Tuesday, 26 April 2005

Mr Blair: All talk on School Discipline

A documentary to be screened this week on Channel 5 will reveal the shocking extent of indiscipline in our schools under Mr Blair. Conservatives will take a stand on the things that matter – and restore discipline to our classrooms.

Why Labour are all talk
Mr Blair stated in 1997: ‘Teachers will be entitled to positive support … to promote good attendance and sound discipline’ (Labour Party Manifesto, Apr 97). All talk.
• A teacher is assaulted every seven minutes (NASUWT Press Release, 3 April 2003, and Times Educational Supplement, 6 Aug 04).
• Examples of pupil violence cited by the NUT include a teacher who was stabbed in the neck by a 14 year-old, another who had a kettle of boiling water poured over them, and one who was left with severe leg injuries after a pupil attack (BBC News Online and The Guardian, 28 Mar 05).
• Truancy is up by a third and over one million children play truant each year. In 1996-7, 965,400 pupils truanted. In 2003-4, 1,264,103 did so - a 31 per cent increase (Hansard, 30 April 03, Col. 413WA, and DfES, Pupil Absence in Schools in England 03-04, 14 Dec 04).
• The National Audit Office reported in 2005 that, despite massive spending of £885 million on truancy initiatives, ‘unauthorised absence [truancy] has not declined’, even using the Government’s own measure (NAO, Improving School Attendance in England, 4 Feb 05).
• Appeals panels overrule head teachers in one in five cases, forcing them to readmit pupils they have expelled. Of 1,070 appeals made in the last year for which figures are available, 21 per cent were upheld – putting 210 expelled pupils back into the classroom (Hansard, 31 Jan 05, Col. 506WA).
• There were over 17,000 expulsions for violence in just one term in 2003. Teaching unions believe even this could be an underestimate, since schools may have failed to report the true figures for fear of being labelled ‘failing’ (Times Educational Supplement, 6 Aug 04).
• 31 per cent of teachers considering leaving the profession cite poor pupil behaviour as a reason (The Guardian, 7 Jan 03).
• Nearly one in ten (nine per cent) of secondary schools have unsatisfactory levels of behaviour, and the number of schools where behaviour is unsatisfactory ‘shows no sign of reducing’, according to the Chief Inspector of Schools (Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools 03/04, Feb 05).

Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats have no policies to improve school discipline. They want to continue Labour’s discredited inclusion policy and say that ‘increasing exclusions is a recipe for disaster’ (Liberal Democrat Press Release, 29 November 2004).

What will Conservatives do?
Conservatives have a five-point Action Plan to restore discipline in our schools:
1. We will give head teachers the final say over exclusions and scrap appeals panels.
2. We will give head teachers an unqualified right to insist on parental agreement to discipline as part of the conditions of entry/attendance for their children.
3. We will scrap Labour’s plans to force all state schools to take their share of undisciplined pupils.
4. We will give schools the funds and financial freedom to introduce random drug- testing, CCTV and metal detectors.
5. We will give teachers greater legal protection so that they can enforce discipline without fear of having their lives ruined if a child alleges abuse.

Conservatives are taking a stand on the issues that matter.

Voters have a clear choice on 5 May: schools with poor discipline and falling standards under Mr Blair and the Liberal Democrats, or schools with good discipline and high standards with the Conservatives.

Promoted by Gavin Barwell on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 25 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0DL. Printed by the Conservative Party.

Cleaner Hospitals

At this election, Conservatives are taking a stand on the issues that matter. So today we are announcing extra resources to tackle the superbug in our hospitals.

Why Labour are all talk
Mr Blair promised to ‘save the NHS’ and provide cleaner hospitals: ‘for the first time, money set aside specifically to get rid of the dirty corridors’ (Labour Party Conference Speech, 26 Sept 2000). All talk.
• The reality is that 5,000 people die every year from hospital-acquired infections.
• The number of people who have died from the ‘superbug’ MRSA has more than doubled since 1997.
• Mr Blair’s Government insists that it has followed the ‘best scientific advice’ in dealing with MRSA and other health care associated infections (John Hutton, King’s Fund Breakfast, 7 April 05). All talk. They have made 23 announcements but done little else.
• Conservatives have identified 18 specific recommendations – from the Chief Medical Officer and from reports by independent committees – on which after 8 years in Government, Mr Blair has failed to act. These range from investing in more isolation facilities to reviewing and implementing new technologies to combat MRSA and other hospital-acquired superbugs.
A recent Nursing Times survey (8 March 2005) showed that:
• Nurses still do not have access to 24/7 cleaning.
• 40 per cent of nurses said they are not given the time to clean beds between patients.
Most patients do not receive accurate information on hospital-acquired infections. Some nurses said that they do not have access to alcohol-based hand gels and have had to re-use single use equipment.

Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dems have said they would scrap Whitehall targets but have no plans to combat hospital superbugs, only plans to raise taxes.
The Lib Dems have pledged to spend an extra £8 billion more than the Conservatives or Labour on the NHS which would mean further tax rises – regardless of the system they choose. As Andrew George has said, ‘Our slogan at the next election will be “Trust us, we will put your taxes up”’ (Radio 5 Live, Simon Mayo Show, 19 January 2005).

What will Conservatives do?
Conservatives believe in accountability. We believe that putting a Matron in charge will ensure that one person is clearly accountable for delivering a clean and safe environment, ward-by-ward, across the hospital. So we will ask each NHS Hospital Trust to meet 10 standards for cleaner hospitals in order to put Matron in charge and provide the powers and resources necessary to deliver high standards of cleanliness and infection control.
The Conservatives have a 10-point Action Plan which includes:
• Putting Matron in charge of making sure wards are clean.
Closing dirty wards.
• Giving patients more information about hospital infections.
This will be backed by extra resources. We will provide £52 million in each of the next two years to support NHS Trusts which undertake to meet these standards. This additional support for front-line services will be funded from within the £7 billion of NHS savings identified by the James Review.
Today we announce an important additional element of our strategy to save the NHS from the spread of MRSA.
£10 million will be made available for NHS Hospital Trusts to implement state-of-the-art technology which will help identify MRSA by nasal swab testing in a matter of hours as opposed to days.
This will be a crucial further step in eradicating MRSA from our hospitals and complements our plans announced so far. All of this forms part of a clear Conservative agenda to take a stand on the issues that matter.
Voters have a clear choice on 5 May: cleaner hospitals and shorter waiting lists with the Conservatives, or dirty hospitals and long waiting lists under Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Promoted by Gavin Barwell on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 25 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0DL. Printed by the Conservative Party.

Monday, 18 April 2005

Action on Crime

Figures to be released on Thursday this week will highlight the rising tide of violent crime under Labour (Sunday Times, 17 April 2005).
Why Labour are all talk
Mr Blair promised to ‘be tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime’ (Labour Party Manifesto, 97). All talk.
• Crime is out of control – there are now more than a million violent crimes each year, and new figures suggest a further 8 per cent in the last year (Sunday Times, 17 April 2005).
• Gun crime has doubled under Labour, with more than one gun crime every hour of the day.
• Police officers already spend almost half of their time at their desks instead of being on the streets fighting crime.
• Every time they stop someone officers have to fill in a form a foot long with 40 questions to answer, blanks to fill in and boxes to tick.

Liberal Democrats
Liberal Democrats would abolish mandatory life sentences for murder and serious sexual offences, would not send shoplifters or burglars to prison and would give prisoners the right to vote. Mark Oaten, the Lib Dem Home Office Spokesman, has said: ‘I'm absolutely convinced that prison is a complete and utter waste of time’ (BBC Radio 4, 9 November
2003). And Simon Hughes, their President, has said: ‘Liberal Democrats have always been clear that there should never be mandatory sentences (Hansard, 13 January 2002, Col. 433).

What will Conservatives do?
Conservatives believe our society needs more respect, discipline and decent values. We will cut political correctness and police paperwork, and put more police on the beat.
Mr Howard’s five-point plan for dealing with crime in our communities means:
1. 5,000 more police a year. The next Conservative Government will recruit an extra 5,000 police a year. This will give the police the resources that they need to tackle crime in their communities.
2. Scrapping Central Government targets. The introduction of targets has increased the stranglehold of central government on the police. Senior police officers have complained strongly about the burdens imposed by this Government’s targets which distort their proper priorities. We will scrap these targets.
3. Publishing crime statistics on a weekly basis. When the New York Police Department started publishing statistics on a weekly basis, police chiefs began to be held to account for their actions on a weekly basis. We will introduce the same system here so that local communities can see how effective their police commissioners are.
4. Axing police paperwork. Police spend almost as much time at their desks as they do on the streets fighting crime. This must stop. We will cut central control of the police and centrally generated paperwork so that the police can get on with job of fighting crime. Freeing the police from unnecessary bureaucracy – including scrapping police stop forms – will
mean that more officers will be available to walk the beat, working with the community and acting as a visible deterrent to criminals.
5. Making the police accountable to their local communities. Elected police commissioners will reflect the concerns of the people who elect them, and as a result they will focus on the crimes that matter to their communities. They will be able to put police muscle power behind the public’s priorities – tackling crime and disorder: vandalism, rowdiness, thuggery.
People have a clear choice: a Conservative Government that will introduce tougher sentences and put more police on our streets, or more lenient sentences and more talk under Mr Blair and the Liberal Democrats.
Promoted by Gavin Barwell on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 25 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0DL. Printed by the Conservative Party.

HEALTH - Talk or Action

An authoritative survey by the Picker Institute Europe, Is the NHS Getting Better of Worse?, shows that dirty hospitals and lack of information about treatments are among patients’ main concerns about the state of the national health service today. The Institute’s Chief Executive, Professor Angela Coulter says, ‘The most disappointing thing is that all the rhetoric about creating patient-centred care hasn’t led to improvements across the board’ (Times, 18 Apr 05).
Among the report’s findings are:
• In 2004 only 54% said that the ward they were in was very clean – 2% less than in 2002 – while only 48% said that bathrooms and lavatories were very clean, 3% less than in 2002.
• In 1998, 87% of GP patients said that they had sufficient time with the doctors, but by 2004 this had fallen to 74%
• Between 2002 and 2004 the proportion of patients complaining about the inconvenient opening hours of GP surgeries had increased from 20 per cent to 22 per cent.
• Reports from patients indicated increasing difficulties in getting an appointment at a convenient time. Under Mr Blair the loss of Saturday surgeries was a particular complaint.

Why Labour are all talk
In 1997 Mr Blair said that there were ‘24 hours to save the NHS’. Then in 2002 he said ‘if the NHS is not basically fixed by the next election, then I am quite happy to suffer the consequences. I am quite willing to be held to account by the voters if we fail’ (Sunday People, 27 Jan 02). All talk. Mr Blair has spent an extra £29.1 billion or £1,400 per household on the NHS, yet:
• There are still over one million people on the waiting list throughout the UK – 845,200 in England, 67,406 in Wales, 113,612 in Scotland and 49,250 in Northern Ireland. That’s 1,075,500, or over one million people, waiting for treatment under Mr Blair.
• Mr Blair’s waiting statistics only tell half the story. There are many hidden waits for ultrasound scans. For example, in 2004, 158 hospital trusts found patients waiting for routine MRI scans for more than six months in two-fifths of hospitals (BBC News, The Waiting Game, 11 Jan 05). The survey found that, in one in twelve trusts, the wait was over one
year (BBC News, The Waiting Game, Jan 11 05).
• More people wait for longer under Mr Blair. The average waiting time for treatment in 1999-2000 was 90 days. By 2003-4, it had risen to 95 days (Hospital Episode Statistics, Department of Health, 7 Dec 04).
• The number of people being killed by the hospital ‘superbug’ MRSA has more than doubled since 1997 (National Statistics, Health Statistics Quarterly, Spring 04, p.16) despite Labour’s 23 ‘initiatives’ to tackle the problem.
5,000 people die every year from hospital-acquired infections – more people than are killed on Britain’s roads.

Liberal Democrats
No one really knows how the Lib Dems will fund the health service. Their ring-fenced NICs would raise less than their spending plans indicate for the NHS – there would be a black hole per year of over £6 billion in 2005-6, and by 2007-8 around £15 billion.
The Lib Dems have pledged to spend an extra £8 billion on the NHS - so that would mean further tax rises – regardless of the system they choose. As Andrew George has said, ‘Our slogan at the next election will be “Trust us, we will put your taxes up”’ (Radio 5 Live, Simon Mayo Show, 19 Jan 05).

What will Conservatives do?

Conservatives have a clear Timetable for Action on health.

Within the first day of a Conservative Government
• We will abolish Whitehall targets which mean hospitals cannot close beds or wards for cleaning. Doctors and nurses should control our hospitals.

Within the first week
• We will make it possible for people to have access to information about hospital performance, including on infection rates. Patients will be able to tell how likely they are to contract infection in a hospital department. Hospitals will also have to publish their action plans on how they are fighting infections. Local hospitals should be made accountable to patients.

Within the first month
• We will set out our programme of legislation to give patients the right to choose to be treated in any hospital that provides NHS standards of care at NHS costs. Patients should not be forced to be treated in dirty hospitals.
• We will set out plans to support infection control teams and recruit more front-line staff to back up hospitals’ efforts to fight infection. Rapid action is needed to stop infections spreading.

Within the first year
• We will set out how we can boost training in infection control. Health professionals and cleaners need to know best practice.
• We will speed up work to introduce new solutions to combat hospital-acquired infection into local hospitals. The latest science and research needs to be used to combat MRSA.
We will cut waiting lists by:
• Giving hospitals immediate Foundation status in order to free them to manage their own staff and budgets.
• Giving patients the Right to Choose to be treated in any hospital that provides NHS standards of care at NHS costs.
• Providing those treated in a private hospital or clinic that charges more for an operation than the NHS with 50% of the NHS cost as a contribution towards their bill. This will free the NHS to treat more patients more quickly.
We will reform and invest by increasing the NHS budget by £34 billion within five years of taking office – from £1,450 per head to £2,000 a head. Spending will go directly to the front line. Voters have a clear choice on 5 May: dirty hospitals and long waiting lists under Mr Blair and the Lib Dems, or cleaner hospitals and shorter waiting lists with the Conservatives.
Promoted by Gavin Barwell on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 25 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0DL. Printed by the Conservative Party.

Friday, 15 April 2005

Lib Dem TAX Shambles

Charles Kennedy launched the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto yesterday and already his ‘flagship’ policy of replacing the council tax with a local income tax is a shambles. At his press conference, Mr Kennedy was clearly unable to answer the most basic questions about the local income tax.
Kennedy Confusion. Asked who would be worse off, a floundering Mr Kennedy said: ‘You are talking in the region of £20,000, err. . . yes. If you take a double income couple, £20,000 each, that's what you are talking about. . . £40,000’ (Liberal Democrat press conference, 14 April 2005), before Party Chairman, Matthew Taylor, rescued him on the detail.
Later his Treasury spokesman, Vincent Cable, had to correct Mr Kennedy’s assertion that the tax-take would be ‘no less’ than under the council tax when the Lib Dems own figures state that it would be £2.4 billion less in 2007-8.
It’s no wonder that even senior Liberal Democrats have rounded on Mr Kennedy with one reportedly describing his delivery as ‘irritatingly wrong’ (Daily Mail, 15 April 2005).
As The Sun puts it this morning: ‘What a pathetic shambles the launch of the Lib Dems manifesto turned out to be’ (15 April 2005).
Soaring bills for hard-working families
Liberal Democrats refuse to publish details of how local income tax will affect working families across the country. Their Treasury spokesman, Vincent Cable, said: ‘Well almost by definition we can't publish a print out of the details affecting you know tens of millions of people, all we can do is to give the contours’ (Liberal Democrat press conference, 14 April 2005).

The Facts: Using the latest household income data from the Office of National Statistics, and local government finance data from the ODPM, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Executive, the Conservative Research Department has analysed the impact of the local income tax on every council in the country. The research shows:
• A typical working family in England in 2005-06 would pay a LIT tax bill of £1,701, compared to an average council tax bill of £1,009. This would mean a typical working family paying over £600 a year more.
• Working families in only one council in Britain will benefit – everywhere else, they will lose out.
Mr Cable has already admitted that many homes would pay more under local income tax. He said: ‘If there are two full-time earners in the house, there would be more tax’ with the new tax starting to bite for families with combined salaries ‘in the mid £30,000s’ (Evening Standard, ‘Lib Dems admit tax reforms would hit families on £35,000’, 21 Sept 04).
• Many areas will face even higher bills, reflecting the inefficiency or efficiency of the council, their spending decisions and the local funding settlement from central government. Liberal Democrats admit that: ‘It may be that areas which currently have very high council taxes will have a slightly higher local income tax rate’ (Liberal Democrats, Labour’s unfair council tax: the facts, Sept 03).
Under local income tax, in houses with more than two adults the total tax bills would soar. In the words of the Liberal Democrats’ local government spokesman, Lord Newby: ‘More people would pay local income tax than council tax’ (Lords Hansard, 9 February 2004, Col. 943).
Students who take jobs to boost their incomes would be eligible for the local income tax –deterring them from working and increasing student debt. An estimated 73 per cent of student nurses now have to do part-time work to supplement their income while studying (Royal College of Nursing press release, 8 July 2003). Students and student nurses are currently exempt from council tax.
• Liberal Democrats want to levy business rates on second homes. ‘To ensure owners of second homes pay a fair contribution to local services, we would levy our equivalent of business rates, local site value rates, on the second home’ (Liberal Democrats, Scrap Council Tax: Liberal Democrat plans to replace council tax with a local income tax, January 2004).
• The complexity of local income tax would also mean extra costs for employers, as they would have to administer different local income tax rates for each employee who lived in a different local authority. Liberal Democrats claim they oppose council tax rises.
• Yet Liberal Democrat MPs and peers voted three times with Labour to support higher council tax bands and the rigged council tax revaluation (Lords Hansard, 10 Sept 03, Col. 339; Lords Hansard, 17 July 03, Cols. 976-80; Hansard, 10 Mar 03, Col. 126).

Liberal Democrats support a barrage of new local taxes on hard-working families, pensioners and local firms – including congestion taxes, parking taxes to shop and at work, a dog tax, a hotel tax, development tax, 4x4 tax, VAT on new homes – on top of local income tax. So a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for higher taxes.

What Conservatives will do
Conservatives will:
Halve council tax for millions of pensioners. We will introduce a new 50 per cent discount for those who live in households where the adults are aged 65 and over, up to a maximum of £500 a year. This will be on top of Labour’s one-off £200.
Scrap Labour’s plans for new higher council tax bands, a rigged revaluation and a supplementary council tax.
Cut back the unfunded burdens, regulations and red tape that have forced up council tax.
Ensure fairer funding from Whitehall, by introducing greater transparency over grant distribution.
Deliver a fully-funded settlement for local government, with an above-inflation increase for local councils, and significant increases for schools, police and health and social services.

The choice at this election is clear: value for money and lower taxes with the Conservatives, or higher taxes and more waste under Mr Blair and the Lib Dems.
Promoted by Gavin Barwell on behalf of the Conservative Party, both at 25 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0DL. Printed by the Conservative Party.

Thursday, 14 April 2005

French Malaise - from my mate Daniel Hannan MEP

The Euro-sophists are getting in their excuses in advance. This vote in France, they say: it isn’t really about the EU constitution at all. If the French vote No on 29 May, it won’t be a rejection of Brussels, but of Chirac and his ministry. That’s the trouble with these wretched referendums, you see: people will insist on voting on the wrong question. In fact, they go on, the French don’t think the constitution goes far enough. What they think – and they’ve got a point, dear boy – is that it enshrines a British view of Europe. Odd to see you antis lining up with these ultra-federalists.
Most British commentators, including a fair number of Euro-sceptics who ought to know better, seem to have swallowed this line. It makes for good copy, and allows the writer to flaunt his knowledge of French politics. But it bears very little relation to what is actually happening across the Channel.
Let us deal, first, with contention the French and British No campaigns are pushing for opposite things. It is certainly true that the bulk of French opposition to the constitution comes from the Left (although by no means all of it: if there were not also substantial scepticism on the Right and in the Centre, the Yes campaign would be miles ahead).“Et alors?”, as the French say. So what if French socialists and British Tories have different visions of employment law, social policy or human rights? These are questions for general elections. What is at stake in the referendum is whether national parliaments should decide such matters, or whether they should be settled at EU level. On this issue, the French and British No campaigns – and, indeed, the Danish, Dutch, Czech and all the rest – are united.
There were, admittedly, one or two French politicians who would have liked the constitution to go even further, notably the Centrist leader, François Bayrou. But they quickly fell into line behind the Yes campaign once the referendum was called, for the good reason that, from their point of view, the constitution represents a considerable improvement on the status quo. As during the Maastricht referendum in 1992, there is now a near-unanimous line-up of French politicians in favour of closer integration.
Which brings us to the question of whether the referendum is really a rejection of the political class by everyone else – or, as they say in France, of the pays légal by the pays réel. Yes, of course it is. Of all the stereotypes that the British have of the French, one is outstanding in its accuracy: they are grumpy. And they have plenty to be grumpy about, being governed as they are by a self-serving cartel. The point is that they have accurately clocked that European integration is making their government even less accountable. They have grasped that the constitution, by transferring more powers from national parliaments to EU institutions, will remove decisions still further from the people.
To put it the other way around, voting against the constitution means voting against a system of governance that elevates technocracy over democracy. The point is well made in that masterpiece, The House at Pooh Corner:
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.Pooh nodded thoughtfully.“It’s the same thing,” he said.
If you feel that administration is already too remote at home, you are hardly going to want to transfer powers to even more distant institutions. If you have had enough of unelected commissars and énarques in Paris, you don’t want to pushed around by another set of commissars and énarques in Brussels. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing”, he said.
The French governing class is the chief beneficiary of the European system. For most of the EU’s history, French civil servants have dominated the Commission. Indeed, the timing of the Commission annual recruitment was timed to coincide with French exams. The very bureaucrats whom the French resent at home, in other words, are also the people who run Brussels.
French souverainistes have been quick to make the connection. One of my friends in the Vendée is campaigning under the slogan “Do yourself a favour: vote no” (Faites-vous plaisir : votez non”). “People are fed up with the whole racket,” he told me. “With the unemployment, with the corruption, with Chirac, with their boss, with their wife or their husband. So I am inviting them to say no to the lot of them”.
This also explains, by the way, why the Left is leading the No coalition this time, whereas the Right – in the shape of Philippe de Villiers and Philippe Séguin (who has since gone over to the Dark Side) – led the anti-Maastricht campaign thirteen years ago. When the socialists were in power, anti-politician feeling was concentrated on the Right; now it is the other way around.
We do not yet know the result of course. My sense, having spent a week with the No campaign in the Camargue, is that they are ahead. But I could be wrong; I often am. In 1992, many voters were moved at the last minute by the pathos of President Mitterand’s announcement that he had cancer. And even so, it was the closest imaginable result. Indeed, the voters of mainland France narrowly rejected Maastricht, but the result was tipped by massive Yes votes in outre-mer and from French voters resident abroad. French Guyana registered a Yes vote of 74.2 per cent, Martinique of 67.4 per cent, Guadeloupe of 72.1 per cent, and there were similar results in the rest of France’s colonial archipelago. Quite why this should have happened has never been adequately explained. These are after all – at the risk of stating the obvious – non-European territories, many of which have a strong tradition of backing the Communist party, which was against the treaty. Could it simply be that the counts took place far away, in different time-zones, and with few scrutineers? It would certainly explain why President Mitterand was able to assure John Major that there had been a narrow Yes vote long before the polls had closed.
But let us hypothesise, for a moment, that the souverainistes carry the day. What would happen next? Would the EU tear up the constitution, go back to the drawing board and try to come up with something better? Not a chance. This would not, after all, be the first time that the project had been rejected. It happened when the Danes voted against Maastricht, when the Irish voted against Nice and, indeed, when the markets voted against the ERM. On all these occasions, the EU simply carried on as before. There is no Plan B in Brussels; Plan A is simply resubmitted over and over again until it is bludgeoned through.
Don’t take my word for it. Large parts of the constitution are already being implemented today, even though ten national referendums are still outstanding. The Charter of Fundamental Rights is being treated as justiciable, even though only four states have ratified the constitution that gives it binding force. Substantial elements of the proposed harmonisation of justice and home affairs are being carried out in anticipation of the referendum results. Now the EU is launching its own diplomatic service, despite the strong possibility that at least one country will reject the constitution that gives it a legal basis.
It is little wonder that the French, in common with every other nation in Europe, feel taken for granted. When people complain that politicians are all the same, that it doesn’t matter how you vote, that the élites will go ahead and please themselves regardless, they are not simply letting off steam; they are accurately appraising the conduct of European policy over the past half century. The founders of the EU deliberately designed the system that way. They knew that their project – the merging of Europe’s nations – would never come off if it had to be periodically referred to the national electorates. So they evolved a method whereby harmonisation could be effected in smoke-filled rooms (or, these days, smoke-free rooms) and then presented to the peoples as a fait accompli.
A No vote, on its own, will not be enough. As long as the same governments remain in power, they will pursue their existing European policy, even if it must formally be done through the old treaties rather than through the constitution. The only way to change the direction of the EU is to alter the complexion of national parliaments – to put majorities in place who believe in decentralisation and democracy. The trouble in France is that, with the exception of Philippe de Villiers’ Mouvement pour la France, there is no such party. But in Britain, happily, there is. That is why the decisive vote in this country is not the putative referendum next March, but the intervening general election.

Friday, 1 April 2005

Garden Waste Recycling Service

Rushmoor Council has launched a new garden waste recycling service, offering residents the chance to get their garden waste collected from their homes.

From Monday April 4, residents will be able to put their garden waste out for collection every fortnight in large, reusable polypropylene sacks.

At the same time, the Council will stop collecting garden waste from household wheelie bins.

The new service is part of a package of ways to help residents to recycle their garden waste.

At the moment, every household in Rushmoor produces enough waste to fill 48 green wheeled bins a year and although 29 of these bins could be recycled, only eight are.

Recycling garden waste helps to cut down on the amount of rubbish going to landfill sites and to reduce the damage caused to the environment by greenhouse gases created by waste disposal.

It also makes best use of a valuable natural resource that can be easily composted and in turn, helps to reduce the need to use fertilisers and peat.

The garden waste collection scheme offers householders two reusable, hard-wearing bags and 25 fortnightly collections for £18 a year. They can also buy extra bags for £6 each and one-off plastic sacks for £5 for five. Residents can opt into the scheme at any time. There are discounts for people on low income and those with disabilities.

The waste will be collected every fortnight in a specially adapted recycling lorry and taken to the Project Integra site near Basingstoke to be turned into the quality soil conditioner, Pro Grow. This is so high in quality that it is used by Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and the Eden Project. It is also sold at the recycling centres.

For those who do not want to join the scheme, the Council offers discounted home compost bins so that residents can compost their garden waste at home. People can also take their garden waste free-of-charge to the Household Waste Recycling Centres at Eelmoor Road, Farnborough and Ivy Road, Aldershot seven days a week.