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?

Critical European Court judgement today

By the time I finish work today, we may have the judgement of the European Court on whether the State can take and retain DNA samples from innocent persons.

The arguments are more complex than might at first be imagined. A taste of the issues is available at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2002/1275.html. Amongst the rather chilling judicial views of the Lord Chief Justice sitting with LJJ Waller and Sedley is:
There is nothing in the Convention setting a ceiling on the level of respect, which a jurisdiction is entitled to extend to personal rights. In this jurisdiction I would not expect a court to necessarily follow the decision of the Commission in Reyntjens v Belgium (1992) 73 DR 136 that:

“….. The obligation to carry an identity card and to show it to the police when requested to do so does not as such constitute an interference in a person’s private life within the meaning of Article 8 of the Convention”. (Paragraph 23.)
Sedley added
I would certainly not assume that a comprehensive national DNA database or samples bank, if one were to be lawfully compiled, would constitute an unacceptable invasion of privacy. It would be for Parliament to decide whether the intrusion and surveillance involved in assembling and maintaining such a resource is an acceptable price to pay for its advantages. Certainly the information available to this court suggests that, subject to these considerations, a universal DNA register would be a real and worthwhile gain in the endeavour to ensure that the guilty, and only the guilty, are convicted of crimes. In other words, whether it is the unconvicted population as a whole whose bodily samples are kept or only that section of it which has faced charges, the justification is the same.
If the judgement goes against the appellants, as I fear it may, it opens the door for the government to require us not only to carry ID cards with our fingerprints and photograph but our DNA profile recorded on them.

A combination of this loathsome and morally bankrupt government with an amoral and corrupt civil service committed to expanding and cementing the power of the State could well bring this to pass. As the global crisis deepens, even the previously unthinkable becomes possible.

The Police have faced a minor check this week over the Damian Green fiasco, and more of our nation are now convinced beyond doubt that the Police, the civil service and the whole apparatus of the central State are in urgent need of reform, but a critical mass has not yet been achieved.

But let's wait and see what today brings.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Sharon Shoesmith made a fine witch

When the mediaeval peasant saw his oxen stricken, his milk-cow dry and his crops struck by pest and disease the most proximate cause in his mind was the malign influence of witchcraft. The solution was simple; find a middle-aged single woman, preferably one skilled in herbs and poultices, and with a pet cat, and burn her. If the oxen, the cow and the crops didn't improve, it meant you'd burned the wrong one or there was more than one; either way, burning another witch would be sure to improve things.

News this morning that 'experts' have evidence that 10% of children are chronically abused reminds me of the satanic ritual abuse fad of a few years ago in - where was it? - the Orkneys? Huge squads of social workers descended on the remote place to examine infants' anuses and a star of David was triumphantly produced as evidence of witchcraft. A score of children were removed from their parents and lodged in care homes. We're really not that far advanced from the superstitions of the mediaeval peasant, are we?

Where the State has taken responsibility to itself for the care, upbringing and welfare of our children, displacing family, neighbours, church and community from such responsibility, then when something goes wrong a witch must be found for burning from amongst the ranks of the State's functionaries. No point in asking whether a smaller State and a bigger society could have prevented the horror in the first place - we reach for the pile of faggots and the matches. And Sharon Shoesmith, her drawn-on eyebrows being the modern equivalent of a pestle and mortar and a cat, made a fine victim. Will it improve the welfare of children in Haringey? Probably not.

Not only the Speaker has failed

In a piece in the Telegraph this morning Anthony King demonstrates he is somewhat past his sell-by date; when an academic produces this sort of anodyne guff it is high time to elevate them to an emeritus professorship and leave the thinking to those with brain cells left.

He correctly reels off all the indicators of our sick democracy, indicators long propounded on this blog; dismal voting turnout, collapsing party membership, public mistrust and cynicism, the growth of a corrosive and divisive political class. He then correctly lists a catalogue of government failures of the past thirty years. Then he goes off the rails; he concludes that government incompetence causes the indicators of a sick democracy, and if government was better executed then 16m voters would return to the polls, we would hold politicians in high regard and local party associations would have queues of prospective members outside their doors. It is, in other words, an argument not for big government but for even bigger government. This is guff.

What King utterly neglects to mention is that his catalogue of government failure of the past thirty years coincides exactly with the growth of the Big State from the late 70s onwards. The correct conclusion is that big government is bad government, and that the competent State that King looks back to was a small State.

As I look over the anticipated contents of the Queen's speech today, all I see is a litany of legislation to enable the Big State to further control the minutae of our lives; the pub struggling to stay in business after the smoking ban that puts on a lunchtime stripper and a drinks offer is now to be classed as a sex encounter establishment, the drinks banned and will see Jack launching an equalities claim against them for hiring Jill to strip rather than him (men being under-represented in the stripping profession and employers now being obliged to employ more of them). I look back to the words of Ralph Harris and weep:
Alas, you need government, but big government is subject to such flaws, incorrigible flaws. Big government is irresponsible government because they can’t know all the circumstances of the nation, the society, the families that they are administering. Big government leads to all kinds of deals, backstage deals about policies, and all the time they are governed not by the public interest, but by the self-interest of the politicians to maintain their power. You need politicians, but the more you can contain politicians to the central tasks they have to do, the less you tempt them into this vote-grabbing, this corruption and deceit which is inseparable from modern, mass, undiscriminating democratic politics.
While Anthony King catalogues the failures of big government without understanding why it doesn't work, the government brings forward yet another raft of controlling laws that will fail catastrophically to improve the well-being of the nation by one iota, will fail to address our democratic deficit, will fail to use our tax money efficiently, will fail to close the gap between the people and the political class and will fail to make government any more effective than it is now.

The focus today will be on the failure of the Speaker, but the greater failure is not the Speaker's but the State's.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Argos and catalogue lender goes bust

London Scottish Bank has gone into receivership (H/T Guido). Most of you won't have heard of it - but it was the bank behind Morses Club, which offered unsecured loans from £100 to £1,000 and Argos and Homebase cards and the finance behind Kays and Great Universal catalogue lending. With a branch network strong in Scotland and the North of England that employed around 2,000 staff and had around 220,000 customers, this collapse will leave thousands of poorer families without minor credit this Christmas. Not a good thing.

14 more massive landfill sites to come on stream

Just when the nation's councils were wondering where to dump all the waste paper they're collecting comes news of 14 new approvals for opencast coal mines last year. These holes in the ground will be massive; as the BBC report says:
In the case of the Delhi opencast mine in Northumberland, where two million tons of coal have been carved out of the ground in six years, the hole is as deep as a tower block and nearly half a mile (0.8km) long.
Now if only this lunatic government (coerced by a lunatic EU, it must be said) stopped charging £48 a tonne tax for filling them up, we might see a reduction in council tax ...

Why didn't Kier Starmer tell Jacqui Smith?

There are a few public officials who have direct access to the Home Secretary. Amongst them are the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

If the Commissioner on the 27th was too busy stuffing himself with prawn vol-au-vents and lashing out at Boris at his leaving do to pick up the phone to Jacqui Smith, then Kier Starmer, one assumes, might have bestirred himself to do so.

The Times tells us he was informed in advance of Damian Green's arrest. We must know whether he contacted either Normington or Smith. If he didn't, he is remiss. If he contacted Normington and he failed to tell Smith, Normington is remiss. If he told Smith, then she has lied and must resign.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Nick Robinson, do they mean you?

From Nick Robinson's blog on the 28th:

Tory outrage at the arrest of Damian Green mirrors the anger that many in Labour felt when Tony Blair's aide Ruth Turner was arrested in the cash for honours investigation. Although their cases are very different there are important similarities. Green, like Turner, was arrested under suspicion of conspiracy. In other words, he has not been arrested simply for receiving leaked government documents, but under suspicion of conspiring to have them leaked.
From this morning's Sunday Times leader:
Some in Labour circles have sought to compare the two episodes, claiming a moral equivalence between Mr Green’s arrest and that of Ruth Turner, a Downing Street aide, and Lord Levy, the former party fundraiser. There is no such equivalence. Cash for honours was about allegations of political corruption at the highest level and debasing the honours system. Mr Green’s “crime” was in helping expose matters that belonged in the public domain. Even if he encouraged an official to leak information, he was merely following a tradition that journalists and opposition politicians have adopted for generations.
Surely they can't mean Nick?

Time for a Royal Commission on policing

When I post on the police the responses tend to fall into two clear groups. From plods, it's generally something like "We're all that stand between you and anarchy, and we daily risk our lives for your welfare, you ungrateful sod". From libertarians (lower case l) its generally something like "Petty little fascists who don't know who puts the butter on their bread". The polarity of reaction does tell us something significant, though; the police are no longer, in Peel's words, the public and the public are no longer the police. This is not a good thing.

First, let's get rid of the myths on both sides. Being a policeman is not particularly risky. Occupational health statistics (death and serious injury) show that construction, or mining, or agriculture and forestry are far riskier occupations. Policing is riskier than clerical work, but less risky than being a scaffolder. That coppers believe it to be a high-risk occupation is one of the factors that has caused an alienation from the public.

Few police are fascists. You didn't need to see the recently published BNP membership list to know that the police are under-represented here; a read of the several police blogs around soon dispels the myth of fascist coppers. If they despair of bureaucracy, health and safety overkill (except their own H&S, of course) and political correctness, well, don't we all. If one thing unites the police blogs, it is a sense that they're ordinary common-sensical blokes striving to do their job against interference and criticism from all sides and they'd be far happier if we all just left them to get on with it.

One phrase you'll find on many police blogs this weekend in the wake of Damian Green's arrest is "No one is above the law". And it's the robotic repetition of this tired little mantra without an understanding of what it implies that's at the root of the problem.

A while ago, and over a few pints, a police officer senior enough to know better patiently explained to me the orthodoxy of the ideal relationship between the police and everyone else. We're individually appointed by the Queen, he said, and are answerable only to her. Our personal conduct must be above reproach. We must be completely independent and free from interference to do our job of upholding The Law (and yes, you could hear the capitals as he said those two words). We will uphold The Law without fear or favour. To him, this all seemed eminently reasonable, and he genuinely couldn't understand why I couldn't buy into it.

To me, what he was describing wasn't a police force but a priesthood, an elite. What he was describing was a million miles from Peel's 'The police are the public and the public are the police'.

The police blogs all poo-poo the idea of a police State and from their point of view it is a nonsense; their idea of a police State is a bloke in a uniform covered with silver braid sitting behind the desk at Number Ten. But it isn't this that's the danger. The danger is allowing a separate elite, a priesthood, to whom we have granted extraordinary powers to exercise those powers without our management and direction. In that sense we are all above the law; the law is the public and the public is the law, to paraphrase Peel. The only powers the police have are those we grant them - 'the law' doesn't have an independent existence.

The last Royal Commission on policing we had was in the 1960s, and gave rise to the malignant 1964 Police Act. This was the culmination of a long struggle by Home Secretaries of both parties to bring our police forces under greater government control. The arrest of Damian Green is the latest fall-out from the process of change that started with this Act.

The time is long overdue for a thorough and reasoned look at policing in the United Kingdom. It must be respected by all - not another Nu Labour whitewash inquiry under a tame and compliant judge, but a non-partisan inquiry trusted by police and public alike. Only a Royal Commission will do.