Smoker SilhouetteFor years, various elements on both sides of the house have been calling - screaming, in some cases - for minimum unit prices on alcohol and plain packaging on tobacco products. Within the space of a a month, we learn that alcohol will remain cheap enough for teenagers to drink sitting on a park bench, and tobacco will continue to be able to promote brand loyalty.

So what went wrong?

Within hours of the announcement that the tobacco industry was being given a free pass to carry on business as usual, awkward questions were being asked about the role of Lynton Crosby, Conservative party election strategist and best friend of Big Tobacco. Cameron denies that Crosby had any influence over the decision not to force plain packaging on the tobacco companies, but you do have to wonder how Crosby's position doesn't constitute a conflict of interest. It's not just Crosby, of course, who operates with feet in both camps. Many advisors and strategists within government also hold positions in either lobbying firms or directly in the companies over whom they exert regulatory influence.


Save Our Royal MailSo, the Tories have finally followed through on their promise (threat?) to privatise the Royal Mail. In recent years, posties have come in for much criticism when they have taken strike action, but let's take a bit of a closer look at why they've gone on strike before we condemn them all as overpaid and underworked.

Put yourself in the following scenario -

You have a job, you get up at 3am to go and sort the day's mail for delivery, you get home at around lunchtime and have to be in bed at about 7pm, so's to be ready for the next day. For this, you get paid a living - but not exceptional - wage, and are enrolled in a decent pension scheme.

One day, you go to work and find out that your bosses are planning to do away with your 3am start, and also make you not only sort the mail, but then go out and deliver it. They tell you that you will start work at 6am and finish at 2pm, and that if you haven't finished your delivery round, you must stop work anyway, put the mail in the nearest post box and go home.In time you will learn that they will blame you and your union for the mail not being delivered, citing poor work practices. Practices they introduced.

You also learn that they want to close hundreds of offices they operate around the country and, if your office doesn't bow to their operational changes, it might be one of those closed. On top of this, they want to reduce your pension entitlement - a pension that you may well have paid into for longer than the company itself, due to a 13 year contributions holiday they took in the 80s and 90s. They also tell you that they will look to reduce your earnings in future years because they need to fill the hole in the pension scheme that they, themselves created.

Knowing all that, wouldn't you protest? And if those protests were simply ignored, wouldn't you withdraw your cooperation?


Lynch MobFollowing today's ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court which states that British law is in breach of the Human Rights Charter with respect to the application of whole life tariffs for certain offenders, what now for the country's lawmakers?

As it happens, probably not a lot.

All the ruling says is that a whole life tariff - one where the offender has no right to sentence review or parole - is incompatible with the charter. It doesn't, anywhere, grant any rights, to any of the 47 offenders currently serving whole life tariffs in UK prisons, for appeal, retrial or anything else. It merely says that a time limit is required on all life sentences handed down, before someone has the right to have their status reviewed. 


Alex Salmand at Wimbledon Waving The SaltireNow, I'm not a great fan of the Scots, any more than most of them are a fan of the English. I don't dislike them, as a nation, but nor do I have any more affection for them than, say, a South American country for which I have no connection.

Because of this, I'm not entirely sure what all the bruhaha is about, regarding Alex Salmand and his waving of the Saltire when Andy Murray (now him, I find unlikeable) claimed the Men's Singles at Wimbledon. Surely, as Scotsman, Salmand is welcome to celebrate a rare sporting achievement from a fellow Scot without a frenzy of hand-wringing from self-righteous newspaper columnists and Twitter users. 


Eric Joyce after being released on police bailIt's hard to believe that, when the last election came round, the constituency of Falkirk had several other candidates standing against Labour's Eric Joyce. Joyce was re-elected in 2010 with almost the same number of votes he polled in 2005, despite being amongst the highest expense-claiming and most unpleasant people in parliament. To us, all that proves is that the alternatives were even more unelectable than Joyce himself.

When he finally resigned, it was as an independent MP, having fallen on his sword after being suspended by Labour in February of this year. His resignation as an MP came at the end of several brushes with both statutory and moral law, the final straw being a tweet in which he answered a question about his impartiality in decisions on fracking licenses in his constituency by replying "Sure, I'll tell you if I'm corrupt if you'll tell me if ur[sic] screwing ur sister". Although the original question was undoubtedly loaded, and arguably unfair, what is it with Joyce and his inability to take a deep breath when confronted with such situations?


Ed MilibandIt turns out that someone left Ed Miliband's PMQs notes in a toilet in the House today. The fall guy was first described as a "junior aide", and then as Jonathan Reynolds, Ed Miliband's parliamentary private secretary. I'm not sure that the position of PPS to the leader of the opposition is all that "junior", mind you.

By the time David Cameron got up to speak, the notes - and their loss - were common knowledge. Indeed, Cameron already knew the content and had his own, hastily prepared, counters to Miliband's points. Now, I have a couple of issues with all this.

Firstly, shouldn't whoever found the notes have returned them? It was plainly clear what they were, as the news circulated faster than fabricated NHS survival rates, so it's also plainly clear that whoever found them is dishonest. Obviously, opportunity is worth more than integrity in the lower house these days. But I suppose we knew that already.


Corruption cartoonYou have to wonder what it will take, before politicians realise that the entire country now despises them and everything their position has come to represent.

At the height of the expenses scandal, a great many MPs then in parliament just couldn't see what they'd done wrong. They couldn't see what the problem was with having the taxpayer pick up the bill for everything from a packet of Hob Nobs to a moat cleaning. Over the years, they'd become so used to being able to put the burden of their living expenses onto the rest of us, that they saw the public outcry as something of an affront to what they felt was an earned right. And we're not just taking long-serving MPs, either. Even those relatively fresh to the daily dollop of HP sauce felt that they'd had their salaries reduced.

As part of the measures to restore some semblance of public confidence in our elected representatives, David Cameron introduced a new, supposedly independent, body to oversee the seemingly irresistible flow of public money in MPs pockets. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was given wide ranging powers, primarily to restrict expenses claims to those items deemed necessary to performing the role of Member of Parliament effectively. In addition, the historic right of MPS to decide their own pay was removed from the lower house, given that it was clear that the incumbents could no longer be trusted to do things right.

All good so far, then. Well, not really.


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