospital beds open.
NOTHING on Hugo Swire’s parliamentary debate about local health services last week.
NOTHING about their MP Neil Parish’s view on the situation.

Journalism? Awkward questions? Not on your life. No boat-rocking, move along here, nothing to see, that’s just a tiny iceberg in front of us, nothing worry about … oh, look, kittens!

“Devon health watchdog councillor says bed figures are ‘sketchy at best’ “

“Figures supporting proposals to cut community hospital beds are ‘sketchy at best’ and ‘misleading at worst’ – according to a member of Devon’s health watchdog.

County councillor Claire Wright believes she has uncovered evidence which sheds doubt on a claim by the NHS NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) ‘success regime’ that ‘a third of beds are not being used’.

Cllr Wright says this statement issued to Devon County Council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee is at odds with figures detailed in a public health audit that shows occupancy in acute and community beds now averages 96 per cent.

The ‘success regime’ is putting forward proposals for a new model of home-based care in a bid to plug an expected £384million deficit by 2020/21 and says its proposals will be better for patients.

But Cllr Wright – a prominent hospital campaigner – argues the authority is basing its case on flawed evidence.

Cllr Wright said: “The information given to residents to help inform them of the reasons these proposals are being made, I believe, is sketchy at best. At worst, it is distinctly misleading.

“The success regime is relying partly on a public health audit published in October last year to argue its case for more bed cuts.

“The regime submitted a report to the health scrutiny committee last month that stated a third of beds in community hospitals are not used. When I enquired where this information came from, I was told that it came from the public health audit.

“I have studied the audit carefully and cannot find this statement anywhere.”

But she said the audit does refer to bed occupancy that for community and acute hospitals has increased to a 96 per cent average.

She also highlighted reasons given for delays in discharging people from hospital – with the most common being patients awaiting a community hospital placement or social care package.

A CCG spokesman responded to the claims and said: “These figures are not comparable. The first measures how much of the space available for beds within a community hospital is being used, while the second measures whether or not the beds themselves are occupied.

“Every day, there are 600 people in hospital beds in northern, eastern and western Devon who no longer have a medical need to be there.”

The report submitted to DCC’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee in September says: “In community hospitals there are people in a hospital bed who could be cared for at home, as well as more than a third of beds not being used at all.”

The consultation document can be viewed at http://www.newdevonccg.nhs.uk, as well as libraries, GP surgeries, hospitals and leisure centres.”


Interesting thoughts on post-Brexit devolution in England

“Uncertainty surrounded firm devolution plans for some areas before Brexit. But what about now? This timely post gives a useful update on what we can expect next on the big issue for our regions.

By PANEL WRITER Will Mapplebeck

Back in June, just before the Brexit vote, I wrote a blog post for comms2point0.co.uk called Eight Things You Always Wanted to Know About Devolution But Were Afraid to Ask. Given that quite a lot has happened since then, I thought it might be worth an update.

1. It’s not going anywhere

Despite some ‘wobbles’ at the start of Theresa May’s premiership when it appeared the policy of having directly elected mayors might be ditched, it appears that devolution is still a ‘big deal’ for Theresa May’s Government. The elected mayor elections are still on (see point 5) and the Government is still talking to and encouraging applications from groups of local authorities for devolved powers.

2. A new buzz phrase – inclusive growth

Back in June, I pointed to the fact that devolution had a strong economic case behind it, but that the social aspects were growing in importance. This is the idea that you can’t really create growth if you leave people behind as this actively damages the economy. This policy direction towards inclusive growth – making sure everyone shares in the proceeds – has continued, perhaps driven by Theresa May’s surprising play for the centre ground in her first speech as PM. The key message from Core Cities UK and others – see the RSA’s Inclusive Growth Commission interim report – is that inclusive growth can only happen at a local level, and will only happen when places are given more freedoms and powers.

3. Brexit changed everything… and nothing

The biggest decision in post war British politics was bound to cause a few high profile casualties, but so far the idea of more power to place has not been one. In fact, there’s wide acceptance that the reasons behind people voting to leave was partly due to a sense of alienation from mainstream politics and a feeling of helplessness in the face of global economic forces. People wanted to ‘take back control’ and devolving powers to local level gives them a chance to do that. There’s also a general cross-party understanding that, whatever the outcome of Brexit, our cities and other places remain relatively underpowered compared to their European Counterparts and our country is one of the most over centralised in the World.

4. Move over Northern Powerhouse, there’s a new slogan in town

While at Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, I couldn’t help noticing that Midlands Engine was everywhere – the subject of numerous fringe programmes and receptions. Last year, in Manchester it was another slogan that sounds like a bad gay nightclub, Northern Powerhouse. Make no mistake, the powerhouse isn’t dead, despite being tied strongly to former Chancellor George Osbourne, but the Midlands Engine is the slogan of choice in various parts of Government at the moment.

5. The Metro mayors are coming

Metro mayor candidates are now lining up for battle in May, don’t under-estimate how visible they will become when they are elected in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley and the West Midlands (South Yorkshire’s mayor is still the subject of debate at time of writing). Metro Mayors will make sure they become the go-to for media comment and they’ll be full of ideas to raise their public profile, proving they are actually doing something. Expect new mayors to zero in on issues like transport and housing, everyday things that make a difference to voters. Interestingly, there are no high profile independent candidates, the idea of a ‘celebrity’ mayor like Terry Christian or Alan Shearer doesn’t seem to have materialised.

6. Cities still at the heart, but other places need some love as well

One big criticism of the devolution agenda that it was all about cities, big cities. I work for Core Cities UK, so I’m a little bit biased on this point. For us, the economic evidence is clear – they are the country’s economic driver and given more freedoms – like their European counterparts – and they will do far more for UK Plc. But Theresa May has signalled that other, smaller, places are important too.

7. Not everywhere got a deal… or a mayor

George Osborne would have liked mayors to cover all the big cities, but political infighting and suspicion of the Government’s agenda put paid to that. Some big areas, notably the North East and West Yorkshire, ended up with nothing at all although talks still continue. Devolution is about more than just mayors, but the Government has stayed true to the original idea that if you want the best deal, you need to accept the idea of a mayor.

8. Remember, it’s still all about the people

I’m going to say it again, at the end of the day all this policy theorising and political manoeuvring comes down to people. People’s services, homes, jobs and lives. If you want to communicate it well, think about the difference it will make and what will actually change in terms of everyday life.”