British general election (5): exactly 100 days to go

January 27th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

So, what will be the result of the election in three months time? Like all observers and commentators, I don’t know – but here are the main  options:

  • Majority Conservative Government – very unlikely
  • Majority Labour Government – very unlikely
  • Conservatives in coalition with Liberal Democrats – possible
  • Labour in coalition with Liberal Democrats – possible
  • Conservatives in location with the Democratic Unionists – maybe
  • Labour in coalition with the Scottish Nationalist Party – maybe
  • Labour in coalition with the SDLP and Greens – outside possibility

You can read a more detailed look at some of these options here.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)

Holocaust Memorial Day: 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz

January 27th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

In the UK, today is Holocaust Memorial Day. I have visited Holocaust museums in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Washington and Jerusalem and I have been to Terezin in the Czech Republic and Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland.

One weekend some years ago, I attend a fascinating course on the Holocaust run by an impressive teacher called Ronnie Landau. Some time later, I attended the launch of the new edition of his book “The Nazi Holocaust: Its History And Meaning” and you can read my review of his work here.

Yesterday and today, media outlets have shown photographs of Auschwitz in the snow. I have found these images haunting because, when I visited Auschwitz, it was January and bitterly cold, so I was chilled mentally and physically.

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What does the Syriza victory in Greece really mean?

January 27th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

Maria Kyriakidou is a Greek academic working in Cultural Politics, Communications and Media at the University of East Anglia and has written a thoughtful analysis of the election result in a blog posting which concludes:

“As the world, therefore, either celebrates or condemns Syriza’s win, Greeks are once more confused. The political powers of the last forty years seem to have died with yesterday’s elections; however, remnants of it have made it to the government through the coalition. Tsipras will be the first Greek Prime Minister to ever take a political rather than religious oath during his swearing-in; but then he is also dependent on the support of nationalist party, which embraces religion as a pillar for the country’s wellbeing.

Change is in the air but what the direction of this change will be is unclear. For Greece, and indeed for Syriza as well, this is not a time of celebration but a time of dealing with challenges, both the economic ones imposed as part of the country’s financial deals but also the social ones, so far largely neglected by the previous governments. Because hope has indeed won in yesterday’s elections; but for the Greeks, this is their last hope.”

You can read her analysis here.

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How the customer voice has been heard in the water sector (3)

January 25th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

The last three years have seen a fascinating experience in how to embed the consumer voice in a regulated utility – the creation of Customer Challenge Groups by the 18 water and sewerage companies in England and Wales.

I have chaired the CCG for South East Water and I was invited by “Utility Week” to review the operation of CCGs and look at what should come next. You can read my blog posting here.

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Reviews of my two weekend films: “Wild” and “Ex Machina”

January 25th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

This weekend, I managed to see two movies that have only recently been released: “Wild” [my review here] and “Ex Machina” [my review here].

At one level, these two movies are utterly different: “Wild” is a true story, set in the near past, and covers geography of over 1,000 miles of open land, “Ex Machina” is a fictional story, set in the near future, and location in one claustrophobic building.

But, at another level, there is something very similar between the two works: both centre on a woman who us seeking to gain control over her life – great performances from Reese Witherspoon in “Wild” and Alicia Vikander in “Ex Machina”. Go see ….

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How the customer voice has been heard in the water sector (2)

January 24th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

This week, I spent a day in Birmingham attending a “Utility Week” conference on customer service in the water sector. I was the last speaker in a roster of 15.

I began by explaining how the voice of the consumer in regulated industries has been institutionalised in three different ways and then set out how this had worked and could work in future in the water sector.

You can check out the slides in my presentation here.

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Why do so many more women than men believe in God and an afterlife?

January 24th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

“Professor David Voas seems wise indeed. The population studies expert has analysed responses to a survey of 9,000 British people and found a humongous gender gap in attitudes to God, religion and life after death. A chunky 54% of men say they are atheists or agnostics, while only 34% of women hold similar views. An even greater number of men – 63% – believe there is no life after death, compared to 36% of women.”

This is the opening paragraph of a piece by Deborah Orr in which she speculates on the reason why so many more women than men believe in a deity and an afterlife.

The data is clear. But is Orr’s reasoning convincing? What do you think?

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How the customer voice has been heard in the water sector (1)

January 23rd, 2015 by Roger Darlington

The monthly magazine “The Water Report” has produced a very comprehensive and fair assessment of the role of Customer Challenge Groups in the last three years in the price review process conducted by the regulator Ofwat which has recently concluded.

Four CCG chairs were interviewed for the feature including me as the Chair for the South East Water CCG. You can read the piece here.

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British general election (4): how a chocolate soldier has riden to the rescue of the Centre-Left

January 22nd, 2015 by Roger Darlington

“Britain stands on the edge of a cliff with the general election only 105 days away. Will we vote Tory or Ukip for Euro referendum chaos, lasting two years at least and putting thousands of businesses, millions of jobs and our long-term peace and security at risk?

Or will Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and all progressive voters come together in the marginal seats that matter to elect a parliament for progress and reform and a Labour-led government with Ed Miliband as prime minister?”

This is a quote from Matthew Oakeshott, now an independent member of the House of Lords, who – as explained in this news item  – has just announced that he is donating £600,000  to 30 Labour and 15 left of centre Liberal Democrat candidates in the forthcoming General Election.

Now, some 40 years ago, I knew Matthew Oakeshott because we both obtained Political Fellowships from the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust to work for Labour Party Opposition Frontbenchers – he was with Roy Jenkins and I was with Merlyn Rees – and indeed we both fought the General Election of 1974 as Labour candidates. The media at that time called us – because of the source of the funding – “chocolate soldiers”.

Always idiosyncratic, Matthew’s life went in a very different direction to mine. He became a rich investment manager and left the Labour Party at the time of the Social Democratic Alliance. I became a trade union official and am still a member of the Labour Party. As regards the forthcoming General Election, however, i guess that our aspirations are quite similar.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)

Why almost half of American children live in or near poverty

January 20th, 2015 by Roger Darlington

“Fifty years ago, when Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty,” most of the poor didn’t work. They were too old or infirm, or they couldn’t find jobs. Today, most of America’s poor do work – “welfare reforms” starting in the 1990s have required them to work as a condition of receiving any benefits. But they and their families are still poor because their jobs pay so little and benefits don’t go far enough.

As a result, according to new data, almost half of US children – some 30 million – now live in or near poverty. We haven’t witnessed this extent of child poverty in half a century. Raising the minimum wage and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit are critically important to the well-being of our nation’s children.”

This is a Facebook comment from Professor Robert Reich of Berkeley University which I’m reposting on the day of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. I hope that Obama has some ideas to tackle this situation.

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (0)