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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Only one way to stop people buying a ciggie brand

The comment on 'Today' this morning from Ed Stourton that his son reacted to the government's proposal to restrict ciggie packets to plain black text on a white background - 'Way cool!' - just demonstrates how away with the fairies ministers are on this issue.

No, we must face it. There's only one sure way to turn smokers away from buying ciggies and that's to force manufacturers to put a picture of Gordon on the packet.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Government ad reaches new levels of absurdity

The latest government ad persuading us to drink for eleven years (I think - but why only eleven? I don't understand) recites a litany of eleven-year thingys - headed 'In eleven years you will ...'
- shave 1.72 metres of facial hair
- eat 8,034 bananas
- lose £64 in loose change
- spill 54 litres of assorted liquids
- sleep for 22,621 hours
- wear out 26 pairs of shoes
- listen to 19,501 songs
- put on 8,032 socks
- enjoy 7 months, 2 weeks and 3 days of holiday
- eat 130,198 baked beans
- say hello 55,450 times
- say goodbye 67,320 times
- accidentally squash 5,562 insects
- spend 67 hours waiting for your toaster to pop
- go to the loo 12,798 times
- grow 1.72 metres of facial hair
- take enough footsteps to reach China
- see 937 cats out of the corner of your eye
- queue for 1,006 hours
- change channels on your television 120,223 times.
- Your heart will beat 400,000,000 times
- You'll breathe enough air to fill 20 hot air balloons
- You'll eat enough potatoes to fill 6 phone boxes
- You'll drink 36 bathtubs full of water
- You'll climb enough stairs to ascend Mt Everest twice
- You'll sweat enough to fill 1,612 fish tanks.
Since hardly any of this applies to me, I can only assume they've quizzed their Ministers over their personal habits as a basis for it; Hazel, Harriet, Jacqui, Ruth and Caroline might well shave twice daily, drink their bathwater after bubbling the products of 130,000 baked beans through it, spill their Chardonnay everywhere whilst diving for lost change, watch their toasters from the lavatory and bloat like barrage balloons on a diet of bananas and chips, but just how is this supposed to encourage me to drink more?

The Police we want - not the Police Labour think we deserve

Watching vintage British films, youngsters may be struck by the seemingly absurd way in which police officers are depicted. Margaret Rutherford, as lady of the manor, instructs the village plod to guard something and he doffs his helmet and replies 'Yes ma'am, right away ma'am' before exiting screen right and clipping an urchin a swipe around the ear as he goes.

Pah. Anyone under 40 will know that in reality Rutherford would have been thrown across the bonnet of the police car, squirted with CS gas, handcuffed and arrested under s.44 of the Terrorism Act for Being in Possession of a Posh Voice in a Public Place (to mimic plod's capitalisation).

The report from Civitas will therefore tell us nothing we don't already know, but as with much of Civitas' excellent work provides a rigorously well researched evidential foundation for it.

The time is long overdue to reverse some of the corrosive effects of the 1964 Police Act; part of the problem is that police forces have become too big. The 1960 Royal Commission found that forces of 500 officers policing areas with a population of 250,000 - about the size of a London borough - were feasible. Today, with modern radio and digital communications, this is even more the case. Smaller, locally accountable forces, funded directly from local taxes, are the way ahead.

The role of magistrates, too, needs reform. Lay magistrates are rooted in the communities they serve, and access to the Magistrates' Court directly by the police, rather than through the dreadful CPS, should be restored. The other role for magistrates, as members of the local Watch Committee that oversees local policing, was also valuable and needs to be brought back. Sitting with democratically elected local councillors and one or two co-opted lay members (including perhaps the Harbourmaster of a local port, or the CO of a military base in the area), Watch Committees bring a valuable and above all local direction to policing. They are greatly preferable to elected Chief Constables.

Above all, the police must be accountable not to the Home Secretary but to the communities they serve; as I've always said, the shorter the route between my wallet and plod's pay packet the easier he'll understand who's employing him and why.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

You know you're a political blog wonk when .....

.... you see a headline 'Campbell charged over 'assaults'' and immediately think Alastair not Naomi. Ahem.

John Redwood: parallel thoughts

When I posted ten days or so ago urging a freeze on civil service recruitment I thought it was an idea way out on the flank. I certainly don't flatter myself that John Redwood has ever heard of this blog and it's surely therefore parallel thinking that John suggested yesterday that "They should be getting very tough on civil service and quango staff numbers with a full recruitment freeze .."

I'm finding myself in harmony with Mr Redwood much more frequently these days and his blog is required reading - if you don't already, I commend it to you.

ID card contractor terminated from failing NHS system

The train-wreck that is the government's prestige £12.7 billion NHS IT system, now 4 years late and unlikely ever to be completed to the original concept, has claimed another casualty. Fujitsu, which had a £0.9bn share of the work in the south of England, and the NHS have determined their contract. The DOH told the BBC that this was done 'with regret' because the parties could not reach agreement over contract terms.

Last week the government announced that Fujitsu were one of five contractors shortlisted for the ID cards contract.

Brown had a megalomaniac vision of a direct relationship between a 'caring' State and each individual citizen underpinned by vast IT networks that would capture the State's clients at birth and release them only after their kin had paid their death tax, a direct relationship that overbore families, communities and intermediate institutions, and that overrode meritocracy and individual effort. A Leviathan State without peer, with the all-knowing Prime Minister like a spider at the centre of the web, pulling the levers of State to achieve an egalitarian socially engineered socialist society. It was always a lunatic vision, a truly lunatic howling at the moon shit-smearing vision.

Now he will doubtless pour a billion or so more into the NHS IT system for Fujitsu's role to be filled, and the company can switch its staff to the ID card work to mop up another few billion from the public purse.

Sigh. How did these buffoons ever manage the con the country for so long?

Buddy, can you spare a dime?

The story in the Guardian this morning that the Labour party is within weeks of declaring bankruptcy unless over £20m of Blair / Levy loans can be rescheduled, leaving NEC members and officers jointly and severally liable for the debts, can only add to Brown's woes this morning.

Blair himself, of course, is conveniently absent from the NEC, as is Levy. Teflon Tony thus escapes again, leaving Gordon to sell the family manse to keep the bailiffs away. Blair's tribe of luvvies and slebs such as 'Baldrick' Tony Robinson have also discreetly repositioned themselves away from the party and have gone from the NEC. Leaving characters on the NEC such as the elderly Walter Wolfgang, who was memorably roughed up by Blair thugs at conference, now to look to his meagre pension to meet his share of the party's debt.

And even if the party scrapes through this crisis, the comrades will be deserting their places on the NEC like rats from a sinking ship. The party will no doubt want to use the conference this year to change its legal personality and constitution to one that offers limited liability to NEC members - but whether this is legally possible with so much debt accrued by the existing party is highly questionable.

Some Prudence. Some party.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Too late, Gordon

France obtains some 78% of its electricity from nuclear power. It's a nation at the forefront of nuclear technology - where the UK used to be. It takes 5 years to build a nuclear power station, plus a year up front here in the UK for the obligatory planning enquiry. The earliest the first of Gordon's new nuclear power plants can come on line is 2014. Presuming the power companies can raise the finance.

Too late, Gordon. While you've pissed away the nation's wealth we've fallen too far behind. Six more years of dependency on the Russian mafia for our gas and the electric from the gas-fired power stations, six more years of high oil prices, will take a dreadful toll on our economy and international competitiveness.

God rot your purblind presbyterian soul.

Power outage: there's more to this story

A warm May day when no-one had their heating on in the UK, and not at the morning or afternoon peaks of demand, and the country suffers widespread power outages. This was an extraordinary state of events, over which a heavy official silence has descended. There's a lot more to this story.

The scenario that seems to suggest itself is that two power stations, Sizewell and Longanett, coincidentally went offline within minutes of eachother. The system then automatically pulled extra amps from the rest of the online power stations, overloading and tripping out a further seven. At this point the supply voltage across the country was dramatically reduced to cope with the load. It was a sort of domino collapse. This at least is the most likely explanation - though doubtless conspiracy theorists will flood the interweb with theories of Jihadist cyber terrorism and the like.

The system is designed to have a spare capacity of some 20% - but clearly this was not the case in practice yesterday. We need to know why not.

This is symptomatic of Labour's utter neglect of government's vital and legitimate responsibilities in respect of national infrastructure. They have pissed away a fortune in short term pointless and unproductive gimmicks, billions on an unnecessary NHS IT system that will never work, billions to be spent on an ID card system that will fail ignominiously, billions in sterile and unproductive welfare payments, billions more on schools that are micromanaged by Whitehall down to how many minutes of soccer each boy must play each week but which produce little more than rich crops of semi-literate and innumerate teenagers.

Yet on those things that could have been funded - augmenting Victorian sewage and drainage systems, increasing the water supply to SE England, flood defences, military training and equipment, power supply and distribution, the transport infrastructure (road, rail and sea) - Labour have been conspicuous by their lack of interest or investment. This is criminal irresponsibility, coldly calculated for political advantage in that failures in these areas would be unlikely to show up whilst Labour was in office.

Yesterday's outages prove differently. Let's now add up our bills for the backlog of investment in critical national infrastructure, and curse this shabby cabal of corrupt incompetents for having pissed away a trillion in public money over the past decade in gerrymandering.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Ian Blair admits that Big State doesn't work

It may be the liberating effect of Boris' natural charm, but Ian Blair has come out today with the extraordinary admission that Labour's Rousseau-esque Big State doesn't work.

"The war between the State and the family is very old" said Conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet; "when the authority of one is strong the authority of the other is generally weak". That black rogue Rousseau it was who wanted to take children from their fathers lest they challenge the authority of the State, and Labour too are striving for a big State that has a personal relationship with every child and every adult to the exclusion of families and intermediate institutions. But as Labour's top cop admitted today, Labour's policy is harmful, divisive and it just doesn't work.

Ian Blair is, for once, right. But in order for families to regain their authority, the State must retreat. Local and intermediate institutions must be strengthened. Brown's deluded phantasma that if he just introduces enough IT - NHS, ID cards, carbon credits, universal child database and all the rest of the useless dross - that the State will gain the levers to micromanage the life of each individual citizen is just that; a phantasm, a useless illusion, a hopeless desperate dry-wank of failure. All Gordon Brown's central Statist controls won't save a single life on London's streets. Only families can do that.

If Ian Blair admits openly that Labour has failed, is failing and will fail if it pursues this absurd Chimera it can't be long before even those within Zanu Labour start facing the fact.

MPs must be away with the fairies

How much would you pay for a job that required no formal skills or qualifications and no previous experience, and for which there is no shortage of applicants to work at any wage? Classical economics suggest that when demand is fixed - at 648 or so jobs - but supply is in the tens of thousands, that the wage w will fall to the minimum at which people are prepared to be paid.

A wage for MPs was introduced, quite rightly in my view, to allow those without private means to stand for Parliament. It was a measure to allow the Commons to reflect the society it served. It was not meant to encourage personal enrichment through theft, fraud and corruption. It was not meant to foster the naive and risible delusion that politics is a 'career'.

I have posted before on the decline of the status of MPs over the past 30 or 40 years, a period during which the status of all the real professions has also fallen before the rise of a central State jealous of intermediate institutions. In the case of Parliament, whose members have encouraged this Statism, the snake is eating its own tail. In place of status, in the classic compromise, MPs seek wealth, learning little from the penny-pinching monarchy that many affect to despise. When the Sovereign invites a subject to become Purple Rod Pursuivant or Harbinger of the Green Baize, at an annual salary of £7.50, no-one declines. The natty uniform (which they pay for themselves) and a place in the procession at state occasions rather than a seat in the stalls still confer a status whose price is beyond rubies.

A Commons committee chaired by the truly awful Speaker, Michael Martin, is set to recommend munificent increases in MPs pay and allowances - although no doubt the figures now being spun by MPs are in excess of the actual recommendations, to allow the actual announcement to appear more moderate.

Here's what I believe the people of Britain would support.
  • A salary set at 200% of the London median wage, (currently around £27,000 pa, giving an MP's salary of £54,000)
  • Two full-time support workers, a correspondence / diary secretary and a researcher, sourced from a Parliamentary 'pool' of permanent professional staff
  • Travelling expenses set at standard class level that MPs may top-up to First themselves if they wish
  • Subsistence expenses set at civil service staff levels
  • Additional costs allowance for 2nd homes with the proviso that the taxpayer will claw-back any capital gains not personally funded by the MPs, i.e. the MPs will only enjoy that part of an increase in equity that they themselves have paid for, or be liable only to that part of a fall in equity that they have funded.
Window cleaning, flowers, life insurance premia and the like would not be claimable - the generous salary is intended to cover that.

And an annual salary review based on the London median wage - which can stay static or even fall - would keep MPs closely in touch with the concerns of electors.

Littlejohn on Miliband

"In what kind of parallel universe do presumably well-educated people look at Labour's wipe-out last Thursday and conclude that the British people are crying out for this weird policy wonk with the bum-fluff moustache?"


Sunday, 25 May 2008

By-elections after Henley?

Two years ago the 'Times' profiled five elderly Labour MPs who were surviving efforts to oust them in favour of juvenile central apparatchiks. Of the five, Piara Khabra, then 81, (who Labour also tried to evict from his favourite seat behind Blair because he 'looked too old') and Gwyneth Dunwoody, then 74, have since died.

Of the remaining three, Alan Williams, 77, is sitting on an estimated majority of 4,269 in Swansea West; Gerald Kaufman, 78 next month, is sitting on an estimated 5,453 in Manchester Gorton and Bob Wareing, also 77, sitting on over 14,000 in Liverpool West Derby, but now sitting as an independent following his deselection by Labour last November.

Brown must be hoping fervently that all three make it through to their 79th birthdays. And so do I; long life and good health to the old curmudgeons.

Iain Duncan Smith - a deeply honourable man

Amid the copious analyses of Labour's future in the papers today, a piece by Iain Duncan Smith in the Times may go almost unnoticed. IDS' concerns about the fractures in our society are deeply and genuinely felt; between the well-reasoned lines as he describes slum estates and hopeless people, slaves to a faceless welfarism, you can palpably feel the anger and the hunger for reform.

There's a lesson my father drilled into me at an early age; its the lesson taught to every British army officer. That you look to the welfare of your men and your animals before you look to your own comfort. IDS is from the same background.

Several years ago I accepted an invitation for a day's rough shooting with a property developer. He had an extremely expensive but completely untrained Springer spaniel. It was also apparent that despite his equally expensive Italian under-and-over he couldn't shoot for toffees. After an hour or so I sensed he was becoming increasingly irritated at the ease with which I bagged the game on my side, so I slowed right down. Much of the game made good its escape anyway, as the Springer charged madly through thickets and hedges far too far away, putting birds and ground game to flight. As the dog returned periodically to his owner to get reassurance or instructions it got shouted at, slapped and, once, kicked. Being a dog it just tried harder.

When we arrived back at his ex-farmhouse after a good six-mile winter tromp, he abruptly ordered the dog into a small outbuilding and took himself indoors to an open fire and the gin bottle. I made some excuse about 'drying off' and returned outside to see the dog. He was sodden wet and trying not to shiver in the November cold, there was blood on his muzzle from the bramble thickets he had bravely plunged through, and his coat was matted with thorns and burrs. In his food bowl was a scoop of horse-feed. I fetched a horse blanket and a brush from the tack room and set to drying the animal off and cleaning his coat as best I could, and then returned quietly to my companion, who was now shouting on the phone and unaware I had been absent. He paid a stable-girl to look after his animals - she would have been back the following morning - so it wasn't actionable abuse as much as ignorance.

And this is the difference between Gordon Brown and Iain Duncan Smith. Brown, like my property developer, believes if you spend enough money then the welfare of your charges is assured. If they fall short, the answer is to spend more money. He could spend a fortune training the dog, but without anyone to train the owner it would all be wasted. IDS on the other hand cares viscerally for those at the very bottom of society, and his anger at the Labour mismanagement that has fractured our society and cemented so many millions into hopeless unrewarding lives is real.

I'll finish this post with another quote from the Times - this one from India Knight:
The old working class exists, but it is on its last legs, and the underclass that has replaced it is on the rise – angry, desperate, broke and broken, culturally and morally barren, passing on their poor, empty lives to their children and grandchildren. No wonder they drink to oblivion – wouldn’t you?

The fact of the matter is that the binge-drinking problem is largely an underclass problem. Teen pregnancies are largely an underclass problem. Teenage crime is largely an underclass problem. Child neglect – we live in a country where a little girl allegedly starved to death in her own home last week – is largely an underclass problem. Our collective problems are largely underclass problems.

Could somebody not just come out and say it, before another generation floats away to its doom on a sea of alcopops? The underclass was made, not born. Nobody asks to live in poverty, with no hope, no ambitions, no possibility of betterment, and the belief that the most fun you can have is to drink yourself into early cirrhosis. I know they’re hard to love, but really – do we owe these people no responsibility whatsoever? Don’t cut the price of their dreadful gut-rot: help them.