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Saturday, 5 September 2009

Edlington needs power and pride, not pity

Back in March I wrote of my experience in South Yorkshire during the miners' strike; I didn't then identify the village I wrote about, but it was Edlington, and it was the men who worked in the Yorkshire Main 3,000 feet below our quarry, some of whom I came to know, who were on strike.

I've never been back, but in a strongly-argued piece in today's Times Janice Turner invites us to visit that place. I can see in my mind's eye exactly the place that Janice describes, though the men I knew 25 years ago may now be dead or decrepit, such is the difference in life expectancies between poor ex-miners and comfortably affluent London professionals. Back then, drugs were a few shared spliffies - giggly grass, or some crumbly hashish, and then with moderation; eight hours between bottle and throttle was a good rule when you were operating machinery that could kill your mates.

The Dude is quite right in terming me a drugs Puritan, for I truly loathe both hard drugs and Skunk, a version of cannabis so auto-nihilistic that like Absinthe it's a quick path to insanity. And it's the drugs in Edlington that Turner blames for the recent horrors there.

Save your pity for Edlington, though. It's not pity its people need, but power in their own community; power to drive-out the druggies, power to deal with their delinquent kids. The people of these pit villages have Localism in their DNA, and their voluntary collectivism will manifest itself in brass bands and fiercely tribal village football teams. And those skills long learned from the NCB and passed from father to son are not yet dead; skills that can strip and rebuild an engine, fabricate and engineer pretty much anything from scrap, improvise and contrive. Garden shed ingenuity is alive and well in Edlington. The potential of these people is so much more than a catalogue goods distribution warehouse. Give them power and pride will follow.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Shit leaves sinking rats

Uber-trougher Eric Joyce is making efforts to distance himself from Labour's sinking rats no doubt with an eye to his constituency majority, already likely to be severely dented by the scale of his Parliamentary expenses claims. But even his most uncritical constituents will wonder at the tone of patent insincerity used by Joyce in his resignation letter;

"As you may know, I told Bob Ainsworth some weeks ago that I intended to step down as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Defence Secretary before the start of the new parliamentary term. This seems to me the least disruptive time to do that. "

Um, yep; on the eve of Gordon's critical Afghan-justification speech

"Labour was returned to power in 1997 on the back of your great success in turning the economy from a weakness into a strength for Labour."

By promising no tax-and-spend, Gordon won over both the City and floating voters. He lied, of course, and abandoned all fiscal prudence by the early oughties.

"The Conservatives, of course opportunistically, think they can convince the public that we have lost our empathy with the Defence community."

The public only has to look at the ARRSE forums to see what the 'Defence community' thinks of Labour; Cameron and his team have actually been responsibly restrained in using this against Labour.

"As you know, two Black Watch soldiers gave their lives during your visit. I do not think the public will accept for much longer that our losses can be justified by simply referring to the risk of greater terrorism on our streets."

Here Joyce twists the stiletto; the image of dead soldiers being packed into body bags whilst Gordon, surrounded by massive security, glad-hands Headquarters staff for the cameras to no operational advantage whatsoever is neatly implanted in readers' minds

"It should be possible now to say that we will move off our present war-footing and reduce our forces there substantially during our next term in government."

As Labour's next term in government is unlikely to be before 2025, if ever, this is the hollowest of wishes

"in my view we should allow our service personnel greater latitude to voice their views on matters which make distinctions between defence and politics pointless."

This harks back to Joyce's own insubordination when serving, in publicly criticising his fellow officers even when ordered to desist. He continues to demonstrate that he has little idea of how the forces work, or of the long road of experience that has led to the current workable arrangements.

"I believe the next election is ours to win, thanks greatly to your personal great economic success."

Either Joyce is lying through his teeth (most likely) or he actually believes this guff, in which case his electors might conclude he's mad, and turf him out on grounds of lunacy.

The Times reproduces his cringingly embarrassing letter in full, whilst the Mail presents its readers with an edited version that omits the silly bits.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Gordon's Harvard teaching plans wrecked

More than anything else, Gordon Brown wants his intellect to be recognised. This is worth more to him than Blair's millions, worth enduring the odium of the British public, and worth dragging the Labour party into a humiliating kicking at the election. When he said he fancied teaching after retiring from politics, he wasn't talking about a Scots primary school. Sadly, most informed commentators in the UK regard his intellect as distinctly second-rate, and not of the sort of quality that would secure him a teaching post outside of the Technical College where he once worked.

Not so the septics. A year ago Brown would have been a big-name ticket for Harvard or Yale, with a chair in European politics perhaps. Well, he's blown it now. Following his Libyan dodging, he's about as popular in the US as a halal Haggis, and Harvard is more likely to hire Abu Hamza today than Gordon Brown.

So where to now, Gordon?

BBC troughers caught out

Paul Waugh had a lovely story in last night's Standard;

Boris Johnson was just settling down on the 8.34am St Pancras-Brussels Eurostar today when he felt a chap desperately pushing through the carriage.

The culprit was keen to make his way through the economy section of the train - where the Mayor of London and his team were seated - towards first class.

It turned out to be none other than John Sweeney and his BBC Panorama camera crew - on their way to follow Boris's 'lay off our hedge funds' campaign in the Eurocrats' capital.

When Boris sardonically asked Sweeney if he was heading "to the front end of the train?", the red-faced BBC man mumbled that he had got a really, really good deal in first class, would not be allowed to eat the free croissants etc etc.

Dying of embarassment, Sweeney then repeated his defences as the pair got off and bumped into each other again in Brussels.

The end of the War Horse

Documentary makers invariably pick from two sorts of film stock to illustrate the fall of France; Stuka dive bombers, and German tanks pitching at speed across some French field. In truth, these were the teeth of the Blitzkrieg, so there's no inaccuracy, but the overuse of the images obscures the nature of the tail of the Heer in 1940. The German army that invaded France and Poland was in reality largely horse-drawn; artillery pieces, supplies, troop transport were all transported to battle pulled by horses.

And Germany was not alone. When Lord Gort travelled to France to take up command of the BEF he took his charger and groom with him; the poor creature (the charger, presumably not the groom) was shot on the quayside rather than be allowed to fall into German hands as Gort returned to England.

The German order of battle for Operation Sealion, the invasion of England, included 4,500 horses to land with the first wave, and a further 57,500 horses with the main invasion force. Only 34,200 motor vehicles were listed. German generals were as concerned with supplies of hay and fodder as with shells.

When allied forces landed again in France in 1944 there was not a single horse in the invasion fleet. The same was not true of the German forces; a shortage of motor fuel and other armaments manufacturing priorities meant that even in 1944 and 1945 the Heer was largely horse-drawn. The carnage at Falaise was admixed of the stench of dead horses and burning armour. But 1945 was the end of the War Horse in European battle.

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of any number of events in that war over the next six years, commemorating an end to the use of horses in war is not a bad thing to remember.

I still haven't seen the National Theatre's production of Michael Morpurgo's 'War Horse' at the New London, but I reckon anyone who has will agree with the sentiment above.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Harpex still bumping along the bottom

If the recession is over, there's little evidence for it in container trade. August's Harpex continued to bump along the bottom, actually reaching a new low last week.

In a cogent piece in Scotland's Herald, Douglas Hamilton warns of a crisis ahead for German ship operators; Hapag-Lloyd 'needs 1.75bn to stay afloat' (Euros? Dollars?) and he points out that 'Many became wealthy in the years of the boom, including ship owners, bankers and investors, particularly in Hamburg. Germans own 35% of the container ships in operation worldwide, and close to 60 shipping banks and financiers are headquartered in Hamburg.'

With few operators confident enough to order new keels laid, and as older vessels leave the market, there is also the danger that the current overcapacity will swing to a dangerous undercapacity at some stage in the recovery. But no-one ever promised that globalisation would be easy.

C’est la liberté qui est en danger. Le climat va bien.

So says Czech President Vaclav Klaus, one of the very few genuine thinkers in European politics. I commend his August speech (H/T Brussels Journal) to the Aix-en-Provence Summer University, in which he also very accurately characterises the thinking of the Eurocultist elite as including;
- economic (or social) views based on the concept of the so called social market economy (which is the opposite of the market economy);

- views on freedom, democracy and society based on collectivism, social partnership and corporatism, not on classical parliamentary democracy;

- views on European integration, which favour unification and supranationalism;

- views on foreign policy and international relations based on internationalism, cosmopolitism, abstract universalism, multiculturalism and on denationalization.
As well as what he terms 'an irrational attempt to fight the climate'.

Klaus has seen Eastern Europe emerge from one totalitarianism only to risk becoming enveloped by another - one without the gulags, but no less threatening to personal liberty for all that.

Hear him well.

Brown's fingerprints all over Libyan deal

Gordon's status as an expert on the subject of courage is not readily apparent to anyone except perhaps himself. His books on the subject languish at the very bottom of Amazon's UK book chart; Wartime Courage (Nov 2008) at number 145,765 and Everyday Heroes (Jul 2007) at 339,358. Copies can be had for less than a pound.

In contrast, Vernon Coleman's 'Gordon is a Moron: The Definitive and Objective Analysis of Gordon Brown's Decade as Chancellor of the Exchequer' is at a very respectable 55,129.

Of course, Gordon's reputation in the field of courage is not helped by his habit of running away from any hint of controversy or challenge and leaving others to hold the fort. The Libyan affair is no different, and as the document trail suggests Brown's fingerprints were all over the Libyan deal he himself is nowhere to be seen.

Some courage.


It's only really a bit of fun, but Iain Dale's 2009 blog rankings for Total Politics are now coming out and the RH bar is being updated. I'm pleased that Raedwald remains in the top 100 for two categories - at number 17 for Tory blogs, and at 34 for right of centre blogs. Many thanks to all of you who voted, and I'll try my best to keep the standard up.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

'Green is for witches!'

Many years ago at a student party in a Gloucester Road basement flat, an appalled drama school lecturer uttered the immortal words 'Green is for witches!' on encountering our lighting scheme for the night. He was quite right. We should have used red lamps; red is hot, sexy, pulsing, flattering and green is ...well, for witches. In nature it's the colour of life, but as a lightbulb colour it's the colour of putrefaction and corruption .. and witches.

Of course, we needn't have bothered with red lamps. All incandescent and halogen lamps are red, and candle flames are really red. Though they all look white because our brains correct the colour imbalance. Anyone who has used a video camera without mastering white balance will know real lamp colour. Office fluorescents are green - as are the new low energy Mercury lamps - and cast a baleful and sickly light, deeply unflattering and very witchy.

The girls can rest assured that lighting in my home will remain warm, flattering, age-reducing and ... incandescent or halogen. Never shall a baleful green low-energy lamp foul my lampholders or insult my guests.

It's a taste thing.

(Oh, and ignore the piccy; it's the gorgeous Alexia Khadime at the Victoria Apollo in 'Wicked' that my clever and discriminating niece dragged me along to a few weeks ago - totally enjoyable)

Too late the Hejnal mariacki

The Polish 2nd Corps received their mauling at the hands of the German paratroops in the ruins of Monte Cassino; in that bloody meatgrinder of a battle, in which Anders sent even his cooks and bottlewashers to fight, a fourth and final determined assault won the key strongpoint and opened the Allied advance into Nazi Germany's soft underbelly. As the Polish flag was raised in the ruins and a trumpeter played the mournful five-note melody of the Hejnal mariacki, Poland regained her pride and honour.

Stalin's signed order to Beria for the execution of over 14,000 Polish officers at Katyn came to light after the fall of Communism, but Andrzej Wajda's film remains banned in Russia. Today, as Putin joins Merkel at Gdansk to mark the start of the second war, I recall clearly the more recent struggle for freedom at that port; Lech Walesa and the 'Solidarity' movement that sought freedom from Russian socialist totalitarianism.

And this week also, perhaps fifty years too late, the UK also honours the Polish war effort; not just at Monte Cassino, but in the air during the Battle of Britain, and during the liberation of France and the conquest of Nazi Germany. Finally, £300,000 has been raised by public subscription to raise a monument in the National Memorial Arboretum to the Poles. Many of the tens of thousands of Ander's Army who settled here after 1945 will now have passed, and perhaps it's too late for the Hejnal mariacki to sound in Staffordshire with any conviction, but whilst one remains alive it was worth doing.

UK rolling power cuts more than a disgrace

The government published its Low Carbon Transition Plan in July, but only now it seems are journos reading the appendices, which admit to the need for rolling power cuts within eight years because of lack of generating capacity.

Whilst this government has flung away a trillion in Sterling in lunatic social engineering experiments over the past twelve years, it has left the nation with the infrastructure of a third world failed state. It is beyond disgrace that ministers have failed utterly to secure even a minimum energy security for the United Kingdom.

This is more than a trivial matter. This is malfeasance in public office, and ministers should face trial.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Five steps to welfare reform

Lady Toynbee disparaged Cameron's chances of effective welfare reform in Saturday's Guardian; presuming that Labour's lunatic social engineering experiments were the only way to improve the lives of the poor, the feckless, the idle and the untalented, and that only 'more of the same' could work, she concluded;
There is no sign that Cameron or his team understand what it takes to make social progress. They should look harder at just how heavy the lifting has been for Labour. He sets himself a dangerously high benchmark if he wants to be judged on how much faster he can improve the lives of the poor. With this week's rhetoric, the Conservatives suggest they will do more – but that's a tall order, since Labour has still made better social progress than they can hope to match.
The difficulty for Lady Toynbee is that she rarely encounters those for whom she writes so bravely; they are unlikely neighbours to her either here or to her Tuscan villa, and they rarely venture into Waitrose. She therefore tends to see them as statistics, as percentages of median income, of numbers of at-risk children, as lower life expectancies and as higher prison risks. What she's campaigning for is not the poor but against the idea of poverty.

Frank Field, in contrast, actually knows what he's talking about. He actually understands that we've moved from the age of Beveridge, when the dole was a shameful but necessary safety-net, to an age of entitlement in which Welfare is a lifestyle choice. Field's is the first of five steps to welfare reform. Oh yes, Polly, it can be done - and it can be done differently to Labour's abject failure. There is an alternative.

1. Localise welfare
The first stage is to re-personalise welfare, that it's not 'The State' but 'my working neighbours' who are paying the bills. Benefits office staff know their clients better than anyone, and are the best placed to make accurate and fair benefit determinations. Welfare administration should be localised down to Parish level, with local benefits officers given a budget and allowed wide discretion in making benefit determinations. Claimants would have a right of local appeal to a Parish lay-tribunal. The result would not only be better, quicker and fairer decision making but taxpayers at the local level would know exactly how many (but not who) of their neighbours they were supporting, and at what cost.

2. Capping
A cap of two consecutive years claim for all benefits including HB and CTB except those for the profoundly physically or mentally disabled; at the discretion of local benefit officers, benefits to be up to 70% of the previous two years average earnings for the first year for the newly unemployed, or for those shifted from higher rate disability / invalidity benefits onto workless benefits. Those already on workless benefits would have two years more from the date of enactment. A lifetime cap of six years.

3. Transitional support
Unemployment is a stock concept. Even at full employment levels, at any time there will be those between jobs. An inflexible benefits system means frictional costs are high; many won't claim for a few weeks of unemployment because of the huge bureaucratic barriers and inefficiencies in doing so, and the same inefficiencies often mean it's easier to stay on benefits than accept a job offer. Removing the frictions in moving into and out of jobless benefits, and local discretion over transitional support grants and loans (where, for instance, accepting the next job may involve moving home, or putting the dog into kennels whilst working away) will remove the 'stickyness' of unemployment

4. Housing
Subsidised welfare housing is one of the nation's most expensive luxuries. We're past the days when a Council house was for life; welfare housing at taxpayer expense should be short-term and transitional, either for the temporarily unemployed or those undergoing life crises such as family breakup. Again, the stocks of welfare housing should be managed and allocated at local level by local benefits officers. Allocation priorities should include keeping two-parent families with children together, and short-term buffer accommodation for single persons with or without children who have excellent prospects of moving into work and getting their own place.

5. Community Settlements
We all know that however successful the above measures are, there will always be a hard core of the idle, the feckless and the sociopathic underclass who will exhaust their benefit or bear fatherless children with no intention of ever working or providing for themselves. We cannot abandon them. Even these must receive our Christian charity.

We need to build community settlements to house them, in supervised dormitories for the men, in wards with separate cubicles for single mothers. Such settlements would needs be 'closed' to restrict access to drugs and alcohol, but not prisons; clients could leave whenever they wished, but with no return within fourteen days. Useful work during the day for both men and women, and teachers and health workers for the children, would aim at rehabilitating even these and allowing their return to the world of self-responsibility. There would be no restriction on how long they stay once in - for this would be the final provision, and nothing more but the street and starvation beyond it.

Do I think Cameron would be brave enough to enact the above? No. I fear he's determined to prove Lady Toynbee right.

My kind of creek

Not the sort of places for marina-hoppers, who expect to make rapid passage from one marina berth to an identical one a few miles away, with the same identikit sterile-clean pontoons into which they can plug their boat straight away and bob about with fridges, cappuccino machines, air conditioning and suchlike providing lengthy comfort until their next 'hop'. And not the sort of place that MDL, with its relentless Tesco-like advance across the South of England, can sell its cod-Mediterranean marina lifestyle.

To get into my Good Creek Guide, creeks must dry out at low water (natch), pontoons and stages must be constructed from old bits of wood crudely but solidly nailed together, the only showers are provided by standing under the boatyard hose, half the boats are undergoing repair at any one time, it's less than five minutes walk to a pub built at least three hundred years ago, and there's not a 'no smoking' sign in sight anywhere in the boatyard. Add to this a slightly cavalier attitude to engine oil, lead paint and old TBT antfouling flakes and you've got the closest to my idea of marine heaven that you can get.