Saturday, 1 August 2009

Saturday curiosity - Lorraine Wilson

You won't have heard of Lorraine Wilson, but her family holds 1/80th of the hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain of England, and on the accession of the next Sovereign, it will be Lorraine's turn to exercise the office during his reign. After that, it reverts to the Marquis of Cholmondeley, whose family has a half share in the job and therefore gets it every other reign. It's a sort of dynastic job-share, split between a score of families, with shares as minor as 1/100th of the office. One of England's old curiosities that has slipped under the Socialist radar.

To exercise the office, Lorraine will need to become a life peer; only Lords of Parliament can actually do the job. Alternatively, she can appoint a deputy who is a life peer or hereditary peer to exercise the function; if a hereditary peer, they are guaranteed a place in the Lords under Labour's last Act that sought to reduce the hereditaries, and no doubt will be under the new Act. One hopes.

The office is a good example of the difficulties created when one starts poking about with our ancient constitutional offices and duties. You can't do constitional reform on the back of a fag-packet or slurping coffee on a sofa. The thing is, our unwritten constitution works, and one cannot guage the extent of the repurcussions when government foolishly fiddles. If it ain't broke ...

Friday, 31 July 2009

New ID card could trigger terrorist bombs

Spyblog is one of the heroes of the blogosphere. Patient, painstaking research that's vital to keeping an eye on the Statist bastards. And without sensational headlines.

So the fault is all mine in quoting from Spyblog's latest post on the unveiling of the UK ID card; and news that the RFID signature identifying the carrier as a British citizen can be read at some distance by 'illegal' radio equipment - enough to trigger a hidden bomb when a card-carrying Brit is within range.

Any takers now?

Labour membership down to just 166,000

Labour's published accounts for last year show a further 'official' fall in membership to just 166,000. If one excludes members more than six months in arrears with their subs, the true total is probably under 150,000.

When Labour came to power in 1997, its membership stood at 405,000.

Labour's not alone, of course; both the Conservatives and Lib Dems have seen the same desertion of the old parties by voters. The combined membership of the three parties is now not much higher than Labour's 1997 membership alone - about 450,000, or about 1% of the UK electorate.

Contrast this with a National Trust membership of 3.5m; actually, even the Women's Institute, with 215,000 members, is better subscribed than the Labour Party.

The price of our freedom is constant vigilance. In this case, constant vigilance that the corrupt political class don't react to falling memberships by trying to steal even more of our taxes for their private clubs than they do already.

Watch your wallets and purses, folks. The thieving magpies will be flexing their fingers.

Ways to fight the workplace parking levy

Nottingham is set to be the first council today to implement the workplace parking levy, under which all workplace car parking spaces are to be taxed at up to £350 a year each.

Some months ago when the scheme was first mooted, I submitted a FOI request to Lewisham Council asking the number of parking places maintained for councillors and council workers. It runs into several hundred. The temptation for the council, of course, is to introduce the levy and then simply pass on the cost of their own parking spaces to the council tax payer rather than recovering the tax from councillors and staff.

However, should this become known, then the fury of local businesses and voters will be unleashed. Council workers and councillors should either be charged the full cost, or set an example and give up driving to work. We will no longer tolerate one law for the State and politicians and one law for the rest of us.

No one, it seems, has seen fit to ask Nottingham Council the same question.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Almost right, Sir Michael

In the Guardian this morning Michael White writes;
Whitehall optimists hope Chilcot will deliver lessons for the future, as the 1904 Esher inquiry did after the Boer War fiasco. What critics want is blame, expressed in tabloid language, not opaque Whitehall-ese. If Sir John wants to escape the "whitewash" verdict on Lords Hutton and Butler, he should sharpen his prose.
Almost right, Sir Michael. There was no Esher inquiry. The 1902 inquiry into the shortcomings of administration over the Boer War was a Royal Commission chaired by Ld Elgin and known as the Elgin Commission. Viscount Esher was a member of this commission, but dissented from its findings. In 1904 he successfully lobbied to chair an internal War Office committee - not an inquiry, or a commission - called the War Office (reconstitution) Committee. This became known as the Esher Committee. It didn't deliver a verdict on the Boer War - this wasn't it's job. There is no parallel between the work of the Esher Committee and the Chilcot Inquiry at all. It certainly didn't 'deliver lessons for the future' as Sir Michael believes.

However, what the Esher Committee achieved was far more important. It reorganised the management of the British army, establishing the Army Council and the post of Chief of the General Staff, and a structure that remains in place today a century later. And perhaps now no longer an appropriate governance structure for the MoD and the army.

It is not the political corruption behind the launching of the Iraq War that needs a new Esher Committee, but the military shortcomings in Afghanistan.

The Great Leap - Mandelson's fantasy

To finish off a few recent posts on social mobility, let's look at the model of mobility that Milburn and Mandelson have quoted. They want to see access to the 'top professions' widened to poor kids from sink council estates. In their minds they see a caring and competent Comprehensive that nurses talent into an ancient Oxford college, where it achieves a double starred first before a meteoric rise through pupillage at London's most prestigious chambers to taking silk. What nonsense. What risible rubbish. What disconnected, deluded fantasy.

Yes, I'm sure one or two may make this journey once every few years, but to base public policy on it is about as realistic and useful as creating 100,000 training places for astronauts.

The reality of social mobility is an iterative process that commonly takes two generations. The biggest boost most unemployed parents can give their children is to get an indoors job with no heavy lifting. The children of a C2 parent have double the life chances of the children of a D/E parent. And if those parents are diligent and capable and advance to a position that can be classed as C1, there is a decent chance that their children will achieve social class B. This is the reality. The leap from a D/E household to an A achieving child is rare as hen's teeth.

Once we recognise that all long-term welfare parents are child abusers (in terms of trashing their children's life chances), once TV peak programmes have Kim and Aggie throwing DVDs in the skip, ripping satellite dishes from walls and filling shelves with books, then I will have confidence that that first, most important step has been recognised. Forget the Oxford entrance exam; a Harry Potter omnibus for every Welfare home is a more realistic and more effective target.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Guardian scores twice in two days ..

I used to be able to guarantee a 100% hit rate of disagreement with anything published in the Guardian, but an anomaly has given me two opinion pieces in two days I unreservedly agree with.

I blogged in response to Milburn's proposals on social mobility that it was necessary for the working class to adopt the mores of the bourgeoisie in order to advance. This flies in the face of Labour's social engineering model, which holds that the working class should have access to all the rewards of the middle class without changing their attitudes or behaviour. I disagree. It's not about the accent you speak with, but the values you exhibit in living your life; it's not about losing your cultural identity but demonstrating you can act appropriately to your social status. These things matter.

Today Jenni Russell writes in the Guardian;
International companies are frank and practical about class and culture because profits depend on employees fitting in. Here, where our own internal migrants' lives and hopes can be shattered by such misunderstandings, we often keep expectations opaque.

A headhunter I bumped into last year told me about the difficulty she'd had in finding suitable staff. That week she'd taken a candidate with excellent paper qualifications for a meal. Which was where it all went wrong. "His manners were just unspeakable. Shovelling food on to his fork with his fingers. Talking with his mouth full, but holding his hand over it. Licking his fingers." And that was that. "My business is done over lunch. That's where you persuade people and do deals. I can't employ someone if people won't want to eat with them."

Teenagers need to spend time with adults outside their social groups as mentors, friends and employers. And we need to find a way to talk about behaviour, manners, codes. Not because one set is better than another, but because it's the way humans recognise their groups. Pretending rules don't exist or matter only has one result – it freezes social mobility, and entrenches elites.
All well and good, and something of a Damascene conversion for the Guardian's editorial policy if not for the beliefs of its readers.

A couple of years ago my colleagues in the admin office downstairs took on a working class single mum for work experience under some government programme. There was the prospect of a permanent job at the end of it, but after a few weeks the negative comments that filtered back put paid to that. She was awful. Almost completely unsocialised, she would interrupt when she should have waited to be recognised, threw inappropriate comments at senior staff, was far too loud, was unskilled in recognising subtle signals and in conversation unable to grasp abstract concepts. What was more damning, she couldn't learn from the behaviour of her colleagues in admin. Bigger fleas have little fleas, and 'admin' regards itself as a cut above 'manuals', in which category they placed her. They didn't want her.

Monolithic welfare estates are as much to blame as crap comprehensives. The products of both have limited direct experience of the mores and standards that exist outside them. For years Labour have derided the standards of the middle class, and in so doing they have entrenched poverty and inequality.

Let's not pretend that these things don't matter. They do.

PwC and KPMG are part of the problem, not the solution

News that the big seven are buttering up the Conservatives in the hope of big contracts to come will depress all opponents of the Leviathan State. They have grown rich and fat as butter during Labour's term in office achieving, like Great War generals in Simon Jenkins' simile, six inches of public services reform for each ten billion of tax thrown into the offensive. It has been an epic failure, and the whole panoply of performance targets, indicators, benchmarking and the like imported from the private sector a hideous waste.

The big seven have become such an integral part of the central State that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If Cameron is serious about Localism and the devolution of power from the centre to the periphery, he will pocket their douceurs now but keep his own objectives free of their 'advice'.

Why I oppose legalised suicide

Clough's words - Thou shalt not kill, but needst not strive officiously to keep alive - recognise the indignity of seeking to prolong human life when the time has come to let it go. That moment when we relinquish our hold on this world must come to each one of us. However, it's not only extreme bad manners to arrive before we're invited but deprives us of the opportunity to reach the ultimate potential of our lives.

Doctors have assisted the death of the body since the first physician donned his toga, the quietus administered when all consciousness had fled and all that remained was the last winding-down of the mechanical organism. A slight touch of the finger on the still-moving pendulum of a clock whose spring would never hold tension again. Such intervention is both ethical and moral.

No Christian however can support the premature termination of a living conscious soul, however debilitated and however hopeless any prospect of recovery. Whilst the senses function, whilst the mind has capacity, however diminished, then the hold on life must be maintained. For who knows, even in that final pain and despair might come the grace of God's insight, might come Divine love, might come some necessary internal packing of the untidy luggage of our lives. Winning tries are scored in the last few seconds of the match; a drive to outfield as the last of the light fades can secure the innings. A team that walked off the pitch five minutes before full time because they thought their position hopeless would earn our derision.

And for those Englishmen who believe in an afterlife, the prospect of arriving on your host's doorstep an hour early to be greeted by a strained smile is surely just too awkward to be contemplated.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A little good sense in the Guardian shock

Just popped in for a look at the Guardian's Comment section before I realised that Lady Toynbee is probably away at her Tuscan villa for the summer. However, I did find an unreasonably sensible article by Charlotte Lesley - well worth a quick read. In the interests of honestly I must point out that Charlotte is Conservative PPC for Bristol NW.

I'm watching the HARPEX

Not a brand of toilet cleaner, but an index of global containerised freight. Those looking for green shoots in the global economy are wriggling with repressed excitement at the recent upturn in the Baltic Dry Index - measuring international shipping costs. As the BDI is often described as a 'leading' indicator, it's offered as evidence that global manufacturers are re-stocking on material inventories. However, the BDI is highly volatile, and dependent on the available shipping capacity as well as demand. If there are 50 ships and only enough bulk cargoes to fill 49 of them, shipping rates can fall by 20%. If 51 cargoes are competing for the same ships, rates can rise 20%. So a 4% change in demand can cause a 40% change in shipping costs. These wild swings mean that the BDI is typically graphed on a log scale.

The BDI typically measures bulk cargoes - ore, crude oil, coal, grain. HARPEX typically measures finished goods - the containers of LCD screens from Taiwan, Scotch Whisky from the UK, motorcycles from Italy and so on. And on my reckoning, it's a good indicator of global consumer activity and value-added conversion activity - which for a consumer-driven and high value-added conversion economy such as ours is surely the critical indicator. As you can see below, it's flat. And it's not a log scale.

City-types and economists please feel free to disagree ....

Troughing scum dig snouts deeper

MPs have quietly awarded themselves a new allowance; £25 'subsidence' for every night they spend away from their main home. So MPs with second homes in London can claim up to an extra £9,125 a year if they spend all their time there.

Even MPs can only eat so many meals a day. The fridges in their second homes, bought at our expense from the finest John Lewis can provide, are no doubt well stocked with comestibles. The fridges in their main homes will be bare. They're buying the same amount of food each week wherever they live.

No, if this allowance was for every night spent away from either residence I could understand it. But it's nothing more than Bercow's little sleaze pill for his chums.

They still don't get it.

Monday, 27 July 2009

The four 'C's

Marcel Berlins writes in the Guardian this morning in protest at the government's describing the recipients of lawyers' services as 'customers' and not as 'clients'. Of course. The abolition of traditional business relationships is at the heart of social engineering.

Remember the four 'C's; citizens, clients, customers and consumers. The balances of power, and the formality, and the legal status of business relationships used to be clearly defined by the customary use of such terms. Lawyers and banks had clients, restaurants had customers, supermarkets had consumers and the State had citizens. Client relationships often enjoyed legal privilege, customer relationships implied a personal recognition between service provider and recipient, consumer relationships gave pre-eminence to spending power and citizens were the masters of the State. No longer.

The banks lost their clients and changed them for customers when they stopped addressing my letters to Raedwald Uffinga Esq, sometime around big bang, and shortly before my account was managed by a young woman in Mumbai. The government swapped citizens for customers when it adopted the banal and deceitful fulsomeness of commerce in its relationship with us; customers have far less power than citizens, and are always to be preferred by the State. And now, as Berlins complains, using a lawyer will be no different from employing a plumber (and probably cheaper), and customers can whinge to a call-centre about ineptly jointed contracts, or trusts that leak, or divorces that leave a wet mess on the floor.

Well, tough. The legal profession has willingly become amateur and second-rate over the past few decades in its rush to comply with the State's agenda to de-professionalise it. Now it must live with the consequences.

What inequalities commissioners really want

Ben Summerskill gives us a prolonged whine in the Times this morning to join the whining of the other equalities commissioners who have recently resigned. They are all complaining that Trevor Phillips isn't delivering what they're after. What they're after is, generally, public money and precedence.

The gay commissioner thinks his brief is more important than the commissioner for the old; the wimmin's commissioner thinks her silo is more important than that of the commissioner for black peoples. The disability commissioner thinks all of them are secondary to the rights of the disabled, whilst the lunatic commissioner points out that the mentally ill are found in all the other groups, and should therefore be pre-eminent.

David Green writes in the Telegraph that "Under the guise of demanding protection against discrimination, each victim group is in reality campaigning for privileges at the expense of everyone else." What they're actually campaigning for is not equality but inequality.

You can bet that there's one sector of charities that Suzi Leather won't be looking into, and that's the myriad of fake charities built around the equalities industry, bloated from tax funding.

Summerskill has carefully disguised his charity Stonewall's accounts to obscure the value of tax money coming into the organisation, but a skim of the public sectors funders published reports suggests that this is significant. Why isn't Summerskill prepared to be open and honest about exactly how much Stonewall gets from the public purse? What's to hide? The Terrence Higgins Trust is 80% funded by the taxpayer and the lottery - could it be that Summerskill fears Stonewall's credentials could be compromised if similar revelations suggested that it wasn't a real charity at all, but just the State in disguise?

Whilst these troughing 'charities' are each fighting for a bigger share of the tax cake, and Leather turns a blind eye to their questionnable charitable status, preferring instead to bully small private schools, they are also battling to gain dominance at the Inequalities Commission. Summerskill's whine today is just the latest episode in this little State drama.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Keep your hatred of a lie, and keep your power of indignation

Some 5m British men volunteered or were conscripted for military service in the Great War. Nearly nine hundred thousand were killed, 1.663m were officially wounded, but all who survived carried the scars of that war. Harry Patch, like most soldiers who had seen battle, hated war. The international political class, the rabble rousers, the demagogues, the spongebag orators whose lies, distortions, omissions and misrepresentations serve selfish political advantage at the cost of human lives must always be opposed, must always be exposed and must always be held to render the price for their evil.

I leave it to Alan Moorehead, who followed the armies around the world for ten campaigns in the last war, to sum it up for me:

"Five years of watching war have made me personally loathe war, especially the childish wastage of it. But this thing - the brief ennoblement inside himself of the otherwise dreary and materialistic man - kept recurring, again and again, up to the very end, and it refreshed and lighted the whole sordid story.

The point perhaps is a little over-mystical, a little intangible. Yet there it is. Whatever material hardship and monotony lie ahead, the soldier will remember that he made his ultimate gesture, that he did something quite selfless to justify his history, himself and his children. He was, for a moment in time, a complete man. If there was one lesson we learned in France and the other occupied countries it was this: it never pays to capitulate. As long as there are things like Belsen Camp you must go on protesting. You must protest.

We were indignant. We protested. We won. All mankind advances. And this will be a matter of some lasting strength to those who fought. This, in the end, I saw, was the thing I was seeking: the explanation of the war. It was the thought in the mind of the Jugoslav who, knowing he was about to die, wrote to his unborn son:
My child, sleeping now in the dark and gathering strength for the struggle of birth, I wish you well. At present you have no proper shape, and you do not breathe, and you are blind. Yet when your time comes, your time and the time of your mother, whom I deeply love, there will be something in you that will give you power to fight for air and light. Such is your heritage, such is your destiny as a child born of woman - to fight for light and hold on, without knowing why ...

Keep your love of life but throw away your fear of death. Life must be loved or it is lost, but it should never be loved too well.

Keep your heart hungry for new knowledge, keep your hatred of a lie, and keep your power of indignation.

Now I know I must die, and you must be born to stand upon the rubbish-heap of my errors. Forgive me for this; I am ashamed to leave you an untidy, uncomfortable world. But so it must be.

In thought, as a last benediction, I kiss your forehead. Good-night to you, and a good morning and a clear dawn."
Harry Patch displayed a true nobility and a wisdom that outshines and shames all the grasping, lying, avaricious toads-in-ermine created by and for the political class, whose deceit and corruption fills yet more pages in our Sunday papers. The contrast could not be greater between this simple, gentle man and the vain foetid puffery of 'Lord' Mandelson and his corrupt cabal who would lie, cheat and worse to send men like Harry Patch to war.

Let us keep our hatred of a lie, and let us keep our power of indignation. We must keep protesting. We must never capitulate.