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Saturday, 26 May 2007

Proud to be British - No.38

Coming back from my regular shopping trip to Calais yesterday (ground coffee to provide 250g a week, Dijon mustard 0.5 litres a month, Calvados and Anise at the rate of 1l a month each, vin de table onze% at the rate of 1l a day, other kitchen consumables including the indispensible Knorr Pot Au Feu cubes without which I can't make a decent Goulash, Bourguinonne or Bolognaise, and of course a few ciggies) I was delighted when a very handsome young woman with flashing dark eyes in a customs uniform signalled me for a 'stop'. My eyes lit up and my face split into a broad grin. Genuinely. She knew at that moment she was wasting her time. She tried to go through the motions quickly. I reeled off at some length the exact quantities of every single item I was carrying. To the gram.

"Now", I continued, "I have all the receipts here. Firstly, here's ..."
"That's alright Sir, move on now"
"And here I have all my previous receipts. You see, this bundle .."
"Thank you Sir, can you move along, now, please?"

"I do this trip once every six weeks, you know, and this is the first time I've been stopped since 1995."
"I can't imagine why, Sir.."

"I'm so pleased to see you're on your toes. But, haha!, you haven't asked me to open these zipped compartments, have you?"

"I don't really care about your zipped compartments. Now just clear the area please NOW."

She didn't give me the chance to volunteer for a full rectal examination, sadly. A little prostate massage never goes amiss. And my photo probably now graces the Dover Customs office with the legend "Do NOT stop this man."
'Chipolata' Prescott's final tour

As this bumbling idiot snaffles up a final junket at the poor abused taxpayer's expense, we hear he gave another inarticulate and semi-coherent speech to a packed convention of, er, around 40 people in Baltimore at which he referred to such American folk heroes as 'Martha Luther King' and 'Abriam Lincoln'.

Here in the UK of course his confusion over the location of the 'Balklands' led this cabinet minister's civil servants not even to try to explain to him that Slovakia, Slovenia and Slavonia were in fact three different regions. I'm sure our foreign policy was much improved as a result.

Friday, 25 May 2007

How to fill the big holes in the ground

Cement is about the most environmentally unfriendly stuff you could invent. To manufacture a tonne of the stuff releases a tonne and a quarter of CO2 into the air. We use millions of tonnes a year; the Olympic site alone will be responsible for more CO2 than many African nations. But because all our cement is now made in Greece or China, the CO2 cost doesn't count as part of our national output. Neat, huh?

The other stuff we need for concrete is sand and gravel. We either dig this from big holes in the ground or dredge it from the seabed. Unlike cement, it cannot be economically imported. So the UK's big construction boom is still causing loads of big holes in the ground. In the old days we filled these up with rubbish, capped them off and turned them into country parks. Until the EU said No.

When I was a boy, the reasons our entire family barely filled a single old dustbin a week with rubbish were simple; supermarket packaging was primitive, and most flammable rubbish went on the fire in the fireplace with the back-boiler and therefore provided hot water. Glass jars were recycled for jam and chutney making, and bottles were returnable, some for money.
As I'm lucky enough to have a plenitude of chimneys here, the next step is to see if anyone still makes back-boilers; why did this incredibly sensible idea ever go out of fashion? Oh yes, cheap gas and electricity.
Why the Judges are right

That the Adam brothers and Bullivant, three 'suspected terrorists', have violated their control order is hardly surprising. That John Reid wants to use the opportunity to declare a State of Emergency and suspend habeas corpus altogether in the UK, as reported in today's Guardian, is not surprising either.

The Judges struck down the government's introduction of indefinite detention without trial, and did so quite correctly. The executive should never have the right to jail people without a hearing. We learned this lesson in Northern Ireland many years ago. The government introduced control orders with the intention of them failing; they needed something to enable them to say "See, we were right; we need 90 day arrests without charge, detention without trial and other draconian powers". That Reid is following the script and calling for, in effect, martial law in the UK is therefore unsurprising.

This latest attempt by this government to browbeat and bully the judiciary must also fail. If the Adam borothers and Bullivant want to go to Iraq to fight British soldiers, fine - let them go. We have existing legislation of long standing to deal with persons who fight against this country; we hanged William Joyce and John Amery for less within living memory.

I'm afraid I would rather risk a terrorist bomb in central London than this socialist rubbish taking Emergency Powers.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Long odds for a place for Ruth Kelly in Brown's cabinet?

Described by Sandi Toksvig as "The only cabinet minister to have fathered six children", Ruth Kelly's credentials as a fundamentalist God-botherer would have been deeply unwelcome to the Dour One's 'more ascetic than thou' claims. The fiasco over HIPs is likely to offer him the opportunity he is seeking to establish a pious monopoly on self-denial in his cabinet.
The Quirk Report; a good idea? Or not?

One of the spin-offs from last year's Local Government White Paper was a review by Barry Quirk of the potential for community use of unused or derelict public assets. Report in .pdf form HERE.

Now a couple of years ago I was one of a score of small-boaters (notice the hyphenation) who approached a local authority about a scrap of derelict land adjoining the river; we proposed taking it over on a long lease for a sea angling club, providing basic shore side facilities for a pontoon and some finger berths for our boats. In practice this would have meant a car park and a couple of containers on the land and a fence around it. They turned us down flat. It became clear to us that they wanted to retain it as part of a 'land bank' to sell off for new housing development just as soon as their UDP had been altered to allow it. Under Quirk's proposals we would have had a legal right, subject to jumping over certain hurdles, to acquire the plot.

Now this may be welcome to groups like ours, but should a group be allowed to acquire public assets in this way? Once they're gone they're gone. Some years ago in my London borough, Vietnamese boat people were the big issue of the time. The council disposed of a number of community centres and suchlike to enterprising and self-sufficient Vietnamese community groups. Now the Vietnamese community here is almost non-existent; these energetic people have assimilated, socially ascended and moved on. But the facilities have been lost; they can't now be given again to the Darfur Christians or whatever the latest refugee group is.

Of course, if this legislation offers an opportunity for the able and articulate middle classes to mount an asset-grab on our councils, in practice I will be at the front of the queue. But is it really a good idea?

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Direct Democracy and the Telegraph's 'thinklocal' site

The launch by a group of some 23 Conservatives, including MPs, MEPs and a brace of Telegraph leader writers, of fora to promote localism as key policy issue, is much to be welcomed. The Direct Democracy site HERE and the Telegraph's sub-site HERE both well merit bookmarking and revisiting.

This is excellent stuff, and cheers the heart. When Helena Kennedy's 'Power' inquiry report was published, following perhaps the most comprehensive investigation into these issues in decades, it offered many real solutions to the deep malaise our democracy finds itself in. Simon Jenkins has long applied his redoubted polemical skills in favour of 'big bang' localism, and backed his call up with a well researched and finely argued pamphlet for The Policy Exchange and Localis. The occasional encouraging leader in the 'Telegraph' has also given me hope that this most fundamental policy issue was finding its way onto my Party's agenda. And as a blogger who describes himself as a heterodox Conservative, localism is never far from my daily posts.

When David Cameron addressed us in QEH on the launch of the 'Power' inquiry report, his measured support convinced me that he was aware of the importance of the issues. I described it at the time as a turkey voting cautiously for Advent, but not yet convinced that Christmas was a good idea. And this is the crux of the matter; when the Conservatives in 1979 forgot the lessons that Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon had taught them in favour of Big State centralism, and lost a million local members, they also acquired the taste for the Leviathan of big government.

Localism has the potential to be the key ideological distinction between socialism and conservatism. Brown is a dyed-in-the-wool State centralist in the mould of Rousseau, and would gladly demolish any institution between the individual and the State to further his belief in the role of the State as the sole guardian and arbiter of an individual's 'rights' and welfare. Whether David Cameron is prepared to adopt localism as a tenet of the Party's faith will be told on one single forthcoming issue - Party funding.

Helena Kennedy came up with a perfectly workable proposal that was completely dismissed by Hayden Phillips' travesty of an inquiry into Party funding. His own recommendation would have only one effect, that of reducing even further electoral turn-outs as voters realise that the only way of depriving the centralist Parties of the oxygen of funding would be to not vote at all. Kennedy's proposal decoupled the vote from funding; electors would take a second paper into the polling booth and could agree or not to grant on their own behalf a small amount of funding to a party, and not necessarily to the Party for which they had voted.

I would go further. I would stipulate that this funding was paid to a locally constituted association only. Any funding remitted to the central Party would be wholly at the discretion of the local association. Such a move would blast a massive breach in the bastion of the cosy relationship between Whitehall and the central Party offices. It would undoubtedly win back many of the million members who deserted the Conservative party after 1979.

In the coming weeks and months I wait therefore with great anticipation to see the shape of the Party funding deal that David Cameron signs up to. If he follows the Hayden Phillips recommendation, we might as well all ditch any hope of real localism forming a pillar of Conservative ideology.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Will Jack Straw get Wimbledon tickets this year?

Last year he enjoyed tickets for the Ladies Final, courtesy of BP. Who will provide him with tickets this year?
RIP Fiona Jones

Story in the Sunday Times Here

The blogosphere seems pretty certain it knows the identity of the cabinet minister sex-pest whose behaviour contributed to Fiona's demise.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Pubs or State Drinking Centres?

For many years there has been one factor that has invariably prevented me from crossing the threshold of a licenced establishment; a 'bouncer' at the door. Now probably called door security, or visitor safety facilitators or somesuch, I hasten to explain that it is not that I am universally refused entry by these large men with microphones growing out of their ears, but that the sight of one has always convinced me that the establishment is not one where I can expect to find people like me. So we go elsewhere. It's always amazed me that anyone would want to have a drink in a pub that had a bouncer on the door. Why?

Now the Telegraph tells us that police and councils across the country are insisting that licenced premises use plastic 'glasses' instead of, er, glasses. Just in case the elderly port-and-lemon in the chimney corner takes a dislike to the half-of-mild at the bar and gouges his eyes out with a broken Paris goblet. And I'll bet it won't stop there.

Before long, every little issues numpty in the council will be in on the act, adding their own conditions to pub licences. The Healthy Eating Officer will insist that only low fat, low sugar, low salt organic cruelty-free crisps are sold. The Wimmins Department will insist that pubs should set aside a wimmins-only area of at least 40% of the total floor area. The Safe Drinking Officer will insist that all alcoholic drinks are kept out of sight of the public and there are no adverts, labels or signs promoting or advertising alcoholic drinks; alcohol abusers will have to be able to guess what the handpumps dispense. The Race Equality Manager will insist that a further 40% of the floor area is set aside for faiths that don't drink, and be designated an alcohol-free zone. The Community Health Officer will add a condition that customers are plentifully supplied with health leaflets with every purchase, and that VD posters are displayed in eating areas. The police will insist that ALL pubs must have a licenced bouncer on the door.

The decision a couple of years ago to take the job of issuing licences away from our pretty sensible magistrates and give it to local councils could only have one consequence and this is it.

It makes the upcoming smoking ban the least of anyone's worries.