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Friday, 20 March 2009

Crapita help Brown ratchet up public fear for votes

A failed government low in the polls and excoriated by the media has few avenues to follow to recapture voters. One of the dirtiest, most unprincipled tricks that such a dead administration can use is to ratchet up public fear. What's more, if public funds and public resources can be used, a bankrupt party need not even dip into its coffers. The public fear message is simple and brutal; you're all at risk - this is no time for change - you need our protection.

Of course the media and the blogosphere are now both wise to Labour's playing of this card, and suspiciously politically advantageous announcements of increased alert states and the like by security ministers and officials are quickly seen for what they are, and don't get through to the voting public. So what does Brown's government do? Invent a new target for local government of course. So this year National Indicator 37 comes into force - Improving Citizen Awareness and Community Resilience in the Face of Threats. Now this is smart. The fear-raising will come from local Councils - many of them Tory - that people trust, rather than from a government they don't. And what's more, Council tax payers will bear the cost themselves. And it's compulsory - even Tory councils can't do nothing.

Government henchmen Crapita are running a council-fear beanfest to coincide with the G20 summit in London to get the message across. The publicity states:

In 2009 local authorities must significantly improve citizen awareness of civil protection measures to achieve high performance on National Indicator 37 and to ensure local community resilience in the face of a range of threats.

Attend this timely event to hear about:
  • Government expectations around National Indicator 37
  • Criteria and assessment of the duty
  • Positive practice and ‘lessons learned’ in real life situations
  • Key communication skills and resources available for support
  • Hear from key national policy and strategy makers at the Cabinet Office and Audit Commission on expectations around the Civil Contingencies Act and informing the public
  • Take away clear guidance on National Indicator 37 and how you will be assessed
  • Consider what other areas are doing to improve community resilience and how to apply ideas to your own area
  • Identify ways to build networks of contacts, communicate with and through grassroots community organisation
  • Learn how to inform citizens about potential incidents and guide response without causing panic
  • Hear how the new Extranet will be used to spread knowledge of best practice, share ideas and resources
  • Learn about the new national crisis communications support group, what resources and support will be available for you in a media crisis
    New Extranet? New 'national crisis communications support group'? What the Hell is going on?

    The timing is the key. The new 'local fear' performance indicator comes into effect in financial year 2009 / 2010; this means throughout the run-up to the expected May 2010 election, councils throughout the country will be pumping out 'fear' pamphlets, holding 'fear' exercises, getting the whole local voluntary sector to join in, gaining big 'fear' publicity in local free ad papers and generally helping Brown's campaign, all in order to get a good NI37 score at the end of next April.

    One of the men behind all this is Bruce Mann, Head of Civil Contingencies, Civil Contingencies Secretariat at the Cabinet Office, one of Crapita's speakers. Jeanette Innes, Assistant Director, Programme Manager for Telecommunications Resilience, and who works for Mann will also be speaking.

    So be prepared for Big Fear from Gordon this year. As if the recession wasn't enough.

    Google Streets - roll it out!

    For anyone searching for a house in London, or the other cities covered so far by Google Street View, market knowledge has just increased dramatically. Up until now if you find a property you like on Rightmove or Primelocation you may then explore the area as best you can using Google Earth. This gives you a good idea of who has retained slate roofs and who has used tiles, who has kept chimneys and who hasn't but that's about all.

    Now with Street View you can cruise down the street and the neighbours are revealed; who has fake Tudor leaded pvc windows in a Victorian terrace? How well are the front gardens tended? What cars do they own? Is it nylon netties and gnomes or are the front room windows going 'commando' with ornamental box in Versailles planters on the path?

    For anyone selling a house in a 'good' street in London, the market has just got better. My own front door was snapped with Mr Khan's Merc in view and the love-lies-bleeding in full blossom, which must add £10k to the value.

    Now roll it out nationwide, please, so those of us still looking to snap up a rural bargain can save a fortune in travelling.

    Brown's presence at 65th D-Day would be an insult

    Sixty-five years ago my late father stood in the well of a landing craft at dawn on the 6th of June waiting to step onto Nazi occupied France. He carried a large backpack, wore a heavy helmet and was equipped with a bicycle. As were all his battalion. The bicycles were rapidly dumped in the surf, so they then had to walk from Normandy to north-west Germany.

    On each D-day anniversary I scan the news footage of those elderly men in blazers and medals, looking for the distinctive headgear and cap badge that marks the comrades he landed with that day. There are fewer and fewer of them.

    Whilst it's good news that the MoD are talking to veterans about funding this, their last big commemoration of that great day, Brown's presence at an event in France will add a sour note.

    For these veterans who gave so much for this nation are coming to the twilight of their lives in a country they don't recognise, in which Labour have opened the door to immigrants from every corner of the world without control or restraint, where a repressive and intrusive Labour State rolls back the freedoms they fought for, where Brown's economic incompetence is beggaring their children and grandchildren and will burden their great grandchildren with the costs of his purblind folly and in which Labour have destroyed neighbourhoods, communities and the effectiveness of the little platoons in pursuance of a mad Rousseau-esque vision of an overweening Leviathan State.

    For those men, Brown's presence will be every bit as much an insult as if Josef Goebbels were there.

    Thursday, 19 March 2009

    Exclusive - Smoking ban will stay for G20 summit

    On 12th March the Mail ran a story headed 'Labour 'double standards' as smoking ban is lifted for G20 world leaders' that claimed:

    Labour has been accused of double standards for amending legislation to allow world leaders to use smoking rooms during the G20 economic conference. Dozens of heads of state, politicians and diplomats will be meeting at the Excel Exhibition Centre in Docklands, London, next month. It is believed that laws have been changed to get around the smoking ban and provide specialist rooms that the visiting dignitaries can use.

    Well, the boat immediately fired off two FOI requests; one to the Department of Health and one to Newham Council. The DH has responded quickly and unequivocally, saying

    I have been advised that the Health Act 2006 makes no exemptions for diplomats or diplomatic events. Those accountable for the premises to which you refer (enclosed public premises and workplaces, which should be smoke-free at all times) are legally obliged to ensure that no smoking takes place. The relevant local authority (in this case, Newham Council) is responsible for enforcement for premises within their borough. If there is a breach of the regulations the local authority enforcement officers will need to consider appropriate enforcement action.
    I'll update you when I have Newham Council's response, but for now it looks as though any world leaders gasping for a nicotine hit will have to huddle on the dockside terrace just like the rest of us, but no doubt behind a bullet-proof screen that meets the requirements for smoking shelters under the 2006 Act. Perhaps they'll leave it behind for the next boat show.

    Time to act on top public sector pay

    In a previous post - Labour's 'greed is good' culture at the top of the public sector - I summarised the disproportionate rise in top pay and benefits under Labour in the public sector. The excuses these fat cats and their apologists use for their hands thrust deep in the public till are looking increasingly thin. There's no 'international market' in council chief executives; council bosses will not flee overseas if they are paid a third less. Health trusts don't have to pay top dollar 'to attract to the public sector those of a high enough calibre'; most of these appointments are internal , and are earned by spending time being obedient to the scorpions who run the Department of Health and greasing the political members of health boards. University vice-chancellors are not outstanding academics with a long history of publication but glad-handing money-suckers with a penchant for empire building - no shortage of skills there. And so on.

    There are two classes of public servants I would exempt from controls; the judiciary and the fighting forces. The judiciary because they're actually the only part of the public sector where a genuine alternative market for their skills exists, and the fighting forces because their salaries are far too low for the responsibilities they exercise. A Lt. Colonel commanding a battalion earns the same as the head of a comprehensive school. But what to do? Three things:
    • If we can't cut the salaries of those in post (and we can't) then we can freeze them. All salaries over say £80k a year should be frozen indefinitely until time and inflation have restored balance to the scale of rewards
    • All public sector pension benefits should be immediately capped at this level - £80k a year - irrespective of actual final salary. This should apply to central and local government and the entire non-exempted public sector. Individuals may make private provision to top-up their own pension provision above this if they wish.
    • All spurious bonuses for top public sector posts must be scrapped. Bonuses linked to Whitehall performance targets suit bureaucrats and no one else. Others are simply meaningless inventions applied by the fat cats to pay themselves more than their salaries.
    These three measures are realistic and achievable very quickly with no primary legislation required. All that's lacking is Labour's political will to do anything about it.

    Wednesday, 18 March 2009

    Cruddas scores some outer bulls but misses the target

    In a piece in the Guardian this morning, John Cruddas scores some outer bulls in the shots he fires at Labour's bankrupt policies. His analysis may be intelligent and well reasoned, but his conclusion I think is flawed. It's Polly but with brains. He wants PR and a new socialist movement to capture the votes of the working class that New Labour has deserted. But it's just the same-old same-old socialism after all;
    But now is the time to build a different Labour party, to develop a new kind of economy and determine the just distribution of power and resources, in which government and the people work together toward a vision of the Good Society.
    Ah yes. The right of Labour to 'determine the just distribution of power and resources'. The presumption that only Labour can force equity on an unwilling people.

    Nowhere in his analysis does he read the pointers that the nation is fed up with Labour 'determining' things for them, and would really like to have a go at determining these things themselves. But such radical thinking is way beyond even Cruddas' unorthodoxy. It's just the central State and Nanny all over again.

    Nothing new to see there. Nothing at all.

    What's happened to IVAs?

    A couple of years ago the news was filled with items about the new Individual Voluntary Arrangements under which over-extended individuals could declare a sort of bankruptcy-lite and freeze their debts but keep their assets.

    Over the past year I've been expecting the news to report regularly on an increase in IVAs, yet I can't find a mention. Particularly not on the BBC. Their last story was in June of last year. This finance blog carries some interesting stats that suggest that IVAs have actually been falling year on year - as full blown bankruptcies increase. If you've lost both your home and your job, it seems bankruptcy is the better option. The site says "In KPMG’s view, DROs, together with the expected increase in unemployment, are likely to lead to record levels of personal insolvency of more than 150,000 in 2009."

    Now there's a thought for our newly unemployed bankers. Why not set up as an insolvency practitioner?

    Cameron paradox: Gloom is Good

    Mike Smithson's take on the latest ICM poll in the Guardian won't make happy reading for David Cameron. Voters continue to be against Labour rather than for the Tories, and an economic upturn that lowers their dissatisfaction with Brown will pull back Labour's votes. Paradoxically, Cameron may take some comfort from the leaked IMF predictions that the UK will be the worst hit by the recession, with recovery delayed until well into 2010. For Tory votes, Gloom is Good.

    PB may well be right in the Guardian's ICM poll generally being spot-on, but this doesn't tell half the story. The poll reveals a hunger for change amongst voters, not a hunger for Cameron. Dave remains the least-worst choice for voters, not the best.

    I still reckon the June polls will change thinking on the old duopoly and give us all a surprise. And if so, this may start to swing the GE vote predictions.

    Tuesday, 17 March 2009

    Triage is the hardest word

    When the level of available medical resources is below the aggregate demand placed on them, medical types employ a form of rationing termed Triage. It's based on the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. Those who need treatment but can wait. Those with a good chance of survival who need treatment immediately. And those who need immediate treatment but whose prospects of survival are low or the medical resources required disproportionate. Being a Triage nurse or doc must be the hardest job in the world. In war, the stretchers bearing those too badly injured to be treated effectively are directed away, with a large shot of morphine and the attention of the Catholic padre.

    In A&E departments, the Triage process still applies. The lonely and attention seekers with minor ailments; over-protective parents with embarrassed kids, the drunken lout waiting loudly to be stitched, the reticent middle-class stroke victim making an anti-drama of their crisis, the addict angling for a prescription. No, I'm not a medical man - but in my half-century with three or four visits to casualty, either as patient or accompanying one, I've seen them all. Or I think I have. I couldn't really tell who needed treatment and who was malingering, what was serious and what wasn't, but I have always believed in the ability of the Triage staff to do so. As a layman, spend ten minutes in an A&E department and you find yourself making medical judgements about who is a priority for care and who isn't. And you'll probably get it completely wrong.

    OK, get to the point, I hear you saying. It's this. Every reasonably bright person, every manager who manages something, every intelligent layman knows the above. We all know the importance of Triage. We, completely medically unqualified, realise how important these decisions are. We're not NHS managers, just ordinary people. So NHS managers must know it better than we do, yes? No. Not if they're managing Stafford Hospital.

    At Stafford, they thought receptionists were the proper people to carry out Triage. Yes, receptionists like that ignorant and boorish woman who staffs your GP's surgery. Clerical grade jobsworths who can just about stab at the computer keys with their lacquered nails but can't spell prostate. And as a result, some 400 people have died.

    The Chief Executive is suspended on full pay, the Chairman has resigned and Alan Johnson has apologised. And they all imagine this is action enough. It's not. If you and I know the importance of Traige, an NHS manager who deliberately neglects to staff this function with appropriately qualified persons deserves not censure and early retirement on a generous pension but a long term of imprisonment.

    David Aaronovitch is very confused

    I don't have time this morning to demolish David Aaronovitch's confused and incoherent little rant in this morning's Times in which he declares
    Any of these are dangerous, but doubly so in a time of potential depression. The populism is expressed in the casual, jokey bracketing of politicians with fraudsters, the influence of potty-mouthed right-wing bloggers on some political journalism and an impatience with foreign workers and other minorities.
    And he argues that we should instead afford the political class an uncritical adulation for fear that they will otherwise turn into authoritarians.

    It's risible pap, of course. Perhaps fellow bloggers will oblige during the day; if not, I'll come back to it this evening.

    BBC shivers at Cameron freeze

    The Beeb has lost the trust of the nation. Like a government too long in power, it's lost touch with the zeitgeist, and is broadcasting to an audience it only imagines exists, or may have existed in 1997 but not in 2009.

    Despite the usual complaint, the BBC is positively constipated about party political balance, and Iain Dale's comments over the past couple of weeks on guest-bias on the politics shows will undoubtedly lead to a redress. It's not party bias that's the problem; it's a bias to corporatism, State centralism, and an offensive promulgation of Harmanesque virtues and values that really annoys. The wholesale move to Salford won't alter the corporation's metropolitan leanings one jot; you can take the media luvvie out of London, but you can never take London out of the media luvvie. Nor will this clumsy regionalisation alter the corporation's State centralist bias one tittle.

    Here's a tip for the beeb. Scrap BBC4. Its programmes belong on BBC2. Waldemar Januszczak's superb 'Baroque!' was one of only three programmes on the entire digital spectrum I found worth watching last week. Put all the 'edgy' acid-tinged youth programming, unfunny 'new comedy' and the like on BBC3. Stop competing with Sky and stop making 'Cops Thugs Crash' and 'Police, Vomit and Head Butt' type programmes, so low-brow that a snake's rectum would wink down at them. To paraphrase Oscar, all broadcasting is in the gutter but the BBC should be looking at the stars; the corporation's job is to set aspirational standards, not lie down with the scum.

    And if the entire bloated staff of the BBC undergo the same anxiety about job security, pay, pensions, the value of their homes and their childrens' futures as the rest of the nation, they may actually have half a chance of re-connecting with the rest of us.

    Paul Stephenson hits the right note

    Not very long ago I observed
    Sometimes it's the little things, rather than grand strategy, that can have the most effect. Yesterday I stood waiting for a cab as two police women strolled by on patrol. They were deep in conversation and enjoying eachother's company. What they weren't doing was looking and watching the street, or being ready for a member of the public who wants to talk to catch their eye, or taking the initiative to start a chat with someone. They were in their own world, cocooned, walking aimlessly, waiting for an instruction to come through on their radio.

    Requiring police officers to patrol in pairs may tick the risk assessment box, but it doesn't just halve the effectiveness of beat patrols, it destroys it.
    The news today that Sir Paul Stephenson is reintroducing lone beats in many areas is very good news indeed. He has already told officers to wear helmets, and this has been a visible and reassuring change. Both moves will give police officers an outward focus rather than an inward one; they might grumble a bit, but policing in London has just improved.

    Monday, 16 March 2009

    Keith Vaz sleaze again

    The oleagenous Keith Vaz has a long record of sleaze and petty corruption; rarely can an MP have accumulated such an impressive history of scandal yet seem ever capable of avoiding dismissal by his voters or imprisonment by the courts. Today it's reported that he's been at it again. I've no doubt he'll shrug off this most recent scandal as he has all the previous scandals. The man's a rogue with no redeeming features, and yet is such a fixture in the Commons that he makes his colleagues' attempts at sleaze and corruption appear the work of rank amateurs.

    There's no way back to 2007

    In 2007 my London home was worth more than five times the price I'd paid for it and like millions of others it was this equity, to supplement my increasingly modest pension provision, that I was looking to realise on retirement. Well, those plans are truly shattered now.

    The focus not only of UK but international government policy has been to re-capitalise the banks and push money back into the economy to stimulate spending, even explicitly to get the banks lending again at 2007 levels. There is still a hope amongst some that this is just a blip, albeit a big one, and that with concerted government action we can all go back to the way we were in 2007.

    This is risible pap. There's no going back to 2007. Deflating the worthless derivatives bubble has a long way to run yet, and it will take other asset prices - houses - with it. The London financial market will never again occupy all the square mile's buildings, and we might as well start converting the Gherkin to social housing right now. Canary Wharf will slowly empty as shrunken banks and financial institutions retreat back to the City. Canada Square will be filled with pound shops and fried chicken bars in five years time.

    We'd better start getting used to the fact that the big competition with Singapore and New York is over. Financial services will form a far smaller part of a future British economy. And a sustained period of modestly high inflation - say 10% - 15% a year for three or four years - is about the only thing that will erode the burden of personal debt in the UK, that will restore some growth to house prices and get things moving again. Unfortunately at the expense of the banks and lenders, but heh.

    But whichever way, let's stop pretending and get on with it.

    Sunday, 15 March 2009

    British public is giving Nanny the finger

    Idiots such as Liam Donaldson should have been strangled at birth. His latest proposals, for a minimum alcohol price, will no doubt have a hypnotic fascination for this government, which enjoys nothing more than spending billions in taxes on nannyish fiddling that has no effect.

    Much work has been done on the price elasticity of demand for alcohol in the UK. It varies for beer, wine and spirits. It varies for some other factors. Both own-price elasticity and cross-price elasticity must be considered. The Treasury Model (.pdf) in particular suggests that spirits taxation in particular is far below its revenue-maximising level; that the duty on spirits could be raised by 40% to maximise revenue, and sales (and revenue) would only fall off if duties went beyond this. This means swingeing price increases on cheap supermarket vodka, with the cheapest under Donalson's proposed 50p a unit tax at £18.75 for a litre of own-brand 37.5% abv Tesco voddy, from a current £10.98 a litre.

    In practice the poorest and unhealthiest families will become even poorer and more unhealthy. As their booze costs more, they will give up fresh fruit and veg, fish and proper cooking and live on biscuits and Iceland 99p pizzas as long as they have a few tinnies of Stella or bottles of WKD to wash it down. Their children will grow up with rickets and ringworm. We'll go right back to the 1920s in a perfect example of regressive Socialist doctrine.

    And the village pub, so long a fixture of our society and people, a local institution that does more to foster community cohesion, build social capital and combat social exclusion than the efforts of every Nanny State worker combined, will become history.

    The House of Commons Health Select Committee has just published a report (.pdf) that has found that this government has pissed away billions in failed social engineering experiments; rafts of knee-jerk measures that cost the earth and have had no overall effect whatsoever. In fact, health inequalities have widened - by 4% amongst men and 11% amongst women, since 1998.

    If these cloistered fools ever once asked themselves why people drink to excess they might just find that it's the escape that many have from the suffocating, cloying, overweening, intrusive, impertinent and unwelcome interference of Labour's Nanny State in the minutae of their lives rather than the cost per unit that's the more important factor. But that's a lesson these idiots will never learn.

    Jack Straw and Bridget Prentice defend death cover-ups

    If you meet your death at the hands of the State, whether shot by our paramilitary police, drowning in your own vomit in a police cell, butchered by an incompetent hospital doctor or blasted to pieces by our American allies whilst serving with the army, the law requires that a Coroner with a Jury hears evidence of your death and adjudges culpability. It is our ultimate safeguard against the capriciousness of the State. And it's one that Straw and Prentice want to abolish. They favour secret inquests that would allow police assassinations to be swept under the carpet, with press and public kept in the dark.

    I'm not convinced that the story in this morning's Telegraph is correct - that this is all being done at the behest of the US. We're now all aware of the lies that the Foreign Secretary told our courts about the US being responsible for the government not presenting torture evidence, so could they not be lying now about this? Following McFool's frequent blaming of the US for his own financial incompetence, it seems the government are making our Cousins the whipping-boy for every failure, cover-up and malfeasance of their own.

    This is far more likely to have been cooked-up by a poisonous cabal of ministers and civil servants for whom not embarrassing the State is genuinely more important than accounting for the lives of our fellow citizens.