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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Rolling back the Central State

H/T to the Magistrate for finding this letter to the Times;

Sir, If opportunities are being sought for cuts in the public sector, a good place to start might be in the legal system, in particular the Courts Service.

As an example, in 2003 the Courts Service was enlarged to include within its embrace the administration of the magistrates’ courts and statutory tribunals in England and Wales. At the time Sir Hayden Phillips, then Permanent Secretary at the Lord Chancellor’s Department (now the Ministry of Justice), said that to effect that change the number of civil servants required would rise to about 25,000, at an annual cost of £3 billion.

Before 2003 the justices of the peace for hundreds of years had been entirely independent, managing their own courts locally at minimal cost to the taxpayer, and being reimbursed only for expenses. Their services were, and are, voluntary and unpaid.

The magistrates’ courts accounted in 2003 for more than 90 per cent of the criminal cases in this country, the rate of disposal being greater than that in the other criminal courts administered by the Courts Service; the magistracy, then and now, enjoys the confidence of the public, and without the lay magistrates the criminal justice system could not function. This much was accepted in the flawed Auld report, on the basis of which the enlargement of the Courts Service was proposed and justified. It was said that efficiency required the incorporation of the magistrates’ courts into a unified Courts Service, to be operated at both national and local level by civil servants. However, it remains doubtful whether any such efficiency has been achieved. On the contrary, it seems likely that the system, now burdened with an unwelcome bureacracy, is less efficient, more wasteful and very expensive.

The system worked perfectly well before 2003 without the need to spend billions on it. The removal of the magistrates’ courts (and the statutory tribunals) from the Courts Service, and the restoration of the autonomy and independence of the justices, would be constitutionally sound and would save the nation a great deal of money.

Stanley Brodie, QC

The mess of the magistrates' courts is in a microcosm the mess that central Statism has inflicted across all areas of administering our civil society. Within the criminal justice system, the role of the CPS - which surely should be called the SPS, the State Prosecution Service, for the extent to which it has ridden roughshod over the Sovereign's exercise of justice through her Sheriffs and Lords Lieutenant, and the role of the Lord Chancellor.

Many of the arguments against the old systems are around objections to (hateful term) a 'postcode lottery'. Well, those 'postcode lotteries' often reflected very accurately the values and relativities of local communities; the Welsh benches from 'dry' shires that savagely disposed of alcohol-related offences, and the harsh penalties for thieves imposed by benches in the northern Mill Towns. When I was a lad the bench covering the seaside retirement towns of Frinton and Clacton had the reputation of jailing speeding youngsters - and the message was understood; don't race in Frinton. My neighbour in a Suffolk market town was a magistrate, a down to earth bloke who worked as a supervisor for a local ICI plant. His family had lived in the town for at least 400 years. He saw his JP job as much about defending our local communities from external threats as upholding the Queen's justice - with the implicit consequence that outsiders and external deviance would be dealt with more harshly than local delinquency well understood.

In the mendacious doublespeak of the Central State 'Community Justice' means exactly the opposite; all discretion that would make the operation of the lowest tier of our criminal justice system in any way 'community' driven has been removed. Community values are scorned by the central State in favour of political policies. Here's to a return to independent courts, to a postcode lottery and to true community justice. And a bonfire of the Department of State Justice.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Why liberal elites prefer third-world servants

Ed West suggests Patricia Scotland's preference for a third-world maid rather than a gobby chav single mum from the nearest housing estate is just par for the course for our liberal elite;
And while I’m sure Ms Tapui was a great housekeeper, why do we need to bring over someone from the South Seas to do a job that literally millions of Britain’s native welfare teat-sucking walking invalids could do?

It’s not just because many of the natives would probably ransack the house: upper-middle class London liberals prefer to be served by foreigners. They prefer their wine to be brought to them by Poles, they prefer their houses to be cleaned by Lithuanians, and they prefer their children looked after by Chinese women. Not only are people from these countries both more well-brought up, grateful and obsequious, but one does not need to feel so worried about the inequalities of life.

The liberal elite believe in such things as comprehensive education and social justice. Many of them are embarrassed about their background and accent. Having a working-class Englishman around means having to awkwardly drop one’s aitches or make small-talk about football. The native English speakers might see the works by Naomi Klein, Michael Moore or Will Hutton on one’s bookshelf and sneer with contempt.

Working-class firebrands on both Left and Right wonder why New Labour abandoned the working class in favour of radical campus politics that did nothing about unemployment, but the obvious reason is that it suited their lifestyle and wallet. It costs nothing to believe in anti-racism, cultural relativism, whites-only feminism and all the other tenets of the creed – in many ways it’s actually profitable.

Dan Hannan gets the shivers

Dan's Telegraph blog carries a couple of graphs that show why Dan is distinctly unconvinced by the 'it's all over' headlines in the press about the recession. And there are indeed parallels between this little breathing space and the big dip that followed the minor recovery of 1930.

"After the 1929 crash ... the stock market turned upward in early 1930, returning to early 1929 levels by April, though still almost 30% below the peak of September 1929. Together, government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than in the corresponding period of the previous year.By mid-1930, interest rates had dropped to low levels, but expected deflation and the reluctance of people to add new debt by borrowing, meant that consumer spending and investment were depressed. In May 1930, automobile sales had declined to below the levels of 1928. Prices in general began to decline, but wages held steady in 1930; but then a deflationary spiral started in 1931."

Austrian school economists blame government economic intervention for delaying the adjustment of the market, and indeed making things worse and recovery more difficult.

Is Dan right? Is the worst yet to come? Or was this just another bog-standard recession, a normal business cycle dip, with the added flavour of a banking crisis? We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Paul Stephenson - dinosaur plod vs. the people of London

The London boroughs want a say in appointing their borough commanders. The Mayor of London wants greater control and direction of the operation of a force that swallows £3.6bn a year in taxes. Localists including myself want policing operations down to Ward level to be accountable to local Watch Committees of citizens and magistrates, similar to the Japanese model.

In the face of this, the reaction of Met Commissioner Paul Stephenson is 'hands off - it's mine'.

The public comments to that response on the Standard's site are almost unanimously against Stephenson. My own experience from almost everyone I discuss this with is that Londoners want control of their police force. No doubt polls also support this consensus.

As Simon Jenkins writes in the Standard 'You're his boss, Boris - don't let Paul Stephenson forget that';

At last, a London row that really matters and where only one side can be right. London's police chiefs are demanding that politicians stop interfering in how they police the streets. London's Tory politicians think otherwise. They want to interfere more. They are right.

Yes, they are right. Let's have this out.

Narrow Banking gets expert support

When the government had the chance to implement banking reform, when the iron was still hot enough to strike, I strongly advocated the splitting of retail banking operations from the buccaneering side of banking. Only the retail side should have government protection guarantees, and it would need to be tightly controlled, I said. The whole risky investment banking side would have to stand or fall by itself, and not a penny of tax money should ever be spent baling it out.

I'm sure some of you thought it a simplistic and naive solution from an amateur. Still, at a point in time it was do-able - the government would have faced little argument from a banking sector with all the wind knocked out of it. That time is past, the sector has recovered its arrogance and would place every obstacle imaginable in the path of government who now wanted to engineer such a split.

The CSFI's John Kay has now belatedly jumped on the bandwagon with a new report recommending exactly the measures I did. Retail deposits, loans, the payments system, business banking and the rest all within 'Narrow Banks', as tightly regulated as water, gas and telecomms. The casino operations, together with their massive bonuses, to be in an unregulated but unsupported sector earning tax and revenue for government but as expendable as goldfish.

The banks have learned only one thing - that if they're big, and they've got retail banking tied up in their investment operations, then governments won't let them fail. It's time to disabuse them of this guarantee. Brown's enduring incompetence and dithering missed the right tide for this, and it will now be harder to do, but Cameron must surely have the strength to carry this through.

Patricia Scotland must resign

If you're the proprietor of a greasy spoon caff who struggles even with simple government forms and you unwittingly employ an illegal immigrant as your washer-up, you face prosecution and a fine of up to £10,000. It's no defence to claim you didn't understand the documents or the requirements for a valid working visa.

If you're a qualified barrister who understands professionally exactly what the requirements are, there's no justification whatever. And if you're the Attorney General as well, to employ an illegal is either an indicator of appalling incompetence that makes you unfit for office, or wilful disregard of the law. Either way, it demands a resignation.

Monday, 14 September 2009

In praise of dead white males

In a 2003 book that has no doubt found itself on Harman's banned list, Charles Murray (yes, he of the Underclass) painstakingly analysed global accomplishment and found that mankind's advance so far has overwhelmingly been at the hands of dead white males.
Evidence scattered from Angkor Wat to Machu Picchu attests to the ability of human beings throughout the globe, not confined to the leading civilizations, to achieve amazing technological feats. And yet, and yet….Modern Europe has overwhelmingly dominated accomplishment in both the arts and sciences. The estimates of the European contribution are robust. They cannot, in any way I have been able to devise, be attenuated more than fractionally. As I write, it appears that Europe’s run is over. In another few hundred years, books will probably be exploring the reasons why some completely different part of the world became the locus of great human accomplishment. Now is a good time to stand back in admiration. What the human species is today owes in astonishing degree to what was accomplished in just half a dozen centuries by the peoples of one small portion of the northwestern Eurasian land mass. Not only does Europe dominate the narrative of human accomplishment, so does the minority that has become known in recent years as dead white males.
Read a comprehensive precis (and some of the lists) HERE

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Once the BBC report Brown's health story, the game's up

Speculation about Brown's mental health has been doing the rounds on the blogosphere for at least a couple of years now. From time to time MSM columnists would drop a print hint, much as editors of old placed a few paragraphs on Mrs Simpson's movements alongside a story from the Court Circular. Those in the know knew. This week the speculation in the print media has been open - both here in the UK and in the US.

The BBC has of course refrained until now from making any comment on the story; in doing so, I think it has acted responsibly. Even in this day and age, once the BBC report speculation on the Prime Minister's mental health, the game's up; he'll have no choice but to resign. Right now, I think the BBC are just waiting to see how the story carries.

These are incredibly difficult days for all those involved. Let's hope they all hold the interests of the nation as paramount, and do the right thing - whatever that is.

Brown's ghosts come back to haunt him

The papers recount today how the story about the way in which Alan Johnson won his spurs came out at Frank Field's party to celebrate thirty years in the Commons. When Field started making his resignation speech in 1998, Brown stormed out of the chamber, and whips were instructed to get other Labour members to leave as disruptively as possible whilst Field was speaking. Many did. Johnson didn't. He contemptuously tore up the whips' note and stayed put.

Brown's absolute stupidity and incompetence in rejecting Field's welfare reforms in 1998 have lumbered us with eleven years of gargantuan waste, both fiscal and human; few on Labour's benches would cavil at Field's measures now. If Brown had been a bigger man, if he had supported Field's elevation to Secretary of State and a place in the Cabinet rather than squealing like a petulant child about someone playing with his toys, neither Labour nor the country would be in the mess we're in today.

Field's statement is worth repeating in full:
Hon. Members Order! (As Blair and Brown storm out)

Madam Speaker Order. This House must come to order. That is disgraceful behaviour from Members on the Front Bench.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) Madam Speaker, as I was saying, before I was interrupted by the privileges of office.

For a decade before entering Parliament, I worked on behalf of poor people, attempting to make their needs and views better known to the nation. In Parliament, to which I was elected in the political watershed election of 1979, I argued for welfare reform, and helped campaign to make Labour acceptable again, while representing the interests of my constituents in Birkenhead. In so many respects, all three battles overlapped.

My past 30 years have been characterised by helping to get changes made—calling for the sale of council houses, and for the money to be used to build new homes and repair old ones; initiating the one member, one vote, campaign; and spearheading the political drive for the introduction of child benefit. On those and other issues, the stress was on seeing reforms through.

Before my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) became the leader of the Labour party, I put it on the record that I did not believe that Labour would ever win an election again. My right hon. Friend transformed that position. The 1997 election result indicated the electorate's wish to embrace political change on a scale equal to, but radically different from, that made by Mrs. Thatcher.

On the Saturday after my right hon. Friend's election triumph, I was offered the post of Minister for Welfare Reform. I sensed then, only tentatively, that to reform welfare required a position of executive authority. I was to learn the full importance of that only later. In the end, I settled for a non-executive position, wishing as I did, and still do, for the welfare reform programme to be the big success for which the country longs, and wishing to play some part in that revolution.

I also knew that not to have taken that opportunity could have led to accusations that I had never been a team player, for that was a charge to which I was particularly open. I had spent most of my political life here in Parliament, where there was no Labour team worth playing for, and in trying to maintain some political sanity when others had lost their heads. I am pleased to see that so many are back in order.

On the Monday after the election, I talked to the Prime Minister about the welfare reform strategy. He gave me his immediate agreement to the production of a Green Paper. The idea was to produce a route map guiding the way in which reform should be conducted. Then the difficulties began. However, it is not true that the Prime Minister ever vetoed earlier versions of the Green Paper as being too radical. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over many years, the Prime Minister has commented on my publications. There was much about the way in which welfare was impacting on people's lives on which we agreed—how it affected behaviour, and how individuals saw or did not see their personal responsibilities and their duty to self-improvement. Here, then, was the central theme of the welfare reform strategy. People's natural wish to improve their lot and that of their families had to become once again the great engine force of social advance in Britain.

Much of current welfare expenditure counters that objective. Although the level of expenditure is an issue, the main concern is the cancerous impact that much of welfare has on people's motivations, their actions and thus their character. Those are the beliefs underpinning the Green Paper. There, the objectives of welfare reform are spelled out, together with 32 success measurements. No democratically elected Government have ever before stated so clearly at the start of their stewardship the measures by which they wish to be judged.

The process of reform was put out to consultation, which ends on Friday, although not before I had travelled more than 9,000 miles and listened and talked to more than 2,000 people.

The Green Paper lays down the framework within which welfare reform is to be conducted. Other Green Papers on specific topics are to follow. One on the Child Support Agency is already out for consultation. Again on the Prime Minister's authority, I and the DSS team produced within eight weeks a Green Paper on countering fraud.

Bigger decisions are now awaited. The reform of disability benefits is urgent. Housing benefit cannot be left providing millions of tenants with a free good for life, at the cost of giving landlords open access to taxpayers' money.

The biggest of all reforms should be heralded in the pensions Green Paper, where the battle is joined by those who see a limited operation as desirable, with a major role for means-tested provision not only for now but for many generations to come.

The alternative centres on proposals that I have made for a universal stakeholder pension. That would guarantee a pension from national insurance and from funded sources which links the interests of rich and poor into a single scheme. It involves some redistribution from richer people to their poorer neighbours, in return for guaranteeing a pension level that only the community can offer. I wish my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Social Security every success in that debate.

If the past 15 months have taught me anything, it is not only that the biggest of all reforms requires an executive position for a person with convictions about welfare reform, but that the entire Cabinet, especially the Chancellor, shares beliefs about that common endeavour.

I went into Government to see the welfare reform programme through. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister offered me other tasks on Monday, I resigned. It was from the other side of the House that I put together the philosophy underpinning our welfare reform programme. It is from this side that I shall attempt once again to help to build a consensus for radical change which, while accepting the pivotal role of self-interest and its crucial link to self-improvement, does not collapse into a selfishness which excludes the poor.

May I thank you, Madam Speaker, for allowing me to make this statement? Through you, may I thank the House for listening to me?

Adrian Gill is no snob

Adrian Gill is not a snob. He has taste. There's a difference.

Taste is an internal quality; it automatically rejects the ugly, the jarring, the cringemaking and the distasteful and is by definition utterly personal, relying on a wholly subjective assessment of what jars, offends and feels wrong. Snobbishness, on the other hand, always looks to see what it thinks the smart view is, and copies it. Adrian's rant in his restaurant column this morning is a classic; if ever a critic put a better case for avoiding a restaurant because of its clientele, I've yet to read it -
A pair of lunching, scarlet-gobbed, Botoxed, overweight over-forties, dressed in outfits that might have been appropriate on a 17-year-old Serb in a Mykonos disco. Billowing breast implants and sagging stomachs, spray-tanned, bubble-wrap thighs and french-polished toenails in gladiator sandals, jangling jewellery like kitchen utensils constructed solely out of interlocking logos. Their ferociously yellow blonded hair extensions and flabby faces with Marlboro Light-lined lips gobbing inanities, constantly dipping into gaudy handbags full of BlackBerries and iPhones and antidepressants. They were such a strikingly vulgar pair of brazenly Scottische trollopy jades. There is, in Edinburgh, a culturally cringing plagiarism, a fawning desire to take on English fashion, and in doing so, get it completely ass about tit. These two imagined themselves as up-for-it Wilmslow Wags and had achieved precisely the opposite effect. They stared at each other as comforting mirrors.