Saturday, 14 February 2009

Nationalisation of Lloyds Bank?

It's being seriously talked about, and I hope against hope that the government won't be tempted. The only bit we should be financially supporting is the retail banking division. Taxpayers should have no liability for international financial adventuring and the like; split Lloyds into its constituent parts, save the bits we should save and either sell the other bits off, or let them stand on their own feet, or let them fail.

The horror of a nationalised bank will be beyond those who can't remember the three month wait for a telephone, or British Leyland managers allocating body colour / upholstery colour combos to dealers irrespective of customer demand, or all the other horrors of nationalised industry.

All electors are equal, but some are more equal than others

I'm in the process of writing up a pamphlet that pulls together many of the strands about which I blog on our national political health. One thing that's becoming horribly apparent is the fundamental imbalance of the UK Parliament because of the astonishing deviations from the electoral quota that exist. The national electoral quota is about 68,000 - that is, one MP for every 68,000 voters. But the departures from this are staggering. Voter figures are provisional and from 2004 to 2006 and don't take account of the recent minor boundary changes:-

TOP 15 UNDER-REPRESENTED UK CONSTITUENCIES

Daventry - 89,000
SW Norfolk - 89,000
Banbury - 88,000
S Norfolk - 87,000
Devises - 86,000
NE Cambs - 86,000
SE Cambs - 85,000
Northampton S - 85,000
Stratford on Avon - 85,000
Harrow E - 85,000
Taunton - 84,000
Ealing Southall - 84,000
Kingswood - 84,000
Westbury - 83,000
Bracknell - 82,000

TOP 15 OVER-REPRESENTED UK CONSTITUENCIES

Na h-Eileanan an Iar - 22,000
Orkney and Shetland - 32,000
Meirionnydd Nant Conwy - 34,000
Cynon Valley - 44,000
Montgomeryshire - 45,000
Caernarfon - 47,000
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross - 47,000
Vale of Clwdd - 49,000
Ynys Mon - 50,000
Ross Skye and Lochaber - 50,000
Rhondda - 50,000
Aberavon - 50,000
Wrexham - 51,000
Islwyn - 52,000
Ceredigion - 53,000

That a Scots voter's vote is worth more than four times as much as an English voter's vote in the worst case is deeply disturbing. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky in giving evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Graham Committee) in 2006 said:
Clearly, it is difficult in a majoritarian democracy to draw boundaries properly because on the one hand you want mathematical fairness, you want constituencies to be of equal size; on the other hand you do not want to be changing them every five minutes because of population movements. You want to take account of local communities, local government boundaries. However, the problem with the British system is that we take account of everything else apart from mathematical equality and so the result is that the difference between the largest and smallest constituency in electorate is just unacceptably large. I think that you would find it certainly is against OECD standards and, dare I say, the standards of the UN Committee on Human Rights, if that is a consideration. I think that it would also probably be against the UN Declaration of 1949 which says that elections have got to be fair. Clearly, if you have one constituency which is four times the size of another, then its electors have one quarter of the voting power of those in another constituency and therefore the situation is unfair.

If I can just give briefly the situation in, say, Australia where the system allows up to 3.5% deviation from an electoral quota, New Zealand up to 5%, Germany up to 15%, Canada up to 25% and Singapore up to 30%. We are beyond that so we are off the radar as far as international practice is concerned. I think that causes some real problems of mal-distribution of seats in Britain.
EDIT

Ahem. Readers have just reminded me that the Isle of Wight, with 108,000 voters, is by far the most under represented one. Apols.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Damian Green arrest - FOI outcome, charges decision?

Back in 2008 in the wake of the arrest of Damian Green MP I submitted FOI requests to the Home Office and to the Metropolitan Police. I asked the Home Office for
  • 1. Communications to or from the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith MP, in relation to the potential arrest of Member of Parliament written or received after 1st November 2008 and before noon on Thursday 27th November 2008.
  • 2. Minutes or meeting notes where the Home Secretary was present between the dates and time as above.
  • 3. Written communications between civil servants in the Home Office, civil servants in the Cabinet Office and officers of the Metropolitan Police Service in relation to the potential arrest of an MP between the dates and time as above.
  • 4.Briefing notes or documents circulated to Ministers and others by civil servants in the Home Office that mentioned the potential arrest of Member of Parliament between the dates and time as above.
They have responded that in relation to requests 1, 2 and 4 they hold no information. This supports Jacqui Smith's statement that she had no prior knowledge of Damien Green's arrest.

In relation to Question 3, they have referred me to THIS, a memorandum of the roles of the Cabinet Secretary and David Normington in Mr Green's arrest.

I am considering whether this meets the terms of my request.

What is becoming clear is that this whole affair was orchestrated by mandarins, who felt they needed no political steer before extending their actions to a sitting MP.

The MPS have also responded today rejecting my request. This comes with news that Mr Green's bail has been extended until April; however, this flurry of activity may suggest a decision on Mr Green's prosecution is imminent.

I'll blog more on this when I've given more thought to the issues.

Villagers act on careless drivers

We're all familiar with the collective efforts of small villages to preserve their amenity against the efforts of careless drivers; the locally-made signs, and the sense that the curtains are twitching to note down the registrations of offending vehicles. It seems this is not a recent phenomenon. From the pages of the Ipswich Journal of 19th February 1803:
Last week the following persons were convicted in the penalty of 10s. each, before the Rev Fran. Capper, one of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace for this county, viz. James Holmes servant to Rich. More of Bedingfield, for misbehaviour in the King's highway in the parish of Easton, on Wednesday se'nnight, being in liquor, and more than 100 yards behind his waggon, drawn by 5 horses. Jonathan Shelver, servant to Barnaby Shelver, of Rishangles, for misbehaviour in the above parish, by driving a waggon with 4 or 5 horses on the same day, and walking at a considerable distance from them. Wm. Ward, servant to John Whitmore of Bedfield, for being asleep in his master's waggon, on the same day and in the above parish, and of course had no rein or reins in his hands whereby he could guide his horses. John Whistlecraft, servant to Nath. Welton of Bedfield, for driving a waggon on the same day with 5 horses in it, in the parish of Easton, and sitting in the buck of it, without any rein or reins in his hands. Robt Hawes, servant to Sam. Malster of Horham, for a similar offence in the parish of Kettleburgh. We understand the inhabitants of the several parishes of Earl Soham, Brandeston, Kettleburgh and Easton, have agreed to use every means in their power, to bring to punishment all such offenders on the King's highway, when and where-ever they shall meet with them.
I love the image of the horses, knowing exactly the route home to their stable, plodding along unguided with the drunken carter staggering along the road behind them.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Update: dag definition

In response to, er, a single email from a non-agricultural correspondent querying my use of the term dag in:
The public have never been so far removed from the world of the political class, have never been more cynical about politicians and their dags, and have never been more disillusioned about standards of probity in Parliament.
I should explain that a dag is a faeces-caked lump of wool that hangs from a sheep's bottom. They often get fly-blown and develop maggots, so are not a good thing. I suppose hangers-on is a politer expression.

Right. Carry on.

Bent Mandarins must face trial

Public servants are in a position of special trust and owe a duty of stewardship over public funds that far exceeds the responsibility of the senior executive of a plc over shareholders' funds. It is absolutely necessary that public servants who are given custody over public funds are not only removed from any improper influence, but that they are seen to be removed from any improper influence.

The Telegraph's exposure of scores of Mandarins swilling in the troughs of the nation's richest companies is not only a matter of disgrace, it is a matter that merits the Attorney General's consideration for prosecution.

The Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 as amended by the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916 remains on the nation's Statute Book. The legislation contains a presumption of corruption;
2. Where in any proceedings against a person for an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, or the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889, it is proved that any money, gift, or other consideration has been paid or given to or received by a person in the employment of His Majesty or any Government Department or a public body by or from a person, or agent of a person, holding or seeking to obtain a contract from His Majesty or any Government Department or public body, the money, gift, or consideration shall be deemed to have been paid or given and received corruptly as such inducement or reward as is mentioned in such Act unless the contrary is proved.
If any of the great public companies that poured swill under the snouts of these mandarins hold a contract with government (and it's a fair bet that all do) then Brian Bender and his chums should face up to seven years in jail.

Prosecutions under the Act need the personal approval of the Attorney General. So, Baroness Scotland, over to you.

Geert Wilders

I don't like the man. I don't think his film, Fitna, is of any real quality, or advances the West's advantages one iota. But I applaud both him and Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox for their brave and principled stand in continuing with a planned showing of the film on the Parliamentary estate.

John Stuart Mill wrote
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
To pretend that there is not a collision of values between the West and Islam is to be both stupid and purblind. I believe that our values are right, and theirs are wrong. And foremost amongst our values is freedom of speech, thought and assembly. There must be no retreat, not one step back, on this principle.

Will Cameron hammer Labour for sleaze?

With news that Labour's four bent lords are not to face criminal prosecution for corruption, and that the Home Secretary will not face a standards investigation for snaffling dodgy expenses, it may appear that there's plenty of ammunition there for David Cameron to fire at Labour. But will he?

Peter Oborne believes that the political class have more in common with eachother than they have with us, the voters. If he is right, then Cameron will be disinclined to make political capital out of Labour's sleaze. MPs as a body may also be of the view that public intrusion into their misbehaviour has gone too far, that it's time to close ranks, and that refusing to take action against bent MPs uncovered by the media or bloggers is the best way to stop all the probing.

If there's a scintilla of truth in the above, it will do MPs and their dying parties no favours. The public have never been so far removed from the world of the political class, have never been more cynical about politicians and their dags, and have never been more disillusioned about standards of probity in Parliament.

I sincerely hope Cameron will declare his stand against sleaze, and excoriate Labour and any members of his own party found to be corrupt. But I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Let's hope the Stallion of the South is, er, a Stallion

When Epstein carved Oscar Wilde's tomb in Pere Lachaise with the figure of an angel the French were outraged. The angel had been fully endowed with the attributes of a male angel. The city authorities covered it with a tarpaulin and posted gendarmes to guard it. Someone came up with the idea of affixing a bronze figleaf. A very large bronze figleaf. Soon this too had been removed. Finally, it took the efforts of hammer and chisel to reduce the angel to something the Parisians considered proper.

And it's not only the French. Look back at older renditions of the lion and unicorn that support the arms of the realm. They are both quite unashamedly and very obviously male, and of a proportion unknown to nature. With the loss of national virility, the heraldic limners were tasked with reducing the proportions towards something to which not even Harriet Harman would object.

And I'm astonished that the Cerne Abbas giant has been permitted to retain his, er, club in these microphallic times.

But if we're to have a 50m stallion standing proudly atop the Downs, let's be adult about this and ensure that even train passengers passing at 90mph know damn well it's a stallion and not a mare.

Poacher turned poacher

Sir James Crosby's move to be Brown's deputy head at the FSA after his disastrous mismanagement of HBOS is not a tale of poacher turned gamekeeper. It is more poacher finding woods more fertile with game to exploit.

At a time when the banks, with implicit government connivance, are trying hard to pretend that they remain viable, in the face of levels of debt that dwarf the nation's GDP, appointments to the FSA are a critical indicator of the connection of the government with reality. Bankers are in deep denial. They continue to imagine that they can weather this storm, buy back the government's stakes and carry on as they did before. In Crosby they have a convincing mouthpiece. Make no mistake that Crosby has undergone some Damascene conversion; he continues to whisper the bland assurances that Brown wants to hear on behalf of the banks. That he is utterly careless of risk has already been demonstrated. How much more so now when it's taxpayer's cash at risk, taxpayers even more removed from Crosby's care than were his shareholders.

The banks are broken. But our chances of the FSA admitting it, with Crosby and his like at the helm, are zero.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Conor Gearty and Tom Harris increasingly deserted by the left

There was a minor flurry on Tom Harris' blog when he was sent a copy of 1984 by the Libertarians. He genuinely couldn't see the problem - and I believe he was quite genuine in being unable to understand why people were so angry about the erosion of our liberties. It was confusing. Why couldn't we see it was all for our own good? he asked.

Conor Gearty is equally confused. Gearty writes:
There are two strands to the concept of liberty which are in opposition here. One is the libertarianism we have just been discussing, the "Englishman's home is his castle" school of thought. The other is the position of the civil libertarian who sees the freedom of protest as essential to the proper running of our democratic state because he or she ultimately believes in the power of the state to do good. The first wants to hide from society, the second wants to make it better.
No, Conor. Firstly the State is not the same as society. And secondly a belief in 'the power of the State to do good' often means a disbelief in the power of society to do good. The Leviathan State and its supporters don't trust society.

As Henry Porter writes
At base, Gearty believes that the collective – that is to say the government's or state's needs – must always trump individual freedom. I take the view that there has never been a state or government that is innately wise or good; that there has never been a state or government that does not need the help of a free people to monitor and scrutinise it and hold it to account. Good government is the product of a free people who are respected by those in authority and are not subject to the kind of suspicion we see in Labour's laws.

Gearty's argument is depressing, for it shows no real love of liberty, merely the habits of enamoured statism.
However, that this argument is being played out on the pages of the Guardian is encouraging. The Guardianistas may come late to the feast, but they are most welcome at liberty's table. Ultimately, it will only be a popular consensus across the political spectrum that will have the impetus to destroy Labour's malignant and corrosive attack on British liberty.

Third Sector just the State in disguise?

Is the 'Third Sector' just the State in disguise? Well, it is if it's funded by the central State. One of the roles of charities and voluntary sector organisations is advocacy and lobbying, of using their name and publicity to highlight the plight of their target subjects. When they are wholly funded by us, the public, their size and presence will generally reflect popular priorities. We will choose to give a few quid to a Prostate Cancer charity but refrain from doing so to the Ingrowing Toenails Association.

When the State distorts this 'market' by directing tax money at favoured groups at the same time as trying to pretend that the voices of this State-funded Third Sector are authentic, then we cease to trust the Third Sector as a whole. When the Ingrowing Toenail Association mounts a poster campaign that the Prostate Cancer charity can't afford because the State has decided to grant £250k to toenails but nothing to Prostate glands the end result harms everyone.

The Devil's Kitchen is in the process of bringing fakecharities.org back on line, and both the Capitalists and Dan Hannan blogged on this yesterday. I add my small voice to theirs.

This is even more pernicious when the State is distorting the message of the Third Sector with the sole purpose of funding a covert publicity campaign for its lunatic social engineering programme. Please take just a moment to open this .pdf from the Department of Health detailing their current grant funding.
  • £60,000 to Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (A.B.H) to advise pilgrims to Mecca of health issues
  • £17,342 to Central African Womens (sic) Support Group (CAWSG) to teach African women the benefits of walking
  • £250,000 to the Child Migrants Trust for family tracing (uhm, many child migrants were actually sent/smuggled here by those familes...)
  • £46,652 to the Coalition for the Removal Of Pimping (CROP) to befriend tarts
  • £45,000 to the Pyramid Theatre Company for a health play
  • £40,000 to Southall Black Sisters Trust (SBST) for domestic violence against black women
  • £40,000 to Voice UK for 'equal access to justice'
  • £40,000 to Weight Concern
  • £38,030 to Women's Therapy Centre (WTC) for domestic violence project
And many, many more. This is just the DH; each government department has its own grant programme. Plus a central £40m bailout. Plus all charities have generous tax breaks.

Artificially subsidising charities that would be unlikely to survive without State funding just because they echo a favourable political message robs real charities of income. Using State funds to 'buy' the political loyalty of clients of the central State robs democratic transparency from the political process.

The Terrence Higgins Trust has taken £220,000 from the DH. I have previously given quite generously to this charity; it used to do an excellent job of de-stigmatising HIV and campaigning for sufferers. Of late I have heard very little from them. I don't think I shall be donating to them again.

Update
=======
I've just looked at the THT's accounts. Only £3.23m of their 2007/2008 income was from voluntary donations, fund raising or commercial activities. The remaining £12.6m was from local / central government grants(>£10m), lottery funding etc. I regard lottery funding as tax funding. Wouldn't it be more honest of THT to announce itself as "80% Tax Funded"?

Monday, 9 February 2009

Twitter-free zone

I do, in fact, have a twitter account. I signed up nearly two years ago when it first appeared, made a test post, made another one and that's it. The account's still there. I may make another post this year just to keep it.

I also have a facebook page, but don't bother looking. There's nothing there.

I'm not knocking users, just that there's nothing there of much use to me. And for anyone who feels their life would be improved by knowing of each of my bowel movements, every delayed train, each supermarket queue and the exact time each night I retire to bed, I assure you with absolute certainty that you are mistaken.

The lights are going out all over Europe ...

There's a scene in Waugh's trilogy as the British army are being routed in Crete. A young temporary officer, a pre-war decoration on London's social scene, is seeking consent to cut and run. He suggests obliquely to his commander, a regular of ferric solidity, "They say it's all sauve qui peut, now."

"I'm sorry, I don't know the meaning of the expression" replies his boss.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard presents a litany of economic gloom in this morning's Telegraph:
  • Industrial output down 27% in Ukraine
  • Industrial output down 10% in Russia
  • Latvia's GDP contracting at 29% pa
  • Ireland job losses 36,500 in January
  • Spanish unemployment now at 14.4%, to go to 19%
  • German industrial orders down 25% year on year
  • French house prices down 9.9% in 4th quarter, steepest since 1936
  • Japan exports down 35% in December
  • Japanese economy contracting at 12% pa
  • China, Pacific tigers dump $190bn in bonds in past 15 weeks
Evans-Pritchard concludes "Readers have berated me for a piece last week – 'Glimmers of Hope' – that hinted at recovery. Let me stress, I was wearing my reporter's hat, not expressing an opinion. My own view, sadly, is that there is no hope at all of stabilizing the world economy on current policies."

By the time of the G20 summit in April, things could be a great deal worse. The spectre of civil disorder is growing. Spain's labour minister said yesterday that the country's economy could not "tolerate" immigrants any longer after suffering "hurricane devastation". To steal Sir Edward Grey's phrase, the lights are going out all over Europe, and I doubt we will see them go on again in our lifetime.

Pundits are predicting a rise in nationalism as a response to the crisis as though this were an irrational response, but I actually think it's quite a rational human response; that the strength of the tribe is greater than the strength of its individual members is a truth that's hard-wired into our DNA. There's no room in the United Kingdom for sauve qui peut; we stand together now or we fail.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Bank bonus calculation

I'm all in favour of not interfering to distort private commercial performance. Therefore I support all banks now paying the bonus that would be available to their staff had the taxpayer not intervened last year and recently to keep them open.

In many cases, this will be exactly equivalent to the bonus pool that Lehman now has available, i.e. zero.

Clearing up after ASBO

When a colleague came back after work one evening last week to pick up some contract valuations, I apologised lamely for the crumpled toilet-mat on the hall floor. So far today, it's remained upstairs, on the landing outside my study. Together with a carrier bag he's brought from the kitchen.

The toilet mat, plastic carrier bags and an old wooden curtain ring are now ASBO's toys of choice; the toilet mat to be dragged from the pedestal to a convenient place to be rolled in and fight with, the plastic carrier to wear (if he gets his head through a handle he can gallop from one end of the place to the other making, as far as he's concerned, the most satisfying noise) and the curtain ring is dropped down the stairs, pursued, retrieved, brought to the top again and re-dropped.

Yes, he's got expensive shop-bought cat toys which he disdains. He's got the whole garden, which amuses him for a while. But best of all he's got a toilet mat and a curtain ring. Sigh.

I wouldn't use the NOTW to line Gordon Brown's underpants

On 21st January 2007 the News of the World ran a major story headed 'Jade On Trial', complete with videos of a clearly distraught Jade Goody in tears during a highly aggressive grilling from NOTW hacks. Until they take the page down (as I'm sure they will) you can see it HERE.

The NOTW boasted "The News of the World grilled the 25-year-old with the tough questions TV host Davina McCall failed to pose about her treatment of Bollywood beauty Shilpa Shetty after Jade's carefully stage-managed exit from the hit Channel 4 reality show. Jade will get no payment for this article. Her £50,000 fee will go to charity—along with every penny of her £50,000 Big Brother fee. The £100,000 total will be divided between good causes nominated by Shilpa and Jade."

Lower than a snake's arse. I wouldn't use the rag to line Gordon Brown's underpants.

Social housing - the economics of the madhouse

The reporting this weekend of London councils paying their council house tenants to move to areas of low council house demand reveals an administrative system not only in chaos but actively working to create problems for itself.

There was a time, before needs-based letting, when council house tenants were not very different from any other segment of the population; with an equal propensity to work, an identification with their area or neighbourhood, and social mores and standards that were indistinguishable from home owners. As the Hills Report found, council tenants tend to stay put a long time. And over the lifetime of their tenancies they will enjoy, on average, the benefit of subsidised rent worth £65,000 at Net Present Value. Many existing council house tenants will have been in their homes for a long time, pre-dating needs-based letting obligations.

Most of the new demand for social housing is from immigrants with exceptional leave to remain or young women of no means who have decided to bear a child. But as Migrationwatch have shown, the number of new social housing completions comes nowhere near even meeting the demands of asylum seekers, as their graphic below shows:



Over the nine years 1997 -2005, the number of grants of asylum and ELR totalled over 216,000 compared to 167,000 additional social and local authority homes built in this period.

Councils have only two real options; build more social housing, or free-up existing social housing. As both immigrants and asylum seekers and young single mothers want to be housed in areas where their mates live, freeing-up existing social housing by offering incentives to existing tenants to move to the seaside is a rational move.

What of the private market? Private housing targets were driven by the Barker Review. A significant driver for Barker's recommendations was to adjust the supply of new housing to reduce house price inflation towards a long term target of 1.1% in real terms, for which they found an additional 120,000 houses a year would be required.

Right. So the reason we're building so many new houses is (a) to accommodate immigrants and (b) to control house price inflation. But of course these two things are linked; without housing demand from immigrants, aggregate demand would be significantly lower and house price inflation would be lower.

And now, of course, house price inflation is no longer a problem. In fact, the government now agree that the housing market needs a stimulus to increase confidence - in fact, that confidence in the housing market is central to the UK's economic recovery. Following the reasoning of the Barker Review, the way to do this is now to restrict new housebuilding, to decrease supply and increase demand. And this means decreasing the supply of social housing as well as private housing. If government wants to spend to keep builders in work, better to direct resources to public infrastructure projects than housing.

But what of the councils' legal obligations to house all those asylum seekers and single mums? Well, the legislation needs to be scrapped. And anyway, London needs its subsidised social housing for its essential but low paid workers far more than for large workless Somali or Bangladeshi families. If there's spare social housing capacity in Great Yarmouth, or Bridlington, or Scarborough, then by all means let them take it. But starving ourselves of nurses and care workers in London in order to house and provide welfare benefits for asylum seekers in the location of their choice is insanity.

An end to needs-based letting should not only be high on Cameron's agenda, but if Brown is in the slightest bit serious about putting the nation's economic recovery before his personal and party interests, it will be high on Labour's agenda too.

Technically, she's innocent

A recent re-run of a few old episodes of Rumpole included a court appearance of a member of the Timsons, a family of south London villains who provided an income stream for Mortimer's fictional barrister. Timson's freezer was found full of antique silver by the police, who thought they had a strong case. Rumpole, aware that the owners of the haul would by then have claimed their insurance and spent it, and would therefore be unlikely to come forward and claim it, based his defence on the fact that there was no evidence that the silver was stolen. Timson was acquited.

Technically, Jacqui Smith is innocent of theft. Her appropriation of hundreds of thousands of public funds in housing expenses has been cleared by the Commons Fees Office. This grotesque and undeserved enrichment is apparently quite in line with MP's rules.

But when she next sits on the government front bench nodding her dull, porcine features in assent to some MP's point about bankers' greed, do you think it would be too much to expect even a minor frisson of guilt to run through her muddled head?