News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Zoom collapses

Today Zoom Airlines has annouced that it has collapsed under the weight of high fuel costs. The news has stranded hundreds of passengers around the world, and has thrown the travel plans of thousands more into turmoil. The airline was founded by two Scottish brothers and based in Ontario, Canada, so it was very much a British-Canadian venture, and many of the passengers affected will be British or Canadian. My thoughts are certainly with anyone who has lost out, and may miss out on seeing relatives, something which anyone with friends and relatives overseas can surely relate to.

The collapse is an important reminder of the need to protect yourself against airline failure. I've never flown with Zoom, and always try to protect myself against potential incidents like this. However, I've realised that there may have been times when my insurance policies might not have covered me. Here are some steps to take to ensure that you are protected when you fly:
  • Book by credit card. British companies certainly cover customers against this kind of thing, allowing you to reclaim the money paid from your credit card company. I will have to check the terms and conditions attached to my new HSBC Mastercard to ensure that I am entitled to the same benefits in Canada! You may have to pay a small suplement for booking by credit card, but the peace of mind provided is priceless.
  • From the UK, try to book through a body covered by the CAA's ATOL. That covers tour operators, including Canadian Affair, in case of insolvency.
  • Check that you have travel insurance as soon as you book a flight, and check the terms and conditions. Some travel insurance policies cover policyholders in the event of airline failure, but not all of them do. Even those that do cover you normally only cover scheduled airlines and they may have a list of airlines they will not cover. For the most part, that list will comprise airlines which are already bankrupt of in some kind of adminsitration, but it's a good idea to check that your airline is insurable before you book.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Something rotten at Vodafone

After several years as a Vodafone customer, I have been rather shocked at how bad the company has become lately. Every time I have to contact them, there is a problem. I've finally given in and switched my services to Orange, who I used prior to joining Vodafone, and have been fantastic in comparison. Corissa is with O2, who have also handled the same queries perfectly well. Why is it that Vodafone is out on a limb, in being unable to provide basic services to its customers?

The first problem I encountered arose when I called in to switch my telephone from pay monthly to pay as you talk. I expected that to be straight forward, as it had been when I stopped old Orange numbers, twice. My wife had also been able to call O2, who made all the arrangements over the phone and had everything sorted within a week. Not so Vodafone.

Despite being a phone company, they required me to write a letter outlining my requirements and post it to them. How very 19th century. Anyway, I did so and followd up with a phone call when I didn't hear anything back from them, only to be informed that my letter had not reached them, so I would have to write again, and my one months' notice would not start until they actually received a letter. I pointed out that it was their procedure that had caused the problem, and asked to be transferred to the complaints department. After a few minutes on hold, I was told that they had actually received my letter, but had not processed it correctly so the information was not showing up on the telephone operator's screen. I noted that my one month's notice would take me to 23rd August and went away happier.

I decided to use the suggestion form on Vodafone's website to point out that their procedure left a lot to be desired, and was inferior to their competitors' systems. In response, I received an email in poor English, which informed me that my account had been transferred to PAYT by email effective 29th August.

Before I had time to call them back, I received a retention phone call asking me to reconsider the move. I pointed out that the cancellation should take effect 23rd August, which the operator agreed and corrected on the system. I decided that I would quit while I was ahead.

Subsequently, I discovered that the original acknowledgement of my letter had been posted after all. They had sent it to the Canadian address that I had asked them to use after 12th August, but they had used it on 23rd July anyway. At least I had it and all was reasonably well.

Yesterday, my phone went over to PAYT as planned. My final bill has been paid by direct debit. I was slighly disturbed to find that I could not view my final e-bill, as they cancelled my online access with my pay monthy account. I assume that I will receive something in the post, but won't hold my breath.

So far so good. Until, that is, I wanted to actually use the phone. I had previously discussed my imminent emigration and need to continue to use my phone with their customer service agents. I know people who top up by phone or online, and was reassured that I would be able to use those methods with my UK bank account or credit card, which I have kept open. However, I now discover that they require a UK address for said bank account or credit card. Not terribly useful if you live in Canada.

The customer service rep was keen to explain to me why that was, but at international rates I was not particularly keen to listen. I confirmed with him that I cannot use his company's services from Canada, and told him that I would be switching to Orange, who I can use from abroad. I have now done so, and successfully sent my first text messages using my Orange phone number within minutes.

Well done Vodafone. A global company for a globalised age? A digital company for a digital era? Clearly not. I'm beginning to wonder whether Vodafone internal communication is carried out by carrier pigeon. For a phone company to issue mobile phones that are not trully mobile, and to prefer communication by post than by means of its own services is quite extraordinary. If I was a Vodafone shareholder, I would be very concerned at the direction of the company.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lib Dems looking both ways on energy policy

We all know that the Lib Dems struggle to set coherent policies. The latest example is Nick Clegg's statement on energy policy, enthusiastically supported by the Lib Dem Prosepective Parliamentary Candidate for Folkestone and Hythe.

Apparently, a Lib Dem government (don't laugh too loudly) would strive for "UK energy independence." I'm intrigued as to how they intend to achieve that. A glance around the Kent Lib Dems' websites shows that they oppose new nuclear build at Dungeness, the windfarm on Romney Marsh, the offshore windfarm off the north sea coast, the coal fired power station proposed for Kingsnorth and the Allington waste to energy incinerator. They have opposed just about every type of power generation which could be utilised in Kent! Given that we have an urgent need to find means of generating electricity to replace power stations which are soon to reach the end of their natural lives, Lib Dem actions in local government mean that it would be highly likely that Britain would need to increase its level of electricity imports to meet demand.

Apparently, the proposals would see electricity generated through wind, tidal, wave and biomass technologies, to reduce Britain's dependance upon overseas fossil fuels. The aim is commendable, but we need to consider what it really means.

Wind energy is intermittent at best, so requires alternative generating capacity to provide backup support for days when there is no wind, too much wind or the wrong sort of wind. Wind farms also take up large amounts of virgin countryside, which has a direct impact upon the ecology of that land - which is why Shepway Lib Dems joined the Conservatives and others in opposing the wind farm on Romney Marsh.

Tidal power is controversial. Previously proposed schemes have actually failed on environmental grounds. For example, the proposed Servern tidal generation scheme would have resulted in the marshy wetlands on either side of the Severn Estuary flooding, depriving endangered and protected species of birds and other wildlife of their natural breeding grounds. I can't think of any suitable sites in the British Isles which would not have similar impacts on biodiversity. Tidal power is probably the greatest threat to many marine and coastal species of animals, and should not be considered a green alternative.

Wave power is a very good idea which is in its infancy. In due course, the technology could prove to be a genuine alternative means of power generation. However, the technology is not ready yet. Given time, this could become an option, but unfortunately, the time is not now.

Biomass technology is by far the most controversial of the four means of generation proposed by Nick Clegg. There are two sources of energy for biomass power generation. The first is biodegradeable waste, such as garden and food waste. That's the kind of thing burnt at Allington's incinerator. The Lib Dems have consistently opposed Allington. Similar plants have been proposed in Eastbourne (opposed by the local Lib Dems, who won control of the council partly because of their opposition), and in Lympne. It will be interesting to see whether Shepway Lib Dems match their rhetoric with actions by supporting that plan. The other source is vegetations grown specifically to be burnt for power. That has become increasingly popular in recent years, and is the principle reason for the dramatic increase in the price of food lately. As the biomass crops need to be grown, they take up land which was previously used to grow food, reducing the supply of land for crops. The result has been a reduction in supply of food, as well as intensification of production on the remaining land, by means of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Moreover, the increased demand for land to grow biomass crops has resulted in a rapid increase in the rate of destruction of the world's rainforests, which had previously stabilised after that became the cause celebre for publicity seeking eco-celebrities like Nick Clegg in the 1980s. So biomass power stations have five problems 1) people don't want to live near to an incinerator 2) crops grown to be burnt are reducing the supply of food, increasing prices and starving Africans 3) rainforests are destroyed to supply more land to grow biomass crops 4) increasingly intensive farming methods are required, leading to loss of hedgerows, increased use of chemicals and GMOs and loss of biodiversity and 5) waste which is incinerated could have been recycled or composted, which would have been a cleaner option than burning it.

Overall, the Lib Dem report on energy policy cannot be rated as anything better than a C-. Must try harder next time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

RIP Earl Radnor; welcome to new Viscount Folkestone

The Telegraph has reported the sad news that Earl Radnor died on 11th August. He succeeded to the title and seat in the House of Lords in 1968, upon the death of his father, although he lost that seat in the Lords when the hereditories were removed in 1999. Prior to 1968, he had been Viscount Folkestone, as that is the courtesy title afforded to the heir to the Earldom of Radnor.

The news means that the Viscount Folkestone has now become Earl Radnor, and his eldest son has taken over the title Viscount Folkestone.

Hat tip: Folkestone Forums

Friday, August 15, 2008

RIP Lord Bruce-Lockhart

Sadly, Lord Bruce-Lockhart has died, after a long battle with cancer. I met and spoke with him on a couple of occasions at the last two Conservative Party conferences to have taken place in Bournemouth, and must confess to being a great admirer. As leader of Kent County Council from 1997, he turned the authority around from the basket case Lib-Lab authority, rated as the worst in the country, to the County Council recognised as the best in the country. Since standing down as leader, he has continued to serve the party, the county and local government in generally well, through his chairmanship of the LGA and other important roles.

Kent is very lucky to have had Sandy as its leader, and his legacy lives on through the leadership of the county, which continues on the steady path which he set it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

All packed up and ready to go

Well it's just days until we leave sunny Folkestone for a new life in Canada now. Yesterday the local auction house came to collect all of our old furniture, which will go under the hammer later this month and today the shippers took most of the rest of our possessions, which should arrive in Calgary in about 8 weeks' time. Shepway are due to collect the old fridge/freezer at some point tomorrow, and in the evening we're heading out to say farewell to my former colleagues on Folkestone Town Council.

I'm still looking forward to the move, but walking around the town and seeing people for the last time can still be hard. I have to keep reminding myself that we're only a flight away, and we'll be visiting England to see family and friends regularly. I might even get in some telephone canvassing from Canada!

Monday, August 04, 2008

400 up!

I''ve just spotted that this is my 400th post! Blogging has been comparatively light over the past year, what with all the time I've spent getting married, moving house and emigrating, but it's still only a year since my last century!

The feel of posts is likely to change a little over the next few months. I will still blog about British politics, especially those pertaining to Shepway, but Canada will gain an increased prominence.