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Saturday, 19 May 2007

The filth at the heart of our democracy

Yesterday members of parliament confirmed why their self-given appellation of 'honourable' is a risible kick in the shin to anyone outside Parliament. Their reputation today has fallen lower than the foetid scum in the sewers beneath our feet. If I hear a single word out of a single one of these rank little turds today it will be a word too many.

They complain that the media fails to uphold respect for them, fails to uphold their dignity. Ah yes, like the dignity they displayed after awarding themselves another ten grand recently - when they stuffed their pockets and handbags with tens of thousands of pounds worth of free stamped envelopes in advance of restrictions limiting them to just six grand's worth a year. And then tried to block the facts of their gluttonous looting from the public.

That only 60% of the electorate turns out to vote for them they ascribe to 'apathy' or to problems with the voting system. Let me make it very clear for them; the reason sixteen million citizens don't vote is that they don't like you. They don't like your pompous posturing, your public virtue and private vice, your personal greed, your abuse of the position with which they have entrusted you, your smug piety, your casual mendacity or your elevation of Party and your avarice for office above the interests of your constituencies.

No amount of inane and destructive voting gimmicks will regain the democratic attachment of these lost sixteen millions; they will not be seduced by postal or internet voting, or polling booths in Tesco. They don't vote because they are angry, disenchanted and alienated by your contemptible behaviour.

Since 1979 we have seen millions of members of your parties walking away. Only 1.4% of the electorate are members of the three main parties today. Yet since 1979 you have dipped ever deeper in the public purse for your pay, pensions and allowances; you have distorted the democratic safeguard that was intended to recompense an ordinary man or woman for giving up their trade or profession whilst in Parliament to a system that strengthens incumbency.

My contempt for your utterly ignominious, loathsome, sordid and wretched passing of Maclean's bill is beyond words.

But soon, my most dishonourable friends, that Augean stable of yours will need cleaning.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Post Office closures again

The axe is to fall on some 2,500 post offices. No announcement has been made yet as to which are to close, but speculation is rife that a beleaguered Labour party will draw back from closing any in Scotland and the axe will therefore fall on our English villages.

I've long thought we missed a trick by not reserving a small fraction of the mobile phone licence income to keep post offices afloat. They are 'losing' (i.e. costing) £200m a year. The government's income from the sale of 3G licences to the phone companies was £22,500m.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Raedwald's annual lift-out and Gordon's squeeze

With a few days off now, and some decent tides this week, I had Raedwald lifted out today. Sigh. I tried a new 'budget' antifouling last year (see pic of her lift-in) which has done reasonably well at keeping the barnacles off, and there was only a small colony of mussels hiding in the crease of one of her bilge-keels, but the strings of weed like Medusa's barnet were a testament to a failed experiment in antifouling economy. Back to Blake's this year.

It was an exercise in consumate cranemanship to get her settled on blocks this year. My budget yard has filled up with refugees from posh marinas. I've always been happy sharing space with fishing boats and assorted sub-ten-grand 'yachts', but folks who have spent £100k or more on a boat have always been a bit snobbish about our company. I always thought it was the smell of fish. This year the yard is chocca with them. Well, it's £15 a week here compared to £120 a week at an MDL 'aspirational' facility down the coast.

True evidence that Gordo's covert redistribution of our incomes to the feckless and workshy is starting to bite, I think.

When we took British boffins for granted

Once watching a tiny Shetland pony stallion attempting to herd a harem of hunters of about 18hh, it was clear the thought never occurred to him that he was too small to mount them. The same applies to dogs.

So when, after having lent the US our boffins to develop the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, they declined to share the know-how with us (probably wise, given that MI6 was run by the Kremlin in those days) we saw nothing at all unusual in setting out to build our own.

The US had ten thousand square miles of desert complexes, vast primitive computers, tens of thousands of scientists and a budget that would have kept the whole of South America afloat for a decade.

We had William Penney and John Challens working in a couple of timber huts in an old chicken pasture. With slide rules. And a tea urn. Every morning as soon as they'd cracked the Times crossword, they'd crack on with building atomic bombs.

Maud, Hurricane, Mosaic, Totem and Buffalo all went bang before they started looking in the scrap bin for bits to build an H-bomb with. Fifty years ago today their first try went bang, but not in a big way. They added some bits from a Morris Minor wiper motor. In November 1957 Grapple X went bang in a big, 1.8 megaton sort-of-way.

True British heroes.

I'm not going to miss Jerry Falwell

There is much to be admired in the extent to which simple Christian faith still pervades middle American society. The image of the whitewashed weatherboard church with its belfry in every small town is ubiquitous; from the Simpsons to Bond, an echo of our own mediaeval village churches but with real congregations.

However, American Christianity has always had its ugly, bigoted side. Those who masterminded the Salem witch trials never really went away. We viewed the Scopes Monkey Trial on this side of the pond with more than wry amusement. And the image of the southern preacher whose profound public scriptural ignorance and private promiscuity is clothed in a powder-blue polyester suit and white loafers is perhaps as ubiquitous here as is the weatherboard church.

Falwell's bigotry and risible theology, his asinine posturing in the aftermath of 11th September and his perverse morality have done American Christianity no favours. I'm not going to miss him.
Willetts probably right on Grammars

In the post-war years grammar schools offered bright working class and lower middle-class kids a unique opportunity to create for themselves a path to university. They enabled upward social mobility on an unprecendented scale. In my day any kid who was condemned to take CSEs at the secondary modern was one of life's losers compared to those of us who took GCEs. I didn't go to a grammar myself; as a forces brat the War Office picked up the tab for a decent boarding school for me.

Times change. We now run a single exam system, no matter how dodgy the standards. Highly aspirational middle-class parents will jump through hoops with their offspring to secure an advantage in school choice in a way they didn't do in my day. University isn't limited to the 3% of the population that it was in the days when I took my first degree.

Leaving the existing grammars in place is right. Streaming or setting in the comps is right; every child should be enabled to reach his or her academic potential. Widening access to the fee-paying sector is right, as is more financial support from LEAs to private schools that are open to the brightest and the best from all social spheres. But the decision not to expand the grammar school sector is also probably the right one, and a brave one for the Tories given the backlash from the traditionalists that it will induce.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans

As the Telegraph reports today. I think Noel Coward had it right in 1943:
We must be kind
And with an open mind
We must endeavour to find
A way-
To let the Germans know that when the war is over
They are not the ones who'll have to pay.
We must be sweet-
And tactful and discreet
And when they've suffered defeat
We mustn't let
Them feel upset
Or ever get
The feeling that we're cross with them or hate them,
Our future policy must be to reinstate them.

Refrain 1

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When our victory is ultimately won,
It was just those nasty Nazis who persuaded them to fight
And their Beethoven and Bach are really far worse than their bite
Let's be meek to them-
And turn the other cheek to them
And try to bring out their latent sense of fun.
Let's give them full air parity-
And treat the rats with charity,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

Verse 2

We must be just-
And win their love and trust
And in additon we must
Be wise
And ask the conquered lands to join our hands to aid them.
That would be a wonderful surprise.
For many years-
They've been in floods of tears
Because the poor little dears
Have been so wronged and only longed
To cheat the world,
Deplete the world
And beat
The world to blazes.
This is the moment when we ought to sing their praises.

Refrain 2

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When we've definately got them on the run-
Let us treat them very kindly as we would a valued friend
We might send them out some Bishops as a form of lease and lend,
Let's be sweet to them-
And day by day repeat to them
That 'sterilization' simply isn't done.
Let's help the dirty swine again-
To occupy the Rhine again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

Refrain 3

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When the age of peace and plenty has begun.
We must send them steel and oil and coal and everything they need
For their peaceable intentions can be always guaranteed.
Let's employ with them a sort of 'strength through joy' with them,
They're better than us at honest manly fun.
Let's let them feel they're swell again and bomb us all to hell again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

Refrain 4

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
For you can't deprive a ganster of his gun
Though they've been a little naughty to the Czechs and Poles and Dutch
But I don't suppose those countries really minded very much
Let's be free with them and share the B.B.C. with them.
We mustn't prevent them basking in the sun.
Let's soften their defeat again-and build their bloody fleet again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.
Labour web designer needed urgently

If you have skills in web design, and are happy persuading your client to work with a colour scheme based on #8B31C7, please volunteer your services to John McDonnell. Oh, and lose the red star thing.

C'mon comrades. I've got £2 riding on this.
Cameron proposals for an 'English Parliament'

A pledge from David Cameron to create a Grand Committee of English MPs in the Commons to vote on matters that the Speaker adjudges wholly English is a very welcome step forward, not least because it would exclude the member for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath from voting on measures to steal even more taxes from English voters.

But this can only be the start. The pernicious grip of Whitehall on the soul of England must be loosened. The State must be shrunk. The painful slavery of welfare dependency must be abolished. Neighbourhoods, families and communities must be allowed to exercise real control and take real responsibility for their own welfare. It is not the business of the State to redistribute our individual wealth to buy votes, yet by stealth and subterfuge this is exactly what Brown has been doing. The English will no longer stand for Gordon Brown picking our pockets to give his constituents in Kirkcaldy free university education and medical treatments that we deny ourselves.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Leadership odds drop

Betting has never held any fascination for me and I don't think I've ever seen the inside of a 'bookies'. I do however like to flutter a few quid with the on-course stalls at the point-to-points and win the Grand National sweep about every other year. So my first time on 'Betfair' was quite good; I put £25 on Aston Villa to beat Sheffield. I made £25 profit and got my stake back, and Betfair gave me £25 as a golden handshake. I quickly put my £25 original stake back in the bank and have been losing dribbles of my £50 winnings since. When it's gone it's gone and won't be coming back.

I couldn't resist putting a couple of quid on John McDonnell at 130:1, though. Today he's dropped to 60:1.
Churches & Crematoria to display 'No Smoking' notices

That'll be a comfort to the bereaved, then.

There's not enough darkness in the world

Ralph Harris was fond of quoting "There's not enough darkness in the world to extinguish the light of a single candle". Tom Paine posted fairly recently his doubts over the effect of a single blogger with a modest hit rate; he concluded that it was something akin to the 'multiplier effect' in economics that allows ripples from even the most modest of blogs to spread with some sort of synchronous amplification. Ralph Harris would have approved, I think. There's another passage from Ralph that I like today:
Collectivists (we didn't always say socialists; there are collectivists from all parties) are people who believe in free-range chickens but not in free-range people. There is this underlying contempt for other people and this assumption of superiority by the collectivist individual, who thinks that liberty is too good for ordinary people to use or misuse.
So here's to free-range people - I like the idea!
And what planet is Jim Murphy from?

Jim Murphy, the Employment and Welfare Reform Minister, bravely stated recently "Youth unemployment has been virtually abolished". Uhm, to a point, Lord Copper. Only if you count an increase in youth unemployment since Labour came to power as being 'virtually abolished'.

Murphy's risible official blog here - no doubt written and maintained by some junior staffer - invites us to tell him what we think. I'm sorely tempted.

Reform today publishes a report by Frank Field that demonstrates Nu Labour's 'Nu Deal' has been an abject failure. Youth unemployment has risen by 70,000 to 505,000 since its launch in 1998.

Do they actually believe their own lies, do you think?
Brown's proposed reform of PM's powers a Chimera

When the Dour One set his stall out to display his electoral credentials to Old Labour, a reform of the exercise by the Prime Minister of prerogative powers was calculated to appeal to those who felt at least uncomfortable with Blair sending the army wherever God told him to. But does this proposal stand up to scrutiny? Much of what all ministers do is by the exercise of the Royal prerogative. The Public Administration Select Committee examined the issue in depth in 2004 - Report Here.

The attempted abolition of the Lord Chancellor, the creation of a Ministry of Justice and the signing of the EU treaty are all acts carried out under Prerogative powers, without any need for Parliamentary approval. And it is not only war but the deployment and use of our armed forces overseas - for hurricane relief, perhaps - that is done by prerogative. Parliament would dearly love to have some say in these matters. But is Brown genuine in being willing to give them up? About as genuine as his 2p tax cut.

Parliament was given the opportunity to vote on the Iraq invasion. It voted in favour. That it did so on the basis of the omission, distortion and misrepresentation of the truth of the situation by Blair's government is more pertinent. In giving up the PM's power to go to war, Brown will retain the PM's power to lie and deceive.

The truth of his commitment to this issue will be seen - will he adopt the Bill recommended by the Select Committee in 2004, or just effect a cosmetic alteration that will fool some of the people some of the time?

Sunday, 13 May 2007

A cultural day

Weird weather and the laughter of old friends today, so no substantive blogging. Lunch in a 1930s 'roadhouse' - one of those huge oak-panelled pubs built in Tudor brick on our old 'A' roads when motoring was on empty macadam. A verse from Macneice's 'Birmingham' instead:

Splayed outwards through the suburbs houses, houses for rest
Seducingly rigged by the builder, half-timbered houses with lips pressed
So tightly and eyes staring at the traffic through bleary haws
And only a six-inch grip of the racing earth in their concrete claws;
In these houses men as in a dream pursue the Platonic Forms
With wireless and cairn terriers and gadgets approximating to the fickle norms
And endeavour to find God and score one over the neighbour
By climbing tentatively upward on jerry-built beauty and sweated labour.