Saturday, 17 April 2010

A failure of Licensing, not of licence

The plethora of 'live action' TV cop programmes showcasing Britain's young drunks as they fight, stumble and vomit their way through our town and city centres all tend to merge into one vast twenty-first century Gin Lane Live, with a voiceover by Baldrick, lit by Sodium street lights with a heavy bass soundtrack and hi-viz plods as a sort of Gilbertian chorus. Nottingham, Cardiff, Brighton or Soho have become almost indistinguishable.

I'm astonished that anyone should be the least surprised by this development. I'm even more astonished when the media or politicians wrongly ascribe it to too much licence given to young people or to longer opening hours available to licensed victuallers. No. The proximate cause of this tsunami of public drunkenness and disorder is Labour's ruthlessly centralist approach to Licensing.

Local government is little more than an agency of the State these days, and was therefore ideally placed to execute Labour's new Licensing regime, under which exactly the same rules were to be applied everywhere from Newcastle to Newquay, with a presumption in favour of granting each and every licence application. Labour's vision was for "A vibrant night-time economy to revitalise our town and city centres". Truly.

Before this disastrous attempt at engineering a social homogeneity across Britain, licences were granted by a local bench of magistrates advised by the police. They based their decisions on their opinion on the degree of drunkenness, noise, disturbance and disorder that would result, and largely applied their own, local, standards. Licensees had to be whiter than white. Each extension had to be applied for separately; not usually a worry for a country hotel hosting a dinner and dance, but a lottery for a town centre pub holding a wet T shirt contest. And rightly so.

I'm fairly certain that had Licensing decisions remained in the hands of an independent magistracy, the centres of Nottingham, Cardiff, Brighton and Norwich would not now be no-go areas after dark. It's really that simple.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Housing bubble is back

The ES is reporting tonight the return of the London housing bubble, with prices in Westminster now 10% above their 2007 peak. My own borough is still 6% under the 2007 level, but there's no shortage of estate agents letters on the mat begging for us to market our homes with them 'for waiting buyers'.

I'm staying put until this all plays out - I have a feeling it's all going to end in tears.

Debate viewing figures - Raedwald was closest

The viewing figures are in for last night - and they're under 10m. You may recall that I predicted 5m viewers below, widely at variance with PB's David Herdson who predicted 16m, and several miles away from the idiots of the MSM who were predicting over 20m viewers yesterday.

Well, David and gentlemen of the press, I was closest.

The supposed biggest political TV event of the century attracts about as many viewers as a run of the mill episode of Enders or Corrie. What a savage indictment of the depths to which our politics have fallen.

The possibility of an election turn out of under 50% is now firmly on the cards.

HIGNFY was OK

I half-watched the first half hour of the leaders' debate before switching to BBC1 for Have I got news for you. Which was OK. Then I read a few pages of a soporific Swedish novel guaranteed to put the brain waves into sleep mode.

So my impressions from the first half hour? Well, it's the first time I've seen Clegg's face move. Normally I never watch anything with LibDems in, so I know him only vaguely from still photographs. He reminds me of an insurance broker from Wembley chasing a commission, or an earnest estate agent. However, that such people are often highly successful in selling both insurance and houses is apparently confirmed by this morning's poll results. Brown was his usual clunking self, and Cameron failed to sparkle.

The following hour could have been different, of course, but for the bit I saw the Indie's cartoonist had it about right:

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Mandelson's proboscis

Accusing Cameron of being 'toffee nosed' is perhaps a bit rich coming from 'Pinocchio' Mandelson. At least Cameron can tell the difference between Guacamole and mushy peas.

Ash over Channel: Europe cut off

The Icelandic ash cloud has effectively cut Europe off from the UK and this must be of great concern this evening to millions of poor continentals. To them I would say keep calm, stay indoors, keep a spare bucket and five gallons of drinking water handy and tune in to the World Service for the latest information.

It will not be long before the dust disperses, and Europe will be rejoined with us once again.

Farewell, DK

For what it's worth, I thought Chris Mounsey didn't come off as badly with Wiggy as others have written. Still, all of us have a life, and I understand fully Chris' reasons for closing the vastly entertaining DK down.

Trying to get libertarians into a formal political party must be a bit like herding cats, and LPUK's membership is certainly not reflective of the vast number of Britons who would describe themselves as libertarian to some degree. Wiggy failed to realise that as Cameron felt obliged to attack libertarianism in coded words in his manifesto launch, LPUK's birth signalled a significant cohort of public opinion that the political class can't ignore.

As I've said before, I'm no libertarian. But I'm infinitely closer to their position than I am to Stalinist Statism, and so I'm genuinely sorry to see Chris' wings clipped.

Abolish the Audit Commission

The ruthlessly centralist Catholic Church employed the Dominicans, the hounds of God, to enforce obedience and orthodoxy throughout the many orders, provinces, dioceses and parishes that made up the Christian world. The stated justification for the Inquisition's infamous cruelties was "punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit".

The Audit Commission was originally a small body of professional accountants sent on tour around Britain's local councils, schools, hospitals and fire brigades to ensure financial probity and proper stewardship of public funds. They didn't dictate what these democratically elected bodies should do - merely that the books should be straight. Their audit opinion was needed to sign-off public accounts each year, and a negative audit opinion was a powerful tool.

Today the organisation has become a massive, bloated, expensive bureaucracy at the heart of the central State, dictating policy and performance to each of the public bodies its grasp extends to. The fat cats of the Audit Commission feature prominently on the Taxpayers' Alliance's 2009 Public Sector Rich list, with a Chief Executive paid over £245,000 a year and scores of bloated minions. And this is particularly pernicious - because the money the Audit Commission's bosses pay themselves sets the standard for the rest of the overpaid, avaricious, grasping taxstealers at the top of local government and the NHS to do exactly the same.

The Audit Commission has become the equivalent of a Soviet State Economic Planning Directorate; it sets the tractor-production targets of each subsidiary body, with quotas for steel, power and labour. Apparatchiks are rewarded with the equivalent of Orders of Lenin; top billing in the Commission's league tables. The massive disparity in rewards at the top and bottom of the public sector has grown because of the Audit Commission's interference. The organisation is wholly anti-democratic and it is the Audit Commission, and not elected councillors who run your local council.

And more dangerously, it has become, like the Inquisition, the guardian of orthodoxy on the primacy of a powerful central State.

The Audit Commission's close ties to the 'Big 5' also means that hundreds of millions of public funds are siphoned off each year to private sector consultants. KPMG rely on the taxpayer for more than a third of their income. You can be sure of only one thing in the forthcoming savage public service cuts - that it will be the services you value that will be visibly cut, and not the spending on external consultants, or the budget of the Audit Commission.

And don't forget, it is that same Audit Commission that has presided over an increase in public spending adjusted for inflation of about £200bn a year since 1997 (I made it £185bn a year using the Treasury GDP deflator; Conservativehome makes it £219bn a year).

Some 'watchdog'.

If Cameron is to stand any chance whatever of even taking the first steps along the path to Localism, he must abolish the Audit Commission as one of his first acts of government. We need to get back to that small group of accountants checking the books, and trash this soviet Leviathan.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Leaders debate viewing figures

By Friday morning the BARB figures will be in for tomorrow's Leaders debate. Will the anti-political mood of the nation return a pathetic 2m viewers, only marginally more than the Chancellors debate at 1.6m, or the 16m viewers that David Herdson of Political Betting expects?

I reckon that Cameron, Clegg and Brown will be hard put to equal last week's viewing figures for Gene Hunt (6.6m), let alone Corrie and Enders at over 9m each, or Doctor Who at 9.6m

Herdson reasons that QT with Nick Griffin pulled in 8m viewers at 10.35pm - and therefore that the leaders debate at 8pm should attract twice as many. I think he's well wrong. People tuned into QT because immigration is the biggest political issue on the ground, and they wanted to engage with the national debate. They know by now that none of the triumverate will have a word to say about it, and that the debate will revolve around accusations and counter accusations of fiscal incompetence, deeply boring and a massive viewer turn-off.

What's my guess? Well, I'll go for 5m. If I'm right, it doesn't bode well for turnout figures for the election, which if falling under 50% for the first time will be disastrous for our democracy.

Let's see. This is one I'm hoping I'm wrong on.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Raedwald's new little sister

I'm delighted to announce that Raedwald now has a little sister. Sorry, I know this is an age of austerity, but I couldn't let the chance pass by; she needs a bit of slap and some minor surgery before she's seen in public, but quidswise I'd have been an utter fool not to take her.

Pros

  • I could sell her tomorrow as she is for 3x what I paid
  • Virtually brand new Lister TS2 23hp air-cooled diesel, new Hurth 100 box, brand new prop and cutlass bearing, brand new stainless fuel tank
  • Heavy RN layup - built like a panzer
  • As she's under 7m and can't do more than 7kts, I'm immune in her to Labour's drink boating laws, which impose same fines / sentences on boaters with >80mg as on drivers, but which apply only to bigger / faster vessels. Not that I ever usually even get close to the limit, but the pleasure of being able to tell some officious MCA prodnose with an intoximeter to sod off is priceless
Cons
  • She needs a rudder / tiller crafted
  • Engine needs an alternator, air cleaner, starting panel, greaser and starting handle
  • Some new ply decking needed
  • New Morse engine control needed
  • Anchor and warp, nav light, some rewiring needed
Suggestions for names are welcome, and I reckon six to eight weeks before she's baptised.

Cameron's big words

If 'people' isn't bigger than 'government' at least they're the same size .... 'Wordle' analysis of Cameron's manifesto launch speech;

Enough already

OK, this is Gordon's speech yesterday analysed by redoubtable political analysis tool 'Wordle'.

Same treatment for Dave's speech later.

Monday, 12 April 2010

THAT manifesto cover

Public sector employment

The Spectator's valiant uncovering last week of the fact that just about all of the new jobs that Labour claim to have created went to foreign-born workers was supported by the government's own data.

Labour have subsequently been trying scare tactics to counter suggestions for the massive cuts in public expenditure that are now needed to rescue our economy - they suggest 40,000 public sector jobs could be lost.

The two stories are not unconnected. The figures that the Speccie used show that between 1997 and 2009 the number of foreign born public sector workers rose by 278,000, from 421,000 to 699,000.

Without wishing to be xenophobic about this, 278,000 foreign public sector workers at an average employment cost of £30k cost the taxpayer £8.34bn a year in wages alone - money that would pay for a 1.25% CUT in NI rates.

Sorry, what's the problem?

Labour's desperate pledges

Two of Labour's desperate pledges stand out as more fatuous and risible than others from this party bankrupt of both ideas and understanding. First, the pledge to force all public sector workers to learn English. Now maybe I've missed all the stories in the media about this, but where exactly is the existing problem? Who are all these public sector workers who can't speak English? Doctors, nurses, teachers and environmental health officers can hardly be being employed without not only equivalent qualifications but a degree of fluency in English, surely? The only people who I can possibly imagine would be covered by this are cleaners. Perhaps gesticulating at a mop, a bucket and a corridor, as effective as it may be, is simply not enough for Labour; perhaps these non-Anglophone cleaners are required to read Labour's leaflets on Compulsory Equality or How to Have Babies the Labour Way, or even How to Complete a Postal Vote for Labour.

The second is Labour's affirmation of the State's role in dictating performance and standards from Whitehall; they still don't trust people to make these decisions for themselves. The Times says that Brown will claim "Tory policies to scrap national targets and empower local initiatives risk widely differing levels of service and outcomes". Well, yes. That's the point, isn't it? If my neighbourhood decides we want to increase resources to the local park and cut funding for Smoking Inspectors to pay for it, that's our choice, isn't it? And if we end up with a better quality park than a neighbourhood in Bromsgrove, so what? They can make their own democratic decisions.

Whenever you hear a politician complaining about a 'postcode lottery' you can be sure they're speaking in code, and what they mean is 'loss of State control'. The whole of Labour's manifesto is just one, huge, unapologetic encomium to the power of the central State, with measures to increase it even further thinly disguised as increased citizen powers to enforce standards. The one power you won't find in Labour's manifesto is for the people of this country to set their own standards.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

There but for the grace of God ...

When Neil Kinnock treated R4's 'Today' to a large dose of windbag verbosity last week when avoiding answering his interviewer's question, my shouting at the small radio that sits on my desk turned the air blue. Brown and Blair get the same treatment when they appear on TV. But thank goodness for thick Edwardian brick walls - or I might very well find myself in the situation of 64 year old Martin Solomon, who has just been sentenced for the second time for swearing at politicians on his TV.

So many things are illegal in Labour's Britain these days one loses count of the new laws. Things that I grew up with as being perfectly legal, like shouting at the radio, are now, it seems, prohibited by Brown's State.

The perils of door knocking in uniform

Thanks to the squealing of Tory Julian Lewis over his LibDem opponent having included a photograph of himself in uniform as a Redcap colonel, MOD bosses have reminded Parliamentary candidates not to campaign in uniform. Not that's there's much danger of that; ex-service personnel have become as rare as hen's teeth in the Commons.

Which reminds me of an anecdote about Nancy, Lady Astor when she was on the stump for the Plymouth Sutton seat in 1919. Plymouth being a naval town, Lady Astor persuaded her cousin, a serving Admiral, to accompany her in full uniform for door-knocking forays into the mean terraced streets. The door of one tatty terraced house was opened by a small boy. "Child, is your mother at home?" demanded Lady Astor. The boy looked from Lady Astor to the heavily gilded Admiral behind her.

"No, but she said if a lady came round with a sailor you was to use the back room and leave the half-crown on the mantel" came the reply.