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MPs Pay

parliamentThe Independant Paliamentary Standards Authority has given its preliminary finding of the review of MPs pay and it has been met with derision from the public at large and, to be fair, all three party leaders. It is understandable that Parliamet decided that they would establish indepent arrangents for the review of pay rather than continue allowing MPs to vote on their own package. Most of us would agree with the principle but we have poured scorn on the results. There are those that will say that we can't have it both ways. However, it is not unreasonable for us to expect that in making their recommendations the Authority should be cognaiscent of the context in which pay has to sit. Clearly they have completely ignored the pay contraints currently operating right across the UK.

MPs pay is not excessive for the job we expect then to do and the responsibilities they hold both locally and nationally. These responsibilites are considerable and many carry out their duties with diligence and integrity. The trouble is that the public perception is that a great number do not. It is therefore a difficult pill to swallow when they have shown themselves all too ready to jump on the gravy train over expenses. It is curious to note that amongst the preliminary findings of the IPSA is a "lightening" of the expenses rules something which will make the public very uneasy. 

If we ccept that MPs pay is too low then the uplift should be incremental over 5 years and not achieved in one big hit. IPSA has a responsibility to the wider public and it is time they thought again of how they can inplement their findings but in a more acceptable way in the eyes of the public. In return for higher levels of pay the public also have a right to expect greater standards in the use of public funds not lower.
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WOW !!

olympic flagMy life has been full of memorable sporting occasions that I will never forget. Two which immediately spring to mind are the 1966 World Cup victory for England and the 2003 Rugby World Cup victory again for England which is strange being a Welshman. There have been many more, of course, such as the Ryder Cup victory at the Celtic Manor in Wales in 2010 and a host of individual sporting performances over the years which are forever engraved on my memory. Each of them were remarkable lifting the spirits and some of them ( 50 years ago) even made me feel inspired to emulate them. I never did but at least I tried.
However, nothing will ever eclipse the memory of what I believe was the finest moment in our our sporting history and one the of the finest moments in the long history of our country. It started on July 25th the first day of London 2012 and finished yesterday with the closing ceremony of the Paralympics. In between were extraordinary feats of human endeavour, tears of joy and of disappointment but throughout a spirit which permeated, not just the venues themselves, but almost every part of the world. Every competitor can wear the badge of an Olympian or Paralympian safe in the knowledge that they are part of a truly elite group whose countries and communities are rightly proud. The organisers will rightly bask in the glory of an extraordinary event for the rest of their lives. They silenced the doom mongers who prophesied failure almost from the day the bid was won but are noticeable by their absence today. I like to think that they too, fully accept that this was one public expenditure that did live up to and exceed, its delivery expectations. ,
The Games had a truly unifying effect on the country with the competitors feeling that they were part of Team GB and many said so. The political implications of that will not be lost on David Cameron or Alex Salmond. Seb Coe, who has now reached the heights of respect and popularity that no politician will ever reach finished his closing speech with the words " London 2012 Made in Britain". He chose his words carefully and well.

We all have our favourite moments often in those sports which we are most familiar. For me, Mo Farah's double was truly exciting. For the first time we had a distance athlete that showed no fear and despite the balking he received kept a cool head and ran the most superb tactical races finished off with devastating speed. Katherine Grainger who showed us all that the path to success often requires the kind of persistence and determination that would defeat most people. Usain bolt is the best example of a freak of nature who's physical attributes could never be developed through coaching, giving us an athlete who is awe inspiring to watch.
I can recall one of the Paralympians saying how the Games were giving them all a chance to demonstrate what they can do rather than what they can't. To be honest I have never shown much interest in the Parlympics but this time I got hauled in like the majority of people in this country following the Olympics. The Paralympic Games were equally enthralling and David Weir's 4th Gold on the final day rounded off a wonderful 10 days. I have now got a much better understanding of human potential which can reside in the most unexpected of places.
There are a number of questions which now remain following the Games completion. The after-glow fades with every day and we will all get over the sense of loss that we are feeling today. In its place must come a more integrated and better funded infrastructure for sport. We have achieved great things as a sporting nation but we will not continue to occupy such an exalted position in world sport unless we develop. Olympic coaches have dedicated themselves to excellence at the micro level which has produced results. Sports managers and administrators the length and breadth of our country now have to have to mange at the macro level to ensure the infrastructure is inclusive and sound enough to support the full range of participation. This inevitably means greater investment. Investment in leaders and coaches, in facilities, in local authorities whose budgets for leisure and culture have been decimated in recent years. We must protect school playing fields and invest in physical education in our schools. The legacy is our next big fight and is one we should be determined to win if we are to do justice to the fantastic achievements of the last month. Unlike some I do not believe that the legacy has been secured it should not be taken for granted.  If you have any ideas about "what next ?"  then why not write in. 

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Fly The Flag with Pride

union-jack-001For us the Diamond Jubilee celebrations are over leaving most with a feeling of anti-climax. The nation participated and poured over the proceedings throughout the weekend making its support for the Royal Family quite clear. The wonderful river Pageant recreating that Canaletto riverscape, the concert that provided some great performances and the service at St Paul’s underlining the Monarch’s role in the church, together with her abiding faith.

There were some negatives in the celebrations such as the poor BBC coverage of the pageant. The commentators dumbed the whole thing down by their banal comments and the BBC’s increasing tendency to enter into discussions with lightweight guests who seem to know little of interest about the proceedings. I also felt the BBC did not seize the moment with its camera work, missing many opportunities to produce film of lasting merit. The concert had some great moments and some odd ones. Tom Jones was superb, his strong versatile voice still showing all the power of his youth. Paul McCartney on the other hand could not put in a performance of merit. For all that he was part of one of the finest moments in pop history he never had the greatest voice. He should stop performing. The establishment will not let him, of course and I understand that it has been confirmed that he will close the Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Games!

The hoola-hooping Grace Jones showed herself to be a phenomenon. At the age of 64 she displays a body worthy of a 25 year old and a stamina to match. I can’t hoola-hoop for 1 minute let alone 5 whilst singing in front of the nation.

I still cannot understand why Will I Am was there. He has no British connections as far as I know and his accompaniment of Stevie Wonder on Happy Birthday was dire. Still, I enjoyed it overall and it gave us all another opportunity to wave our flags and sing God Save the Queen.

The vain attempts of the republicans to generate some kind of protest during the weekend fell on deaf ears and left them licking their wounds and realising theirs, for the foreseeable future, is a lost cause.

However, the Jubilee stood for more than just an anniversary. It was moment when we truly celebrated an institution that we love and admire as something that identifies us in this world as being different whilst carrying with it all the values that have made this nation great.

In 2007 South Africa staged the Rugby World Cup and Nelson Mandela used the occasion as a means to unite the nation in a single objective to support the national team in their quest for victory. Rugby was, for most of its history to that point, a sport almost exclusively for whites and as such a symbol, for the black majority, of apartheid. To unite the whole nation in its support of the national team was a mammoth task that most would have thought impossible. The 2009 film Invictus would have us believe that is exactly what happened and I am sure for a short while it did. The sense of euphoria that accompanied the South African win in the final was palpable throughout the nation and it would have been Mandela’s hope that the resulting unity could be put to work in the long term to regenerate the nation. It is my impression that unity was short lived. True, South Africa now has a government elected by the whole of its people but it has failed to fulfil the promise of the Mandela era.

It is clear that the task of creating the feel-good unity of a nation through specific events, although a difficult task, is not as difficult as using it to build the nation and its communities into something stronger and more prosperous for everyone in the longer term.

The Jubilee has undoubtedly created the feeling of one nation and re-enforced our beliefs that it is a force for good and could also be also for change. Today’s Monarchy is not representative of the old imperialist attitudes of the past but is very much of the present but preserving all the heritage and history that the nation values.

The Monarchy is not an answer to the problems we face in the nation nor does it purport to be. Nevertheless, we do need stronger ties between all parts of our country and communities. We need to have the courage to stand up for what we believe and to regenerate the spirit of industry and endeavour that made our nation great. This does not constitute a recipe for a short term fix to put food on the tables of those that cannot afford it but maybe the growth in national confidence which permeated these celebrations might just provide the catalyst for the growth that the country so desperately needs.

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Diamond Jubilee

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This weekend heralds the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and I for one am looking forward to the pageant and concert. 60 years on the Throne is a remarkable achievement for any monarch and I can well remember the celebrations surrounding the coronation 60 years ago. The whole of our street was covered in bunting and without exception every household participated. We had the most enormous street party that went on all day with fancy dress competitions and street sports. It was built on a very strong community spirit and as a youngster I can recalled parading my stuff dressed as a Beefeater feeling part of something special. My father bought a TV a few weeks before the Coronation. It was one of those small 12 inch screens housed in a piece of furniture of enormous proportions. Of course there were a mass of valves involved so space was important. As we were one of the few in our street to have a set, on the day our sitting room was packed to the roof. Rooms in the house were small and we must have crammed in 40 people. I sat at the front on the floor a matter of inches from the set not fully appreciating all the fuss but absolutely loving the spirit of celebration that was involved. As was constantly the case at one stage the picture rolled to the horror of the assembled crowd but my father was ushered to the front to adjust the vertical hold. Those of you old enough will well recall the plethora of things that could and did go wrong with TV sets in those days and it always happened at the most inconvenient times like Christmas Eve. So, on Coronation day my father was on tenterhooks but, surprisingly, the set performed and the assembled crowds thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Of course, national celebrations such as the Jubilee do not solve the many problems we are currently facing but it can be a uniting influence on the nation. We are in need of things which bring us together rather than divide us and whether you support it or not there is little doubt that the monarchy is one of those things which makes us different in this world. It is an institution that has much support and always creates interest around the world. A strong national identity and closer bonds within our communities is vital for the health of our country. The Queen has reigned supremely for 60 years with a selfless devotion to duty for which we should all be grateful. There may be things we would like to see change but I for one think we need to preserve the one thing that consistently generates the highest profile in the world bar none and, if we let it, can have a uniting influence on the country from which we stand a better chance of solving some of the ills of the present.

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