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Saturday, 4 October 2008

Bad luck for Tom Harris

Tom's a loyal party animal and probably wouldn't agree with the gist of this post, and I can't pretend his blog was ever on my favourites list, but as the comments on his most recent post demonstrate, he was not only a popular minister but highly regarded across the blogosphere. As he returns to the back benches, I wish him well - for Tom and his like are the future of British politics.

Centralist party political structures are as corrosive of democracy as is the central State. On-message control freakery is not confined to Brown and Labour; independent thought is viewed every bit as dangerous by Cameron's Tory CCHQ. The whips' and party mandarins' worst nightmares are MPs such as Sir Partick Cormack (who Cameron tried unsuccessfully to deselect) who can say
I've had masses of letters from people who say they vote for me not because I'm Conservative but because they think I'm an independent-minded local parliamentarian. I've always taken the line it's country-constituency-party, in that order.
Next to the Sir Patricks of this world they must hate blogging MPs, never mind blogging ministers.

Both Cameron and Brown are terrified of localism. They're terrified of losing control. They're scared of allowing local associations and web-alliances to push policy upwards, of leading looser coalitions of independent MPs whose priorities are, like Sir Patrick's, local. At the same time they realise British democracy is sinking fast - 98.6% of voters don't belong to a party, 16m voters boycotted the last general election and the Royal Yacht Association has more members than Labour - and that the central parties are every bit as culpable as the central State for this deadly corrosion.

But as comments both on Tom's blog and on Iain Dale's post about this show, once voters have a taste of this kind of democratic access they want more. The party leaders must face the reality that either we spiral ever downwards with parliament and MPs losing what little remains of their popular legitimacy, and the old central parties dying on their feet, or embrace a new political paradigm that includes blogging and looser central control. If Cameron fails to recognise this, the present hostility of the blogosphere towards Labour could well turn on him.

The final destruction of Mandelson

If there was a politician less suited to the level of personal public thrift required of ministers during a recession it is Peter Mandelson. Oozing the bonhomie of fine wines and expensive cuisine, preening with self-love and self-importance, a man who adores all the trappings of wealth and the proximity of the wealthy, his lifestyle has largely been hidden from sight in Brussels. A cabinet minister's salary will be something of a come-down from the opulent rewards of an EU Commissioner, but Mandelson will not allow this to deter him. The fine cashmere sweaters and calfskin loafers will be at home in le Manoir or Le Pont de la Tour, but Brown must be chuckling with pleasure at the prospect of ordering Mandy to go 'on the knock' on the council estates of Glenrothes. For I am convinced that Brown has brought Mandelson back for one reason only - to destroy him.

In Brown's eye, Mandelson is the man who has ruined Gordon's 'turn'. Mandelson is the man who has consigned his reputation to the dustbin of history as Britain's worst prime minister ever. Mandelson is the man who has robbed him of his due. Brown cannot forget or forgive a man he sees as having sown the seeds of Brown's destruction. Mandelson is doubtless aware of this - his intellect is of a greater order than Gordon's - but his vanity is such that he is confident of winning this deadly game. Whilst Mandelson may be well equipped to counter Gordon's moves as they circle warily on the chess-board, he is not immune to his own ego. Hubris and the fourth estate will do for him.

Already the press is questioning the origin of funds used to buy his new home in London. Teams will be dispatched to Brussels to spread wads of cash and dig for dirt. Brown himself will release some fatal secret when the time is just right, when the public mood demands real retribution. Like Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer, public joy at the humbling of one so high as they swap the cashmere for prison denim will be irresistible.

Rarely have I looked forward to the dying days of a spent and corrupt government with such pleasure.

Friday, 3 October 2008

A case to watch

You may be forgiven for imagining that the internet has made censorship impossible; the ability of the State to determine what is suitable for people to see, watch, hear or read has become infinitely harder now that there are no hard borders to the global electronic interconnect. Customs officers breaking open timber cases to find Swedish pornographic magazines, or the Lord Chamberlain banning a stage play that implied the involvement of the British government in the death of General Sikorski, or the dangers of a QC's wife or servants reading of the libidinous activities of a gardener, seem distant history.

Sex and violence, separately or together, seem to have a visceral attraction. The most revolting and realistic computer games that encourage players to run riot in an orgy of rape, slaughter and criminal carnage are amongst the best sellers and are found in high street shops; the most explicit pornography imaginable can be scanned by schoolchildren from their bedroom computers. Perversions so utterly repugnant that few would have been aware of them a decade or so ago now seem commonplace because of the web.

And then of course there is the blurring of the roles of producer and consumer. This blog is an example of what is termed user created content, but current affairs commentary is at the bland end of what is being 'created'. Everyone with a cameraphone is now a porn producer; onanism was once a rather solitary activity, but now it seems to be something to be shared with any web user who may stumble across it. Fantasies of rape and sexual violence are acted out in words and images, real footage of real violence, of guns and muggings and beatings, are uploaded to Youtube by British teenagers, including mobile phone video footage of a gang beating a man to death (they were later convicted). It seems there are no limits any longer.

Voices that are raised in objection don't bother with any of this stuff. They reserve their condemnation for racism, homophobia, holocaust denial or climate change scepticism. You could forgive ordinary people from imagining that it's OK to publish a violent sexual fantasy about a girl group so long as it wasn't racially motivated, it was free of anti-semitism and the murderers recycled the victims' body parts through an anaerobic digester.

This case will be an interesting one to watch, and in particular the case for the defence. And citizens who imagined that nothing could deprave or corrupt them any more than they are already will now no doubt seek out the offending publication and share it with an audience vaster than the author could have imagined. Sigh.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Ian Blair down; what will be his bonus this year?

I have blogged frequently about Ian Blair. Though he'd only been in post for three years, he had won himself a degree of unpopularity that would have taken other men decades to achieve. Back in August last year I wrote
The IPCC's report on the Met leadership's actions during the killing of Mr. de Menezes makes grim reading. Sir Ian sat happily in his office, poring over 'excel' charts of diversity training targets, the number of parking tickets translated into Vietnamese, approving new equalities mission statements and doodling new management structures or such like activities. Word had got out that his men had wrongly shot a Brazilian tourist; within hours every copper in London, on or off duty, knew the score. Every copper except Sir Ian. Insulated in his fluffy cloud of NuLabour public management performance targets, he was blissfully unaware that anything was amiss.

Yesterday he gave the most crassly risible press conference at which he beamed with pride at having been the most ignorant copper in London at that time, no doubt taking great satisfaction as he did so that his statement was printed on recycled paper.
And in November 2007
Londoners in particular are heartily sick of their Commissioner. Executing one of our overseas visitors didn't improve his standing.

But Sir Ian is New Labour to his bones and will cling to office as grimly as Blunkett, Byers, Mandelson, Prescott or any of the roll call of Labour sleazeballs over the past few years.

His tenacious and obstinate stance will undoubtedly lead to voices calling more loudly for the Met Commissioner to report to London's Mayor and not to the Home Secretary; if Boris were in post with such authority, Sir Ian would be marched smartly up to the Mayor's desk, stood at attention with his cap under his arm, and be summarily dismissed for gross misconduct. About turn. Bugger off.
Back at the end of June I was a little more sympathetic
You'd have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy a quiet chuckle at Ian Blair's latest predicament. This most PC of PCs, more Harman's copper than copper's copper, the man on whose heart the message of the Macpherson Commission's 'institutional racism' was engraved, is in hot water over allegations of 'racism'. It's nothing of the kind, of course; it's opportunistic shit-stirring by three mediocre black police officers who by the accounts of their colleagues have already been over-promoted and who simply aren't up to the job.
Of course if the De Menezes family now start a civil action against Blair he'll have to pay for his own defence, rather than charging it to London taxpayers - and bloody good job too. He took a £25,000 bonus last year. I hope he saved some of it. Perhaps he negotiating this years? Who knows.

Paul Stephenson stepping into the breach may be a blessing. A copper every bit as quiet and self effacing as John Stevens, who held the post for five years before Blair without being known by most of London, let alone attracting its opprobrium.

Good riddance.

Herr Blair, the Fuhrer declines your sofa

Cherie says Tony's as great as Churchill

"Now, Adolf, I'm a pretty straight sort of guy. I have to tell you, and I really believe this, that invading Czechoslovakia is a bit OTT, you know what I mean?"

"Herr Blair, the Fuhrer requests you address him as Herr Hitler. And he has this dossier for you that describes how the Czechs have developed WMDs and can launch a rocket that could reach Berlin in forty-five minutes"

"Oh really? Wow. Yah. That's a bit different, Yah? I have to say, and I really believe this, that you have definite proof that Edvard BeneŇ° poses a threat to world peace. Wow. No wonder you want to invade, Ado... Herr Hitler"

"The Fuhrer requests your help in a joint invasion with the British Expeditionary Force attacking from the south"

"Yeah, sure we'll help. After all, the King's German, isn't he? I was saying to him just the other day ..."

"There will be some personal rewards. The Reichsbank extends you unconditional mortgage credit to buy more houses. And the Reich Writers' Guild donates five million Reichsmarks to the Labour Party. And Fraulein Braun's hairdresser can do something for Cherie. Possibly."

"Oh wow, that's really generous; I really mean that. Look, how would Herr Hitler like to be a Lord?"

"The Fuhrer wants nothing in return except your unconditional loyalty, Herr Blair."

"Yah, yah, sure; we believe in the same things, don't we? I mean, I hate smoking, too and Cherie's been trying to get us to go vegetarian and I'm doing pretty well except for chicken and white meat and Quorn can taste quite good sometimes, can't it? Look, I may have a bit of trouble with the country and the Commons over invading Czechoslovakia with you. What would help would be you leaking some intelligence, yah?"

"The Fuhrer says just let the Abwehr know what you want and it will be leaked"

"Yeah, OK that's fine - I mean the Abwehr wouldn't make stuff up, would they?"

"The Fuhrer hands you this swastika lapel badge as a personal gift"

"Oh wow the kids will love this! Thanks. Look, I've brought some poems I've written; would Herr Hitler like to join me on the sofa?"

"Herr Blair, the Fuhrer declines your sofa."

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The real risk of a hard rain falling?

I'm the man that architects hate. What I do for my clients is go through wonderfully aspirational design proposals and strip out the risk. You see, most architects are after one thing (after their fee) - the portfolio opportunity. They want the iconic photos for their practice portfolio taken just at the point of practical completion. To get them they'll ride roughshod over client budgets to create something different. The problem is, my clients don't want anything different. They want tried and tested, excellent value, low risk construction with maybe a little atrium with a few ficus in pots bolted on as a modest corporate welcome. So I strip out all the bespoke, experimental, non-standard, unproved little bits of architectural egoism in favour of familiar techniques, standard components, co-ordinating dimensions and off the shelf materials with short lead times. Then I let them bolt the little atrium on. Anyway, this preamble is by way of explaining that I can see risk.

I get in trouble from readers if this blog gets too apocalyptic, so instead I'll quote Nick Drew writing on Labour and Capital:
How bad do you think the current crisis is?

Until recently I would have said much worse than most people think (see my posts for the past 15 months passim) but now I’d say: as bad as can be realistically imagined. Fighting-in-the-streets bad.
We face this crisis with a number of other insecurities; unlike the US we have no national vehicle or heating fuel reserve to meet supply shocks. 60% of our imported gas comes through just two terminals, at Bacton and St Fergus. We have no strategic reserves of gas - when was the last time you saw a full gasometer? Our LNG supplies are dependent on weather systems, the activity of Algerian rebels and world spot markets. Only a downturn in OECD demand has lowered oil prices; small downwards production adjustments can still easily push the price up to $200, never mind a jihadist war in Saudi or a US / Israeli strike on Iran. Half our food is imported and dependent on harvests half way around the world and on global markets. Our ageing and failure-prone electricity supply is maxed out with no reserve capacity. Supermarkets carry at most a couple of days of food stocks and are dependent on just-in-time deliveries from the distribution depots. The south-east is still chronically short of water. Our shrunken and under-funded army is deployed abroad, and our stretched police forces are barely able to contain current levels of social disorder. If the UK was a building, I'd condemn it as unfit for secure use.

Outside London, things are already changing rapidly. the ES reported in last night's edition:

The property market is in a far worse state than most Londoners think, says a Dresdner Kleinwort analyst who this week returned to his Gresham Street eyrie in the City after a tour outside the capital where he found "carnage beyond even our most bearish expectations".

In a research note entitled It's Grim Up North, Alastair Stewart reports "a near-apocalyptic landscape" in the four cities he visited. He found the six leading property agents in Leeds have shifted just six flats in two months. He also picked up a scoop: an internal Barratt sales brochure in which the housebuilder marks down prices by up to 43%.

After talking to consultants and agents in Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield, he found "prices of urban apartments appear to have fallen in many cases by 40% to 50%, volumes have dried up to virtually zero, many developers have gone bust and land in many cases appears to be worthless". The situation, Stewart says, is "far worse than even the most candid builders have revealed". He concludes that listed firms are on the brink of profit warnings and a widespread breach of banking covenants.

He found "developers selling at virtually any price to shift flats and virtually all forthcoming new developments mothballed".

If the developers start falling and defaulting on their bank loans it may take even more tax capital to shore the banks up. There must be a temptation to allow the market to take its course and to allow a vulnerable bank to fall, but no certainty that it wouldn't lead to a domino collapse. And the risk of widespread social disorder.

Britain now has several million young men with no moral reference, no social restraints, that would prevent them from taking by force anything they want. So far its electronics and phones and iPods on the buses, on the streets and in the schools. The barbarians are no longer at the gates; they're inside the city.

Over a year ago an online friend, an ex Vulcan bomber pilot and accomplished yachtsman, described how a number of senior civil servants and military officers kept ocean going boats in the south-west fully stocked with supplies including water-makers, and ready for sea. This isn't 1940 and all-pull-together any more; it's sauve qui peut and the devil take the hindmost. The State's most highly paid functionaries, with access to true intelligence assessments of national risk, are ready to go.

My nose tells me the risk is higher than it's been in living memory - but it doesn't mean that catastrophic events are inevitable. But for someone like me who manages risk for a living, my anger at the incompetence and inaction, the vacuous imbecilic throwing of a trillion at lunatic social engineering schemes, the posturing, mendacity and empty rhetoric of this government, means that I'm determined, should we come through it, never to give these people the opportunity again to bring us so close to ruin.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Jonah at the helm

I was reminded today of Ken Reid's old Beano comic strip, which went under the strapline 'Jonah - he'll sink that ship!' in which the hapless twat manages to destroy everything he touches. How familiar. Enjoy a bit of vintage Jonah HERE.

Workplace Parking Levy - FOI requests

Nottingham's proposals to charge businesses up to £350 a year for each workplace parking space they have may well be copied by councils across the country. But before they get too excited about it, I urge readers to submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act to their local council, asking
1. How many workplace parking spaces are maintained for council staff and councillors?
2. How much does the council pay annually to subsidise staff and councillor workplace parking permits or 'season tickets' in public car parks?
Similar requests to government departments and quangos may also uncover the extent of the State's 'Do as I say, not as I do' approach to this issue.

When Nottingham Council can tell us that all of their staff and councillors use public transport to get to and from work, their proposal may be met a little more sympathetically.

Euro Islamophobia meets Google algorhythms

Like many of you I suppose, I pop over to the Brussels Journal from time to time to get a handle on the way the European intellectual right is thinking. However, the site's strident Islamophobia is a little too rich for my palette; for these Europeans, the Turks really are at the gates of Vienna and the guardians of the Eastern Mark are struggling to find a new Sobieski.

The effect is a little spoiled though by Google ads, which has picked up the high incidence of 'Muslim' and 'Islam' on the site and targets it with large display ads of pretty Aishas in headscarves seeking marriage. You'd need a heart of stone not to laugh.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Labour will pay for Britain's debt binge

Our individual borrowing exceeds the nation's GDP. Fuelled by a cheap credit boom, the country has binged on loans and credit cards, periodically converting the debts into additional mortgage borrowing as house values spiralled ever upwards. Now individuals are paring their spending, reining in further debt, cancelling gym subscriptions, deciding the three year-old sofa has a bit more life in it, trimming motoring costs and chucking the yacht charter and swimming pool brochures in the bin. And as the pain bites, they will all want someone to blame - and not just to blame. Before long, people will want a sacrificial victim; they want to see the priests pull the living heart from the chest of the condemned atop the ziggurat.

Labour know this. They're wearing the collective worried expression of someone found with a can of lighter fuel and a box of matches near Pudding Lane in 1666.

Brown will do his utmost to offer the country an alternative victim; bankers, hedge fund traders, men in decent wool suits with polished Oxfords. The Conservatives this week must resist at all costs joining Labour in this attempt to deflect responsibility. The message from Birmingham should be clear. The country, with Cameron at the helm, faces a painful struggle to get debt under control. Expanding spending is not an option. Every household will understand this message. The message should continue, and should place the fault firmly at Brown's door; his irresponsibility, his incompetence, his reckless purblind spending binge. Birmingham should place a hand firmly between Brown's shoulder blades and propel him up the steps of the ziggurat, to the priests with the sharp Obsidian knives and a decent knowledge of anatomy.

We stand a chance now to destroy the malignant curse of socialism in Britain, the chance to free our people from its baleful and evil spell. At the next election, we can see Labour's life-blood flowing in rivulets down the sacrificial mound, its torn heart ceasing its spasms. Yes, the bankers will need dealing with, quietly and behind the scenes, with a sharp stiletto and a hand over their mouth, but let's reserve our public obloquy for the real beast - Labour.