Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Greenie hospital is useless

Greenies can mess up even such an ancient technology as central heating

A £36million hospital has been closed to patients for more than six months because the floors are too hot to walk on. Faults with the under-floor heating system at the 108-bed hospital have caused floor tiles to buckle and pushed temperatures in the wards up to 40c (104f).

Rhondda Valley Hospital in South Wales was due to admit its first patients last autumn but may not now open until next year. The hospital's opening has been delayed after temperatures inside reached 40C. Patients are instead being treated at the crumbling Victorian hospital at nearby Llwynypia even though NHS bosses said it was to close last year.

Leighton Andrews, Welsh Assembly member for the Rhondda Valleys, said: 'This was meant to be one of the most environmentally-friendly hospitals because of the nature of the heating system. 'But the underfloor heating has made the floor too hot to walk on - I understand that temperatures have reached 40C. 'It was meant to be state of the art but we are now well behind the scheduled opening date.'

The NHS-funded hospital was described as being one of the first in the UK to use sustainable resources. The underfloor heating system was championed as being environmentally-friendly because it recycles heat. But staff say they cannot control the heat of the floor in some parts of the hospital, including the corridors. One said: 'The floor is as hot as a Mediterranean beach in some spots - too hot to stand on in bare feet. 'Some spots are fine whereas others are stone cold. 'It is a bit of a farce all in all. It doesn't do much for patients faith in the NHS when it is like a bakehouse.'

The hospital was scheduled to open last autumn but is on course to be completed at least 18 months late. It was built on the site of a former factory and will have 100 rehabilitation beds and an eight-bed stroke unit - and it followed a 20-year campaign to get a new hospital. It will also house an outpatient department, minor injuries unit and an integrated primary care centre.

David Lewis, director of finance at Cwm Taf NHS Trust, said: 'We have had practical completion of the hospital and there are apparent defects in the flooring. 'We have commissioned an independent review to determine whether there are defects and, if so, what remedial action needs to be take. 'We will have this report by the end of the month and we will then know what the next step will be.'


Intelligent women have better sex, study reveals

This is rubbish. So-called "EQ" has very little to do with IQ and is best characterized as a personality trait with some overlay of learned skills. So touchy-feely women enjoy sex more. Big surprise!

Salovey is probably the most scholarly proponent of EQ and he has made a fairly careful psychometric study of it -- including a look at the correlation between EQ and IQ. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw what he used as his measure of IQ, however. He used the vocabulary subscale of the old Army Alpha test of World War I vintage! And he even admits to an arbitrary shortening of that subscale. One has to suspect the motivation behind such strange behaviour. Did the words he used in the vocab test tend to be related to emotional concepts? One has to expect something of that sort. Be that as it may, the correlation between EQ and IQ that he obtained (p. 146) among college students (itself a very unrepresentative sample) was .36, implying a shared variance of only 13%. That would normally be regarded as low but not too disreputable but proves little in this case. The finding amounts to saying that people who are better with words are better at getting on with people -- which is both no surprise and no proof that EQ correlates with general problem-solving ability -- which is what spiral omnibus IQ tests measure

Women with brains have more fun in bed, a study has revealed. Beauty may bag you a man - but brains will bring you more fun in the bedroom. Women blessed with 'emotional intelligence' [EQ] - the ability to express their feelings and read those of others - have better sex lives, research shows. Those most in touch with their feelings have twice as many orgasms as inhibited sorts, the study found.

The finding could lead to new ways of counselling the 40 per cent of women who find it difficult or impossible to enjoy sex fully.

Researcher Tim Spector of King's College London said there were definite advantages to being a touchy-feely type. He said: 'These findings show that emotional intelligence is an advantage in many aspects of your life, including the bedroom.'

Professor Spector questioned more than 2,000 female twins, aged between 18 and 83, about their sex lives. They were asked to rate their ability to reach orgasm on a seven-point scale, ranging from 'never' to 'always'. They also filled in a questionnaire designed to gauge their emotional intelligence and covering traits such as self expression, empathy and contentment. Those most in touch with their feelings had the most orgasms, the Journal of Sexual Medicine reports.

Lead author, psychologist Andrea Burri, also of King's College, said: 'Emotional intelligence seems to have a direct impact on women's sexual functioning by influencing her ability to communicate her sexual expectations and desires to her partner.'


Blood clots after surgery kill thousands because NHS staff do not appreciate the risk

Thousands of NHS patients are still dying unnecessarily because of a lack of awareness of the risk of developing fatal blood clots after an operation. The condition, venous thromboembolism (VTE), causes one in ten fatalities in British hospitals — an estimated 500 people a week, more than MRSA infections, breast cancer, HIV and road accidents combined. But only one in three NHS hospitals is properly assessing which patients are at risk, while the public are also largely unaware of the dangers, campaigners say.

As many as half of all patients going into hospital are at risk of developing VTE, which occurs when part of a deep-vein thrombosis or blood clot migrates to the lungs, heart or brain. Such clotting is common after surgery, especially in the elderly, the overweight or those confined to bed for more than three days.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued guidelines for the NHS in 2007 recommending that all patients should be assessed on admission to hospital for their risk.

But MPs say that while most patients admitted for common operations such as hip and knee replacements are now assessed by a healthcare professional or treated with anti-clotting drugs before the procedure, many other patients are not offered such preventive checks or made aware of the risks.

John Smith, chairman of the cross-party parliamentary thrombosis group, said: “Despite the Health Select Committee announcing the urgent need for action to stem the number of deaths from hospital-acquired blood clots four years ago, a third of NHS hospitals is still not carrying out proper risk-assessments on their patients.”

A survey of more than 1,000 patients by the thrombosis charity Lifeblood found that fewer than one in three were concerned about the risks of VTE when going into hospital, compared to three quarters who would be concerned about contracting a “superbug” infection such as MRSA.

The Department of Health said that while routine screening of patients was not a mandatory requirement, it would consider introducing legislation if the situation did not improve.

Ann Keen, the Health Minister, said that she expected the VTE risk assessment policy to be adopted throughout the NHS and that experts were visiting every trust in England to discuss the implementation of the checks.

“We will be monitoring the position closely and formally reviewing the policy in a year’s time,” she added. “If there is inconsistency... or lack of commitment, we will consider making it mandatory to perform risk assessments.”

Professor Beverley Hunt, Lifeblood’s medical director, said that more than 70 per cent of deaths due to VTE were preventable with proper awareness and treatment. She urged all patients going into hospital for a planned operation to talk to their doctor about the risks and symptoms.


Opposition to homosexual clergy in the Church of Scotland

Will we see another "Disruption" (schism) akin to that of 1843? It sounds a lot like it. The reunification of the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland is relatively recent in ecclesiastical terms (1929) so could perhaps be reversed. The "Wee Frees" would have the majority of the congregations this time, though

The Church of Scotland is moving towards a schism after one of its ministers compared an increasingly determined campaign against gay clergymen to the war against the Nazis. The Rev Ian Watson railed against homosexual lifestyles, declaring that such people would not “inherit the kingdom of God” in a sermon that religious leaders and politicians condemned as deeply disturbing.

Mr Watson is a prominent opponent of Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister whose appointment to a parish church last year has caused divisions. Mr Rennie, a divorced father of one, lives with his partner, David, and has the support of his Aberdeen Presbytery. The Church of Scotland is due to debate his appointment at its General Assembly next week after a petition was signed by almost a third of ministers pushing for all gays to be banned from the pulpit.

A motion has been lodged urging the Church not to “train, ordain, admit, readmit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and woman”.

The row replicates the dispute within the Anglican Church about the ordination of gays. Anglican conservatives base their opposition to gay people on Bible texts that condemn homosexuality, although liberal members argue that many traditional teachings in the Bible, such as severe punishments for adultery, were no longer observed literally.

The strident position taken by Mr Watson’s Forward Together organisation has provoked both condemnation and support from Scotland’s religious community. The Rev Kenneth MacKenzie, the minister at Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral, which is attended by the Queen, said that he was disappointed that Mr Rennie’s sexuality had become an issue but warned that a schism would occur if his appointment was confirmed. “Life in the Church will never be the same again and my fear is that a sizeable minority of the clergy, and perhaps a majority of its people, may consider leaving the church, causing a rift felt in every parish.”

Mr Watson posted on his blog last night a sermon he delivered on Sunday at Kirkmuirhill Church in Lanark, in which he invoked the failure of the French Army to stand up to the Nazi annexation of the Rhineland in 1938. “[Hitler] guessed correctly that the French had no stomach for a fight. If only they had, then the tragedy of a Second World War might have been avoided,” Mr Watson said.

In the following 3,500 words, he invoked Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, St Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and the Apostle Paul as he reached his rousing climax. “To claim that the homosexual lifestyle is worthy of a child of God; to demand that a same-sex partnership be recognised as on a footing with marriage; to commend such a lifestyle to others is to deny that Jesus Christ is our only Sovereign and Lord. It is to turn the grace of God into a licence for immorality,” he said. “Such people will not inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor.6:10). And therefore they must be resisted . . . Let me assure you, neither I nor like-minded minsters enjoy conflict . . . But have we learned nothing from history? Remember Hitler and the retaking of the Rhineland. He got away with it. No one stopped him. So next it was Austria, then Czechoslovakia, and then Poland and only then world war.”

The sermon was greeted with outrage and disbelief by people inside and outside the Church of Scotland. Some observers questioned whether Mr Watson had infringed legislation on sexual equality. The Rev Peter Macdonald, the leader elect of the Iona Community and minister of St George’s West, Edinburgh, said that he had found it deeply disturbing.

The Rev Lindsay Biddle, chaplain of Affirmation Scotland, a pro-gay group, said: “If you don’t like homosexuals, then get on with it — but don’t use the Bible to justify opinions.” [Thus speaks a non-Christian]

Mr Watson defiantly defended his sermon last night. “There is no doubt that there is a conflict,” he said. “I was trying to explain why I am engaged in this. People say to me, ‘This is not a hill to die on’, but I think it is a fight worth fighting. “Evangelicals seek to defend the historic and orthodox Christian faith. If we don’t what are we? I am a man of convictions.”


The ever-widening gap between the BBC and those it purports to serve

The BBC’s director-general Mark Thompson has said that religious broadcasting gives rise to more controversy in his job than any other subject. I am afraid he hasn’t seen anything yet. On Monday, the Corporation announced that it has appointed a Muslim as head of religious broadcasting. This is not a joke, I can assure you. The person responsible for overseeing the BBC’s — so far — largely Christian output will be Aaqil Ahmed, a practising Muslim.

Let me say at once that I have nothing whatsoever against Mr Ahmed, who is, I am sure, an excellent broadcaster who may have much to contribute to the coverage of religion. Some say that he has done a good job producing religious programmes in his present job at Channel 4, though he has been accused of intellectual shallowness, and last year some Roman Catholic priests alleged he had commissioned documentaries that appeared to contain a pro-Islam bias.

Nor do I doubt that Britain’s three million Muslims have every right to expect the BBC to provide some religious broadcasting directly aimed at them. They pay their licence fee like everyone else, and their views should be properly and proportionately reflected in the Corporation’s programming.

That said, they still constitute a small (though doubtless devout) minority of this country’s population of 60 million. Some 70 per cent of adult Britons describe themselves as Christian, though a far smaller proportion regularly attend church. Culturally, this still remains a Christian country with a national Church, the Church of England, whose supreme head is Her Majesty the Queen.

I realise there are also millions of atheists, Muslims and Hindus, and a smaller number of Sikhs and Jews, who may not embrace Christian religious broadcasting. But I suspect that most of them are happy to put up with it, partly because they respect this country’s Christian traditions, and partly because, in any case, the BBC is producing fewer and fewer specifically Christian programmes.

My quarrel is not so much with Mr Ahmed as with the BBC. Despite being required under its charter to provide religious programming, and despite being funded by licence-payers who overwhelmingly describe themselves as Christian, the Corporation has been increasingly pursuing what can only be, at best, described as a non-Christian agenda and, at worst, as an anti-Christian one.

Do I exaggerate? I don’t believe so. Religious programming on the BBC has dwindled over the past ten years, and what remains is usually anodyne — calculated not to offend non-Christians, and therefore likely to provide very little inspiration to those who have Christian leanings. Songs Of Praise, for example, has become little more than a jolly sing-a-long with very little Christian input. A few years ago the BBC’s own governors criticised the Corporation for ‘earlier and irregular scheduling’ of this once popular programme. In others words, the BBC was attempting to marginalise it, and to a large degree it has succeeded. In a bizarre move which prefigured the appointment of Mr Ahmed, the Corporation last year made Tommy Nagra, a Sikh, the producer of Songs Of Praise. So we have a non-Christian in charge of a programme which, not at all surprisingly in the circumstances, has less and less Christian content.

Christians at the BBC appear to be surplus to requirements. During the past year, four out of seven executives in its already diminished religion department have been made redundant. These included Michael Wakelin, a Methodist preacher, who was removed as head of religious programmes to clear the way for Aaqil Ahmed. I imagine that having a Methodist preacher at the heart of the BBC was more than it could stomach.

What the Corporation does at home, it does even more blatantly abroad. Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently complained to Mark Thompson at a private lunch that the BBC World Service has reduced its English-language religious coverage from one hour 45 minutes a week in 2001 to a mere half an hour a week in 2009. Half an hour! This is a highly significant reduction. For in the Third World, and particularly in Africa, there are hundreds of millions of Christians who probably yearn for more religious programmes on the BBC, and yet the grim, secular-minded commissars who oversee these matters have chosen to cut them back. The BBC does not like God, unless perhaps it be a Muslim, Hindu or Sikh version.

At every possible opportunity it will wheel forward one of those professional atheists who are not happy to live silently with their own non-belief but are determined to shove it down everyone else’s throats. I am thinking particularly of the biologist Richard Dawkins, the novelist Philip Pullman and the philosopher A. C. Grayling. Can you think of a Christian biologist, novelist or philosopher who is afforded one-tenth of the airtime of these militant, omnipresent non-believers?

The odd thing is that we live in an age of growing religious conviction. Even in this country there is a small resurgence of Christianity, largely outside the mainstream churches. But the BBC is travelling fast in the opposite direction. The new intellectual orthodoxy, among the narrow group of people who control it, is profoundly anti-Christian.

Yet the Roman Catholic Mark Thompson is probably the most devoutly Christian director-general since John Reith, the first man to have the job and who, as a flinty Presbyterian, must now be spinning in his grave. Alas, in marked distinction to the militant atheists I have mentioned, Mr Thompson will not stand up for his beliefs.

Being, I trust, fairly realistic, I do not expect him to push back the encroaching secular tide that has taken over so many of the Corporation’s religious programmes. But one might reasonably hope that he would at least hold the line. That line is in keeping with the BBC’s obligations under its charter, and with the predilections of the Christian majority of this country. Mr Thompson will not defend it. To judge by Mr Ahmed’s appointment, he did not heed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s concerns at their recent lunch that the BBC is ignoring its Christian audience.

However, the director-general does not mind intervening when he sees fit. Last year he suggested that Islam should be treated more sensitively by the media because it is a minority religion in this country.

For all I know, Mr Ahmed may prove himself remarkably sympathetic to the sensibilities of Christians in his new job. One cannot, however, count on that, and it is interesting that he has said there should be more coverage of Muslim matters in the media. Will this, on the BBC, be at the expense of an already reduced number of Christian programmes?

In all kinds of ways the publicly funded BBC does not reflect the views of the public it is supposed to serve. No doubt its secular suits assume that Britain is as anti-Christian as they are. They’re out of touch again. In appointing Aaqil Ahmed they do not simply offend against this country’s Christian heritage and traditions. They also further weaken the hold and authority of the BBC.


British car emissions exceed forecasts

New roads built in the UK since 2002 have led to double the increase in carbon emissions originally forecast by the government. The data, which have not been publicised, could raise questions about official assumptions on road traffic emissions resulting from Heathrow's expansion. Norman Baker - transport spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, who obtained the data - said the figures showed government concern for climate change was "little more than greenwash".

The figures come from the Highways Agency, part of the transport department, and apply to 27 big road schemes. They show that these produced an extra 21,870 tonnes of carbon - almost twice the 11,240 predicted by the government.

Mr Baker said: "This government continues to push ahead with massive road-building schemes that cost millions more than predicted, as well as increase traffic and carbon emissions. These huge schemes are responsible for thousands of tonnes of extra carbon emissions every year."

Richard George of the Campaign for Better Transport, said the figures showed that the government was not only underestimating carbon emissions but had "no workable method" of making such forecasts. "The estimates were nowhere near what actually happened, it seems they don't know how to work out what carbon emissions will be," he said. "There were some projects where they expected an increase and there was a decrease, or vice versa. "Overall it was a massive underestimate."

The Highways Agency said the figures should be put in perspective - they only showed net changes rather than total emissions produced.

However, the data might raise concerns about the prospect of enlarging Heathrow without breaching European guidelines. There were already fears about the high level of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide, in the air around the airport - much of which comes from cars rather than aircraft. Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, has told the Financial Times that nitrogen oxide in places near Heathrow already broke limits which were about to become statutory. A report by BAA, which owns the airport, has estimated that a third runway would generate more than 10m extra car and taxi journeys each year.

Mr George did not know whether the DfT was using similar modelling for its Heathrow pollution forecasts. But he said: "It is worrying . . . I would also want to know the difference between modelling for this and for aviation work."

Geoff Hoon, transport secretary, has pledged to prevent Heathrow's expansion if air quality conditions are not met. A DfT spokesman said: "We published our decision on the third runway in January this year and at the time we highlighted the measures we would take to mitigate the environmental impact of the runway."


UK: Science test to be abolished

The teaching of science has become absymal but rather than improve it, they shoot the messenger

Labour signalled a move away from traditional paper and pencil exams yesterday, after an expert group set up by Schools Secretary Ed Balls recommended the abolition of science exams for 11-year-olds.

The tests will end this year after advisers said they narrowed opportunities for group work and experimental-based learning. Last night there were growing calls from teaching unions for English and maths to follow suit.

The group – designed to review the way children aged seven to 14 are assessed – insisted that both would remain, but that tests should be put back a month to give children more time to work through the curriculum.

In the statement, the group said ministers "should continue to invest in, strengthen in and monitor the reliability of teacher assessment to judge whether a move away from externally marked national tests might be viable at a future date".

The move was welcomed by the National Union of Teachers and the NAHT, amid calls to go further. General secretary Christine Blower said: "If teacher assessment is judged to be good enough for science then why not other subjects?"


Schools failing to provide education for excluded pupils, British regulator says

Almost a third of schools are failing to provide suitable education for pupils they exclude, Ofsted said today. The watchdog found some schools were hampered by transport problems and uncooperative parents, while pupil referral units (PRU) were swamped in some areas and unable to cope with the number of disruptive children sent to them. Critics said the findings showed the gap between “reality and rhetoric” for the prospects of children excluded by their schools.

Schools are legally required to arrange full-time, suitable education for pupils excluded for six days or more. It must be off site, or shared with other schools. Yet, 10 of the 36 schools scrutinised by Ofsted had not provided this, it claimed in a report.

Inspectors visited 28 secondary, five primary and three special schools, and 16 referral units, across 18 local authorities. Sixteen of the 18 authorities said that their PRU provided education for excluded pupils. However, this did not happen in practice in eight of those areas because many units were full and could not cope. The report said: “In one PRU visited, a lack of capacity meant that pupils attended for half-day sessions only. In another, a rise in permanent exclusions surprised the local authority, overwhelmed the PRU and resulted in most of the permanently excluded pupils not having access to ‘day six’ provision. “There were delays before pupils could start: in some cases just a day, in others much longer.” In two areas, this was blamed on the school’s poor communication with the local authority.

Two of the schools used exclusion inappropriately as a trigger to review the placement of children with special educational needs, the report added. It added: “Weak guidance and support [from local authorities] were reflected in weak provision and, in one case, a failure to comply with the legal requirements. Two of the authorities were unable to report what their schools were doing for fixed-period excluded pupils from day six.”

Transport difficulties meant that some schools kept their children on site, and educated them in isolation, rather than comply with the rules. Although this breached the legislation as it did not qualify as a PRU or as provision shared with other schools, it was in some cases better for the child, Ofsted acknowledged. It said: “Using supervisory staff who were known the the pupils also helped to maintain relationships, expectations and continuity; the schools argued that this was easier to do than if the pupils were off site in another school’s provision.”

And some - mainly in rural areas - chose never to exclude a child for more than five days so they would not have to risk the pupil not attending if sent to a unit far away. “All were clear that the pupils’ misdemeanours warranted exclusions of more than five days, but they did not want the exclusion to impede pupils’ learning, so they arranged for the child to return to school on the sixth day of the exclusion,” the report said.

The report painted a picture of a breakdown of communication. Many parents were reluctant to send their children to pupil referral units because of the stigma. Some local authorities were impeded in arranging a placements by the difficulty in contacting parents. In addition, most PRUs told inspectors they were given insufficient information by schools about the pupils they were sent.

Use of funding was variable: officials in two local authorities were unsure how a government grant to establish provision for excluded pupils had been spent.

Sir Alan Steer, the government’s behaviour advisor, said last year in a review commissioned by ministers: “A school that permanently excludes a child should expect to receive a permanently excluded child on the principle of ‘one out, one in.” Yet David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Schools Secretary, said: “This shows the gap between reality and rhetoric when it comes to providing education for excluded pupils. “Ministers have promised that expelled pupils will be back in education after six days, but this is clearly not happening. There must be much broader provision for excluded pupils.”


How Gibraltar can sway UK poll results

The Rock of Gibraltar lies at the tip of Spain and overlooks the north of Africa. It is baked by the Mediterranean sun, but on 4 June it will become a town in the south-west of England, much like Falmouth or Swindon. The approximately 18,000 voters of Gibraltar will help to choose who represents South West England in the European Parliament.

Gibraltarians vote with far greater enthusiasm than their UK counterparts. The first time they got to vote in the 2004 Euro-elections, the turnout was nearly double the UK average, at 60%. Taxi drivers Wilfred Lima and Lea Manasco are true Gibraltarians - their parents and grandparents all lived on the Rock. They explain why they like to vote. "Of course voting is very popular here", says Mr Manasco. "We had to fight for it but there we are, we've got it. It's important for us, of course."

Gibraltarians only recently won the right to vote for MEPs, after gaining victory at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The British Government first opposed the move, but then decided to graft Gibraltar onto a part of the UK with similar military and naval traditions. They chose the south-west.

Mr Lima says: "Don't forget that we joined Europe in 1973, together with the Kingdom of Britain. Spain joined in 1986, so we have a right to vote now. We had to fight for the right to vote but we've got it."

The constituency is officially now South West England and Gibraltar, but the Rock's electorate makes up a tiny part of the total, around 1%. Tiny it may be, but it is important to the Chief Minister Peter Caruana. He says that having fought so hard for the vote, people are now keen to exercise that right: "Very often you know, what you get without a struggle you take for granted and what you have to struggle to get, you value it more. "So we had to go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights to get this, so it's right that we should go to the trouble of exercising it."

In a 2002 referendum 99% of the people of Gibraltar voted to oppose proposals for joint sovereignty with neighbours Spain. The vote was not officially recognised by Spain or the UK, but neither could ignore this deafening demand for the status quo.

The chief minister believes Spain's longstanding claim to Gibraltar has made its people much more likely to express themselves democratically. "Gibraltar is a small place, people are very politically switched on, very politically informed, and politics permeates all aspects of life here," he explained. "In Gibraltar we have a very high turnout tradition, and that will rub off on the European elections as well."

With its red telephone boxes and helmeted bobbies (policemen), Gibraltar looks and feels British, right down to the wafts of curry drifting down Main Street. But when it comes to voting they certainly do things differently. To help the infirm and elderly on polling days, a mobile ballot box tours the Rock, accompanied by police officers who ensure fair play. Around each of Gibraltar's 12 polling stations is painted a red line. This marks a boundary over which candidates and canvassers may not step except to vote themselves. Transgressors face arrest.

The returning officer for the South West Paul Morris enjoys witnessing such enthusiasm for democracy. He says it is the only place where he has seen queues of voters. "I've been in the elections game for 36 years", he says. "I've never yet been in a polling station anywhere in the UK, France or indeed America, where people actually queue to vote, it's an incredible concept. It's marvellous to see people taking democracy so seriously."

As Gibraltarians prepare to vote again, there is talk in some newspapers of getting an MEP all of their own. That remains an unlikely prospect in a place with such a small electorate. For now, the voters of the Rock enjoy the simple pleasure of just taking part.


Britain's minimum wage rises by 7 pennies!: Britain's minimum wage is to increase to £5.80 an hour. The 7p rise was far less than unions had asked for. But yesterday's move, which will take effect in October, has angered business leaders who wanted a freeze on the rate to help companies cope with the economic downturn. The increase means adults working a 40-hour week will receive at least £232. From October next year, this adult minimum rate will apply to 21-year-olds as well. Their minimum wage is currently set at a lower rate - together with that of workers aged 18, 19 and 20. The Government said almost one million people will benefit from this year's increase after it approved recommendations from the independent Low Pay Commission.

"Gorbals Mick" is a disgrace to his high office: "Ministers have told Gordon Brown that the Speaker of the House of Commons must go, amid growing concern within the Labour Party that it is unable to regain the initiative on expenses from David Cameron. Downing Street said that the Prime Minister thought Michael Martin was “doing a good job”. But within hours the Speaker was embroiled in his second spat with backbench MPs in 24 hours. The Speaker’s latest outburst was directed at David Winnick, the Labour MP, who asked Mr Martin to apologise for the way he had attacked two MPs in the chamber on Monday. Mr Martin replied that if any MP was unhappy with him, “then he knows what he must do” — a taunt that his critics should put up or shut up. Some ministers said privately that Mr Brown must meet David Cameron and Nick Clegg as soon as possible to decide how to oust Mr Martin. “He must be handed the pearl-handled revolver,” a senior member of the Government said. “He has to go. He has shown an astonishing lack of judgment.” The comments are an indication of the depth of anger at Mr Martin on the government benches. Many MPs believe that the rehabilitation of Parliament’s reputation cannot begin until he is removed, since the Speaker oversees the system of allowances, which is now discredited widely."

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