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Saturday, 7 March 2009

Polly's PR enthusiasm is a counsel of despair

Writing in the Grauniad this morning, Polly Toynbee urges us all to support proportional representation to rescue British democracy. Nonsense. Polly is faced with the prospect of the anger of voters against Labour's failed government leaving her party with only a handful of seats at the next election, and is clutching at straws to try to preserve it. It is a counsel of despair aimed not, as she claims, at reinvigorating British democracy but to save a party already scrabbling in its grave-earth.

To be frank, she doesn't pay a lot of attention to statistics either. She writes:
The moribund party structure now serves mainly to put down political enthusiasm. Fifty years ago one in 11 people joined parties: now it is only one in 88.
Sorry, Polly, but it's far worse than that - see the stats HERE - actually only one in a hundred voters is now a member of one of the three main parties.

All that Polly's rainbow coalition of Lib Dems, Wimmin Against Coal Fired Power Stations, Socialist Dog Owners, Vegans for Wind Power and Compass Labour will produce is a great deal of heat and passion but no progress. And does she seriously imagine that Labour's ruthlessly centrist party structure is even interested in listening to voices other than the party grandees?

First Past the Post is the only system that gives us stable government; the problem we face is not that the electoral system is wrong, but that the main parties are dying in their present form, and must either radically reform or be replaced. What voters are rejecting is not FPTP but Polly's central Statism, her insulting and patronising conviction that she knows what's best for us, her hunger for rigid State control of the minutae of our lives and her bankrupt support for a corrosive and destructive system of State Welfarism.

Physician, heal thyself.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Adnams take Suffolk Punchs

Sorry, this was an opportunity for a headline that the financial press have totally missed but I couldn't resist. Punch Taverns have just sold three of their iconic Suffolk pubs to Adnams - the Levington Ship, the Butt and Oyster and the Waldringfield Maybush.

The pubs anyone knows today are a shadow of the three of them I knew in my teens and early twenties. Then they were either independents or Tolly houses, known only to those who messed about on the Orwell and the Deben in boats or those interested enough to follow pre-internet hearsay and word of mouth to find them.

The Ship was our meeting place for warm summer nights to be spent on the adjacent foreshore with fires made of driftwood, trying to cop off with convent girls, with party sevens and baked spuds in tinfoil. In those days it was pretty basic, with a landlady with a bad perm and impetigo who bent the age rules down to an easy 15 or so.

The Maybush is at the head of Martlesham Creek. It really is easier to get to by small boat than by land; a distinguished London architect house-guest once enthused at the prospect of a Sunday morning walk, and thinking him a man after my own heart I led him 'cross winter dikes and ditches, ploughed clay fields, frozen slippery planks laid precariously to bridge foreshore sludge, for about two hours to arrive triumphantly at the Maybush for 12.00 opening; winter beers and an open fire with the prospect of a few songs on the walk home. I was expecting plaudits. But the sod was spent. He ordered a taxi from Ipswich and wouldn't walk a yard further. The church, I told him, had a window made of coprolites. He couldn't have been less interested if I'd told him I'd crafted it out of my own dung. Lightweights.

The Butt and Oyster in our day was run by a splendid chap with an award winning RAF 'tache and Parkinsons. The kegs were racked at the back of the bar; he'd pour 2/3rds of a pint and bring it to the counter. He'd then pour another 1/3 of a pint in a separate pint pot, bring it to the counter and top up the first, this strategy against his permanently shaking hand minimising wastage. He was quite alright about dinghy mud on his floor and young teens in his bar supping bitter ale.

All three were taken over by chains in the 80s and 90s, lost their eccentric guvenors, barred entry to the under-aged, built dining rooms, replaced the quarry tiled floors with carpets and attracted a dreary clientele of estate agents and car salesmen with a menu of French onion soup and Brakes Brothers institutional pies. I went back to all three of them, and they were crap.

But I thought the post title was good.

Miners Strike 25 years on - I was there

During the miners' strike I was quarrying Magnesian Limestone in south Yorkshire, not a million miles from Doncaster with its NCB offices at the hub of the Yorkshire coal seams being worked some 3,000 feet under the rock we were quarrying. We'd stay up during the week and drive back to Suffolk on Friday evening down the A1.

It wasn't civil war, as some commentators are selectively remembering, but it was the most painful schism amongst the English people I've ever known, and afforded a glimpse of the true horror that widespread civil disorder would bring. For any idiots that imagine that riots and public unrest are somehow either positive or desirable, I'd urge you to think again.

I remember the police roadblocks on the A1, and the time we realised too late that we'd left our hard hats and boots in sight in the car; we were flagged into the 'arrest lane', ordered out and half a dozen burly coppers itching for a fight penned us tightly against their van. Only our utter passivity, our insistence that we were quarrymen, not secondary pickets and, I imagine, my southern public school accent saved us from a savage beating.

I remember being ashamed of having money in my pocket in the small mining village near our hole, and saying so to the tired woman in the village shop, and her great kindness and repeated assurance that it wasn't our fault; I saw the carrier bags, each with a sliced loaf, a tub of budget marg and a couple of tins of beans, being handed out to a small group of women and children, and my heart almost broke at their Yorkshire pride being so humbled.

I remember the rats, the shameless profiteers, men who came into the mining areas with wads of notes to buy the miners' cars at a third of their market value because those men couldn't even afford half a tank of petrol to drive their cars elsewhere to sell. I hope there's a special Hell reserved for them where they choke eternally on wads of grubby notes.

And when I bump into someone who lived through those times in south Yorkshire and a look of cold venom comes into their eyes and they wish Mrs Thatcher the most painful of deaths I don't argue; the pain and humiliation is so deeply seated in their souls that any rational justification of Conservative policy is pointless. I am instead filled with a great sadness that the schism should have been so deep and so long lasting.

There's a film on my eyes as I write. My great sorrow is for the ease with which human dignity was abandoned; the dignity of many police officers who behaved badly, the dignity of a proud people whose natural tenacity that has served this nation so well in the past just caused the prolongation of a struggle that couldn't be won, and the abandoned dignity of those with no first hand experience of the strike so easy to condemn with trite platitudes and shallow care.

And once I almost abandoned my own dignity. Sitting in a London pub when a few Socialist Worker type students entered rattling their buckets officiously and soliciting donations for the Kent miners, a tsunami of anger flooded me. Anger at their soft pale academic flesh that had never known a day's work, anger at their patent enjoyment of the conflict and schism, anger at their false care and pious self-righteousness, and it was only a heavyweight chum grabbing my collar and hauling me to the floor that stopped me laying into them with fists and feet.

Twenty-five years and I still wish to God the entire thing had never happened.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

£25bn a month for the next three months

The Bank is printing an extra £25bn a month for the next three months. That's £830m a day. There are 45m voters, which means that each one of us is handing over £18.40 a day. Every day for the next three months. Including weekends. To the banks. To help them lend it back to us.

Well excuse me, but wouldn't it be easier to just give us an extra £18.40 a day each, and the banks wouldn't have to lend?

Just asking.

Happy St Piran's day!

To all our Cornish readers, have a good one.

Vernon Bogdanor is away with the fairies

In a piece in the Times this morning that had me guffawing aloud at it's sheer political naivity and hopeless desperation, Vernon Bogdanor urges the LibDems to join with Labour in a government of 'national reconstruction'. The irony that this would be like giving the Luftwaffe the contract to repair bomb-damage to London seems to pass Bogdanor by entirely; the hope that the LibDems would pollute themselves with Labour's electorally poisonous liability is no more probable than Dr Mark Porter setting up practice with Dr Harold Shipman. But it's the sheer, naked, unalloyed stupidity of the following throw-away from Vernon that tickled me most
It was because the forces of progress were so often divided that the 20th century was a Conservative century.
Yes, chum. And the 21st will probably also be a century of the right, if not the Conservatives than some other incarnation. Because the right are the true progressives, and always have been.

In contrast, the politics of the left are wholly regressive and always have been. In the past 11 years of left wing government the nation has regressed to early 19th century levels of literacy, record crime at Georgian levels and atomisation of our society, a deepening social divide and a life expectancy in Labour strongholds that's lower than Algeria's, £80bn a year in taxes paid to 5m welfare slaves for no point whatsoever and our economy shattered. How much further back do you want Labour to take us? Just a few decades of socialism in Russia regressed that nation about 600 years.

Listen, sweetie. I don't know what you've been smoking amongst those dreaming spires, but right wing = progressive, left wing = regressive. Got it?

Tom Harris, teenage mums and the death of a young actor

Tom Harris' Damascene conversion to an awareness of the dangers of Welfarism is a welcome one, and earns him plenty of column inches in this morning's Mail. The exponential rise in in the number of children growing up without their biological fathers since the late 1970s has not only damaged the lives of many of those children themselves and their parents, but the lives of us all.

Bastardy brings with it many burdens; many carry them well, and go on to live full, productive and useful lives. An increasingly significant number don't. Each day when I open the paper to read of yet another young man convicted of murder, or rape, or robbery here in London, and read down the column to see that so many of them grew up with no father.

I'd be fascinated to know what percentage of our prison population grew up without their biological father, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the answer was the majority of them. Bastardy doesn't only endanger us all, we also pay through the nose for it, in welfare payments, in costs to the criminal justice system, in social work and special educational support, in health service costs and for policing them.

As knife thug Karl Bishop begins a long prison term for his murder of Harry Potter actor Robert Knox, he himself blamed his absent father for his descent into hopeless crime and randon violence. If his wretched mother had kept her legs closed twenty three years ago the world would have been a better place.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Paying the bankers' gambling debts

Busy day again so just time for a quick pointer to Simon Jenkins in the Guardian this morning.

I've opined before that we should have split the business of the banks, rescued the retail and commercial domestic business and let the investment and international business stand or fall by itself. We've got no hope of stabilising a derivatives burden that dwarfs global GDP. Jenkins says much the same.

Whilst Brown uses our children's future to save the banks, he's forgotten about saving the nation.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Return of judicial murder to Europe by the EU?

My father landed on Sword beach at dawn on the 6th of June 1944. He lived. He fought his way with his regiment through France and Germany, taking Caen, and via Brussels, ending on the north-east German plain with Doenitz's surrender at Luneberg Heath. Although he was to spend another twenty years as a professional soldier nothing - not even the Hell of Korea - seared itself in his memory as much as the fall-out of that second war. And when that war ended he was less than half the age I am now.

Dad was never articulate about his experience to the extent I wanted him to be. So after his death I followed his war in the writings of war correspondents, in the regimental battle diary, in the evidence, letters and film clips of his comrades. One such was the war correspondent Alan Moorehead, who was in Brussels at the same time as the old man.

In 'Eclipse', Moorehead describes a visit to Brussels zoo, whose cages then housed collaborators, and prostitutes who had served German clients and the like. They were bruised, a bit bloodied, and crouched in hopeless resignation, pressed back against the bars in the animal cages. "What will happen to them?" asked Moorehead of one of the 'resistance' guards. "They will be given a fair trail" he replied "And then they will be shot."

Moorehead wrote eloquently and with great passion about why we were outraged about the Nazis. Why we fought. Why we won. Or rather, about why my father and your father did so. Yet at that moment, he must have have found it hard to refrain from commenting that Brussels had been freed from one tyranny only to inherit another. Was the conqueror with his executions any less culpable than the conquered with theirs? To those who were judicially murdered, whether by the Germans or the Belgian 'resistance' I don't suppose the national origin of the bullet rounds that tore through their frail bodies mattered much.

You will have gathered by now that I am opposed to capital punishment. Yes, irrevocably opposed. Jeremy Clarkson once quipped that the only truly civilised nations were those that had nuclear weapons but didn't have capital punishment - and on that score only the UK and France qualified. Curiously, I wouldn't argue with that.

My dad, and hundreds of thousands of Englishmen like him, put their lives on the line so that I and you wouldn't be subject to the whim of a sociopath who would push us up against a wall, or beside a ditch, and casually end our lives with our bodies torn by gunfire.

Guthrum reports that judicial murder has made its way back onto Europe's agenda. In a footnote to a footnote, that judicial murder in the case of war, or riot, or civil disorder, was back within Europe's purview. It appears that the Lisbon Constitution Treaty will allow States to judicially murder their own citizens in these circumstances.

I don't know whether my old man ever visited Brussels zoo back then, after liberation; either with the cages filled with the condemned, or after, emptied of the newly dead. I don't know that any MEP now visiting Brussels zoo can envision the huddled, terrified Belgians who briefly filled the cages now once again filled with sealions and monkeys. Or their dreadful deaths. But those 'resistance' executioners that Moorehead records as so casually condemning their victims went on, of course, to be pioneers of the EU; lauded and honoured, the cordite and blood still in their nostrils as they founded the European Iron and Steel Federation, EFTA and the EC. And now their sons demand the right to do the same.

But not in my name. And not in my country. Not as long as I have breath left in my body and a keyboard within reach. Never.

The Closing of Places of Association Order 2009

Newms is spot on the money in his latest post when he writes about the government's campaign to close pubs "They are places of debate, of meeting of freedom and the state hates them with a venomous instinct it can scarcely conceal"

The Devil in the meanwhile posts at length on the possible use by the State of the powers in the Civil Contingencies Act - which would allow the State to close the nation's pubs at a stroke, by ministerial fiat. The Closing of Places of Association Order 2009. He also reports on growing speculation about government plans to use the army on England's streets to enforce the State's power.

I'd encourage each one of you therefore to call the Home Office Information Rights Team on 020 7035 1029 today and request a copy of the five files on the use of troops during civil unrest (FOI release reference 7482). I'd also encourage each of you to follow this up with a new FOI request detailing any changes in policy or other matters relating to the deployment of troops since the release of these files in November 2007.

Lib Dems fail to secure State party funding

Only one small glimmer of hope shone from yesterday's debate on the PP&E Bill - the failure of the Lib Dems to secure State funding for themselves.

The defeat by a majority of 229 votes of their motion to cap private donations at £50k means that the State funding that parties would have deemed necessary had the amendment gone through has once again been postponed.

And I say postponed - not abandoned. The three main parties are facing the grim prospect of their combined memberships dropping below 1% of the electorate for the first time ever. There are only two ways out; remain as central Statist organisations with no grass-roots involvement and use tax money to pay for it, or return power and authority to local neighbourhoods, communities and local political associations and re-grow party memberships.

No prizes for guessing which of the above represents the parties' comfort-zone.

MPs vote to keep their addresses secret

MPs voted yesterday 235 to 176 to keep secret their constituency addresses.

Tory sleazeball Julian Lewis was behind an amendment to the Political Parties and Elections Bill, as posted here on Sunday.

The political class has again demonstrated that it really does see itself as a class apart, no longer our representatives but our masters.

The idea of open primaries in constituencies is seeming even more attractive. And I wouldn't give a tinker's fart for the chances of any sleazeball such as Lewis who refuses to disclose their address to those they're asking to vote for them for getting through the process.

Angry? Yes, seething. But cold anger.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Merkel says 'Nein' to eastern Europe

Gordon may spin the line that the weekend meeting of Europe's Heads of State and Government was about agreeing a common line on measures to tackle the recession, but it was really about the fragile eastern European nations asking Germany to release the purse-strings on Hans and Trudi's savings to get them out of trouble. And Merkel said no.

When the camouflage comes off there are no two more protectionist nations than France and Germany. France is going all-out to protect its car brands. And Germany, I think, will hang on to its money until the crash bottoms out and the fire-sale starts.

How the ordinary people of eastern Europe will react to the divergence between the brave Euro rhetoric and the self-interested Euro reality doesn't take much guessing.

Salmond should learn from the Gin Acts

The early eighteenth century gin craze was driven in part by the upper and middle class having set an example that the working class were encouraged to emulate; then it was Queen Anne and her ministers drinking fashionable gin, and promoting it, that caused a filter-down of the habit.

The habit became a social problem, and a series of Acts (1729, 1736, 1743, 1747 and 1751) were passed to impose higher duties, licences and restrictions all designed to raise the cost of gin and thereby decrease consumption. They mostly failed. Small producers and retailers were driven out of the market, and the Weatherspoons and Yates of the day grew wealthy.

Sounds familiar?

As Salmond considers measures to raise the price of alcohol in Scotland, he would do well to study England's Gin Age. In the end it was not legislation, but a rise in the price of grain and a fall in wages that killed the gin trade.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Take care, Harman, in invoking the mob

Harman's incitement to the mob to take up burning brands and pitchforks against Goodwin to force him to lose his grip on his pension is a calculated distraction, but a dangerous one.

That ministers are now so panicked at the prospect of the public turning even more against the government that they are foolishly prepared to stoke anger against hate figures like Goodwin to deflect it, and media attention from government failure, is a dangerous development.

It's not hard to invoke the mob, Harriet. It's much harder to quieten it once its out.

Ex-Orange Order Labour MP Adam Ingram in forged letters row

After it emerged that Jacqui Smith's husband was the author of fake letters to her local newspaper, it seems that this Labour fakery is more widespread than thought. The Sunday Herald reports on fake letters supporting Adam Ingram MP being published in his local paper - to the surprise of the man whose name the forger used.

Ingram is left looking if not red-faced than a little orange-faced as he refuses to comment.

There's an easy solution here. Let Ingram allow access to his home and office printers, and those available to his chum McCann, by experts who can match the hidden printer ID dots on the forged letters with those of his printers ..... after all, if you've got nothing to fear, Ingram, you've got nothing to hide.

Tom Harris and Jack Straw please note

Tom and Jack love their garden. "See how the high walls protect all the flowers and plants" says Jack. "See how the nets protect the pretty flowers" says Tom. But the bees that buzz from flower to flower can't get through the nets. The birds that eat the bugs that eat the flowers can't get through the nets. And the high walls block out the sun, so the flowers and plants shiver in the cold dark soil, and die.

Tom and Jack love their garden. "See the bare earth" they say. "See how the high walls and the nets protect the bare earth."
"Until now the government has by and large scorned the civil liberties lobby, seeing it as a peripheral and largely irrelevant fetish of the chattering classes. That arrogant disregard for democratic principle has been uncovered. The call for liberty is rapidly migrating from the margins to the mainstream of politics, and it is time for the government to listen." - Observer

More sleaze and corruption - Julian Lewis MP

When a would-be MP presents themselves to the electors of a constituency as one worthy to represent them in Parliament they don't do so as members of a special privileged political class alien to the rest of us, but as one who lives amongst us, and is supported by others who live amongst us. Quite rightly their home address is a matter of record. But not, I fear, for much longer.

Julian Lewis, a Tory MP, is proposing an amendment tomorrow that would remove the requirement for someone standing for election to disclose their address. Ostensibly, like so much else, this is on 'security' grounds, but the reasoning is risible. The real reason is that with MPs' addresses a secret, neither the press or the blogosphere will be able to challenge their expenses claims. It's sleaze, filth and corruption, nothing more.

If this amendment succeeds, I expect a nationwide campaign to develop not to vote for any candidate in the next election who is not prepared to disclose their constituency address.

The News of the World runs an expose of Lewis' second home expenses claim - and tries to stop the paper photographing his homes.