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Saturday, 12 May 2007

Tuberculosis or Smoking the greater threat?

The supposed threat from passive smoking that Nanny will be propagandising about over the next few weeks has been pretty well debunked by numberwatch amongst others; it has about as much truth as that other warning from nanny: "Don't tell lies or your legs will fall off". Blair's ability to walk back to his private jet gives the thumbs-down to that one.

The relentless rise of TB in the UK is of greater worry to me. The confirmation of a new outbreak at a school on Luton last week will doubtless have caused great concern amongst parents. In 2004 a report from the Chief Medical Officer confirmed that cases had been rising by 25% a year since 1993. Deaths are running at about 350 a year. Incidence of the disease is concentrated in certain areas and groups. And now one has to be very careful here; the MSM has been very responsible in its reporting and so should the blogosphere be. The main incidences are in London and in certain satellite towns including Luton and Bedford. One or two east London boroughs have TB rates comparable with developing countries. Of those infected, 70% are from ethnic minority population groups, largely black African and those from the Indian sub-continent.

TB is
not an ethnic disease. It ravaged Britain within living memory; the pic is of a sign many will remember from the old Routemaster London buses. Spittle and sputum can communicate the disease, as can (more rarely) cows with Bovine TB. We used to know the risks, and the devastation TB can wreak. Spitting became almost taboo. Why have we forgotten this so easily?

Peter Oborne perfectly describes Tiberius

In an extended piece in the Mail today, in advance of his film for 'Dispatches' on C4 on Monday night, Peter Oborne gives us a penetrating appraisal of the mind and character of Gordon Brown. An insight into Brown's character has been hovering at the edge of my mind for days; he reminded me powerfully of a character from history, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. I woke this morning with the name 'Tiberius' in my mind and by 6am was re-reading Marañón on Tiberius.

Thirteen years ago Brown was told he was not good enough to be Labour's choice for Prime Minister. Still second best, he will take the reins for a final year or two of Labour's power without the endorsement of the electorate, a hungry greedy child elbowing his way onto the table and resentful of all the forces that have kept him from the cake. And it is this deep resentment that links the characters of Brown and Tiberius.

Oborne describes how Brown has not spoken to Mandelson for thirteen years, barely spoke to Robin Cook for twenty years over an obscure dispute over a youthful pamphlet, how he has always avoided direct confrontation but used others to crush dissent. Oborne's description of his contempt for and utter indifference to others to me resembles the character of a psychopath who can cry over the death of a kitten but is unmoved by human slaughter.

Marañón writes "Resentful men [are] endowed with a talent which falls short of realising that, if they fail to reach a higher category than they have attained, this is not the fault of other people's hostility, as they suppose, but the fault of their own failings". He catalogues the attraction for the more powerful man of the resentful man, who hovers around the court of the mighty, at once attracted and repelled, caught in a bond of bitterness that can burst forth in revenge; "...that strength conferred by political power, his resentment, hitherto disguised as resignation, bursts forth in revenge ... resentful men, when chance places them in a position of power, are so much to be feared".

"In the case of every resentful man we must be on the outlook for some frustration or abnormality in his sexual instinct" he continues, "they are husbands unfortunate in their marriages, they are people affected by abnormal or repressed tendencies." Humour, too, is lacking says Marañón, and the resentful man often bears a physical characteristic, a defect, that marks them as a target for the humour of others.

Oborne declares that Brown must change his character if he is to succeed. I fear the bitter gall of resentment is too deep in Brown's soul for this. This runners-up prize, this brief interval in office, is too little to reform Brown's inner sense of injustice. He's second-best and the world knows it.
Since the resentful man is always an unsuccessful man - unsuccessful in relation to his ambition - it would seem at first sight as though success ought to cure him. Success may, if it comes, calm the resentful man; but it never cures him. On the contrary, it very often happens that success, far from curing him, makes him worse. This is because he regards success as a solemn consecration of the fact that his resentment was justifiable, and this justification intensifies his long-standing bitterness.
If I were Blair I'd be very, very afraid.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Ten Years - of the Countryside Alliance

I don't hunt. I never have. I do value it highly, though, and defend absolutely the rights of others to do so. The threat to hunting is a threat to shooting and fishing - both of which I do take part in. Blair's assault on the country during the past ten years is one of the most pernicious, corrosive and spiteful socialist conceits since the wasted years of nationalisation. At home over Christmas, the numbers turning up to see our local hunt off (see pic) on Boxing Day were record. As Labour returns, beaten and cowed, to their inner-city slums after the recent elections the lesson is clear - don't mess with us. Simon Hart's summary is excellent and I reproduce it in full below.

Tony Blair will leave office on 27th June. Now that this particular chapter is drawing to a close it is worth reflecting that not only has Mr Blair presided over a decade of neglect of the countryside; his rural legacy will be the Hunting Act: the most ridiculous and derided law of modern times. For his Deputy, John Prescott, the legacy is simply one of contempt.

It is actually with sadness that I can find almost nothing positive to recall by way of Blair's achievements for rural people, apart from perhaps his appointment of the ever-sensible Jeff Rooker and a glimmer of hope offered by David Miliband at DEFRA.

The Countryside Alliance was created ten years ago in response to fears that the new Labour Government was hostile to, or ignorant of, many rural concerns. The role of the Alliance has proved all too necessary. From the disastrous handling of the Foot and Mouth outbreak to the disgraceful fiasco of the Rural Payments Agency, Blair's decade has been marked from first to last by chaos in the countryside.

But it was the appointment of Margaret Beckett and Alun Michael to DEFRA that showed the true extent of Blair's misunderstanding of rural issues. The problems and frustrations faced by rural communities were amplified by the appointment of urban-minded ministers who were drafted in to a Department that has failed to prove itself fit for purpose. Changing the name of MAFF to DEFRA in 2001 was a case of changing the plaques on the door of the London-based HQ - the remorselessly metropolitan outlook remained the same.

In the end the only rural policy that Mr Blair's Government will be remembered for is the pointless and derided Hunting Act, described by his mentor, Roy Jenkins, as 'the most illiberal act of the last century'.

It is shameful that Mr Blair allowed 700 hours of Parliamentary time to be wasted on a pointless law, which has failed at every level, when the countryside deserved so much more.

In 1997 many people thought that Blair was a fresh hope but that hunting was on borrowed time. What a difference a decade makes. Ten years on the hunting community remains intact, and repeal a real possibility. Meanwhile, Tony Blair will be remembered for creating tension, division and unhappiness in the countryside. The illiberal, unjust and vindictive Hunting Act will be his rural legacy.

Simon Hart

The World goes on - issues update

Blair has managed one final trick. During the long goodbye and a media focus on the Dour Scot, the nagging embarrassments of the last few months will fight for media attention; Brown will be able to distance himself from them and no doubt 'Events, dear boy' will surface. Before long Parliament will be in recess again. As much a reminder to myself as anything else, here's my aide-memoire of unresolved matters that I've previously blogged on here (and do please add to them if I've neglected any)
  • Cash for Honours - we await charges. The publication of the independent advice to the AG has been promised.
  • State Funding - Hayden Phillips' recommendations are with the main parties. I am implacably opposed to the proposed model; only 1.4% of the electorate are members of the three main parties, they have all haemorrhaged members since 1979 as democratic power has been increasingly concentrated in Whitehall. What a different report we would have had if it had been written by the Chairman of the Local Government Association rather than by a lickspittle ex-mandarin.
  • Navy hostages Board of Enquiry - This one was comprehensively covered by Private Eye a couple of issues back. As EU Referendum correctly surmised, it was a PR stunt for a BBC film crew that went wrong. Orchestrated from the MOD, the aim was to boost the UK's role in the Gulf. US and other vessels that were part of the flotilla were put 'out of sight'. A girl was cast in the politically correct lead role for the reality-TV boarding. The helicopter that was carrying the BBC film crew returned early not because it was short of fuel but because the crew had an appointment for a filmed interview with the flotilla commander. Britain's international reputation was therefore shredded for the sake of Whitehall orchestrated spin.
  • Birmingham terrorist raids leak - media leaks that endangered the success of an anti-terrorist operation and, as David Cameron has eloquently explained on Conservativehome, further served to alienate the law-abiding Islamic people in Birmingham. The leaking was quite clearly a criminal offence, yet there is to be no inquiry and seemingly no charges. Contrast this with the jailing yesterday for six and three months of the civil servants who planned to leak a document that was merely embarrassing to the US President.
  • ID cards fiasco - as costs spiral towards the £19bn estimated by the London School of Economics, expect more subterfuge, distortion, omission and misrepresentation from government.
  • EU treaty - Blair will expect to sneak this through before his time is up. No doubt the timing is being carefully planned.
  • CSR 07 - Brown's masterpiece, the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review. Expected I think in July, this will reveal the presbyterian thief in all his nakedness. Expect the defence of the nation to be the lowest of his priorities, and locking ever more people into a waste of welfare and State dependency to be the highest.

There's no let-up and no honeymoon on this blog.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Gordon unveils his 'new voice'

Brown's unenthusiastic praise for Blair today was a good first outing for his new voice. Yes, not only has the greasy graphite hair gone in favour of something softer and, er, clean, the harsh Scots croak has been toned down an octave, the sharp edges cut from the consonants and the vowels stretched to sound ...English.

He's clearly been worried enough about England's growing lack of patience with being governed by Scots to have employed a voice coach. And clearly stupid enough not to imagine that two recordings played back to back will demonstrate it. But that's NuLabour for you.

He hasn't given up chewing his nails down to ragged stumps, though, as far as I'm aware.
On this day ...

Slow news day today in the UK; nothing at all noteworthy is happening. However, 234 years ago today Parliament passed an Act that was to have some little international consequence.

Now I expect we all imagine we know the origins of the rebellion in the colonies. The English imposed a tax on tea, the tea drinkers of the American colonies were outraged and threw a cargo of tea into Boston harbour. Then they kicked us out and made their own country, which has since achieved a modicum of international status.

Uhm, not quite, Lord Copper. American tea was largely supplied by American merchants and smugglers, and was liable to a domestic American tax. The English sought to undercut American tea merchants by passing an act, the Tea Act of 10th May 1773, that allowed the East India Company to sell tea in America without paying the colonial tax. The English therefore legislated for a tax cut, not a new tax or a tax increase.

However, it backfired. The colonials liked the smugglers more than they liked us. And so was a rebellion born.

Right, time for a cuppa I think.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Judges get serious - constitutional crisis looming?

The Magistrate's Blog reports today on an exceptional communication today from the Lord Chief Justice to all members of the judiciary. This must be a matter of national concern; rarely has such a fundamental disagreement between the executive and the judiciary in this country erupted so openly. The evidence given by their lordships to the Lord's Constitution Committee is HERE, including the Judicial Position Paper that Lord Phillips refers to in his extraordinary letter to judges and magistrates.

The issues are these. The government has designed a new Ministry of Justice on the back of a fag packet and brought it in virtually overnight. The intention seems to be to amalgamate the budgets for courts and prisons, so that if the civil servants need more money for prisons they can close courts. Or vice versa (but unlikely). It also seems to be strongly suggested that judges should consider the availability of prison places when passing sentence - a consideration wholly absent from English law. Overall, the government's intention seems clear. And it is bloody serious. It is, in my view, to utterly undermine the constitutional position of the judiciary as a separate part of government, make judges into civil servants answerable to and appointed by the executive and thereby to politicise justice in the United Kingdom.

Now, our judges may come in for much stick for some of their judgments; my consolation is that they are more often a thorn in the side of ministers than an outrage to me. Ornery, bloody-minded, individualistic, contrary old buggers they might be. But they form our last line of defence against the iniquities of a police state, the loss of freedom in this nation and in the preservation of that justice and equity that has ruled our society in these islands for a thousand years.

I for one stand solidly with them in this matter. I urge you to do likewise.
Retro and Guinness for London Boat Show fight

Last year at the boat show held at Excel a friend obediently slipped off his new Church's loafers as he went aboard to nose around some new plastic palace (for those who've never 'done' the boat show, you can't enter the gleaming vessels on display without taking your shoes off). He returned on deck to find that someone had taken his loafers and left him a rather grubby pair of trainers. Do mosques have the same problem, I wonder? Apart from the opportunity to acquire a better pair of shoes, most boat show regulars enthuse about an old show fixture, the Guinness Bar. Never mind that it's £3.60 a pint served in a plastic glass, or that this is the only day of the year that you actually drink the stuff - of such moments are show memories made.

One conversation over the frothy stuff at Excel has been repeated ever since the show moved there. "It was much better at Earl's Court. This is the middle of nowhere. They don't care about us any more." In January, a rival organisation to National Boat Shows (the Excel people) announced a competing boat show to return to the old Earl's Court venue this winter. Now we are to have two London boat shows; the Earl's Court one from 1st-9th December and the Excel one from 11th - 20th January.

The gloves are off and the Earl's Court people have just landed a heavy blow; Guinness have announced they're sponsoring the central London event rather than the wasteland dockland one.

And the footwear sales stands will no doubt be looking forward to a profitable time too; last year my friend shelled out £130 for some shoes to walk home in.
Prescott's madness goes out with a whimper, not a bang

In the pre-Blair days of local government, the majority party would appoint their councillors to a variety of decision-making committees, generally reflecting the individual interests and abilities of members. Planning, environment, housing, social care, education and so on. Committee chairmanships were the zenith of local power, but a power limited by a consensus of majority councillors, all of whom had a part in the process of local governance.

All this was abolished by the Local Government Act 2000. A restricted range of governance models was introduced; elected mayor, mayor and elected cabinet, leader and cabinet appointed by the majority party. The size of the decision making caucus was fixed by law; no more than ten councillors were to be allowed to take decisions on the council's business. And what of all the rest of the majority party's members, who had previously all sat on various committees? Well, they could be members of the Scrutiny committee and scrutinise the decisions of the ten-member executive. What foolishness. What stupidity. Few councillors were going to spend too much time publicly criticising the decisions of their own party.

Councillors were further gelded in 2001 by Prescott's code of conduct, which prohibited them from commenting on matters in their own wards. No matter that their constituents overwhelmingly opposed an asylum-seekers hostel or the closure of a swimming pool - to speak against such things would bring them before the Standards Board for misconduct. You think I'm distorting the actuality?
  • Derwentside Council, Co Durham - A councillor, who was elected to represent the 80% of the people in his ward opposed the building of further wind turbines, was excluded from meetings on the matter because he had a ‘personal or prejudicial interest'.
  • Rushmoor Borough Council - A councillor elected as an Independent with a mandate to oppose turning Farnborough aerodrome into an executive jet centre was told by council officials that he could not attend planning committee meetings on the issue, or vote on it, because his position was 'predetermined'.
  • Oswestry Borough Council - A councillor who wanted to speak on the siting of a mobile phone mast was told by the council's officers that the mere act of representing the views of her constituents proved that she had a ‘personal or prejudicial interest'. Even worse, they added that as a councillor, it was her duty to support the council and not offer the inconvenient view of her electorate.
I could offer many more examples of this inanity.

Last year Ruth Kelly launched a new local government White Paper; this proposed a radical role for local councillors as community leaders, key players in a further devolution of governance to neighbourhood levels. There was a discreet corporate cough from the nation's councillors.

"Uhm, very good Minister. But we can't. We're not allowed to. You've, er, banned us from being community leaders already."

So no doubt figuring that 4th May was a suitable day for the interment of departmental embarrassment, Statutory Instrument 2007 No. 1159 was published. With something of a whimper.

Councillors are now free to comment on matters in their own wards. Somehow they're still not dancing in the streets ....

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Romanian gypsies and cashpoints

Over the weekend I used an ATM in a busy London High Street. As I queued I watched the antics of three young Romanian gypsy girls, somewhere between sixteen and their early twenties I'd guess, and a couple of patient Met plods. The girls had been spotted hanging around the ATM; a well-known hazard in London, they can snatch a recently-filled purse or wallet with the legerdemain of Houdini and pass it down the line to a hidden Fagin with the adroitness of the All Blacks.

They were teasing the poor plods in broken but adequate English. They knew the police couldn't stand there all day protecting the cashpoint queue, and that they were virtually immune from arrest. They had no intention of moving on.

I didn't feel anger. Just a sort of weary resignation and a little depressed.

The following early day motion was signed in Parliament by the undernamed MPs;

"That this House welcomes the 35th World Roma day on 8th April and sends greetings to seven million Roma, Gypsies and Travellers throughout Europe and the many others around the world whose forebears have struggled against centuries of exclusion and discrimination; celebrates the benefits of a rich and diverse cultural heritage; notes the proud record of public service of Roma, Gypsies and Travellers carrying out community work, working in schools and hospitals, working in or with the police and serving in the Army services; and urges the Government to seek the broad support required domestically and throughout Europe to promote social inclusion and ensure that Roma, Gypsies and Travellers may be treated as equal members of society and encouraged to play a full and active role as citizens."

Kevin McNamara
Julie Morgan
Andrew Dismore
Alice Mahon
Peter Bottomley
Martin Caton
Jeremy Corbyn
Mike Hancock
Angus Robertson
Andrew George
John McDonnell
Alan Simpson
Win Griffiths
Edward O'Hara
Simon Thomas
Institute of Directors condemn Brown's management of the economy

No real comment needed on this latest report from the IOD:-
U.K. economic policy stands at a ‘fork in the road’ and we now face a clear choice. Continue along the current path and the UK economy will mirror that of other EU economies with large Governments. Alternatively, pursue global best practice and aim to reduce the size of the state towards the levels seen in the US, Australia, Ireland and Switzerland, where public spending is between 34 per cent and 37 per cent of GDP.

According to the OECD (different measure to HM Treasury) total public spending now exceeds 45 per cent of GDP in the U.K. Compared with the rest of the OECD the U.K. is now a high tax (4.2 per cent of GDP above the OECD average) and high public spending economy (4.8 per cent of GDP above the OECD average). Before the end of the decade public spending as a proportion of GDP in the U.K. is likely to converge with the average across the Euro area. It is already on a par with Greece.

The optimal size of Government in the U.K. is well below its current size. It will be a huge political and economic challenge to rein back the size of the state, but in the absence of effective action, U.K. competitiveness will be undermined. We hope the next Prime Minister will make the right choice. The Chancellor has stated that: ‘Globalisation was made for Britain and Britain was made for globalisation’. Unfortunately, the current size of the state in the U.K. is not globally competitive.
'Invisible' Gordon will no doubt be nowhere to be seen if an announcement is made this week to raise interest rates again. And I doubt that the CSR 07 due to report later this year will make any inroads into the £80bn a year Brown is spending on non-pension welfare payments; this psychologically flawed fraudster would rather flush Britain down the pan than lose an ounce of political control.
And yet more nuLab sleaze to start the week

Britain is a nation full of able, articulate well-qualified people. We are also full of quangos; around 60,000 unelected quangocrats now outnumber our elected representatives. Still, we should be able to appoint people to those quangos on the grounds of merit alone, shouldn't we? And without political partiality? Labour party members make up just 0.475% of the UK electorate, after all.

No surprise then that the Dti have just reappointed Dianne Hayter, Labour Party member and a member of Labour's NEC, to membership of the National Consumer Council. She will be paid £10,692 for 'working' just 15 'days' per year.

It stinks.

Monday, 7 May 2007

How much is time worth?

Time, as they say, is money. But how much? Those of us who are following Islington Newmania's current house search - 'south coast' was fleetingly mentioned on his blog - who are also London homeowners will doubtless have also done the sums; quality of life and environment outside London versus travel time to work.

In exchange for a modest terraced house in Islington, you can have this on the south coast; six double bedrooms and half an acre of garden. The downside is an hour-and-a-half commute into London - three hours a day travelling. Are good schools and low crime worth hardly seeing the kids during the week?

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Glass half empty or half full?

Just watching the first French TV news broadcasts just as the polls have closed there (7pm here). The headline is 'Lowest level of abstentions since 1965 - 14.5%'

I have no doubt the BBC will flash up at any moment something like 'Highest turnout since 1965 at 85.5%'

Abstaining from voting, as far as the French are concerned, is something a bit shameful and irresponsible; those who abstain should be numbered and shamed. As far as democracy's concerned, I'm not sure their view isn't healthier than ours.
Hair shirts and tap water at No 10 under Brown

Reports in today's Observer that Brown plans to give up use of Chequers during his premiership can only be the thin end of the wedge. This dour Presbyterian with his covert redistributive socialist agenda has an almost messianic obsession with extending the reach of the Welfare State into every individual's soul. One could almost sense the sneer on his face at the news in January that Blair was appointing a No. 10 Butler in emulation of the post of White House Butler.

Blair of course is obsessed with wealth and the trappings of wealth; he has increased the cost of No. 10 from £6m a year under John Major's last year to £17.8m last year; he has felt little reluctance in raiding the carefully-provisioned cellars of No. 10 for fine Bordeaux to share with his Chav-Lab cronies, or for hosting lavish weekends at Chequers for an ever-dwindling band of 'C' list slebs. Expect a very different regime under Brown.

One can only hope that the sort of micro-managing control freakery that drives the Dour One, combined with a diet of raw turnips and tap water, will so ruin his fragile physical and mental constitution (he is almost 60, and a Scot) that we get an early election after all.
Poor women with large tattooed breasts will have to do the best they can.

Nearly six million UK adults pay around £500 a year each for private health and fitness club services, generating an annual revenue of about £2.84bn. Many millions more pay for the less exclusive but no less calorie-burning municipal health and fitness services up and down the country. We spend another £350 million a year on health supplements. I can't easily find the figure for private elective surgery, but think it's around the £3bn a year mark. I'm ignoring the seven million of us who are covered by private medical insurance. My point is that as a nation we're quite prepared to put our hands in our pockets or purses to pay for personal health improvements at the margin; for anything life-threatening, we rely on the NHS.

The problem is, there's no half-ground between public and private medicine in the UK. This has sparked a debate that I first saw on Menssana's old blog, reappeared on a health professionals site and now is the subject of a discussion paper to be published by the BMA on Tuesday. Despite the slightly hysterical tone of the Observer's headline that 'NHS treatments must be rationed', the reality is that ALL public services are and always have been rationed. The debate is only about where one draws the line between services 'on ration' and services 'off ration'.

Whilst I also believe that funding decisions should be made at the local level by local bodies of health professionals and citizens, rather than from the State central health bureau, I think the NHS (or rather the NHS at its local level) should be allowed the power generally to ask for top-up fees for a whole range of medical procedures; a charge that is somewhere between free and the cost of a wholly private option.

Fertility treatments, breast enlargement or reduction, tattoo removal, elective caesarians for mums too-posh-to-push, varicose vein removal, cosmetic plastic surgery, piles reduction and many other minor procedures are now seen as a 'right'. This is never what the NHS was founded for. What next? Baldness treatment for men 'psychologically damaged' by being slapheads? Buttock implants for women who see a phat booty as a 'cultural necessity'?

Of course we're all happy to get something for nothing. But I'm sure if given the choice between spending money a year's gym membership or getting our piles sorted next week, we'll go for rectal comfort. 'Unfair to the poor' I hear some say; yes, perhaps. But not life threatening. And poor women with large tattooed breasts will just have to make out the best they can.

(NB Apols for being behind with my blogrolling - this is the next task for today)