Saturday, 17 January 2009

Indignation fatigue (2)

It was only last Saturday that I wrote of the apparent (and it is apparent) indignation fatigue that has seized the nation.

And it was only a couple of months ago, at the start of October that I wrote 'If the concerted actions of world central banks have stabilised financial meltdown, they have won us a breathing space, not a reprieve'.

That weekend in early October the media were concentrated on wall-to-wall coverage of the bank rescue that saw the phenomenal sum of £37bn injected into the British banking system.

Today the papers report a further £200bn of tax funds to be pumped into the collapsing and sclerosed arteries of the country's banks, but it's way down the news agenda. We're not excited any more about fantasy money in a fantasy economy.

And the news that Jack Straw is to introduce an Order - not a bill, as I wrote below - to exempt MPs from the FOI Act draws hardly a murmur across the normally vocal blogosphere. It means, of course, that this time the Lords can't block this move. It's going to happen.

As dawn breaks on another bleak day I wonder what another week will bring.

A pedant writes ...

The Mail is quite wrong in referring to FM Lord Bramall as a 'retired general'. At the age of 86 he continues to be a serving officer. Along with 74 year old FM Lord Inge.

Field marshals are unique in remaining on the active list for life. It's one of the delightful minor quirks that continues to elude Labour's ruthless destruction of all such national idiosyncrasies.

And Ld Bramall at 83 still had the sense to deck the repulsive Greville Janner in 2006.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Penny shares for all!

Mickey Clark gives column inches in tonight's Standard to brokers' predictions for the banks ...
But there are those who think it is no longer prudent to hold shares in banks that have been part-nationalised. Full nationalisation cannot be ruled out, and they calculate the shares in Lloyds TSB, HBOS and RBS, 3.6p up at 43.5p, might only be worth 1p apiece. HBOS stock remained suspended ahead of the start of trading on Monday in shares of the enlarged company after the completion of its merger with Lloyds TSB.
HBOS and RBS shares at 1p each? I'll have a tenner of each, please.

A date for the diary

The Countryside Alliance has emailed to encourage localists and others to attend a key public meeting at Portcullis House on the 10th February. Oliver Letwin and Julia Goldsworthy have confirmed and Hazel Blears has been invited.

My council have signed up to the new powers provision in the Sustainable Communities Act, so I'll be fascinated to hear how it's going to work.

Meeting details on the localworks site at http://www.localworks.org/node/2

The filth at the heart of our democracy (2)

So Jack Straw is to introduce a special bill next week to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act, is he? I can only repeat what I wrote when the scum passed Maclean's filthy little bill:-

Yesterday members of parliament confirmed why their self-given appellation of 'honourable' is a risible kick in the shin to anyone outside Parliament. Their reputation today has fallen lower than the foetid scum in the sewers beneath our feet. If I hear a single word out of a single one of these rank little turds today it will be a word too many.

They complain that the media fails to uphold respect for them, fails to uphold their dignity. Ah yes, like the dignity they displayed after awarding themselves another ten grand recently - when they stuffed their pockets and handbags with tens of thousands of pounds worth of free stamped envelopes in advance of restrictions limiting them to just six grand's worth a year. And then tried to block the facts of their gluttonous looting from the public.

That only 60% of the electorate turns out to vote for them they ascribe to 'apathy' or to problems with the voting system. Let me make it very clear for them; the reason sixteen million citizens don't vote is that they don't like you. They don't like your pompous posturing, your public virtue and private vice, your personal greed, your abuse of the position with which they have entrusted you, your smug piety, your casual mendacity or your elevation of Party and your avarice for office above the interests of your constituencies.

No amount of inane and destructive voting gimmicks will regain the democratic attachment of these lost sixteen millions; they will not be seduced by postal or internet voting, or polling booths in Tesco. They don't vote because they are angry, disenchanted and alienated by your contemptible behaviour.

Since 1979 we have seen millions of members of your parties walking away. Only 1.4% of the electorate are members of the three main parties today. Yet since 1979 you have dipped ever deeper in the public purse for your pay, pensions and allowances; you have distorted the democratic safeguard that was intended to recompense an ordinary man or woman for giving up their trade or profession whilst in Parliament to a system that strengthens incumbency.

My contempt for your utterly ignominious, loathsome, sordid and wretched passing of Maclean's bill is beyond words.

But soon, my most dishonourable friends, that Augean stable of yours will need cleaning.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

URL sought - can anyone help?

Sorry to be a techy div, but apparently a new Labour site has launched and I can't seem to find it.

Anyone know the URL, please?

Destroying local institutions destroys aspiration

Two stories are running in the papers that are not unrelated.

Firstly, Harman's lunatic proposals to legislate for social mobility. After having thrown billions of tax money at ever more desperate social engineering experiments, Labour still can't admit that you can't achieve social mobility through State diktat. The State can't light in the breasts of the least advantaged the flame of aspiration, and without aspiration nothing will shift them.

Secondly, the findings that local councillors are becoming even older and even whiter, with an average age of 59 and many still serving in their 70s and 80s. As we face local elections in 2009 and 2010, many local parties have become so depleted that they won't even find candidates to stand.

Over the last thirty years, local councils like so many other local institutions have become powerless and have been undermined by a central State determined to impose central bureaucratic control over the minutae of our lives. It's government that determines exactly how many pieces of litter can accumulate in each 100m stretch of our roads. Government that dictates how each hour of each teaching day in each school should be used. Government that sets every petty standard in a poisonous crusade to eliminate all intermediate institutions between atomised individuals and the central State.

Those that still serve as councillors often do so from a sense of duty rather than harbouring any illusion that they can make much of a difference to anything. Small wonder hardly anyone under forty, or women, or minorities feel disposed to waste their time in this way.

The stagnation of social mobility and the baneful decline in the status of intermediate institutions are related. Local institutions offered stepping stones within reach. Social mobility doesn't come from people taking huge leaps but small steps; local networking, local party membership, the real authority of the local church and local professionals, the recognised status of one's MP. When the vicar, the doctor, the solicitor, the local councillor and the bank manager, grounded in their area, familiar with its people and committed to their interests, were figures of local authority they stood on a step of a many-stepped pyramid. They were part of a network of horizontal social ties. Within these local networks, the flame of aspiration could burn. Want to own a car like the local solicitor's? Pass your eleven-plus.

Now that these horizontal ties have been displaced by an impenetrable tangle of vertical threads running from each individual to a distant and malign central State, the pyramid has no steps. Its sides are as smooth as glass. Society stagnates. The parties are dying for want of members. Councils are atrophied. Democracy is corroded.

Unless we start to reverse this ruthless central Statism of the last thirty years we risk losing something infinitely precious.

The lie that slips so easily from Malloch-Brown's lips

In a Lords debate on Tuesday, Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked the minister:
My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why those who prate on about democracy and the will of the people will never accept no as an answer when it suits them? Do the Government understand that the French and the Dutch rejected the constitution and then the Irish rejected the Lisbon treaty? Is that not "No" enough for the Government, or are they prepared to accept the will of the people?
To which Malloch-Brown replied:
My Lords, the constitution that was rejected by the Dutch and the French led to very big changes, which led to a treaty that was no longer a constitution. With 24 countries having approved the treaty, I am not sure whether the voters of Ireland should have a right of veto over the aspirations of all the other people of Europe. I am not sure whether that is or is not democracy.
Over the aspirations of all the other people of Europe? Malloch Brown is not mad or stupid. He knows as well as anyone that the majority of the people of Europe are opposed to the Constitution Treaty. Yet he stands on his hind legs and declares exactly the opposite. He lied.

I simply cannot understand why otherwise sane and intelligent people slip so easily into lies and self-delusion over Europe. That they are prepared to trample the democratic will of the people underfoot in order to realise their insane vision of a federal Europe makes them every bit as fanatical and dangerous as al-qaeda.

And if they're prepared to ignore the democratic will on this, what else are they prepared to do?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Shriti Vadera's green shoots?



No further comment.

Politics is not a profession - part 6

Peter Oborne has done well in identifying so powerfully a new political class whose malignant grip on our political institutions is corrosive of democracy. Politics is not a career. Politics is not a profession. Politics is something each one of us engages in as part of our everyday living, as normal as eating or breathing. And standing for election to occupy a democratic position is something that should come after having gained valuable experience in some other walk of life, not after having been a students' union Ents officer and spending a couple of years as an MP's researcher.

The graph below, published by the Parliamentary authorities, shows the worrying rise in MPs with no background other than 'politician or political organiser' up to the 2001 elections:

You will see that in 2001 the number of these had risen to 66. In the 2005 elections this rose yet again, off the scale, with 87 MPs having done nothing worthwhile in their lives but playing politics before entering the house.

The real debate is not about MPs with business experience (of whom at the 2005 elections Labour had 25 and the Conservatives 75) but about MPs with no experience of anything at all.

Against 87 know-nothing MPs we now have just 118 MPs with business experience, and the 2009 / 2010 elections could see them being overtaken. In 1987 we had 161 MPs experienced in business.

It is not surprising that 11 MPs have been miners. What is slightly surprising is that one of them is a Conservative (which one?). Nor is it surprising that Labour has 54 MPs who were school teachers or worked in local government or the civil service as against 12 Conservatives with such backgrounds. And less (fewer?) than 12% of MPs were barristers or solicitors before entering the house, which upsets a few popular stereotypes.

The HOC's 2005 analysis of MPs (from which the above stats came) makes useful reading. But more useful is our awareness of the relentless rise of a malignant metropolitan political class. And for this we must be grateful to Oborne.

These boors aren't real Scots

I have never met an ignorant Scotsman over fifty. I have, many times, on construction sites, in workers' boozers and on trains, met ordinary working Scots of this generation whose erudition would put an English banker to shame. These are men who don't confuse Rimbaud with a fictional American mercenary. There was something about aspiration in Scotland up until the sixties or so, or until the malign effects of Welfarism kicked in, that gifted even poor Scots with a superlative liberal education.

This generation would never have confused the interests of the Scottish nation, that is, the Scottish people, with those of a Scottish State. The confusion of nation and State, enhanced by such historically risible pap as 'Braveheart', has sadly created a boorish generation of younger Scots whose racism towards the English is turning increasingly violent.

A further incident, an attack on a young English woman this time, must not lead us to imagine such behaviour is typical of the Scottish nation. It isn't. These are the actions of an ignorant boorish rabble whom most Scots would disown.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Facial recognition and doppelgängers

I know I bear an uncanny resemblance to at least two people I've never met. Or it might be the same person.

The first time I was made aware of this was in an obscure south London pub a few years ago. A bloke approached our small group with great familiarity but it was my shoulder he squeezed and me he greeted with a grinning "Allright, mate; how's it going"

"Um, very well, thank you" I replied with creased brow, suspecting some upcoming request for money 'for a cup of tea'. A few more words were exchanged.

"It is you" he declared. "You work behind the jump at the Old Donkey".

"Um, no, I'm sorry. You've mistaken me for someone else." He was clearly unconvinced, and getting angry that I was perpetrating an unreasonable joke on him.

The second time was on a train to Lewes. A couple in their sixties in the seats opposite whispered and then smiled and nodded at me in a way that said unmistakeably 'we know who you are'. They didn't look as if they would frequent the Old Donkey, wherever that was. I smiled back. The Mrs ventured "Are you going to do any more adverts?".

There was nothing I could say that would convince them I wasn't an actor who was currently appearing in a TV advert. It would have been easier for me to admit that, yes, it was me, and that my agent had a few things lined up. It would have made them happy. My refusal to admit any relation to the person they were convinced I was irritated them. I think the phrase 'Too good for the likes of us" was murmured and the time between East Croydon and Lewes passed in a glacial agony of avoided glances.

Perhaps my south London barman had turned to acting. Or perhaps he was already an actor just doing bar work. Or perhaps it was two different people. Who knows.

Are machines any better at facial recognition than human beings? The roll-out of FRT to every high street CCTV camera will be here by the end of the decade.

I can only hope the acting / barkeep business continues to pay well, and that my doppelgänger never feels the need to turn to bank robbery.

Blears and perverse public policy



The Department for Communities and Local Government fund a body known as CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. CABE is a worthy body that produces much advice for architects and designers geared at improving the quality of our public spaces.
CABE has long campaigned for a less municipally constipated approach to the way in which people use public space; it produced a number of mildly witty photoshop images including those above intended to challenge the prevailing attitudes. It pointed out that the government's targets in relation to exercise and preventing obesity could be helped if people were encouraged, rather than discouraged, from using public space for informal sport and games. Councils, it said, should not be so risk averse. It claimed all sorts of other benefits - community cohesion, social capital - would flow from such liberalisation.

This, of course, is in direct contradiction to advice issued to councils by the, er, Department of Communities and Local Government.
Littlejohn reveals in today's Mail a 53 page memorandum sent to councils instructing them to carry out risk assessments before allowing ball games on municipal property. Littlejohn quotes the guidance stating: 'If not planned properly, football can be divisive and trigger conflict. Passions can get high and physical contact can easily lead to confrontations.'

In reality, we all know that councils will go straight from the guidance to erecting 'No Ball Games' signs on every scrap of municipal turf without the intermediate risk assessments.

What is it about Labour's control-freak central State that it can't bear even a handful of kids putting their schoolbags down as goalposts in the park without intervening?
Blears might as well cut all CABE's funding straight away and wind them up. They're clearly out of tune with her real message.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Time for councils to take stock

Council treasurers are stabbing at their calculators all over the country, wondering how to balance the books in 2009. Hard pressed middle class parents taking their kids out of private school are demanding state sector places, and as unemployment grows the demands for free school meals and school clothing grants is soaring. Housing benefit and council tax benefit claims are climbing. The collapse of recycling prices are creating huge additional costs in dealing with worthless waste, and the collapse in steel scrap prices will mean the return of burned-out abandoned cars to our streets, which councils will have to pay to have removed for the first time in years. Childrens' departments have become more risk-averse than ever in the wake of the Baby P case, and costs for fostering and care homes will soar. The collapse in the equities market will be placing huge inflationary pressures on council pension funds, and some councils will be having to find the money to pay for losses in Icelandic banks and Ponzi schemes. The cold snap will have added millions to the national gritting bill

At the same time, council incomes from traditional sources such as car parks, leisure centres, venue hire, weddings, licensing and commercial waste will be falling. And council tax increases are effectively capped by central government.

If ever there was a time when councils needed to take stock of their core functions, it's now. The Taxpayers Alliance are pushing at an open public door with their Non-job Report; although the June council elections are limited to county councils, they offer the prospect of leaving Labour without a single county council, and without a single seat on some county councils.

But the Conservatives councils should not be complacent. Currently 19 of the 27 county councils are Conservative controlled. They need to demonstrate that they can manage the financial effects of the recession without raising council tax or slashing services. Stephen Greenhalgh has shown how it can be done. It's time every council learned these lessons.

Cameron's stove



The Mail is very excited this morning over Marr's interview with Cameron. Not over the interview, you understand, but Dave's furniture. In not one but two articles, Dave is confirmed as having a fashionable wood-burning stove; one columnist even identifies it as a Franco Belge.

Sorry, chaps. Dave is smart enough to know that his home in London is covered by the Clean Air Act, and only either approved fuels may be burned, or wood burned in an approved appliance. And so far there's only one approved wood-burning stove for use in London, the Yorkshire Stove. The lack of a flue pipe should have given the Mail hacks a clue.

Dave's stove, I can reveal, is a Franco Belge Belfort flueless gas stove. No wood has ever fouled its pristine innards.

Over the next few days the nation's press will catch up with this and no doubt will tell us what it means. But you heard it here first.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

What now, Skipper?

The boaty magazines run a popular feature in which they pose a hypothetical situation at sea and ask readers to suggest solutions. Generally something like "You are 140nm west of Ireland making passage to Westport; winds are SW force 4-5. Suddenly the boom scroff shears at the vangs, and carries overboard, taking with it all your sails which you have laid on deck to dry, except a lightweight racing spinnaker. You were using the EPIRB to weigh them down and this has been crushed. The wreckage has fractured the rudder at the stock. On attempting to start the auxillary engine you remember you drained all the fuel in New England and forgot to refill the tank. A freak wave has shorted the dist board and both your VHF and HF radios are unserviceable. What now, Skipper?"

Lengthy discussions then ensue about fashioning a drogue from the spinnaker, running the engine on olive oil, fashioning oars from the spinnaker poles and rowing home, making radio batteries from urine and soot and the like. Sometimes the yotties get a little carried away and the discussions become heated and the readers spilt into polarised camps, somewhat akin to Lilliputian big-enders and little-enders passionately fighting for which end of a boiled egg to crack.

Such is the political response to the economic crisis.

Reading the accounts of those that have survived disaster at sea, one common survival factor emerges, and it's not seamanship. It's luck. A passing freighter fortuitously spots the stricken mariner, or an aircraft picks up a peep from the dying EPIRB.

There is a quote often attributed to Napoleon; "I know he's capable, but is he lucky?".

Now if there's one thing that Brown isn't, it's lucky. His Jonah-like qualities in not only bringing misfortune on himself but on everyone else have been well documented. Brown's chances of being spotted by a passing freighter are nil.

Right now the UK needs every ounce of advantage it can muster. And that includes luck.

Should we talk about Europe?

The Telegraph reveals the new YouGov poll today showing 64% of us want our relationship with the EU renegotiated. Earlier polls have shown over 70% of us want a referendum on the Lisbon Constitution Treaty.

The 2005 election (and how distant Michael Howard's campaign seems now) led the Conservatives to learn not to talk about immigration, welfare reform or Europe, a lesson Cameron has applied effectively. But four years is an eternity in politics. Immigration and welfare reform are now respectable subjects of debate, and it is Labour who are increasingly being seen as the nasty party in their efforts to capture the readership of the Daily Mail. Only Europe remains out of bounds as a subject of open Conservative debate.

If I were Cameron, I'd be inclined to leave things as they are. So natural Conservatives like me are going to vote UKIP in June for the European elections? So what? This should not be a reason for Cameron to declare a harder line on Europe if this would mean losing anti-Labour votes.

The best line to take is the one emerging at the moment; we're all equivocal on Europe, but Labour are slavish and devoted Europeans. Vote for whoever you feel comfortable with, just so long as it's a vote against Labour.