Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008: Radders awards ....

No one can compete with Iain's lists of lists, of course, so I've only got a couple of categories.

1. Downfall - the hubris and nemesis awards

a. DEREK CONWAY - Derek's fault was to get caught fiddling at a time when the public tolerance of political corruption was at its lowest, and he caught the full hammer swing. I remember at Ralph Harris' memorial service in Smith Square Neil Hamilton caused a ripple of chuckles when he started his eulogy "Well, that's the first time I haven't been introduced as disgraced former MP ...". Conway will have to get used to being known as "Disgraced former MP Derek Conway" for a good few years before he rehabilitates himself on the after-dinner speech circuit.

b. POLLY TOYNBEE - It's hard to pin down the exact moment in 2008 that Polly Toynbee changed from heavyweight commentator to joke figure. Was it when her gushing love for Gordon changed to vituperative scorn and then back to love again? Was it the inane column that drew hundreds of excoriating comments from Grauniad readers? Whenever it was, the force has passed from her and she's become a sort of national caricature. I can see her losing her column next year, a lengthy 'sabbatical' and a self reinvention as something yoghurtish, hand-knitted and cosy.

c. TAMSIN DUNWOODY - Truly one of those Portillo moments. Poor Tamsin will have been written off by Labour as a reminder of the embarrassment at Crewe and Nantwich and consigned to obscurity. Expect to see her in 2009 surfacing as a debt counsellor or somesuch.

d. KEN LIVINGSTONE - Yes, strange to see that old demon's name in print again, isn't it? Ken hasn't yet learned that the harder he tries to stay in the public eye, and the deeper his longing for political office, the further the prospect recedes from him. Even at the end he never truly suspected London would ditch him; now he can't accept that his time has well and truly passed.

e. MICHAEL MARTIN - Unlike Toynbee, it's easy to pinpoint exactly when Martin became a spent force, when the authority of the office drained from the man and left him exposed and naked. His hubris was great, and his fall a long one. Now he must endure the humiliation of being a dead Speaker walking until he can muster the best grace he can to announce his retirement.

f. IAN BLAIR - The verdict of history will not be kind to Sir Ian. Had he chosen to go in the wake of the de Menezes killing, that single honourable act would have negated the critical assessment of his brief time in office. His decision to cling on, and to award himself a £25k 'performance bonus' for that year, left a foul taste in the mouths of Londoners. At the end I suspect even Jacqui Smith was glad to be rid of the embarrassment.

g. LEHMAN BROTHERS - I'm not sure if a finance firm can have corporate hubris, but if so then the downfall of this distinguished firm goes here. The downfall of Lehman's CEO Dick Fuld, a Master of the Universe who paid himself $75m in the last two years before the bank's downfall, certainly belongs here. Whether he'll serve time in a Federal Penitentiary remains to be seen.

2. Outstanding conduct

Only one entrant in this category - the British Army. For all the obvious reasons, plus this.

After the lads fooled the monoptic Brown into writing 'Cyclops' on an armoured vehicle, and signing it, on one of his previous visits, their furious officers warned that any further evidence of their collective dislike for Jonah would be ruthlessly dealt with. Since then they've adopted the sort of dumb insolence that they excel at; Brown's tacky publicity visits are now captured on camera with a very uncomfortable looking Brown surrounded by impishly grinning squaddies. Brown looks as though he thinks they've just gobbed on his back, and they do their best to look as though they're tempted to.

Well done, lads.

Monday, 29 December 2008

PVL outbreak in Kent?

The Mail doesn't say so in a story that went online this evening, but PVL could be the cause of 37 year old Stewart Fleming's rapid death; if so, he probably only had a 50:50 chance anyway, even if it was rapidly diagnosed.

I blogged about the coming dangers of PVL back on 17th September.

GPs and A&E Triage staff MUST learn to suspect PVL much earlier; an early test could not only save the victim but those with whom the victim has come into contact.

Interim Dept of Health guidance is available HERE but experts are urging the HPA to do much more.

Semites and blood feuds

There is deeply ingrained in the Semitic peoples - Jew and Arab both - the idea of the blood feud; for as long as Semites have been stealing water from each other's wells, cutting down each other's Olive trees or poaching each other's goats the blood feud has ruled their behaviour; they bristle with righteous Abrahamic indignation snarling 'An eye for an eye!' at each other and reach for their weapons. The blood thus spilt requires revenge. The blood feud is self-perpetuating, and can last hundreds or thousands of years, so long as there remains a blood-debt to be paid. This is the nature of the beast.

I confess to little sympathy for either side in this current flare-up. Their feuding is as old as the hills that surround them, and will continue as long as any of them survives. It requires an endogenous enlightenment of the scale and impact of the European first and second enlightenments to break them out of this spiral of mutual destruction, and this seems to be a thousand years away.

The feculence of Labour

As the senior bishops of the Church of England excoriate Labour as morally corrupt (an honour previously reserved for Mrs Thatcher), and A.N. Wilson analyses the moral vacuum at New Labour's heart in the Mail, we learn that fatal stabbings are at their highest ever level. These things are not unrelated.

Labour are the scribes and Pharisees of Matthew 23; whited sepulchres without, corruption and dead men's bones within. Somewhere at the heart of labour's self-rationalisation lies the belief that they're the champions of the poor, radical correctors of social inequality, and that redistributionist policies are the way to secure a better society. Well, the last eleven years have shown without doubt that redistributionist policies don't work. Their schools have failed to achieve even a basic level of education for millions of children, their tax and welfare policies have engineered a nation much more sharply divided than it was in 1997, their redistributionism has locked five million people into welfare slavery. Some champions of the poor. Some radicals.

The problem is that political power has become more important to them than anything else. They realise that their policy instruments don't work and that the nation can't afford them, yet like the addicted gambler who has already lost the house, the car and the family they are throwing the country's watch and wedding ring into the pot on one last desperate throw. They simply don't have the courage to stand up and walk away from the table because to do so would be to lose power.

And all of those whom Labour have pledged to help know this too. Labour is, at heart, indifferent to them. Labour's State is not a loving parent but an loveless Zombie, a Leviathan. The poor are no more than tractor figures to Labour. Even the hapless underclass realise that a parent who says "You can do what you like; we don't care" is not a benign liberal but a bad parent. Even a child wants a structure and rules they can understand. And if Labour's State regards their lives with indifference, so do they. I fear the number of fatal stabbings will continue to increase as the exponential rise of boys growing up without their biological fathers works its way through.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

HOW DARE HE!

That incompetent idiot, that lying, foolish hound Gordon Brown has the audacity to pontificate that his recession is a 'test of character' that we, the British people must pass; the fey feartie urges us to display the 'same spirit' our fathers did in World War II.

This is beyond parody. It insults the intelligence of every British citizen who realises that much of the mess we're in is of Brown's making, and it insults those who fought a war of national survival. That the Prime Mentalist can be so delusional to imagine that we'll go one extra step, or contribute one extra ounce of effort that will prolong him and his morally corrupt cabal in office for one nanosecond longer than necessary tells us his grip on reality has failed entirely.

In this case, It is Brown himself who has stolen our incomes, stolen our savings, stolen the nation's savings and mortgaged our grandchildren's future to build the Luftwaffe that is raining high explosive on us; it is beyond reason that he proclaims this a 'test of character' that we must pass. The only test of character we must pass is whether we can tighten a democratic hempen noose around the throat of this William Joyce quickly enough.

From a man without the balls ever to face an election, a man too timid and feartie to face the country, a man too spineless, vacillating and yellow to challenge Blair on John Smith's death for the Labour leadership, a man too irresolute, fearful and cowardly to rely on his own worth in the Commons rather than depend on forced written quips and tractor statistics, a man too scared, weak and pusillanimous even to face an audience of the public as his predecessor did, I will take no lessons in courage. And neither, I suspect, will the country.

Yes, Harriet, you've won

Across Britain during this Christmas break the same story will have been repeated. As kids returned home from Uni, as relatives or friends came to stay, or as friends were contacted for a seasonal meeting, millions of people will have been shocked to discover the local pub closed and boarded.

"Hi Jerry! Look, I'm down for a few days. Fancy meeting for a pint? Half Moon? Tomorrow?"

"Bill! Yeah, love to. Half Moon's closed though."

"Three Bells then?"

"Closed."

"The Cock? Kings Arms? Salisbury? Crown?"

"All closed."

In fact, the BBPA are reporting that we're losing pubs at the rate of nearly 40 a week. It's being reported that 32,000 Estate Agents have recently lost their jobs. They will join the 87,000 pub workers who have either already lost or will lose theirs, but it looks unlikely that either group will have anywhere to go to commiserate with one another except the local Starbucks. Or they can join the kids in the local bus shelter and share an alcopop.

Labour's well-meaning but lunatic zeal will be remembered by history as the government that killed our economy, atomised our people and destroyed all the local institutions that have defined British life. And next time you're passing through a Suffolk village and fancy a packet of crisps, tough. The village shop has closed because its Post Office was closed. The two closed pubs have been bought up by Housing Associations and turned into flats for single Congolese mothers. The nearest Tesco is 9 miles away.

I imagine Harriet Harman wearing a smug and very self-satisfied little smile as her ministerial Jag wafts her past the sad and boarded pubs; she's won.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Burnham's barmy State



One of the outcomes of a decent education is the teaching of discrimination. Discrimination is, contrary to the hijacking of the word by every victim group in the country, a good thing. We discriminate between substitute goods when buying. We discriminate each time we reach for the TV channel controller. Education, particularly advanced education, equips us with the intellectual tools to discriminate between what is printed in the National Enquirer and the New York Times, or between a book written by David Irving and one written by Antony Beevor. Dicrimination allows us to look at a government website or press release and know that at best it's only partly truthful. Discrimination allows us to look behind the distorting and misleading claims - 'ID cards will protect your children from paedos' - and see the reality beyond - 'ID cards will give the government an increased measure of control over the population'.

Now I believe that each one of us should have developed scepticism, caution and a talent for discrimination to a high degree. In an information world, the ability to find, to filter and to discriminate between millions of sources of the greatest mass of information man has ever known is not an optional extra; it is an essential skill.

I also believe that our youngest citizens who have not fully developed their senses of discrimination need some protection, and that this is primarily the job of their parents. As far as the web goes, ISPs have already gone some way in classifying content to assist parents and families. This is good and should continue to develop as a voluntary resource for families.

Burnham, being a Labour fool, sees little of this; he reveals today that he thinks it's the State's job to regulate the web and make these decisions on people's behalf. Given the choice between increasing individual discrimination and the State doing it for you, he of course wants the State to do it. It doesn't seem to occur to him that robbing the nation of their power of discrimination also robs the nation of competitive advantage in an information age. Or perhaps, sinisterly, he does.

A government and its ministers soon come to believe the lie that the interests of government and the interests of the nation are one and the same; inevitably they become less tolerant of informed criticism, frustrated at the countervailing ideas being freely floated around, angry that we aren't listening to them with the attention they demand. Before the web this could be countered by two things - money and regulation. Money to pay for 'push' propaganda, and regulation to threaten any publisher not to step too far from the State line. Labour, and Burnham, have never fully understood the 'pull' nature of the web, nor its resilience, nor its internationality, nor even the global impact of the US First Amendment since the rise of the web.

So I wouldn't get over excited about his latest lunatic pronouncements. He might as well have stated he wants to ban the colour yellow, or turnips. This won't stop Labour, of course. That the State has no role in controlling the web is a matter of deep frustration to them, and they'll keep pushing lunatic schemes such as this until we consign them to history's dustbin.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Gauntlets can tame the bane of fruit injuries


I am grateful for Hugo Rifkind's piece in the Times today decrying the Nanny culture for reminding me what an excellent database is provided by ROSPA; it details in pedantic exactitude the injuries suffered each year by our fellow citizens of sufficient seriousness to land them in Accident & Emergency.

Food strikes me as being particularly dangerous. Each year 9,835 of us are injured by fish; piscean hazard is eclipsed only by injuries from meat and poultry, which land 10,912 of us in casualty each year. For those of you who imagine Vegetarianism might provide for a lower-risk life, think again. Over 1,000 of us each year are wounded by cheese; nuts seriously injure another 1,289 of us and even eggs account for 612 injuries a year. Cakes (including scones) are in contrast amongst the safest of foods, causing only an annual 567 casualties.

However, in the premier league of dangerous food lurks deadly fruit, causing some 6,355 serious injuries each year. ROSPA provide an analysis of the body parts injured by fruit as follows;

Head / face - 1,115
Neck / throat - 511
Thorax / chest - 98
Lower trunk - 558
Arm(s) - 3,193
Leg(s) - 808
Whole body - 18
Unspecified body part - 54

This tragic toll, this lethal carnage is unnecessary. Firstly, we must protect our children; fruit should be banned from schools immediately. Secondly, supermarkets must institute controls to prevent those under 18 years old from buying or handling fruit. Thirdly, councils must employ Fruit Advice Outreach Workers to assist those at risk of fruit injuries, particularly the elderly and disadvantaged.

And finally, a mass public information campaign to advise on protective equipment to be used to minimise risk to the most vulnerable body parts; as a minimum, a kevlar reinforced mask and gauntlets must be used at all times when handling, transporting, preparing or consuming fruit. Backed up with a comprehensive system of fines, regulation and enforcement, we can eliminate the serious harm caused by fruit by 2011.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Merry Christmas all

For those of us with the joy of our families on this day, a turkey in the oven, the warm smells of cinnamon and citrus and the prospect of a decent glass of port or two in the security of our homes, Christmas Day will probably have been set in a pattern since our earliest years. Forty years or so ago broadcasters could announce that 'across the nation ...' we were celebrating the Nativity of Christ.

But for those without the dignity and belonging of work, for children in care homes sharing the proxy efforts of their keepers that is no substitute for a parent's love, for prisoners, for the feckless and addicted for whom today is a trial to be got over with and for those for whom the State has displaced family and community, today will be not a cause of joy and celebration but a reminder of all they have lost.

To all of you, and to all of them, my heartfelt best wishes and may our hopes for the future keep alive a spark of Christmas joy in all our breasts.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Roots

Been a few months, so time to give this a Christmas outing ...

State makes further provision to take direct control of police

Throughout the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, police forces were very much local institutions under the control of local bodies. The borough forces were under tight local democratic control, but the newly-formed county forces that caught up with them were less so.

The Home Office has long yearned for direct control over the nation's police forces; it failed to get the borough forces in the 1850s (strongly locally resisted), got a greedier taste for more control from wartime emergency powers, and tried from 1919 to 1964 by a variety of methods (using variously 'efficiency', 'economy' and 'national security' as unsuccessful excuses) to do so. The 1960 Royal Commission was steered by the Home Office to reflect a centralist outcome, and the 1964 Police Act was the result. Strong local borough control was abolished, and weak structures based on the old county models of governance were instituted, mostly with a Police Authority left in place with some residual functions including the appointment of senior officers.

The Home Secretary is now preparing to seize even those limited functions left to local police authorities. Not only is she not 'minded' to explore greater democratic control, she is proposing to give herself powers to act with ACPO to determine all police appointments above Chief Superintendant rank in all police forces. As a sop she is inviting the Association of Police Authorities to send a representative to sit on her appointments panel, but there is no doubt she is effectively neutering the sole remaining power of individual police authorities.

The amendments are contained in s.2 of the Policing and Crime Bill.

As always with Liebour, this is being spun as 'increasing public accountability'; in a risible and cynical insult to police authorities that will now be bereft of their sole remaining power, they will be required to take into account the views on policing of local people - which will be 'more, please' - to continue to raise even higher taxes locally to pay for the Home Office's police forces.

It's a good con, isn't it? The Home Office sets targets for operational police activity that means they don't have the resources to meet the public's expectations by attending burglaries and the like, the public's demands translate into 'more police, please' and local working people pay more for even more police activity directed by the Home Office that doesn't meet the public's expectations ....

Time is long overdue for a new Royal Commission on policing; many serving police officers are now also calling for this. The terms of reference must not make the mistake as in 1960 of placing the Commission under a rigid Home Office agenda.

We are sleepwalking towards a national police force under central State control. The whole political class and a dangerously Statist civil service are manipulating us towards this outcome - one I'm sure the English people don't want.

Please add your voices to the call for a Royal Commission on policing.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Political Class of no real worth

The Labour Party is bankrupt of ideas. There is nothing it can offer the people of Britain at a time of unprecedented economic turmoil; no hope for the future, no credible vision, no stirring goal worth the pain and the anguish and the effort.

The trouble is, neither have the Conservatives.

The news today that Dave is quite happy for a part-time front bench, with shadow ministers' personal financial interests being considered as important as the dreadful crises facing the nation does nothing but inspire derision and contempt.

They are all, it seems, conforming exactly to Peter Oborne's description of an anchorless political class devoid of ideas, ideology or convictions but concerned only for their personal advancement, well-being, comfort and welfare.

There is a reckoning to come; it will not be such a labour of Hercules to clear the accumulation of well-suited ordure from those Augean stables, but it will cost in the pain, misery, betrayal and loss of our people at the manicured soft damp hands of this political class.

Adam Smith, welfarism and Distributism

I'm grateful for a comment below that's pointed me in the direction of a useful online collection of essays from Civitas, 'Before Beveridge' and in particular to David G Green's piece on The Friendly Societies and Adam Smith Liberalism.

As the founders of the IEA pointed out with great regret, at a time when more than three quarters of the working class had made welfare insurance provision for themselves, and memberships of Friendly Societies were growing quickly and were set to provide nearly all but the improvident underclass with unemployment, sickness and even pension benefits, the State took fright and stepped in in 1911 to nationalise welfare.

Adam Smith liberals who believe there is a trade off between State coercion and private moral authority, wanting less of the former and more of the latter, will recognise the 1911 Act not as a forward thinking piece of legislation but as the start of the rot and of a system of State welfarism that has brought us to our current sorry condition. As Green writes;
This approach to morality placed a heavy burden of responsibility on private individuals, as parents and as participants in the organisations that make up their local communities. Each person’s daily conduct was in some way a contribution to upholding or modifying the prevailing order. Every supportive frown or raised eyebrow as well as every complacent shrug of the shoulders made a difference. The value of a moral tradition that embraced both disapproval and toleration had been learnt from hard years of religious persecution.

Such were the main elements of the ideal of liberty upheld by writers such as Smith, Hume and Tocqueville. A free society for them should be made up of many organisations pursuing particular purposes but also based on liberal principles: a framework of rules, morals that were upheld but susceptible to gradual change, individuals guided by a sense of duty to others and aware that their personal contribution to upholding moral rules counted. And here lay the true significance of organisations like the friendly societies. They were examples of the best in this liberal tradition.
That State welfarism is corrosive of personal morality is axiomatic.

Both G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were followers of a movement termed Distributism; it's not any easy one for us to understand today, being somewhat a creature of its time, but it shares with Adam Smith liberalism a belief that a society founded on the moral authority of family, community and intermediate organisations rather than on State coercion is a healthy one. Leo XIII wrote in Rerum Novarum;
The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error. True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth. In like manner, if within the precincts of the household there occur grave disturbance of mutual rights, public authority should intervene to force each party to yield to the other its proper due; for this is not to deprive citizens of their rights, but justly and properly to safeguard and strengthen them. But the rulers of the commonwealth must go no further; here, nature bids them stop. Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself.
That black rogue Rousseau (and this will be my last mention of this villain on this blog in 2008) who would separate children from their fathers lest they distort the ownership of the State of the individual and whose perverse form of enlightenment 'liberalism' forms the basis of State welfarism would of course have gone for coercion over moral authority every time.

As Wiki has it, "
Distributism sees the trinitarian human family of one male, one female, and their children as the central and primary social unit of human ordering and the principal unit of a functioning distributist society and civilization".

Let's hope that 2009 and all that it brings will see a shift back to families, neighbourhoods, communities and intermediate institutions, friendly societies, mutual building societies and credit unions, localism, liberalism and the small State. We lost our way in the twentieth century; let's find it again in the twenty-first.

Monday, 22 December 2008

The naming of streets

How many Waynes, Kylies and Sades have grown into adulthood in a state of embarrassment at their parents' brief but dated fascination with a sleb a score years past? The New Local Government Network is now suggesting that an X-factor type contest should be used for the naming of streets.

No thank you. My Nigerian postman has enough difficulty telling the door numbers from one another without the added complication of which Princess Diana Road of the 43 newly named ones the letter should go to.

The NLGN is making the mistake of equating popularity with merit. Existing street names should remain unchanged; they often come down to us from centuries ago, and are as much a part of our historical environment as our ancient churches. The Pightles, Buttermarkets, Cornmarkets, Love Lanes and Grope Lanes of mediaeval literality, the Nelson, Trafalgar, Waterloo, Inkerman, Victoria and Balaclava Roads of nineteenth century empire, the new housing estate roads named after municipal figures obscure even in their own time are all part of our rich cultural heritage and should be preserved as avidly as any Grade I listed building.

As for new roads, beware transient popularity. Who now would be happy to live on Gary Glitter Avenue? Pop idols have feet of clay.

Footnote:
'The naming of parts' by Henry Reed was written in 1942. It starts;

To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

I can't believe Bob Quick would break the law

The Mail on Sunday story describes how Mrs Quick runs a car hire business from their home.

The Quicks will, of course, have determined with their local planning authority whether this constitutes a material change of use in planning terms, and if so will no doubt have applied for planning consent for the appropriate use under the Use Classes Order.

If so, they will no doubt be paying business rates on the appropriate parts of the premises (garages, office) and these will comply with the requirements of health and safety and workplace legislation.

HMRC will also no doubt have carefully examined Mrs Quick's tax returns to ensure she is not overclaiming on domestic expenses for the business.

And no doubt those 'ex police drivers' will not have been paid cash-in-hand but will have either produced the appropriate self-employment documents or will have been properly employed by Mrs Quick.

I can't believe an officer as senior as Bob Quick could condone any breach of the law by his own wife. That would be corrupt, wouldn't it?

Sunday, 21 December 2008

This time, Labour is right

Both Chris Grayling and Labour MP Terry Rooney, chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, have excoriated James Purnell this morning for proposals to charge interest on social fund loans. But this time Purnell is right. There, I bet you never thought I'd ever write that.

Behind the row is the commendable aim of getting more people to join credit unions, to save small amounts regularly and thus have recourse to a loan fund in times of need. Credit unions don't make profits for wealthy bankers; they can pay out a dividend of no more than 8% to their savers, and are restricted from charging more than 2% a month interest on loans. Most charge 1%. Members need to have saved regularly for a while (usually about 12 weeks) before they can apply for a loan.

Politicians of both main parties have long stolen responsibility and self-sufficiency from the poorer classes. As the IEA's Arthur Seldon said in a conversation with Ralph Harris;
I was appalled by the insensitivity of governments to the efforts of the working classes to help themselves - the belief that they could not do all the necessary things. I began to sense a sort of anti working class sentiment in all parties. They wanted the State to do these things. They didn't like people to do things for themselves. They thought that ordinary people weren't capable. They forgot all the history of the working classes. The records are that the working classes were sending their children to schools by the 1860s. They were insuring for health cover and so on by 1910 - 11 when all parties in England, the main ones Tory and Liberal, with people like Lloyd George and Churchill and Beveridge at the centre, passed the infamous act of 1911 which forced the working class to insure with the State despite the fact that nine tenths of them were already covered by private systems. Politicians seemed to me to be saying you are not capable, you need us to ensure you take care of your families, which was nonsense.
Many Tories and Labourites committed to the role of the central State will, like Grayling and Rooney, condemn this move. Neither trust people with responsibility for their own lives. Encouraging people to save with credit unions - and cut their ties of dependence on the State - is a good first step in allowing our people to win back control of their own lives and futures.

Hayek would approve of Purnell's suggestion. And so do I.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Bank of England - FOI request

1. Has the Bank either recently commissioned designs for, or sought approvals for, new high denomination banknotes of greater value than £50? (e.g. £100, £500 or £1,000 notes)

2. What is the anticipated lead time in bringing a new bank note to press?

3. Does the Bank have in place contingency plans in the event of having to print very large numbers of new high denomination notes quickly?

Why don't fuel retailers have a poke?

OPEC's slap to Gordon Brown last week at his suggestion that they don't seek to cut quotas raised the curious assertion that fuel retailers are currently prohibited from displaying the tax breakdown of petrol and diesel at the pumps. If this is true, wouldn't it be a simple matter for fuel retailers to provide this information on till receipts? Only asking.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Labour finally acknowledge the evidence

Well, it's taken several decades but it seems Labour have finally recognised what we've been telling them all along; that children brought up without their biological fathers have an overall negative impact on us all. As I've posted at length in the past, children growing up without their real dad:
  • Are more likely to experience problems with sexual health
  • Are more likely to become teenage parents
  • Are more likely to offend
  • Are more likely to smoke
  • Are more likely to drink alcohol
  • Are more likely to take drugs
  • Are more likely to play truant from school
  • Are more likely to be excluded from school
  • Are more likely to leave school at 16
  • Are more likely to have adjustment problems
  • Are less likely to attain qualifications
  • Are more likely to experience unemployment
  • Are more likely to have low incomes
  • Are more likely be on income support
  • Are more likely to experience homelessness
  • Are more likely to be caught offending and go to jail
  • Are more likely to suffer from long term emotional and psychological problems
  • Are more likely to develop health problems
  • Tend to enter partnerships earlier and more often as a cohabitation
  • Are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions
  • Are more likely to have children outside marriage or outside any partnership
Now the Mail reports that Balls and Byrne (and that sounds exactly like the music hall act it is) have produced an 'evidence paper' that finds
Seven out of ten young criminals come from single parent homes that make up only a quarter of all families, it says, adding that stepfamilies can also be difficult for children. .... Step-families, it found, produce outcomes for children 'similar to those growing up in lone parent families'. Their children 'show more psychological and behavioural problems than children in biological two-parent families'..... that children of single parents do worse at school, that two thirds of such families are poor, and a third of single mothers are depressed. 'An absent parent can be associated with adverse material and emotional outcomes,' the paper found.
Good. That's the first step. Now do something about it.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Fisking Bridget Prentice

Bridget Prentice is my MP. In thirteen years I have written to her three times; once to urge her to vote against the invasion of Iraq ('I'll go with Tony'), once to ask her if she had followed Tony Blair's lead in voluntarily donating her DNA to the national database ('No, but I will if Tony asks me to') and finally in the wake of the Damian Green arrest. I have today received her response to my last letter.

I have unassailable copies both of my text and the fax I e-transmitted; I mention this now for a reason that will be apparent further down. I will be happy for any computer bod to verify that I am not changing now in any way any word, space, punctuation, spelling or the like that the faxed letter contained. Or that Prentice's reply contained. I started;

"Dear Bridget Prentice,

I am stunned and outraged at the arrest and detention of an MP, Mr Damian Green, and by the violation by the Metropolitan Police of the privileges of the House of Commons.

This is a dark day indeed for democracy when the agents of the State can ride roughshod over the freedoms and privileges that we have fought for a millennia to win. I am writing to you as my constituency MP, not in the capacity of any place you hold under government, and I would most urgently beg of you that you consider what this government is about."

Her reply starts (with my comments in brackets)

"Dear (Raedwald)

Thank you for your faxed letter of 28 (sic) November regarding a number of issues related to Damian Green MP, the Shadow Immigration Minister (sic) who was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office."

Bridget continues on this subject;

"With regards to Damian Green MP, (really Bridget? You wish regards to Mr Green? Or do you mean 'With regard to Damian Green MP'?) I am not in a position nor do I want to make any comments on the proceedings of his alleged collusion in breach of the law."

Now this is just Prescott English. What the heck does it mean? Dear God, you'd think a minister of the Crown could at least string a coherent sentence together, wouldn't you? But it gets worse.

"I say this as an MP and Justice Minister. However, we must also acknowledge the importance of the police being able to conduct an independent investigation impartially and adequately and it is not in the best interest of the Government, Parliament or the country to interfere with police and judicial proceedings." (why is 'country' uncapitalised? It seems Bridget only thinks 'Ministers' and 'Governments' deserve upper case, and the country is not that that important?)

Oh really? So the halting by government of the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into BAe's corrupt deals with Saudi wasn't in the best interests of government? No, I don't suppose it was. The assumption that the interests of government coincide with those of Parliament, or of the country, is breathtaking, though - but this must be what Zanu Labour believe.

My letter to Bridget said

"This government may not value the privileges of Parliament, but I do. To wait until the recess to mount a raid on the Palace, to violate the very heart of our social democracy, is an outrage.

I find it quite incredible that the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith neither knew or was complicit in this vile business. I am almost stunned beyond words, and would ask you most sincerely whether your loyalties lie with your constituents, whose interests are lessened by this overweaning use of State thuggery, or with this government?"

Bridget thought:

"Jacqui Smith MP, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, has stated on a number of occasions that she will not prejudice the police's investigation nor did she know until after the arrest of Damian Green MP that he - or any other Member of Parliament - was being investigated by the police or was to be arrested. I think her statement on the matter is accurate and I will not make any further remarks on the issue.

With regards to your thoughts on parliamentary privileges (so parliamentary loses its upper case when privileges are mentioned?) I can understand the anger of Opposition (sic) MPs over Mr Green's arrest and the subsequent police search of his Commons office. However, this mustn't detract from the offences he is suspected of committing and the attempt to play down the significance of the alleged crime by the Shadow Home Secretary is mischievous.

Ah. So the independent report for the Met that found the whole thing was an almighty cock-up was wrong then? And wouldn't any half-way literate person have written 'mustn't detract from the seriousness of the offences he is suspected of committing'? Bridget goes on;

"It is better to show respect for the law and duty of parliamentarians to uphold the law."

Ooh Bridget, Gordon will be sooo cross with you. You must have seen the YouTube clip of him proudly proclaiming to have broken the law when as an MP he received leaked documents? And Harriet has 'fessed up to doing it as well.

"That is my position and I do not see it as a violation at (sic) 'the very heart of our social democracy' as you suggest in your letter. Of, Bridget. I wrote 'of'. 'Of' is literate, 'at' is just silly.

But the part that really, really angers me is this. I wrote

"Here in the borough of Lewisham we pay the salaries of around a thousand Metropolitan police officers - our share of the 32,000 strong force. Yet where are they? Our homes can be burgled, fouled and violated, the possessions of a lifetime stolen and trashed, and we are told it's no longer a concern of the police - we're invited to leave our details on an answerphone. This year nearly thirty teenage boys have been knifed to death in London, yet on the buses and in Lewisham market at the end of the school day are scores and scores of knife-carrying teens terrifying each other and causing public fear."

Bridget replied

"I do not believe that life in Lewisham is as grim, unappealing and crime ridden as you portray in your letter. If you feel that 'knife-carrying teens' are terrorising 'the busses' and 'Lewisham market' I suggest then that you raise the matter with the police."

What an inane, ill-considered, offensive and inaccurate parody of my original letter. Do you seriously imagine I would have written 'the busses' or was this your contemptuous reaction to any criticism of your foul and corrupt administration? Despite the fact that my letter was not only written in coherent English - a language you appear to have failed to master - but was correctly spelled and capitalised, your ignorant and semi-literate diatribe in response does nothing but betray spite, pettiness and a wholesome disregard of any of your constituents who refuse to believe the lies, spin, distortions and putrescence of your dying administration.

I will now spend every moment of my waking day working to unseat you from this constituency. Your personal malfeasance in relation to communications to non-constituents as a result of the boundary changes has already been dealt with by the parliamentary authorities. You have demonstrated here you are unfit to understand, let alone to respond to, the issues of state that come before you. Have you considered an alternative career in which literacy is not a major requirement? A sales supervisor at Marks and Spencer, perhaps? Or a senior waitress in Nandos? I'm sure readers could suggest suitable alternative jobs for you.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Fire deserts Dave's loins?

There have been a few times when Cameron has been roused to real passion, but only a few. Generally he rubs along as a reasonably charismatic sensible bloke who wouldn't scare anyone much. His emotional level has always been pretty constant, at a sort of relaxed determined level. If his knobs go up to 11, he's generally operating at about 7. The fire in his loins is the civilised flicker of a late-evening living room fire, not the blaze of a Greek street.

However, this past week something has dampened even that reassuring glow. As Toynbee pointed out in yesterday's Grauniad, he delivered his 'jail bankers' speech with all the charisma of a dead fish. And his stumbling performance in defence of welfare mums was unconvincing. Hague's performance at PMQs today was equally flaccid.

What do they know that's knocked the fuel out of their fires? That the Tory message isn't resonating with the public? That Mandelson and Campbell have spun them into a corner? I can't pretend Cameron's warmth towards both the big central State and Europe are to my taste, but he's our best bet in getting Brown's corrupt cabal away from power and I wish he'd raise his game. Politicians at the top don't have the luxury of off-days. Can someone throw a shovel of best furnace coal on those flickering embers, please?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Monday, 15 December 2008

Labour wriggling on the horns of a dilemma

The British economy can't afford Labour's central State. This is the stark message finally being realised by Labour's strategists. Direct non-pension welfare costs are about £80bn a year; 5m people are in receipt of welfare benefits. They are less healthy and commit more crime than others, so there are substantial additional costs that can be attributed to them from health and criminal justice budgets. In direct intervention costs (social and health services) it costs, according to Hazel Blears, £250,000 a year to monitor each dysfunctional welfare 'family'. To look after a child in care costs £40,000 a year. Councils will now break their overstrained budgets to err on the side of extreme caution as children's services directors across the land panic at the thought of being dismissed by Balls if they balls-up. With no prospect of increased government grants, and council tax rises effectively capped, and facing a substantial reduction in income, fees and charges as the recession bites, councils will have little choice but to cut the services most of us use; libraries, parks, roads, street lighting, rubbish collection and street sweeping. All this is understood by Labour; Michael Kenny, head of Labour-loving ippr's social policy desk, writes:

Labour's sharpest minds realise as well that anxieties about the purpose and direction of the government that dominated the pre-recession period, up until the summer of 2008, have been only temporarily eclipsed. Between the election that never was of the autumn of 2007, and Labour's conference of 2008, the Conservatives' critique of Labour's reliance upon the big central state and its commitment to top-down bureaucratic regulation, achieved considerable resonance.

At that time some on the centre-left began to propose the wholesale renunciation of social democratic principles and Labour's heritage. In the name of a shallow and overly individualistic idea of liberalism, they urged progressives to renounce the idea of deploying the central state – the political equivalent of asking Wayne Rooney to score goals wearing slippers instead of football boots.

But how can Labour tackle the policy mismanagement that Kenny describes as "increasingly centralised micromanagement of many of our public services (that) has over the last 10 years produced a clunking, overstretched and top-down form of governance"? He can see only one way out;
It is now time to gather together the rich but disparate array of projects, social enterprise initiatives and community schemes that attempt to deliver in these areas, and develop these into attractive models for social change. We need before us a plausible and general centre-left account of how public authorities can work in partnership with organisations to achieve socially valuable goals. Only then can the speculative Conservative vision of Burke's "little platoons" replacing the state in providing public services be confidently defeated.
But of course all those 'projects, social enterprise initiatives and community schemes' are, er, funded by the State. All Kenny is proposing is to replace centralised State micromanagement with less-centralised State micromanagement. It really won't wash. There is no substitute for real localism and the natural authority of the family, the neighbourhood, the community and intermediate institutions. Labour have no alternative to the State - it's all they know. This is quite brilliantly summarised by Fraser Nelson in this morning's Speccie Coffee House:
Community ties have been savaged by the destructive way Labour has implemented the welfare state. Dependency has replaced the horizontal ties - which once bound people to each other (families and communities) - with vertical ties, which bind people to the state. And this is how Labour likes it: an atomised society, not of families, but of individuals all preferably with a reason to be grateful to the state.

'Twas not always thus. Two generations ago, people would depend on each other - and volunteer on an ad-hoc basis. Give each other's children a skelp across the ear, impose and police standards of behaviour across the community. It was a natural, human, organic welfare system, that existed pretty much from when we crawled out of caves. It has taken billions upon billions of pounds to erode this amongst the poorest communities.

And this is Labour's dilemma. They have finally realised the central welfare State can't work, and needs replacing, but have no idea what to replace it with except our instinctive default 'horizontal' society. And this they can't bring themselves to do.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Pakistan and Somalia - Brown too slow

Back on 14th November 2007 I wrote:
Let's be clear. The threat, on the basis of convictions obtained so far, is from Islamic terrorists, and in particular those from the Pakistani and Somali communities that Labour, in a naive zeal of multicultutalism, have allowed to develop separately from the rest of the population into festering ghettoes of overcrowding, poverty, ignorance, disease and hostility.

If the threat is real, and cogent, and compelling, then we must deal with the source of the threat, without any mealy-mouthed prevarication.
Why has it taken Gordon Brown over a year to realise the simple truth that was evident to anyone with two brain cells long ago? And how much damage to our security has been caused by his dithering, inaction and third-rate intellect?

Fill your cupboards - food costs to soar

The UK hasn't been self-sufficient in food since the 19th century; a simple submarine blockade brought the nation to near starvation in the Great War, and this was repeated in the second war. Currently we import roughly half the food we eat, to the value last year of about £24bn. Of this half, some 65% is from the EU, with France, Holland and Ireland being our biggest food providers.

Cheese, bacon and ham, poultry meat, sugar, coffee, butter, tea, chocolate, citrus fruit, juices and concentrates, rice and pasta, oils fats seasonings and spices ... the list is a long one. The following DEFRA pie chart shows the source of food consumed in the UK (data sets HERE, chart 7.5)


Now with the pound dropping to parity from around 1.5 Euros to the £, a back of an envelope calculation suggests 65% x 51% = 33% of our food has just risen by 50% in price (never mind the dollar) - a rise overall of 16.5% in our Tesco basket.

I suspect Olive oil, ground coffee, demerara sugar and suchlike stays of civilised life will be disappearing quickly from the supermarket shelves at their current prices. They'll certainly be disappearing into my store cupboards ...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Labour still nicking all the best ideas

It's actually quite encouraging that Hazel Blears has taken up the concept of Community Settlements floated here; in an interview for the Times she reveals;

Ms Blears believes that cases such as Baby P and Shannon Matthews are rare. But the most dysfunctional families, she says, need round-the-clock support from the State – they should be housed in special centres or given a “muscular social worker” who shadows their every move. “We estimated that each family was costing something like £250,000 a year from public sector interventions that were not changing behaviour. They need a personal worker who helps them to get up in the morning, get breakfast and get the children off to school.”

Teenage mothers, could, she thinks, be housed together in residential units rather than in individual council flats. “If you are a young mum simply left on your own, then it’s hard. Forty years ago we had mother-and-baby homes usually run by nuns . . . now you could do it in a much more modern kind of way.”

You're getting there, Hazel. Yes, wards and dayrooms for single mums and their children, but also wards for unmarried men and unmarried women, and accommodation for married couples. With healthcare, schoolroom and child welfare officers on-site, and daily work either cooking, cleaning, maintaining the settlement, laundry or simple assembly type work for outside firms. The cost would be a fraction of the current costs, and the Settlements, if properly managed, could actually turn a profit from the sale of surplus vegetables, contract work and the like.

Some of you may be surprised that both Hazel Blears and I are advocating what is essentially a modern and humane version of the workhouse - the term has such
negative connotations. But even Labour have done their sums; the increase in bastardy from the late '70s has been exponential. Costs are now unsustainable. Only the most radical ideas such as Community Settlements for the underclass can hope to make any impact.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Crime and Disorder

First the crime - government spin merchants with the connivance of ministers pushed out a spurious claim about a fall in knife crime. They couldn't wait for March or April next year (guess why? See post below) when the true figures will be published. Consequently, many people who naturally distrust any figures from this government will distrust them even more. The thief-taker in this case is the aptly named Sir Michael Scholar, trying well to be a new independent head of a new independent UK Statistics Authority. If this is his first public test, he's passed.

Second the disorder - the sorry mess that is the Metropolitan Police and the verdict of the Menezes Coroner's jury. For what it's worth I reckon the Coroner was right in preventing the jury from returning an unlawful killing verdict. I also think the jury was right for finding, in effect, that Jean Charles was unlawfully killed, but without the option of the officers who pumped the hollowpoint rounds into this innocent young man's head being prosecuted. I don't think they should be.

They're not guilty of murder or of manslaughter but of disorder. They were insufficiently disciplined, inadequately led and poorly prepared. That they did the wrong thing is an institutional failure, not an individual one. And that, essentially, was the view of the ordinary men and women who sat in the Coroner's court for these weeks past and saw evidence of which I and you can only know a tiny part.

The Commissioner can't resign because he's already rightly been sacked for incompetence. His senior team - two of whom reckon they're capable of doing his job - are likewise tainted and should be eased out. Including Cressida Dick. They can doubtless see out their careers in minor provincial forces where they can do little further damage.

The management of the Met is desperately in need of root and branch reform. If Jacqui Smith is incapable of appointing a new Commissioner capable of carrying it out, and with cross-party confidence, her party-friendly nominee will have the shortest of shelf-lives.

The mess of blood, bone and brains so violently spread over those familiar tube seats can be laid at the door of Labour's desire to indoctrinate their social engineering message at the expense of operational management imperatives. The death of Jean Charles is just one more to add to Tony Blair's poisonous legacy.

Has Gordon got the guts to go?

Back on 19th November I posted on signs emerging of a Winter election; I reckoned February as a good prospect. I think the signs are getting even stronger. Jeff Randall in the Telegraph this morning reckons the same thing; he says
Having boasted in the Commons this week, "We not only saved the world..." the Prime Minister's logical next step is to invite the country to demonstrate its gratitude. He needs to look sharp, though, because his miasma of authority is about to be blown away by gales of rising unemployment.
The entire Labour front bench it seems is turning its full attention to the readership of the Mail; first Phil Woolas with a radical shift in immigration policy, then Straw pledging to deport dangerous wogs, now Purnell promising an end to Welfare madness. The only factor lacking is an announcement to end non-contributory public sector final salary pensions.

Gordon needs to be quick, though. The Germans have branded him an economic lunatic, and by early 2009 if the UK gets much worse in comparison with big Europe and the US (as most think it will) his economic credibility will drain away, and Spring will bring out our natural urge for change and renewal, so June is dangerous for him. His mental health is being increasingly seriously questioned and this won't take long to spread to the public perception. As Randall wrote, rising unemployment will skewer him, and once the news bulletins go back to carrying a round up of the day's redundancies, as they did in the past, each day will bleed away 100,000 Labour votes. The polls are now about as favourable as they're going to get. His best chance is January or February on anyone's reckoning.

But will Gordon have the guts to go to the country? Or will he bottle it again?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

'World out of step' claims Brown

Gordon Brown has claimed the rest of the world is out of step with his economic vision after the German Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck described Brown's economic measures as 'barking'.

'Britain is uniquely well placed to make a quick recovery from this minor economic hiccough' said Brown 'and I am using my special talent for economic management to save the world.'

The UK, whose credit rating has slipped below that of McDonalds, was deserted by international investors yesterday as the pound dropped to near-parity with the Euro.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Welfare reform will take two generations

I'll read James Purnell's White Paper on benefit reform carefully before I comment, but any thought that reform will happen rapidly is entirely misplaced.

Just visit Catford during the working week as I did yesterday. Fat young white women with infants in buggies, but inarticulate to the point we used to term 'educationally sub normal', physically uncoordinated, swearing and screeching at their infants. What place in what office could they ever fill? West African village girls likewise all carrying or dragging infants, semi-socialised, shouting Yoruba at eachother on their mobiles. Sulky Afro-Caribbean young men resentful of any authority, alive to any hint of disrespec', forming a barrier of threat and belligerence around themselves. Who would want to employ them? Thin chested men in their thirties looking and smelling dirty, a decade or more on sickness or disability benefits having robbed even the light of aspiration from their eyes and in contrast to Obama's message they just exude 'No, I can't'. Some are the third generation of their dysfunctional families on benefits. They breed, they drink, they fight, they demand of the council and of the State but the one thing they don't do is to work.

After more than a decade of wasted socialist redistributive policy - tax the working classes and throw the money at the feckless and unsocialised - our society has become far worse. Labour's spin suggests that they might finally have realised that welfare causes poverty, but how true a Damascene conversion is this? Sure, it will play well with 'Mail' readers whose sympathies are reserved for the deserving poor, but do they mean it? I'll wait to read what Frank Field thinks, for a start.

One thing's for sure, though. There's no quick fix. It will take two generations to undo this harm.

Monday, 8 December 2008

HM's Loyal Opposition prove more loyal than her government

The complex way in which our parliamentary democracy works depends to a large extent on political actors conforming to certain conventions, amongst which are that on matters of democratic importance members of parliament will put aside party differences and, in the words of Sir Patrick Cormack, put country first. Tom Harris, ex junior minister and blogging MP, once claimed on his blog that he does likewise. I shall be interested to find which lobby Mr Harris went through in this evening's Commons vote.

Harman's perversion of Speaker Martin's mea culpa today was disgraceful. Martin was prepared to submit his actions to the scrutiny of an apolitical committee of the house; Harman, as Leader of the House, was entrusted to deliver that committee. Instead she attempted to foist on MPs a partisan whitewash, a classic Labour stitch-up that is anathema to our democracy and a disgrace to the honorary position she holds.

Ming Campbell gently asked members to think how her predecessors as Leader, John Biffin and Robin Cook, would have acted. I think not only MPs know the answer to that question.

Labour ride roughshod over all the great conventions of parliament; abolish the Lord Chancellor, abolish the Lords, abolish anything that places checks and balances on their outrageous assumption of power at the expense of our democracy. Today they attempted to abolish the authority of the Commons to govern itself; Labour want the State to run our parliament like they want it to run everything else.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were absolutely correct in boycotting this travesty of a commission.

Historians are always asked to identify exactly when the 'first shot was fired' in any epoch-defining conflict. Perhaps future historians will name today as that time.

Not farewell to the Colony Room?

Back in September I wrote 'Farewell to the Colony Room' about the demise of the club. I was pretty well resigned to it. Now, in over a decade of membership I've never seen a committee agenda or statement of accounts; like many I suppose I always thought of it as Michael's club, with the committee and constitution being a sort of legal nicety to satisfy the licensing authorities.

Now some concerned and committed fellow members are determined to take this all seriously in a last ditch effort to save the club; last week they obtained an undertaking in the Chancery Court to allow them to hold a full meeting this Thursday with elections to a new committee and everything. I'll be going, of course. They've got a venue that can hold all 240 of us - unlike the club itself. They've got Boris' support and are in the process of persuading English Heritage to consider spot listing the place.

Watch this space.

I wouldn't trust Jack Straw with my most minor rights

Try to think of the most minor right you enjoy - the right to laugh, perhaps? The right to frown? The right to shave or not? Now think whether it's beyond your powers of imagination for Labour to legislate on it. It's not unimaginable, is it. Wearing a racially insulting beard or hairstyle, frowning in a homophobic manner and laughing in a manner likely to cause religious hatred could all conceivably find themselves buried in the myriad of behavioural regulations and laws so beloved by Labour.

So when Benedict Brogan gives Jack Straw a favourable write-up in this morning's Mail I'm wondering what the price was. Oh sure, Straw says 'let me bring a new Act in and I'll make sure the nasty judges deport the nasty wogs that Mail readers hate so much', but Brogan is more than capable of seeing through that.

Letting Straw draft a Rights and Responsibilities Bill is like asking Roland Freisler to judge a Bagel baking contest. The man's as cunning and amoral as a rat.

You can't legislate for social responsibility any more than you can legislate to demand respect. All you can do is to place onerous legal duties on people. Straw's 'responsibilities' are no more than the legal codification of duties he would have us owe as individuals to the State - a cementing of the direct relationship between the State and the individual that Labour have destroyed our neighbourhoods, communities, local institutions and families to achieve.

Straw seeks to reduce judges to no more than specially qualified civil servants, acting for the government and an integrated part of the State's social control mechanics. Whilst judges rightly cannot challenge Parliament, they can quite rightly challenge the State; part of the great strength of the judiciary is their (declining) independence from ministers and political imperatives. If their judgements sometimes seem perverse, it is because the law they apply is perverse. I'd imagine a relatively minor legislative change is required to allow the courts to deport Abu Qatada, but Straw prefers not to make it - Qatada undeported is one of his best arguments for his new Bill. He waves Qatada around at every opportunity saying 'see what the nasty judges are doing'.

Don't trust Straw with even the most minor of your rights or you'll wake up to find the major ones gone too.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

ASBO cat attacks computer

He may look cute, but he's a 15 week old bundle of destructive energy; mum's taken refuge on a surface he can't reach to get some peace, he completely destroyed my Sunday Times this morning when I was making coffee and he can't bear me using the keyboard without walking over it himself, meaning I'm typing this one handed trying to hold him away from the computer with the other. He's all paws and claws, and if he can't get either his mum or me to play, then reducing a heavy woollen rug to a crumpled play zone is high on his agenda. There's nothing else for it. It's either Ritalin or an ASBO for him.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

IDS in tune with the zeitgeist

The Telegraph is on form today. Iain Duncan Smith summarises the pernicious effects of the growth of the underclass in Britain and Heffer comments in his usual forthright and robust manner; both are worth quoting;

This object lesson in our vile underclass in all its glory reminds us of the abject failure of our welfare state. For Matthews, her seven children were simply an income-generation scheme.

How much longer will our politicians allow this to go on? It proves Dave's point about a broken society; but will he have the courage to argue that the ready availability of state cash incentives to breed out of wedlock creates odious people such as Matthews, and they must be abolished?

And

A glance at the figures should show how we are already paying for this growing social breakdown. Over the past ten years the cost of policing has risen by 40 per cent, prisons and the courts by 46 per cent, youth justice by 45 per cent and working-age benefits by 25 per cent.

Some forecast that the scale of this problem will double in the next 15 years. How will we afford that?

Which is precisely the point made on this blog; I'm not interested in making a moral judgement on the lifestyle of the underclass, or on bastardy, but the economic and social cost to the rest of us is already vast, will get much worse during the recession and is simply unsustainable in the long term.

There is a simple truth that Brown and his party are just too thick to understand, and it's that welfare causes poverty. The most effective measure in tackling poverty is restricting welfare. Clinton's reforms in the US have won for millions the dignity of work and the benison of belonging that the caustic effects of welfare had taken from them.

Bold and radical action is needed, and quickly if this destructive downwards spiral is to be broken. And since we can never build enough prisons, and cannot let people starve or allow children to be abused and neglected, only a move as heroic as Community Settlements will answer.

Telegraph joins Raedwald in inquiry call

Philip Johnston writing in this morning's Telegraph joins a call made on this blog (Time for a Royal Commission on policing) for a Royal Commission.

His piece is spot on. He points out the strange and counter-intuitive phenomenon that it is the new generation of university-educated fast-tracked police bosses whom one would expect to be both liberal and alive to the dangers of allying themselves to party politicians who have been the most careless in this regard; as I have pointed out below, it is Chief Constables who have used their discretion to retain DNA samples of unconvicted persons, now in breach of a binding court ruling; Chief Constables who have filled newspaper columns supporting 90 day detention, ID cards, intrusive surveillance and who regularly criticise the verdicts and sentences of our courts.

We have lost police forces in which low level corruption was endemic but which answered fairly well to public expectations, and gained police services in which a perverse application of the law more corrosive than petty corruption has become institutionalised and which no longer serve the public well or effectively.

We rightly value highly the British tradition of policing; police chiefs who serve the nation well have a price above rubies, and police officers who serve their communities diligently and responsively are everyday heroes. But they are both now rare as hens' teeth.

There can be no one left inside or outside politics who has any confidence in Labour's ability to hold a fair inquiry. A culture of fixes, spin, mendacity, distortion, omission and misrepresentation that characterises every aspect of a Labour government has flowed like a toxic pool into risible whitewash inquiries that draw only cynical laughter from the public. Only a Royal Commission, set up under this government but reporting to the next, now has a chance of redeeming policing in Britain before it's too late.

Friday, 5 December 2008

'Titan' prisons or something more useful?

The government's prison building programme is based on something called 'sustainable imprisonment'. As far as I can make out, this involves varying sentencing to adjust to the number of prison places available, so when crime is high custodial sentences will be reduced and vice versa. Part of this policy is to construct a number of 'Titan' prisons holding some 2,500 inmates each in London, the Midlands and the North-West where the Minstry of Justice says, in a curious turn of phrase, that 'demand for prison places outweighs the supply'.

At the same time, the costs of the underclass will never have been greater. Some are surprised that Karen Mathews bred bastards for welfare money, but this hardly touches the true cost; for every £10 extra that Karen got, it cost us another £5,000 in increased health, education, welfare, criminal justice, housing and social care bills. Each of her children will now cost us about £40,000 a year to look after; that's £280,000 a year for the seven until they reach 16 and can start breeding welfare bastards of their own. And all the indicators are that they will.

The underclass will be hit in hidden ways by the economic crisis. Those working in the black or grey economy can be laid off without any redundancy costs or notifications; traditional black economy occupations such as minicab driving have got harder and the alternatives such as illegal waste transportation and dumping are much riskier. Drug dealers will see their incomes slashed as demand drops, and as increased acquisitive crime floods the stolen goods market prices will drop. Both violent and serious acquisitive crime will increase sharply but as the prisons reach capacity we will see more and more of those convicted of serious offences walk free. The costs of dealing with the underclass will rise astronomically.

It's been estimated that if we follow the US model, which has started to get the size of the underclass under control by both welfare reform and high imprisonment rates, it's been estimated that we'll need over 200,000 prison places. The 7,500 extra places that the 'Titan' prisons will bring will be like spitting into a gale. Is there no alternative?

Well, yes. Let's call them Community Settlements. Take any of the several large crime-ridden council estates in London stuffed with the underclass and flatten it. Construct instead a gated community in which the residents live together in 'wards' - with the sexes segregated except for married couples who would share accommodation. The Community Settlement would have its own health and education provision, the residents would be under supervision, and useful work would be found for all within the gated community, either cooking, cleaning, laundering, growing community food, caring for the elderly or in fabrication or assembly work carried out for external firms. Children would be cared for and protected from abuse. Entry to a Community Settlement would be voluntary, but if their construction was coupled with the abolition of welfare housing and benefits for the feckless underclass, all the Karen Matthews and their male counterparts and their kind, then we know that the underclass will deliver themselves at their doors.

The Victorian Workhouse has had a very bad press. In reality, many of them were complex communities that served their inmates well, kept them in good health, fed them healthy food, educated their bastard children, kept them out of crime, drink and drugs and gave them dignity in labour.

Community Settlements would be much cheaper and much more effective than the alternatives - prisons, combined with the social costs of providing wholly for the underclass in open society. They would not be compulsory - the option of working, earning a wage and renting private accommodation at market rent would be open to all, and entry would be voluntary. However, once in, residents would have to accept the regime and rules.

Even in the 1920s life was often very much better in the workhouse than outside; as this account recalls -

By Christmas Eve, the day rooms and the infirmary wards were gay with paper-chains and holly. On Christmas Morning the staff rose very early, and after the bell was rung at 6.45 they would sing carols beneath the dormitory windows. After breakfast the gifts were distributed, and then it was time for the Service in chapel.

For dinner there were turkey and pork, potatoes, brussel sprouts, Christmas pudding and mince pies, beer and lemonade. There were crackers for everyone. The preparation and serving of Christmas dinner naturally caused much work, and several people living nearby came each year to give voluntary — and very welcome — help. Other people came as visitors, mostly the Guardians or, later on, the members of the House Committee.

On Christmas evening, all who could, gathered in the dining hall for a party. The tables were moved back and the chairs set in a big circle. There were games and an impromptu concert when, year after year, some of the Inmates sang their favourite songs. There was much enjoyment, even if little musical talent. Lucy Webb, I remember, always sang 'The Old Rustic Bridge Beside The Mill', and Alice Kate Smith a fascinating song called 'When I touched my Seaweed I Knew It Was Going To Be Fine'. Winnie Keating danced a hornpipe. Some of the men, too, sang or recited, and the staff provided a few rehearsed items. The Assistant Master regularly sang 'The Mountains of Mourne' in a bass as deep as the sea to which those mountains sweep down.

Refreshments were handed round, and were taken to those who could not join in the party. The evening ended with 'God Save The King' and with 'Three cheers for Master and Matron' — but it was not the end of the Christmas festivities, the men and women having separate little parties in their day-rooms on Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

An idea whose time has come around again?

Buy-to-let starting to look interesting

I was never tempted by the buy-to-let market in the boom; it always seemed to be too good to be true. Now this whole first wave of small scale landlords are going bust; rents have fallen sharply as have property values. Looking through the latest Allsops auction catalogue and at the letting agents' websites, the numbers are starting to swing enough to get me interested. Not quite enough yet, but turning that way. I'd hate to buy at anything but the absolute bottom of the market, and the rental market is still volatile. But worth watching closely. A decent two double bed terraced house close to the hospital is a good bet; nurses are always going to need somewhere to live. Hmmm.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

It's up to Chief Constables to comply with the ECHR judgement

The DNA issue is a complex one. We must distinguish between the taking of samples and the retention of samples, and between the retention of a sample and the retention of a digitised profile obtained from the sample. Until I read the ECHR judgement in detail I can't be unequivocal over what they have and haven't decided.

However, the existing law is clear that it's at the discretion of Chief Constables whether the DNA samples taken from unconvicted persons are retained or not. This is the purpose of s.64 of PACE (as amended by s.82 of the CJPA). The essential provisions of s.64 have been quoted in the Appeal Court case linked below. However, the 'killer' clause is para 51 of the Appeal Court judgement:
Section 64 as amended does not require the Chief Constable to retain any fingerprints or samples, which have been taken. He “may” do so. However, as is the case with any other statutory discretion this discretion has to be exercised to further the purpose for which it was conferred. Here that purpose is the prevention and detection of crime. Without casting any reflection on the individuals from whom the fingerprints or samples have been taken who are not still the subject of investigation or have been acquitted the statutory purpose will normally favour retention of the fingerprints or samples unless there are special circumstances justifying the Chief Constable making an exception.
The ECHR judgement should dispel any doubts from the minds of the nation's Chief Constables as to whether retention of the fingerprints and DNA samples (and, one hopes, DNA profiles) of unconvicted persons is a proper exercise of their discretion; it is not.

Who will be the first Chief Constable to use their existing discretionary power to destroy DNA samples of unconvicted persons taken by their forces? Or are they all such pliant and unthinking tools of the Home Secretary that they will wait to be led as sheep?