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Saturday, 17 May 2008

Civil Service - Freeze recruitment now

I don't know what the rate of staff turnover - those retiring or resigning - in the civil service is, but I'd guess it would be in the region 5% - 10% a year, higher at the administrative / clerical end of the scale and lower at the upper end. An immediate across the board freeze on recruitment would pay for Brown's £2.7bn deferred tax increase within weeks.

Would the administration of the nation collapse? Of course not. Staff would have to be jiggled about to fill front-line posts - clerks would have to become prison officers, and diversity and equality co-ordinators would need to retrain as meat inspectors, but the organisation would cope. After all, in time of war we manage to make this transition within months on a far larger scale.

A freeze on recruitment would pay dividends within a very short time. European legislation would lie unenacted in dusty filing trays, with no time to gold-plate it for domestic consumption. Red tape for the productive (i.e. non public) sector would start to wither away as the form-processors were out killing rats instead of shuffling paper. Thousands of tonnes of paper would be saved as departmental publicity sections stopped issuing 'How to bleed your radiators' leaflets to the nation and learned the joys of searching foreign trucks at Dover instead.

Of course, many of the shiny-arsed ones would resign rather be moved into a job doing something useful, and that would be all to the good. Some of them may even move into the armed forces (which would not be frozen, of course) which would be even better.

Times ahead are set to be hard; this is more than just a global economic hiccough. The sooner the nation moves to a footing to meet the challenges ahead the better the UK's chances of coming through it. This is not a time for Brown's dithering and indecisive yeah-but-no-but fiddling at the insignificant margins. We will have to do far more than just freeze civil service recruitment over the next few years - but it's a start, and it can be done immediately.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Day of the Living Dead

The papers are united today in deriding Brown's trip round the studios and his press conference yesterday. Bromidic, wooden, repetitive and as stodgy and cloying as cold macaroni cheese are just a few of the kinder journos' judgments. Certainly, his R4 'Today' interview was painful to listen to. If this was the best effort of a PM attempting to demonstrate that he's in control of anything at all, it was a ghastly failure. Brown now not only looks positively cadaverous, he sounds like a zombie.

Perhaps, against the evidence of our eyes and ears, Brown is actually still alive. But Dorothy Parker's response to the news of the death of Calvin Coolidge - "How can they tell?" - comes to mind.

RE lessons make rounded citizens

Parliamentary proposals that would allow under 16s to opt out of RE lessons on 'human rights' grounds are little more than another advance by the jealous central State in destroying all intermediate institutions that come between the individual and the State.

Not everything we do is driven by cold calculations of utility. When we fall in love, when we grieve, when we are overcome with wonder at the birth of a child (as we have been since we started to walk on our hind legs), when a few bars of music cause the hairs on our neck to stand up and our spines to tingle, when some completely abandon self-interest and undertake some suicidal act of bravery to save others we are not acting on the basis of rational calculation.

That we have an irrational spiritual and mystical component to our make-up is anathema to the secularist central Statists. It competes for our allegiance with the State. It must be eliminated.

Terry Gilliam's wonderfully baroque 'Adventures of Baron Munchausen' makes an impassioned plea for the place of romanticism in a dreary scientific world; the villain, the 'Right Ordinary' Horatio Jackson, played by Jonathan Pryce, to underline the besieged city's commitment to 'reason' has a soldier who has just performed an act of outstanding bravery executed, on the basis that bravery is demoralising to the other soldiers.

Christianity has sought to bring meaning to our natural spirituality, and for two millennia has provided a framework for all that is most noble and great in man as well as a framework for the base and repressive. No one can walk through the halls of the National Gallery and understand what's on the walls without an understanding of Christian thought and belief. No one can comprehend the motivation for the stunning grandeur of our cathedrals, a mediaeval realm built to the glory of God, and no one can understand the foundation of our laws in Christian theology. As these Statist parliamentarians look around them at Sir Charles Barry's gothic revival structure, would they deprive future generations of an understanding from whence and for what reasons the gothic arch was developed in western architecture?

We are not fools, even as children. It is well within the compass of human intelligence to hold two mutually opposing ideas in our heads. The teaching of Christian religion has not during the past century or so produced millions of British adults who literally believe in the Creation or who deny evolution. Indeed, we have produced the world's finest legal counsel; barristers who are able to convince themselves with utter certainty that their clients are as innocent as the driven snow. Whilst they are in court.

No, like that black rogue Rousseau these Statists would have the State take the place of God, for there is no room in their black peccant hearts for the lambent glories of human mysticism.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Ripoff Britain - Tesco coffee

Just checking the prices before I do another 6-weekly shopping trip to Calais. Tesco own-brand French ground coffee is £2.00/250g. Maison du Cafe Tradition 250g at Auchan , not on offer, is £1.17 even at this piss-poor exchange rate. Six packets - six weeks coffee - therefore saves me £4.98. And the rest of the prices are the same.

Don't be surprised next year when Tesco show record profits for 2008/09. Not knocking them - good luck to them - but they're not making very much profit from me, thank you. And that £4.98 saved buys me three and a half bottles of onze% everyday quaffing wine.

Sorry, Gordon. Nothing in it for you, either.

Academics discover Ursidae defaecate in afforested areas

When I took my first degree, at a redbrick university, I was amongst about 5% of my age who did so. The County Council paid my fees and paid me a maintenance grant. It was quite a good system. Then for some reason the polytechnics grandly started calling themselves universities (to hoots of derision) and it became government policy that not 5% but 50% of young people should gain a first degree. The result was clear for all to see, except perhaps the academics. The senior lecturer in welding at Grimeshire Poly who overnight found himself Professor of Applied Engineering at Grimeshire University would have thought it quite a good idea.

Now those gents have discovered that Ursidae defaecate in afforested areas. 'Mass entry threatens university standards' they bleat today. Bit late, mateys.

It's Ian Blair's fault

The conviction of Albert and Tommy Willett yesterday reminded the press that Ian Blair had accused them of 'institutional racism' in not reporting the murder of their victim, Balbir Matharu, more prominently.

Of course, if Sir Ian had told us all at the time that the perps were smackhead Pikey scum, the story would surely have made the front pages. It's his own fault.

Scott-Lee should resign now

Paul Scott-Lee, West Midlands Chief Constable since 2002, is the officer ultimately responsible for the outrageous slurs and accusations made against the Channel 4 Dispatches programme that broadcast undercover footage from mosques. Yesterday the force was made to pay £100,000 in damages.

Of course that's not the West Midlands' police money - it's ours. And this misguided fool, with a risibly naive righteousness that leapt to the defence of the primitive and anti-British views expoused by the village Imams filmed by Channel 4, had no business waging a political campaign against a broadcaster.

Scott-Lee must resign or be sacked. And the £100,000 recovered from his pension fund.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

'Managed Moves'

I shared a bottle of something crisp and cold and flinty this evening with an attractive young woman who teaches in one of our abysmal State schools in London. Teachers are nothing if not inventive, and in response to the new government performance indicators that penalise them for expelling kids - or excluding them, in the weasel words of Zanu Labour's State - they have invented something called 'managed moves'.

It goes something like this, apparently. Headmaster A calls neighbouring Headmaster B.

"I've got one this week. Not a bad lad, but he wanks in class when he's bored, which is most of the time, to be honest. Got anyone you want to swap?"

"Yep. Yours is a Victorian school, isn't it? Brick and slate and glass?"

"Yes, why?"

"I've got an arsonist for you. Bright little bugger, just sets fire to his classrooms. We're all 1970s prefab here. Lost the Art Room last week. Fancy him?"

"Yeah, OK. The wanking's getting too much here."

Happy 60th, Landy!

You always tend to take for granted those things that were around you for all the years since you were born. Land Rovers were, for me, as much a part of the world as the sky, or the fields, or the trees. At six years old the driver's seat of a parked Landy - anyone's - was somewhere I would while away hours, until the strain of tugging at the wheel and making brrm-brrrm noises exhausted me.

Army Landys and farm Landys were my childhood friends. The army ones smelled evocatively of military stores - an indescribably comforting smell for anyone who was an army brat. The farm ones smelled of, well, farm.

I took my driving test in a Ford Escort, an alien and strange vehicle. But soon after things got back to normal with my SWB series IIA. While other lads put matt black stripes on their orange Capris, I put the family dog in the back of the Landy and explored East Anglian churches. Girls played a part, of course; they were useful for carrying a camera, and had handbags to carry dead voles and bats in. As long as they wore sensible shoes and clothing and didn't complain about rain leaking in, or the air vent flap stuck open, they were always welcome. There must be a score or more of middle aged women in Suffolk now who can talk knowingly of string courses, piscinas, flying buttresses and hammerbeam roofs to their children because they spent a weekend with me and Landy in our youth.

Yep, Happy 60th Landy.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

State Party Funding - Britain says No

By far the most useful analysis of State funding to political parties is not Hayden Phillips' risible, scrappy little report but that produced by Pinto-Duschinsky for the Policy Exchange. The author points out that State spending on parties is already massive; some £1.75bn over a four-year election cycle, including the value of TV broadcasts. Party workers employed by the State - as political assistants and the like - dwarf the numbers employed privately by the parties; 1,000 full time equivalent workers employed by the parties (at HQ and paid agents and the like) to 13,000 full time equivalent party workers paid for by the State - i.e. by you and me. The author comments:
It doesn’t take very much for political leaders, parliamentarians and local politicians to convince themselves that it is a matter of the public interest that they should receive more money from the taxpayer. Whether it comes in the form of improved salaries, benefits, allowances or subsidies for their party organisations, the basic demand is for more.

A common response by politicians to scandal is that the fault did not lie with themselves or with their accused colleagues but with the system. Political parties and candidates ‘need’ money for legitimate purposes. Had it been provided more plentifully by the state, the scandal - whatever it might have been - would have been avoided.
No doubt this is the same argument employed by every unsuccessful thief, robber, mugger and burglar in the country; if only the State gave me more money I wouldn't need to steal.

Jack Straw will bring forward proposals in Parliament for more State funding at some stage. The British public have already indicated that this is unacceptable. I think not only do we want a freeze on State spending, we also want to see a substantial reduction in current spending. This is not a decision for the politicians - they will always vote for more - but for the people.

As Wendy Alexander might say, bring it on!

Fraser Nelson says Tories should lose Crewe

A useful little piece by Fraser Nelson in the Speccy's Coffee House that supports what I have been saying all along about the May election results - they were not votes for Cameron's Tories but votes against Brown's Labour - and goes one stage further. The nation's visceral hatred of Brown must be preserved intact for the general election, says Nelson. Therefore the Tories would be best served by losing Crewe. Interesting.
A former Blair-era Cabinet member told me that this explains the otherwise inexplicable 49% support for the Tories – the Tories have supplanted the LibDems as the repository of anti-Labour votes. And for as long as Brown stays, the more resentment there will be against this PM whom no one elected. This is why Brown’s survival is vital to Tory chances at the next election. Anti-Brownism is a force very much out there in Britain and I suspect his sofa offensive will only reinforce the public’s reservations about him. So the Tories had best be careful how they do in Crewe: I know more than a few Shadow Cabinet members who would see victory there as a mixed blessing.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Labour isn't working - a warning to Cameron

It seems at last that the reality of a new zeitgeist is penetrating the minds of some members of the political class. Martin Kettle wrote in the Guardian on Saturday:
The common factor last week was an unprecedented degree of anti-Labour tactical voting. In the south of England, Labour mainly lost to the Conservatives. But in the north, it lost to the Liberal Democrats, too. In Wales it lost to whoever was best placed to give it a kicking, including independents. In London, Labour tried to run against itself as an independent but ended up losing all the same.

....... British politics seems to be in the process of becoming more regionally distinct than ever, with no one party now able to assert a Britain-wide hegemony. Our 20th-century (arguably our 19th-century) political parties are being compelled to adjust to a more fluid 21st-century society.
Yes. We are moving on from a political duopoly based on polarised ideologies. There is a new scent in the air; a desire for an end to central Statism, a reaction against the metropolitan political class. Social divisions based on class and ownership are forgotten. We are all, at the same time, now both workers and middle class.

The fate of the professions is a useful example. The professions were professions precisely because they were self-regulating, had governing bodies that restricted entry, maintained standards, and determined who could practice. This was anathema to a central State jealous of any competing intermediate institutions. From the 1970s onwards, the independence and powers of the professional bodies have been eroded to the point of irrelevance. The State now largely regulates them, and central State planning rather than the Royal Colleges now ensures that quotas based on ethnicity, sex and background rather than grounds of competence and merit prevail. The professionals have become workers; we are now closer to Castro's Cuba in this regard than to 1950s Britain.

Plumbers and scaffolders now own neat semis in the suburbs, with a Discovery in the driveway and something small and fast and purple for the wife in the garage. They holiday in Florida, and wonder if they shouldn't take out private health care. The workers have become middle class.

Only the pool of the underclass has remained static. 5m people of working age made Welfare slaves, locked into poverty and non-achievement, Beveridge's war on Disease, Squalor, Idleness, Want and Ignorance forgotten by both Labour and Tories alike. Labour, and fools in Labour such as Gordon Brown, who naively think redistributive policies could have any effect other than to cement worklessness, fecklesness and social immobility in the underclass, have failed. The State has failed. State Welfarism causes poverty, it doesn't relieve it.

And people are starting to see clearly how central Statism has failed everywhere around them; despite close and overbearing supervision from Whitehall, schools have failed, the health service has failed, policing has failed, economic control is a chimera, transport is a mess. The State doesn't play poker; it doesn't know when to throw a hand in and cut its losses. Instead it throws more and more into the pot in the hope that all will come right; ID cards (a national population register), CCTV, ever more illiberal laws, regulations and restrictions on personal behaviour, on what we eat, on what we are allowed to drink, on what we do in our homes are all the metaphorical equivalent of the State, its cash all gone, throwing its wristwatch and car keys into the poker pot.

Kettle's piece continues:

The problem is that Brown is Brown. There is not some other Brown. As he made clear to Andrew Marr last weekend, the prime minister sees the May 1 election reverse as a reprimand, not a rejection. His response is to work harder, like Boxer in Animal Farm. But working harder does not mean working differently, as the clumsy handling of Scotland this week showed.

Brown is set in his ways. His ways are tactical, triangulatory and increasingly old-fashioned.

........His preposterous 20-hour days - the Sarah Brown profile in the June issue of Vogue reveals that he is often still working at 4am - will become 22-hour days and at some point, he believes, the voters will realise that he is right. To put it at its gentlest, this is what Joan Didion calls magical thinking.
And this is the failure of thinking common to the political class both Labour and Tory - that legislation, central command and control and even more power for the State is the answer to everything. They're both arguing from the same centre ground, but arguing that 'my legislation will be better than your legislation for achieving the aims we agree on'.

Despite the hopeful spin put on the May election results by Tory commentators, this was no vote of confidence in Cameron's Conservatism. It was a vote against Statism, against the tax and regulatory burden of the Leviathan State. And Cameron will forget this at his peril.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Villains roundup - Addendum

I overlooked the conviction of one Junior Glasgow,17, last week in yesterday's blog post. Glasgow fired six bullets into an 18 year old youth worker last year.

And whilst I was out on the boat yesterday enjoying life and the fine weather, 16 year old Jimmy Mizzen was bleeding to death in a bakery in a generally quiet area of south London I know well.

I'll bet any reader a fiver that Glasgow, below, grew up without his biological father. Tony Kennick asks quite reasonably how I would reverse the effects of the 60s liberalism and the effects I outlined yesterday. The truthful answer is I don't know; I have strong libertarian instincts that would let anyone do pretty much what they like so long as it doesn't impact on anyone else. But this does affect others. You can't stop women becoming widows, and can't force divorcing couples to stay together, and it would be cruel and wrong to 'punish' them for then bringing up their kids alone. And many of them do a splendid job of it. As we all know, this isn't the issue. The issue is girls having illegitimate kids in the expectation that the State will support them. Welfare creates poverty. Poverty begets failure. Failure begets violence, anomie and massive social and economic costs to society.

The only solution that comes to mind is the safety net of a hostel place rather than a council or social housing flat for single-mothers-by-choice. A hostel in which the girls must be home by 10pm, with no boyfriends staying over and a strict ban on drink and drugs. In which social workers were at hand, and child care available to allow the girls to go out to work. And where adult male role models, professional workers, had a role in the child's development. A hostel place wouldn't be compulsory - it's not a punishment - and single mums by choice could live with their extended families, or rent or buy their own place with their own money instead. But it would go a long way to encouraging young girls to keep their legs closed, or ensure they use contraception if they can't, because there's no lovely new flat and Argos catalogue at the taxpayers' expense at the end of it.

The power of a picture editor

An old drinking chum of mine was a red-top picture editor back in the 80s. There were stories, he said, that readers wouldn't even bother reading because the picture said it all. The online edition of the Sunday Times leads with such a one today. Congrats to the picture / web team.

(Uhm, younger readers may not remember Larry Grayson ...)

What Cameron actually said to the Yorkshire Post

The Devil's Kitchen, Tim Worstall and others comment on words spoken by Cameron as reported by Richard Corbett, a Labour MEP.

Corbett quotes Cameron as saying:
I don’t want to leave the European Union and I'll tell you why. This is a trading nation. Yorkshire relies on traded goods and on businesses which can trade all over the world and particularly in Europe. We export more per head of the population than America, Japan or other countries. We are a trading nation and Europe is a very important market for us. If we are not in the European Union, we would not be able to have a say over what the rules of the single market are. That is the primary reason for being a member of the European Union.
Cameron was responding to a question from a Sales Rep called David Quarrie during an open access session published on 18th April. The question was "What I and millions of other English people cannot understand is why you would rather be in Europe than in power? Eighty per cent of the people want to vote on the Lisbon Treaty and 75 per cent of British people want out of the European Union. Do you want a landslide victory and to come into power and do things which you've been talking about for the past hour? If you make that central Conservative policy number one and get Britain out of Europe, you will win a landslide.". Cameron responded:

"On the Lisbon Treaty and the European Constitution, we have led calls for a referendum on it and we have voted on it in the House of Commons again and again. I've raised it with the Prime Minister again and again because I don't think it's right for the British Government to take away powers from Parliament and invest them somewhere else without asking the British people first. As I've said, and as William Hague has said, with any future treaty, where any power is being passed from Westminster to Brussels, there should be a referendum as there should be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

"I don't want to leave the European Union though and I'll tell you why. This is a trading nation. Yorkshire relies on traded goods and on businesses which can trade all over the world and particularly in Europe. We export more per head of the population than America, Japan or other countries. We are a trading nation and Europe is a very important market for us. The single market is very important for us and if we are not in the European Union, we would not be able to have a say over what the rules of the single market are. That is the primary reason for being a member of the European Union.

"I used to work in the television and video business. If you wanted to set up television stations around Europe and if you wanted to sell television programmes around Europe, the rules were written in Brussels but at least we had a seat at the table and we could knock down some of the nonsense which the French, the Germans and the others wanted to put in the rules. Leave the European Union and you still have to meet all the rules if you want to sell your programmes but you've got no say in what they are.

"It might make you feel good for five minutes to say to cut ourselves off from the bureaucracy but it would be bad for Britain. We have to stay in there and we have to fight for the sort of Europe we want which is a Europe that doesn't just stop when you hit the old countries of Eastern Europe but goes right the way up to Turkey and is in association with like-minded nation states which believe in democracy.

"It is a Europe which stops passing so many rules and regulations but focuses on a big single market so it will be prosperous and wealthy and one where we will co-operate on things that we care about like a good environment, like helping the poorest countries in Africa and like making sure we are a competitive part of the world. That's the responsible thing to do and that is what I will fight for. It's not always easy but it is the right thing to do.

"Pulling out wouldn't stop us trading but we'd have no say over the rules. If we want to be a country that trades on the level we do, we've got to have a say. We do have an influence. If you look at the rules of the single market - if we weren't there, then they could bend them against us and there'd be absolutely nothing we could do about it. We'd be sitting here and there'd be people from different businesses and industries asking why we were completely powerless and not able to negotiate a good agreement so they could sell their goods and services in Europe.

"If you look at what is happening in Europe, the French and the protectionists are losing the argument. Britain has always been a trading nation. We have fought for trade over centuries and always believed in free trade. Other countries are actually moving in our direction on the free trade issue and it would be mad for us to leave and cut ourselves off at this moment."
The full answer is a bit more balanced. The referendum commitment is still there. He seems to open the door to a fundamental re-negotiation of the UK's membership following a referendum that rejects the terms of the European Constitution Lisbon Treaty. And that, I think, will be as good as it gets with either Labour or the Tories.

Or is it? Just read Cameron's first paragraph again. Is he now saying that there won't be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty but there will be on any future treaty? Are these weasel words or am I reading it wrong?