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Friday, 9 April 2010

National Citizen Service

Well, it's hardly radical, and the title is perhaps the best part of it. A bit like Cameron's localism, it's a tiny step in the right direction but of almost homeopathic proportions.

For a start, it won't be compulsory. Only a week will be spent away from home, there will be four weeks of local community service and the opportunity for a final week's physical challenge. In exchange for this six weeks, the 16 year olds will get a small cash reward.

So what's wrong with it? First, 16 is too young. At that age it's still school summer camp. Second, it's too short - a week's residential won't achieve a thing. Thirdly, it's still 'play' - a national serviceman was given a .303 SMLE and 50 rounds of ball and told to guard his mates with his life. Fourthly, the reward will be too small. Fifthly, those who would most benefit from some kind of national programme will be the least likely to volunteer.

Now read on to the end if you want to understand why Cameron has no alternative.

Right. Let's start over. What would be a positive outcome for the nation in terms of a pool of reserve skills?

First, firefighters and paramedics. These will take four months of full-time residential training plus two months working with operational teams. A minimum of two weeks annual training thereafter. Minimum starting age of 18. Annual tax-free bounty of say £1,600 for six years.

Secondly, a home-service militarised service unlike the TA, heavy on engineering and logistics, airmobile, and with operational ability in coastal waters. Officers and NCOs seconded from regular Army & Navy, with full time specialists. To undertake armed guarding of nuclear and critical national infrastructure and to replace the routine arming of policemen by being available to support the civil police / customs / coastguard operationally. To respond to severe flooding and other weather events and natural disasters as well as aircraft crashes, acts of terrorism an so on. Also riot duty. Six months full-time residential training and duty from age 17 onwards, annual fortnight's camp and an annual tax-free bounty of say £1,200 for six years.

Thirdly, the soft social services, open to both men and women from age 17. The disabled, hospitals, nursing homes, children's homes, church and charitable communities, ambulance and patient transport services. Service from age 17 including free driving tuition and first aid training, for four months.

In addition, completion of any of these three branches of public service would guarantee a place at university and a student loan at subsidised rates. Pay during service would be at trainee rates. During the bounty period of up to six years, trained personnel will be liable to call-up in the event of local or national emergencies.

Now those options really sound attractive, and will have young people queuing at the door.

Cost? Well, there are about 1.3m 16 and 17 year olds in England and Wales, say 700k reaching trigger age in any year. The cost of six months Combat Infantryman Training is currently about £30k. Clearly, if every one went for this option, it would cost £21bn a year plus a billion a year in bounties. 'Soft' option 3 would only cost around £7k each for the 4 months; about £5bn a year if everyone went for this option. Of course, if you severely restricted access to say 10,000 young people a year you could get the cost down to £300m a year - but at a cost of excluding 690,000 potential beneficiaries each year.

And that, of course, is the reason why Cameron's proposals are so insipid. He's probably got a budget of no more than £0.5bn a year - so one week's residential for everyone, and a couple of hundred quid each for a weekend mountain climbing, but wants to reach maybe half a million young people each year. That's a budget of £1,000 each. Peanuts.

Mixing the wheat with the chaff

I can understand CCHQ being keen to set up a photo shoot to capture Cameron's equivalent of Blair's Babes, but really this is too crass. All these women are Conservative PPCs, but that's where the similarity ends.

You see, they can be neatly divided into those that have the gumption and nous to have achieved something outside of politics and the spin businesses - the wheat - and those that haven't - the chaff.

Kemi, on the far left, is a successful IT geek with an LLB to boot; Louise Bagshaw writes best-selling novels and Helen Grant is a successful solicitor. They are the wheat. Of the rest, they are largely divided into those who would list their occupation as 'housewife' in years past, and those with some dilettante PR or marketing experience or backgrounds in politics or political organisation.

Perhaps I'm being unjust, but these are the people who may in the future take the nation to war, deal with unprecedented social and economic change, support and defend our nation state from threats, constrain over-reaching governments, uphold liberal democracy and the rule of law. It is not a light burden. Merely being a woman is not a good reason for being selected as a party candidate. At a time when we need a strong and resolute Parliament, both parties are fielding too much chaff and too little wheat.

Leaders' Wives

I've known the Sam Cams of this world for many years; they're usually married to chums, and live in Richmond, or Twickenham. Apart from social occasions, you usually only see them when you open a sleep encrusted eye to realise in a flood of existential angst that you're sleeping on their sofa after a night out with their husband. As they open curtains and windows to expel the frowsty debauch stench, your best tactic is to groan. The best of them will bring you a pint of cold orange juice, and prevent their infant offspring from poking you with kitchen implements. Inevitably you will ask "Did we make much noise when we got in last night?" to which the faux-chilled response will be "No, not after you found the right house" or similar. You see, Sam Cams accept that their men need a decent binge from time to time and the occasional tenancy of their sofa is an acceptable price to pay.

I'm far less certain about Sarah Brown. She has something of a look in her that would give me second thoughts about leaving sharp knives about. Classwise, I can't place her; she's like the Scots, who also can't be defined in English class terms. I can imagine her gutting herring in Hull more easily than I can see her chairing an ad agency business development meeting in Golden Square. She would look natural in tartan and scary in orange. I really wouldn't like to wake up on Sarah's sofa.

I presume Nick Clegg is married but can't be bothered to look it up. I've never seen a picture or footage of his wife. However, she'd be a strange woman indeed if she didn't mutter 'Thirty boy!" from time to time.

There you have it.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The World's End

I only ever met Malcolm McLaren the once; in later years, we would miss each other a score of times in the Colony Room, but that Malcolm, the '90s Malcolm, was a very different person to the chap I met in the World's End at the seedy end of the Kings Road back in the late '70s. 'Granny takes a Trip' had just moved to its new location, SEX under Vivienne was just starting there, and rant poets galore and punks by the binbagful gathered for snakebites at the old World's End.

The New York Dolls, the Clash, and urban regeneration. The Cremorne Estate was newly built, and the remainder of the old Victorian town houses were being torn down to make way for the red brick battlements of the World's End Estate. The demolition firm were, not at all strangely for those days, largely homosexual, and were known in the pub as the 'gay gutters'.

Strange the things that lurk in the memory.

Conscience manifesto

It was genuinely coincidental that I penned 'Conscience and it's right to freedom' (below) on the same day that Christian leaders in the UK launched the Conscience manifesto - of which I've just this last half hour been made aware via the redoubtable Cranmer's blog.

The manifesto has been endorsed by both CofE and RC leaders, and the website includes a searchable database to display the agreement or otherwise of your local constituency candidates. The declaration is described as;

‘Protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience are foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities and a just society. Our Christian faith compels us to speak and act in defence of all these.’

The leaders then affirm their commitment as UK citizens ‘both to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good and also to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly’.

They affirm their belief that all human life has intrinsic and equal dignity and worth and that it is the duty of the state to protect the vulnerable’ and make a commitment to ‘support, protect, and be advocates for… children born and unborn, and all those who are sick, disabled, addicted, elderly, in single parent families, poor, exploited, trafficked, appropriately seeking asylum, threatened by environmental change, or exploited by unjust trade, aid or debt policies’.

The leaders specifically pledge ‘to work to protect the life of every human being from conception to its natural end’ and signal their intention to ‘refuse to comply with any directive that compels us to participate in abortion, destructive embryo research, assisted suicide and euthanasia’.

They pledge to support marriage – ‘the lifelong covenantual union of one man and one woman as husband and wife’ - as ‘the only context for sexual intercourse’ and ‘the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all’. Edicts forcing Christians ‘to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage’ are rejected.

Do feel free to disagree - I regard this sort of thing as something entirely personal, rather than something to constantly blog about, so don't expect lots of posts on this subject, and I apologise to those of you who think it rather poor manners of me to mention it at all.

But anyone who agrees may sign in support at

This week it's Bishkek and Osh

Foreign correspondents, in the footsteps of the redoubtable Boot, are no doubt packing their cleft sticks and anxiously scrutinising the Times world atlas to locate the two foreign towns de jour; Bishkek and Osh. BBC newsreaders will be getting their tongues around Kyrgyzstan's geography, with news that the population have rioted over energy prices (see Richard North's piece HERE) and the President has fled from the capital to his tribal homeland town of Osh.

No doubt we'll find out in the next few days why Kyrgyzstan is of importance; it'll either be a gas pipeline, or oil deposits, or a secret NATO airbase or something. The TV screens will flicker with images of swarthy peasants wearing the same Chinese Tee shirts and trainers as the Africans in our local shopping malls, but waving AK74 assault weapons about, and eventually the bullet-ridden corpse of the President / Prime Minister will surface.

Richard is right. Gordon Brown is unlikely to be dragged from the seats of his armoured limousine and hanged from a Midlands lamp post at any time in the near future, but the same anger that's been bubbling away in the central Asian republics has also been fermenting in Luton and Chatham. The world is at a pivot point, and the certainties of the past decades are crumbling. The old political parties are dying on their feet. Even the EU itself may, like the old Soviet Union, prove to have been built on foundations of straw.

Interesting times indeed.

The downfall of the political class

Echoing the sentiments of the post below, Ben Brogan writes in this morning's Telegraph ;

My evidence is patchy, I admit, picked up from conversations with MPs and candidates in the past few weeks who report a keenness on the doorstep from voters who are ready to get stuck in and are merely waiting for the right kind of politician to come along. Party affiliation may now be a downright disadvantage for those courting votes. But those who can present themselves as independents, either in name or in spirit, willing to stand against homogeneity or the diktats of London power brokers, will have the upper hand.
If David Cameron gets in, he may be just in time. Another Parliament and the tide will have gone out on those whose career was always only politics and spin. Yes, there is a straight choice between Cameron and Brown. But if what you see on your screen troubles you, look beyond for the authentic, independent voices, many sporting party colours, some not, who have been listening to your anger. They are out there, and they are a reason not to despair.

The public have been way ahead of the moribund old parties on this; we've been sick of the loathsome political class for some time. This hasn't stopped either party from fielding blow-in dags who have no experience other than politics or political organising for seats in the next Parliament, but their time too will come.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

It's Character, stupid

One salient fact has percolated through to the minds of the nation's voters; the MPs they've hitherto returned to Parliament have been somewhat morally deficient. We are also in the early stages of post-tribal politics, for with the retreat from the grass roots of the major parties, such allegiances have withered. This election, unlike any in living memory, will put the character of candidates under the spotlight; every time they glad-hand a constituent, the unspoken question "Are they bent?" or more probably "How bent are they?" will hang in the air between them. For many voters, manifesto commitments will be as unintelligible as you are to your cat - they will listen with polite interest, but the noise will mean little to them.

And for the first time, when every cellphone has a video camera, when every voter has a facebook page or a blog, a whole world away from 2005 in technological terms, would-be MPs will be as exposed as never before to recording, scrutiny and dissemination. The magic of MP status has been broken on a wheel of porn videos, bath-plugs and duck houses, and the public will regard Parliamentary candidates with all the care they would accord to suspected paedophiles.

Yesterday we saw the user-Web expose Brown's fake supporters at St Pancras and give notice to Brown's clumsy mis-speaking, and such things I think will be the keynote of this election. Grainy cell-phone videos on Youtube will document the progress of the campaigns across the country, and citizens who challenge, berate, chastise or heckle candidates will each claim their fifteen minutes of fame.

I suspect that two or three weeks into the campaign, the parties will realise that Character, not politics, will be the key theme of this election. Then it will really start to become interesting.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Brown's Freudian slip

No wonder they don't let Brown speak without an autocue; he may inadvertently stop lying and tell the truth by accident. Verbatim from his Downing Street election launch just now;

"We will renew the contract between the people and those that they are sworn to serve"

You couldn't make it up

Labour's regressive manifesto - back to the '70s with Gordon

The Telegraph characterises the coming fight as 'Big Government versus Big Society', and though Dave's pledges to decentralise the State owe more to the principles of homeopathy than political economy, it's a fair summation.

For Labour's draft manifesto, revealed in the Guardian, is an unequivocal plan to strengthen even more the State and the Leviathan of Big Government and to disempower even further the British people;

Provisions for the management of inefficient police forces to be taken over by efficient forces. "Where service is not good enough, it will be taken over by the best," the draft says
The Home Office have been trying for a decade to strong-arm police forces into merging, in a long effort to wrest control of the police from citizens to the State. We've proven stubbornly resistant to Labour's vision of a National Police Force under the control of central government - but here's Labour's devious work-around. Simply set the efficiency bar to 'fail' half the existing forces over successive years and within a Parliamentary term you can pretty well create a National Police Force.

Simultaneous referendums on a new voting system for the Commons and a 100% elected second chamber.
After having enjoyed all the benefits of skewed electoral quotas under the FPTP system, even Labour realise that our unequal constituencies can't continue for ever. In a sop to a potential alliance with the LibDems, Labour are embracing the AV system - a system that will give even more power to central metropolitan parties, and detract from the local constituency link.

A national youth service alongside votes at 16.
The idea of a national youth service fills me with horror; it will have a Minister, and no doubt a new quango - the National Youth Agency? - to run it, with a dozen Regional Directors on £200k a year each, all faithfully parroting Whitehall's central diktats. Perhaps Gordon even has a uniform in mind ...

Rights for football supporters to take over football clubs.
This is the reintroduction of Labour's oldest and most fondly held tenet - the Right of Nationalisation. Clause 4 is back. Expect Labour to extend the 'right' to all sort of privately-owned enterprises, not just football clubs.

A living wage of £7.60 in Whitehall, funded by a cap on the salaries of the most highly paid public sector employees.
They just can't resist central command and control, can they? What's the free market reward package in London for unqualified admin workers? Why pay more than this? This is an obvious sop to Mark Serwotka and the PCS Union; with Jack Dromey and eleven other TU reps on Labour's NEC, the Blairites need to pay-off the Unions. With our money.

Same old same old Labour. This could have been Michael Foot's manifesto - all that's lacking is a commitment to unilateral disarmament and a score of scruffy lesbians on the platform.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Now this IS a Big Society

From time to time I've offered the town of Vail, in Colorado, as an example of how Localism works at the micro level; the town budget, it's police force, how the local sales Tax is applied and so on.

Brussels Journal carries an interesting piece on how Localism functions at the macro level - in Switzerland;
Long ago, the Swiss understood that most things government needs to do and constructively does are at the local level. So, unlike in most modern nation-states, local government has the bulk of the resources and activities, while the central government remains relatively small and less important in the daily lives of the people. In the U.S., roughly two-thirds of government is at the federal level, and one third is at the state and local level. Switzerland is just the opposite, with roughly two-thirds of government being at the state (canton) and local level.
Indeed, in overall state expenditure in Switzerland, the Communes, the lowest level of government, account for 30% of autonomous expenditure, whilst the Cantons have 40% and the Swiss State only commands 30% of total spend. Nor is this just a sharing of a State-determined tax pot; the Communes have the competence to determine property and income taxes, which account for fully a third of the total national tax-take, a power which makes them an equal player with both the State and the Cantons. In the UK the position is centralist beyond belief; only Council Tax, at about £25bn annually, is levied and collected locally. The remaining 95% of taxes are determined and collected centrally, and given that local councils are prevented by law from setting the Council Tax they want, rather than the level set by Whitehall, it's also true to say that 100% of UK taxes are determined centrally.

There is no fixed model either for the size of the Communes, or for the relationship of the Communes to the Cantons; again, such things are left to be determined locally, and thus Swiss government is the most delightful 'postcode lottery' of diversity, with administrative arrangements tailored to suit local circumstances rather than determined by rigid central diktat.

The following table, from Kubler and Ladner, demonstrates the spread in size of the lowest tier of Swiss municipality;

Thus in Switzerland there is an average of one lowest tier authority for each 2,700 of the population, with each Commune having real autonomy. By contrast, the UK has one lowest tier 'authority' for every 118,400 of us, with each ruled rigidly from Whitehall and with virtually no local autonomy.

Democratic deficit? This is off the scale. It's not hyperbole to say that our system of government in the UK has more in common with a South American dictatorship than with a European social democracy.

You will therefore understand the scale of my disappointment with Dave's 'Big Society', which is little more than a damp squib when what we desperately need is an earth-shattering big-bang Monster Rocket.

Switzerland isn't alone in terms of democratic access; France has one municipality for every 1,580 persons, and Germany one for every 4,925. My examplar US town of Vail is also pretty typical of democratic access in the US, with one municipality for every 7,000 persons.

And what's the best on offer from any UK political party right now? The right of a neighbourhood group to take over the running of the village hall, but only if it's falling down. How pathetic. How low have we fallen, how blinded have we been by a moribund centralist Statist party system run by foreign governments, corrupt oligarchs and nihilistic Marxist unions.

The vocabulary of Socialistspeak

Both Brown and Darling are referring to Cameron's plans to scrap Labour's NI increases as 'taking money out of the economy'.

Excuse me?

Ah, I see. For Statists, there is only one economy - the fantasy model, the make-believe, away-with-the-fairies command economy under the direction of the central State. For Brown and Darling, the State and the Economy are one - so depriving the State of additional taxes is 'taking money out of the economy'

In the real world, of course, not implementing the NI increase will maintain and encourage employment and the additional money retained in the real economy will multiply its impact. In the real world, 'taking money out of the economy' means allowing Labour to increase taxes and squander the product on non-productive ends.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Conscience and its right to freedom

The title of this post is that of a book by the late Fr Eric D'Arcy, a gifted De La Sallean alumnus, the popularity of which amongst seminarians has no doubt fallen into desuetude. It deals in part with those things that fall between Caesar and Spirit, issues such as abortion, sterilisation, homosexuality and euthanasia. Traditionally as a society we recognised the primacy of individual conscience in such matters; Catholic surgeons were encouraged to make arrangements in the operating theatre to let someone else snip the vas deferens or excise the ovary, orthodox social workers were excused from counselling pregnant teens and so on.

It was the rise of liberalism, and not just the liberalism of the left, that abrogated wholly to the State those matters which previously had been regarded as within the realm of individual conscience. In the black Rousseau-esque world of the secular State, there is no room for personal liberty, no place for faith, and in that grey area in which the duty owed to Caesar and that owed to the self overlap, the State says that Caesar's interests must be paramount. But conscience is a quality interior to man, and whatever powers the State has over our mortal bodies, here is a place the power of the State cannot reach.

Neither is there room in faith for moral relativity, the scourge of our age and the cancer that eats at the Anglican church. The teaching of the Church must be a matter of moral absolutes or it is meaningless.

And when our interior, personal conscience and the teaching of the Church both together ajudge an act or course of action as morally wrong, there is no legitimate temporal authority on the Earth that can compel us to disregard the scintilla conscientiae, the spark of conscience.

As I have written previously, no Christian need be under any obligation to heed the assumptions behind Equalities or other legislation in so far as this violates the sanctity of individual conscience and Christian faith; being true to one's conscience is the prime duty we owe to our interior selves, and this is not a realm where Caesar has any authority.

And before those of you who are driven to do so leave vituperative comments, I would ask you to consider that I'm not seeking to compel or regulate your behaviour or beliefs, merely for the freedom for each individual to do so for themselves.