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Saturday, 10 February 2007

Things that make you proud to be British

The Admiralty Court is rarely as dull and dusty a place as some other seats of justice, but seldom have I seen such a perfectly titled, stated, judged and reported case as Sea Tractor - v - Tramp. And never to my knowledge has the phrase 'Lovely jubbly' been admitted as evidence in an Admiralty Court before. The law report itself is a succinct delight that paints as clear a picture of that event off the Kent mainland as if one had been on board.

Heard on the 18th of January before Mr Justice David Steel sitting with Captain Iain Gibb of Trinity House as Nautical Assessor, the judge limited the case to half a day, surely an act of wisdom and mercy in preserving the seamen on both sides from the folly of legal costs. The facts of the case can be stated baldly here, but if you have just a few more minutes I commend you to the full law report at

Sea Tractor is a small workboat / tug. Tramp is a small coaster. The value of the Tramp would not exceed £400k. Tramp had made two previous trips to Washer Wharf on the Swale. On her third trip she tried to leave the wharf without tug assistance. While she was coming off, the wind turned her head upstream and she was unable to come about. Sea Tractor was called and rapidly put her right. Sea Tractor claimed salvage, but Tramp held that it was commercial towage worth about £625.

Judge Steel patiently heard the strongly argued evidence for both sides. He concluded "I have come to the conclusion that the vessel was in an unhappy predicament and was clearly in need of tug services on salvage terms.......In brief this was a relative straightforward service to a vessel in modest danger from which she could not extract herself safely. The services were rendered by a small tug which had responded promptly but which has no claim to professional status. I have come to the conclusion that a fair but encouraging award would be in the sum of £12,500."

'Lovely jubbly,' as Sea Tractor no doubt said, 'reee-sult Rodney!'

Friday, 9 February 2007

Exclusive - Wrong Zong for Tower Pier

As part of the current fatuous political correctness celebrations of the end of slavery, an evangelical Christian ministry under investigation by the Charity Commission for its rather rabid anti-Islamic stance has enrolled the help of the Navy in mounting a crude publicity stunt this March.

The MOD website announces that "Type 23 Frigate HMS Northumberland will escort replica slave ship Kaskelot (sponsored by the Centre for Contemporary Ministry and renamed 'Zong') into London Tower Pier" in Late March 2007. Now the original Zong was a captured Dutch ship turned into a slaver and captained by Sir Luke Collingwood and infamous for throwing 133 slaves overboard in 1781. And trying to claim them on her insurance.

The other Collingwood, the one that the Navy I'm sure would be happier to be associated with, is of course the Admiral who fought so gallantly at Trafalgar and is buried in St Paul's. The Kaskelot was built in 1948 as a transport barque for Greenland and is one of the largest wooden sailing vessels still in commission.

The CCM was reported to the Charity Commission for comments made in a 2006 newsletter. Its current material seems rabidly paranoid over the political influence of the 'moslem vote' - which I'm sure will be news to the UK's Islamic community. A flavour of its position :

There are 34 seats currently held by Labour that are dependent upon the Muslim vote. If these went the other way they could swing the election. It is therefore expected that before the next General Election legislation will be brought in to meet Muslim demands. The result will be a drastic curbing of our freedom to preach the gospel in public or to publish anything that might offend Muslims. Christians will be faced with endless complaints and harassment as even saying that Jesus is the Son of God is offensive to Muslims. Some of us on the front line will no doubt end in prison.
Now why on earth would anyone want to commemorate the Zong incident? What is the point? One can't judge the past by the standards of the present. Life was infinitely cheaper in the eighteenth century, white as well as black. We were hanging 16 year olds for Sodomy in London and had just stopped burning women as witches. In our own age we have seen tribal genocide in Rwanda and Darfur, and the radio today reported a rate of 18,000 murders a year in South Africa. So why don't we devote our national resources to addressing these issues, instead of beating ourselves over the head for 133 murders that happened 226 years ago?

And why on earth would the Navy want to get involved with adding spurious legitimacy to a bunch of, erm, zongers?

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

So good it's worth saying twice ....

Political party funding

As an avid follower of Helena Kennedy's Power Inquiry, certainly the most comprehensive, well researched and exhaustively consulted- upon political reform document of the last fifty years, I was encouraged at the launch event at QE centre to hear David Cameron express a limited degree of support. As much as he could, anyway. It was a bit like the turkeys giving Advent a cautious thumbs-up but holding back on supporting Christmas.

One of the best bits of research in 'Power' is that low turnouts and democratic disengagement aren't caused by apathy, as most politicians would have us believe, but because people feel that the big centralised political duopoly just doesn't give them choice. At a time when both big parties have recognised that in this post-Fordist (to use the language of the dreary science) age, citizens are demanding choice. Choice of schools, healthcare, public services, media channels and life events. Both the parties have recognised the pressures for 'localism' - that in fact people are far from apathetic when it comes to their town centres, their primary school or the lack of facilities for their teenage kids.

So why then do the Big Two continue to believe they can continue in their present form as great lumbering centralised Soviet-style didactic dictatorships? That one size fits all, that policy is centrally determined, that MPs should be as ruthlessly whipped as a Kulak's serfs? And when the public desert party memberships in droves, when donations dry up and trade union members opt-out of the political levy, that they can dip their grubby hands deep in the public pot to preserve this dying oligopoly?

A party is a private club. It has no more right to steal my taxes than a yacht club. And I will go to prison to uphold this most basic principle.

Hayden Phillp's inquiry is an utter and total smokescreen. I have a keen and applied interest in this issue, and the first I heard of it was when it was announced that the consultation period had ended. It was perhaps the most narrow, limited and certainly the quietest and least advertised consultation I've ever come across, conducted nationally on a scale that a local council uses to consult on a controlled parking zone. Phillips and his results will have no credibility whatsoever. He can be dismissed as an establishment lickspittle. And what was perhaps most contemptible about Phillip's initial report was the way in which it damned the 'Power' recommendations on political funding based on what can only have been a deliberate misunderstanding of the proposals.

All I want is what many others want. A local MP who will put constituency first and party second. This will mean much looser and more flexible parliamentary groupings, an end to the Whip, the local parties being big and the central parties being very small. We could even have two Tory parties and two Labour parties. And voters having a direct say in the granting of state funding at the local level.

Under the 'Power' proposals, the next time you enter a voting booth you will take an additional ballot paper. This empowers you to grant £3 a year of state funding to the party of your choice until the next time the seat is up for election. Or to not choose to give any of them any state funding. And the funding choice need not be the same as the party of the candidate you're voting for.

I would go a bit further than Power. A party must be active in the constituency to appear on the ballot paper. And that the £3 per vote per year goes to the local party only. The local party will have absolute jurisdiction over how much of this income they pass to the national party.

Combined with a cap on national donations, such a system would go a long way to rebalancing democracy and reengaging local people in politics. Perhaps that's why the Big Two are so scared of it.

18 Doughty Street has made a neat little advert. Here. And check out:
Power Inquiry (Now make it an issue)

Monday, 5 February 2007

Keels and Stuff

Yesterday the Hooligan V capsized in the Channel whilst on passage from Plymouth to Southampton. One man has lost his life and my sympathies go to his family and friends. We should await the MAIB enquiry before rushing to any judgments, but preliminary reports indicate the vessel had lost her keel.

I once explained to a previous Mrs Raedwald how a keel worked by holding a hammer with the handle uppermost grasped between thumb and forefinger a couple on inches above the head. The handle is the mast and the head the keel. Trying to turn the hammer to the horizontal gets horribly hard the further you go, as the 'righting' effect of the head pulls back to the vertical.

The Hooligan V is a Max Fun 25 - a well regarded boat that has proven reliable in some tough ocean races. Like any racing boat, her hull is very light. In fact, her torpedo keel makes up about 50% of the weight of the hull. Without it, as you will be realising by now, the vessel will rapidly become unstable.

This incident will raise once again the discussions over keel design. The modern tendency is to have 'bolt on' keels rather than 'encapsulated' ones, i.e. keels that are an integral part of the hull. I'm sure the MAIB will properly address this issue in their report.