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Saturday, 21 February 2009

Dear Mr Leahy ....

Dear Mr Leahy,

You will be aware that the government's legislation requiring alcohol drinkers to be recorded on videotape will require you to fit CCTV cameras to the Sherry shelf (although it is less clear how you will be required to edit the footage; what about a browsing shopper just reading the labels on your own-brand Solera without making a purchase? Or the Imam's wife taking a short-cut to the halal cabinet via beer and cider?).

I would therefore like to reassure you that I have today fitted a CCTV camera to my front door, covering the doorstep and front path. When next your Tesco Direct driver delivers my weekly bottle of Madeira, I shall ensure that I record myself taking delivery of it, and undertake to keep the tape for 60 days as required by law.

Will this be sufficient do you think, or should we co-ordinate your store video of my order-picker taking the Madeira from the shelf with my video of it being delivered? Please let me know.

Warmest regards


To spill the BNP's wind, end needs-based lettings

The disillusionment of Labour's core C2DE vote is complete. They hear Harriet Harman championing every race, class and creed but theirs and the comment of one Swanley voter reported in the Indie that “They look at people like us as something on the sole of their shoes. People like Mr Golding will stick up for people like me.” sums up the consequences.

No amount of agonising on the blogosphere will work. These voters are not part of the blogerati. No amount of moral appeals will work; these voters see first hand the immorality of Labour's housing and immigration policies. A knocking campaign against the BNP won't work; Labour have lost the right to lecture them on good and bad. They've seen their traditional communities undermined by central Statism, strong horizontal networks atomised and the only benefit they've had from Brown's Boom has been sustained unskilled and semi-skilled work for those that want it. Now that is disappearing, too. What they say to eachother in the Costcutter queue or the betting shop counter counts for far more than being preached at by a remote Labour hierarchy via the BBC.

They're not articulate. They're not politically acute. They live insecure lives of short-term and hand to mouth subsistence. What they want, as the quote above, is someone to speak for them - to stick up for them. And words are not enough; they've had enough words. They need actions.

It's pointless for Labour to deny that new social housing isn't immediately filled with Somalis and Pakistanis and west Africans, many with large families, many with long term medical problems, few with jobs. They live next to them. They've got the evidence of their own eyes. Needs based letting and the legal duty to house will mean that such incomers are always given housing priority over their own children. And it's not just white C2DEs that are fed up; our settled Afro-Carib population are equally pissed off. The BNP is getting votes from black Londoners fed up with Bulgarians and Romanians crowding them out.

Needs based letting has encouraged the growth of the underclass. It has been the catalyst for an exponential rise in bastardy. In seeking to tackle one wrong it has created a score of others. It has made the UK a destination of choice for the world's economic migrants. Ending it will cause hardship and discomfort for some, but will reap rich rewards for the many. On the basis that public policy must seek to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, we must end this and the duty-to-house with immediate effect.

Charities will step in; old aircraft hangers will be fitted out with bunks, soup cauldrons will be lit, the British public will donate their cast-off clothing and shoes, volunteer doctors will provide a floor level of medical care. Word will filter back to Lagos, Mogadishu and Karachi and the pressure will fall.

It's too late for Labour, but not too late to win back those disillusioned hordes.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Duwayne, well done and welcome

I don't really care that Duwayne Brooks stood for the Lib Dems. I don't really care that he's had his share of encounters with the criminal justice system. And that he managed to escape being stabbed to death by racists the night he stepped off a bus with Stephen Lawrence is really secondary.

He won his Councillor's seat on Lewisham Council last night, and that's good news. Duwayne knows very well what life is like for a young Afro-Caribbean man on south London's streets and estates. And what's more important, hundreds of young black men in his ward will now finally feel they have a voice that speaks for them.

Harriet Harman and Polly Toynbee and all their putrescent and privileged ilk may delude themselves they are 'down with the niggaz' or whatever but a bloke with an Oyster Card that lives on the estate and buys his tinnies from the local Costcutter and knows what the inside of a police cell looks like will have more representative credibility in his flaccid foreskin than Harman and Toynbee have in their entire moisturised middle-aged cellulite hulks of bodies.

Well done, Duwayne, and welcome to Lewisham Council.

A new use for our cast-off rags?

The government has launched a campaign to stop us throwing out our old rags. Quite right too. That valuable cotton waste is now needed more than ever by those firms that manufacture the high-quality rag-paper on which billions of pounds of new banknotes are to be printed. I suggest local councils start immediately to collect it and dispatch it directly to the Bank.

Frank Field urges return of the Earnings Related Supplement

News during the week that unemployed French bankers were returning home from London to enjoy unemployment benefits of up to £70,000 pa must have been met with incredulity by newly unemployed British bankers. But never fear; Frank Field is on the case on behalf of our own, writing in the Times today:

The second prong of a new strategy must be directed at those now joining the dole queues. Many registering at Jobcentres for perhaps the first time in their lives are shocked that, after decades of making national insurance contributions, they are entitled to a mere £60.50 a week. This is the same sum that would be paid to someone who has never worked. It hardly reinforces the culture of work.

The jobseeker's allowance ought to be graded according to the number of years that a claimant has worked. It could be doubled to £121 for those with, say, ten years' of NI contributions and increased to £181.50 for those with 15 years. Work is part of their DNA - a more generous benefit payment will not stop them returning to work as soon as they can.

Ah yes. The old Earnings Related Supplement - abolished by whom?

A few unemployment basics

As unemployment rises a confusion about what it is, even at ministerial level, is starting to become apparent. The unnamed cabinet minister who was quoted recently as saying that "If unemployment goes to 8% that's still 92% of people in work" may well soon be experiencing first-hand the reality of his local Jobcentre Plus, but until he or she joins the queue I expect them to know at least the basics about the UK's labour market.

Before the recession hit, some 75% of those of working age in the UK were in work. The remaining 25% were unemployed, on sickness or invalidity benefits, in full-time education, or in an old fashioned way were housewives. Or househusbands. Or were of independent means and chose not to work.

Unemployment is a stock concept. People are gaining jobs and leaving jobs all the time. Frequently there's a short gap between people leaving one job and starting the next - so that even when there's full employment the unemployment register will always show a minimum. This is known as frictional unemployment. There will also be those whose borderline mental capacity, or physical ineptitude, makes them practically unemployable, though technically able enough to be classed as available for work. Economists can't quite agree on what the unemployment rate should be at a time of full employment, but I'd guess it would hover somewhere around 3%.

There will also be unemployment from structural changes in the economy; as mining and heavy manufacturing, for instance, wind down there will be a lag before workers in these industries re-skill and find new work. The UK has largely passed through this stage - this was the Thatcher revolution - and we should have no significant structural unemployment.

Finally there is demand-deficient unemployment, when the economy can't sustain the number of jobs that the working population are available to fill. This is the type of unemployment that results from the recession.

From another perspective, unemployment may be classed as voluntary or involuntary. The involuntarily unemployed will take a job at the market rate but are unable to find one. The voluntarily unemployed won't.

Right. Now when you hear a news broadcaster say something like 'Unemployment rises to 2m with vacancies at 500,000' it doesn't mean anything by itself; if frictional unemployment is high, it could actually mean we've got full employment.

And when the national statistician tells us that although 600,000 new jobs have been created in the past x years, 500,000 of them have been taken by immigrant workers, it tells us that voluntary unemployment in the UK extends to the number of unemployed above the frictional level, which may be fewer than or more than 500,000 workers, depending.

So we need to take tabloid-like employment stats with a pinch of salt.

And as we all know, governments of whatever persuasion try their best to hide the truth of the unemployment stats from us anyway; disguising the unemployed as being in education or training or sick or invalid is an old trick. If you're going to keep your eyes on one figure, I'd point you to the one of which our unnamed minister is ignorant - the percentage of the working age population in employment. The stats can be found HERE.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Take a look at Vail

Vail is a small community in Colorado with a permanent population of around 5,000 souls and a large seasonal visitor population. For a British equivalent, think Walton-on-the-Naze or somewhere like it.

Vail has a town manager and a town council of seven members of no discernible political affiliation. It runs its own police force of 31 constables and 32 support personnel, its own fire service which operates out of two fire stations and has five pump appliances and a ladder appliance. The town provides affordable housing for Vail residents, a library, maintains all streets and public works, waste, parks, tourism, licensing of premises for alcohol and the panoply of local municipal services. It manages planning and building control functions and environmental health. Oh yes, and it runs a free year-round bus service within the town and a subsidised service to surrounding hamlets and communities.

Most of the town's income comes from a local sales tax. Tourist hotel rates attract 9.8%, all other sales 8.4%. Of this, Vail gets 4% with the balance going to the County (Eagle County) and the State (Colorado). There's also commercial income from parking and permits, and a local construction tax that helps fund affordable housing. The town's finances are in good shape with healthy balances and a good proportion devoted to capital expenditure.

The town produces a comprehensive annual report - the 2008 report is HERE - that puts the annual report of my London borough, with fifty times the population, to shame.

The US has tens of thousands of Vails. And when I talk of true Localism, this is what I mean; a strong sense of place and community, real power and financial control, direct democratic accountability and shared aspirations for social and economic growth and betterment. And if I look between Vail and Walton-on-the-Naze I want to weep.

Busy busy day today ..

Busy day today so some early blogging; as I contemplate grafting for the next fourteen hours Iain Martin's comment in the Telegraph strikes me:
We learned last week that a 13-year-old boy fathered a daughter with a 15-year-old mother; it then emerged that the various members of the family account for £30,000 of benefits a year, and no one involved works. Six average taxpayers get up every morning and go to work so that such families don't have to. Why?

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

For those who doubt the growing disquiet over a 'police state'

Take a look at the comments on the BBC's 'Have your say' (H/T An Englishman's Castle).

Hardly an overwhelming endorsement of the intrusive State, are they?

Yes, I know lots of people write to their MP asking for CCTV cameras. What they're actually asking for is better local policing. To offer this as evidence that the population supports the intrusive State is a little disingenuous. And with the airline pilots - hardly members of the tinfoil-hat brigade - set to refuse to be ID card salami this hardly bodes well for something the government claims has widespread support.

My work brings me into contact with a very broad spectrum of people, both socially and politically. I can't recall one who wants more State snooping, more prodnoses, more databases or more draconian laws (except, it must be said, for dog fouling - the majority of ordinary people in the UK seem to support summary lynching for dog owners who don't 'pick up').

I need to go through the recent opinion polls to collate more evidence on this, but my own experience is of a growing disquiet at the growth of the intrusive State.

Iain Dale and Simon Jenkins on Localism green paper

As much as I would wish it wasn't the case, when Iain Dale wrote yesterday
However, the deep irony is that although they all have the theme of returning power to the people, on the finance side, nothing changes. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the Tory plans to freeze council tax are evidence of more centralising. In effect they stop local councils from doing what they might want to do.

Perhaps it's a circle which can never be squared until there is a wholesale reform of local government finance. But I can't see that happening even in the medium term. All political parties have filed it in the 'Too Difficult' tray.
It had a clear ring of a truth that can't be denied. Simon Jenkins, Localism guru, says much the same thing in this morning's Guardian:
The Tory leader has set his face firmly against the fiscal discretion available elsewhere in Europe. Like Brown, he trusts electors to pass judgment on national taxes, but not local ones. Nor will he contemplate reforming local government to give councils access to a buoyant revenue source, such as a share of income or business tax. Cameron's gimmick is from the fiscal dark ages.

Cameron confronts a government whose central institutions are more dysfunctional than for over a century. Not a week passes without some revelation of the dire state of Whitehall, of reckless freebies, mad-cap computer purchases, bonuses, revolving-door consultancies and utter waste of public money.

The Tories seem hardly to care. Earlier this month Cameron's colleagues agreed not to mention the home secretary's expenses fiddle for fear she might reveal theirs. Meanwhile they wish to keep in place draconian controls on a tier of government that, by every audited measure, is more efficient and less wasteful than Whitehall.

And all this is also true. But I retain a bounce in my step and keep hope alive in my heart and here's for why.

The fact that all three of the old parties - all, in their way, committed to central Statism, even the Lib Dems who want to be wholly State funded - feel compelled to make Localism noises tells me that they recognise the growing public dissatisfaction with total political control from Whitehall in a cosy relationship with central party HQs. All of them realise that their parties are dying, with no hope of revival from the centre alone, with State funding an impossible option for two or three years at least, and faced with the dire prospect of their combined memberships falling below 1% of the electorate over the same time period.

All of them recognise that the only hope of party revival is from the grass roots, from the local, yet none of them can yet bear to take the steps necessary to make this happen. And these steps include a true devolution of power from the centre, local control over tax and spend as well as service standards and the blossoming of a thousand flowers as local political associations drive policy development.

The deeper and more painful the recession, the more likely is radical political change. Either towards entrenched central authoritarianism, or towards increased local autonomy. Or possibly towards both at the same time. Either way, there are exciting opportunities for Localists as the wheel of change turns - and a growing will to seize them.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Cameron's commitment to Localism

It was three years ago, in February 2006, when I heard David Cameron speak at the launch of Helena Kennedy's Power Enquiry report. His support of a Localist agenda then, I must be honest, won me over. For the past three years I have watched for every mention, every recognition, of a Localist manifesto emerging; it has popped its head up, buried in speeches, given various mentions, but never allowed out on its own. The mild slapping-down given to Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell's 'Plan' was mildly discouraging. Today Cameron launches a major Localist policy initiative, with a short piece in the Guardian and an appearance on R4's 'Today' by Caroline Spelman.

Well, it's not 'Big Bang' Localism, but it's the nearest any party will get to it. And for that I applaud Cameron and lend him my full support.

I hope to constructively analise the policy paper as soon as I can, but there's an extra bounce in my step this morning.

Let's not let Zim be another Biafra

Before long, pictures of starving stick-legged and pot-bellied Zim kids will start hitting our screens. The Cholera epidemic, the breakdown of all infrastructure, the food crisis will put millions of innocent Zimbabweans through a hell of want.

We must help them by doing nothing. Aid, food, water treatment equipment or money will simply be stolen by Mugabe's regime for his supporters; the crisis will be prolonged, the suffering will continue. We learned this lesson in Biafra. The lives of tens of thousands of Biafrans could have been saved if the West hadn't poured aid into Ojukwu's failed breakaway state.

No punishment can be painful enough for Mugabe and his hideous witch-wife Grace. Mussolini and Clara Petacci's end, hanging upside down together, is a fitting end for Africa's evil genius and this ghastly woman. But let's ensure that end comes as quickly as possible - by witholding aid.

How many more serious voices will it take?

There are on the political left many naive but well meaning souls who simply can't understand all the fuss about civil liberties. Suckled at the teats of the State, the belief that it's fine for the State to use any degree of power because it's for our own good is in their bones. So far they've dismissed a vast national groundswell of disquiet as 'crankish' or the concerns of the 'tinfoil cap brigade'.

Today the ex-head of MI5 condemns Labour's intrusive State and the news leads the BBC's broadcasts.

The International Committee of Jurists has also just condemned the application of terror laws in the UK and the US.

And the House of Lords published a considered and well-reasoned opinion that damned Labour's Surveillance State.

How many more serious voices will it take before those naive do-gooders on the left who deny that there's anything to worry about actually start to use their little grey cells?

The tinfoil-cap brigade are no longer those who condemn our country's transformation into a Police State, but those who continue to deny it.

Monday, 16 February 2009

CPI, RPI, AEI and GDP all add up to the same thing

The Conservatives (or Conservativehome) have published a useful detailed paper setting out the options for an incoming Cameron government for rescuing the British economy from Brown's monumentally destructive blundering. It's worth careful reading.

The paper's author has estimated that Brown's spending is £219bn a year higher in real terms than the budget that Labour inherited in 1997. I suspect he's used the CPI. I did the same exercise using the Treasury's GDP deflator a few weeks ago and came up with £185bn a year higher. No doubt if the exercise were done using the Average Earnings Index or the RPI with or without X a slightly different figure will result.

Whichever figure you choose to use, it adds up to the same thing; eleven years of pointless profligacy that have achieved the square root of nothing.

Today we start Guerrilla photography

From today, if the police catch you with a camera in a public place taking a photograph, you will at best be stopped and questioned under anti-terrorist legislation and at worst will be arrested, thrown into a cell and your camera and / or images damaged or destroyed.

There is only one answer to this outrageous affront to innocent activity; guerrilla photography.

From our office windows, or using telephoto lenses, or over a busy road across which they can't run, today is the day we start snatching shots of policemen. It will be a snap and run campaign - one shot, then merge into dense crowds, or duck into a department store.

I have no doubt that the native wit and ingenuity of the British people will produce before long a magnificent crop of forbidden photographs and shame this useless law into desuetude.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Raedwald hunch right on the money

Blogging on the 'threat' from the US in the Binyan case on 4th Feb I said:
But I don't like being bullied by the US any more than anyone else does. And their facilities in the UK are too precious for them to lose, so I think the threat is an empty one - although it's remarkably convenient for the Foreign Secretary. My money's on Miliband being behind the whole thing rather than the septics. And perhaps that's why David Davis is protesting now.
The Observer reveals today that the 'threat' letter was solicited by, er, the Foreign Secretary.

David Davis is on the case and it looks like he's got 'Boy' Miliband bang to rights.

A few more electoral stats ...

Again provisional and need checking, but as follows:
  • UK population over 18 years - 48m 1
  • Registered to vote in General Elections - 45m 2
  • Number likely not to vote in next GE - 17.5m 3
  • Estimated errors on electoral register - >7m 4
  • Registered electors who are NOT members of any of the three main parties - 98.96% 5

1. ONS 2007 mid year estimate
2. ONS figure for 1/12/2007
3. Based on 2005 turnout of 61.28%
4. From Michael Pinto-Duschinsky's evidence to Commons select committee; over 3.5m on register who shouldn't be and over 3.5m not on register who should be
5. From membership estimates of 170k Labour, 230k Conservative and 70k LibDem

The positive face of Euro tribalism

By the time Franco ceased clinging to life in 1975, I'd already travelled across most of Europe and beyond. Ships and trains in those days rather than air; the sleeping car at the Hook of Holland that would take you to Rome, or Vienna, or Berlin was a thing of utter childhood delight to me. The tiny berth-light fitting with a ring-tray and an aperture to insert your wristwatch so as to display the dial next your sleeping head, the 'peephole' that allowed you to look out without raising the entire window-blind, the individual heater and radio control levers all made the sleeping compartment a real temporary home.

Between 1946 and the 1970s the continent repaired itself. Across Europe the agrarian class did what they'd done for a thousand years. Picked themselves up, mended the war damage, had babies and went back to tending their fields and livestock. War damage was still quite visible in the early '70s. Even in England, every town had an NCP car park sited on a bulldozed bomb site surfaced only with the detritus of shattered lives, fragments of crockery and rotting scraps of fabric amongst the crushed brick and roof tile underfoot as you walked from car to shops.

And though Hitler and Mussolini were legends to me, their chum Franco was very real. A wartime Fascist dictator who still ruled with fear and force a primitive and religiously superstitious people. There was still something dark and off-limits about Spain. The executed corpses were still warm in their hidden graves. My sleeper car never made that journey across the Pyrenees.

As travel, trade and communication broke down the barriers of misunderstanding across Europe and allowed me to learn first-hand that there's not much difference between what a German wants and what an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Hollander, an Italian or a Swissie wants so Franco's death allowed a degree of cultural cross-exposure that transformed Spain rapidly. It also taught me that although I was part of an English tribe, I was also part of a larger European people with a common culture and heritage. Our local tribal identities were not a barrier to a cultural commonality but added a wonderful and positive spice of difference. The national distinctions of the French Citroen, the German VW, our Austin Morris and Vauxhall were replicated ten thousand times in differences in food, clothing, furniture, household goods, toys and popular entertainment. Europe was a joy of discovery of the different.

Today of course every European city is blandly homogenous. The same cars on the streets, the same beers in the bars, the same goods in the shops, the same shop chains even. Europe's agrarian populations have largely disappeared. This has fostered the illusion that our tribal differences have also been homogenised, but they remain still under the surface and nowhere more so than in Spain.

The collapse of the Spanish housing bubble is far, far worse than ours. Their transition from small scale agriculturalists to factory and construction workers has been far more rapid. The drug-fuelled club culture of the coasts sits lightly on an ancient and primitive Catholicism that learned under the Moors the wisdom of knowing when to keep quiet. And the wounds of their recent past are still unhealed, the executed corpses still being exhumed by their children or in some cases their parents.

The Observer carries a not terribly deep piece on conditions today in Zaragoza. It's a piece that makes me long for my old French House chum Ed Owen's take on things - Ed was for some years the Times' Madrid correspondent and is a journalist who understands Spain as few others do.

I'm hopeful that whatever the depth of the recession the Spanish people - and the Portuguese, come to that - won't want to go back to totalitarianism. I'm hopeful that, because they're nearer to it than anywhere else in Europe, they'll rediscover the best parts of their tribal identity quickly. And if the druggy rave clubs are bulldozed into the sand and olive groves planted on the ruins, if they become more Spanish and less Eurohomogenous, I shalln't be too disappointed.

ACPO and NPIA: Stop this rot

The Mail leads this morning with an expose of the shadowy activities of ACPO, a private body beyond the reach of public disclosure law run by senior serving police officers with the encouragement of the Home Office. The piece neglects to include the activities of the NPIA, which 'owns' the national DNA database. Together, these two organisations are developing a covert and unauthorised national police command structure with the connivance of senior civil servants in the Home Office.

Unsurprisingly, Shami Chakrabati pops her head up for a quote after having been silent on this until now. As she has been conspiciously silent on Geert Wilder's removal from the UK. I'm beginning to wonder if she's little more than a media popsie after all.

I blogged recently about the Chief Inspector of Constabulary's most recent 'evaluation' of our police forces, which assessed their response capabilities to national strategic threats and of course found them less than adequate, pointing towards a national police command structure as being needed to secure competence in this area. It's a bit like assessing the police's competence to tackle a beach landing by a Russian armoured division, and concluding on the basis of the assessment that what the police really need are tanks, heavy machine guns and ground attack aircraft.

Senior Home Office civil servants, HM Inspector and the senior police officers who make up ACPO and the NPIA are all working towards something that there's no evidence is needed or wanted - a national police force. ACPO's statement to the Mail is quite explicit on this point:

In times of national need ACPO, on behalf of all chief officers, co-ordinates the strategic policing response. ACPO is funded in part by the Government in order to collectively develop advice for them. Project work which ACPO undertakes on behalf of the police service is at the request of the Home Office and goes towards public protection against serious and strategic threats that can only be tackled above force level.
At a time when the public mood is seeking greater local direction and responsibility for the police, when Cameron has put elected police chiefs on his party's political agenda, and when there is involved public debate on the future role of the police, this stealth manipulation and shadowy growth of bodies far removed from public accountability must cease forthwith.

Again, I call for an urgently needed Royal Commission on policing. I would urge readers to do the same.