Saturday, 15 May 2010

Great hoarders, the Hun

In May 1945, sixty-five years ago, British troops including my father fanned out across northern Germany in a conclusion to the liberation that had started nearly a year earlier. Having come from an England in which the rationing system had left the population hungry, if lean and healthy in objective terms, they had seen real starvation in Holland. The Dutch, their entire agricultural product having been taken by the Germans, were eating grass. Northern Germany astonished them. The people were plump and rosy, and each neat house had a store cupboard or cellar crammed with foodstuffs - jars of preserved fruits, smoked hams and sausages and commercial tins and packets.

They couldn't hide the food, but they hid their gold as peasants traditionally do, burying it under the hearth or in the pigpen. For gold, too, had flowed back to Germany from the mass looting of an entire continent. Economists wondered at Germany's post-war miracle recovery, and I suspect it was driven in large part by the German people loosening their grip on their stolen gold. Great hoarders, the Hun.

Today of course they're buying gold, not looting it, and have driven the price up to record levels. The collapse of the Euro, and a devastating global financial crisis, have become real possibilities and the Hun is going into hoard mode. The Bundesbank is checking its contingency plan to go back to the Deutchmark, and security printers in Hamburg and Dresden may even as I type be banding and stacking pallets of new D-mark notes.

Neither the UK nor indeed the world will be unaffected by such a collapse, and the deep crisis we all feared in 2008 could well happen in 2010.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The battle to come with ACPO

Nick Herbert (Magdalene), the new Justice Minister with responsibility for police reform, will have to hit the ground running to counter a determined campaign masterminded by ACPO's capo dei capi Hugh Orde to oppose the introduction of accountability for the police force.

ACPO itself operates in a shadowy and unaccountable world away from the daylight of public scrutiny and democratic control, moving its own levers of power to secure the creation of a national police force in the teeth of a public who want their police forces to be both local and accountable.

Herbert must take the bit between his teeth and tackle ACPO directly, either abolishing it or putting it on a statutory footing with control through Parliament. Leaving ACPO intact will be leaving a powerful and well-equipped enemy in his rear as he tries to realise democratic accountability amongst the nation's police forces.

We wish Mr Herbert well. In his jazz-loving Secretary of State he has an ex-Home Secretary and a QC with substantial gravitas and experience enough to counter Orde's coming accusation that Cameron's government is dealing with matters they don't understand.

New Localism Minister

Eric may have difficulty coming to grip with Localism, but his new Minister for Decentralisation, announced yesterday after I'd penned the piece below, will not. Greg Clark, Magdalene and LSE, MP for Tunbridge, gave us a taste of his position in a piece for the Times in July 2008;
In this postbureaucratic age, the people to shape our understanding of the new problems and to discover the best way to solve them won’t be ministers or officials holed up in Whitehall, but the legions of individuals, groups, voluntary organisations and enterprises that make up our communities themselves. Government needs to be turned upside-down: instead of seeking to impose its will, it must be open to being driven by a vibrant civil society.
Although Mr Clark is also slightly worryingly a carbon cutter, his appointment demonstrates that Cameron is determined to drive his Localism agenda himself; Douglas Carswell, who might have expected to have been considered for this ministerial job, remains on the back benches for now. Carswell didn't endear himself to this blog by his support for measures to make MPs' addresses secret - and thus frustrate outside investigations into expenses fraud and corruption, so I'm not too disappointed with his being passed-over this time.

We can expect early legislation from Clark that extends the provisions of the Sustainable Communities Act, and the test will be in just how far this goes. The incumbent civil servants at the DCLG, used for a decade to running local government from Bressenden Place SW1, will no doubt place formidable obstacles in Mr Clark's path. We wish him well.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Eric Pickles as Minister for Localism?

For all his bluff Yorkshire bonhomie, Eric Pickles is not only a fully paid-up member of the metropolitan political class but a centrist. He's not the man to loosen the bonds that have made local government no more than an extension of Whitehall; indeed, he looks likely to continue the rule by diktat from the centre of our rubbish collections, street lighting and parks.

With Labour having bounced back at local level from the kicking they took in 2006, the death of New Labour will leave the door open to a resurgence of radical local opposition to Cameron's government in a repeat of the loony rainbow coalitions in the town halls that challenged Thatcher in the 1980s. Eric's every instinct will be to pull the control noose even more tightly to strangle dissent - and this is completely the wrong answer.

If the good voters of the People's Republic of South Yorkshire are willing to pay double their present Council Tax to keep their healthy eating co-ordinators and walking encouragement advisors in post, why not? The Conservatives more than anyone should support giving Socialist local government all the rope it needs to hang itself.

So abolish capping, and with it all the Whitehall micro-management of exactly how many pieces of litter are permissible on a suburban street during weekday daylight hours (and this isn't a joke - Whitehall actually issues standard photographs to local councils to show exactly what the statutory limit of 0.1 litter units per m2 looks like) and all the rest of the constipated anally retentive bureaucratic dross that emanates from the fusty trouser region of Eric's new department.

At the same time, reduce the Rate Support Grant or whatever it's called these days by 10%. With the level of gearing in council finance, councils will either have to cut dross or raise council tax by 25% to cover the shortfall.

Good councils will cope, bad ones will fail and be rejected by their voters. But whatever they do, it must be their decision, not Eric's.

But will Pickles be able to resist the temptation to 'go native' in his new department and cement Whitehall's ruthless centrism? About as much as he can resist a Full English, I'd think.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Shysters, crooks and frauds: Brown's resignation honours list

We have one treat still to come from Gordon Brown, one that will tickle the nation and bring howls of derision around the heads of those named; Brown's resignation honours list promises to be the most risible and inappropriate reward of misdoing since Wilson's 'Lavender list'.

With only the 'Mirror' supporting him at the end, newspaper peerages will be thin on the ground, but there are those last-minute election contributions to pay back, and the price to be paid for Mandelson's squalid little deals. There's the Scots mafia to pay-off. Then there the lifelines to now-unemployable cronies such as Campbell (no. 347 on Amazon's list and in the remainder bins already).

No doubt the Sovereign will hold her nose and grant the recommended honours with alacrity - the more quickly done, the soonest forgotten. But the rest of us can have a well-deserved laugh.

Reversing thirteen years of misrule

This morning isn't going to bring all of us what we want. The voices on the 'sphere that have hammered Labour for the past four years or so will now provide Cameron with a constant critique of his performance, and this is probably right. The blogs on the left, for so long on the back foot as they defended the indefensible, may now find new heart. However, as I awoke with dawn in the sky and the Sun nudging at the horizon, for the first time in thirteen years I was free of the fear of Labour misrule.

No batty Harman pushing through even more lunatic social engineering laws, no more bully Balls spouting ideological bull and failing our children, no more Brown and his destructive madness. The mentalists are back in their asylum, and the nation's ministers are, for a time at least, sane and ordinary.

Now Cameron and Clegg can get a look at the books they'll see exactly how bad things are, and the extent to which Labour lied to the country about the state of our finances. Then the hard work of reversing thirteen years of misrule begins.

And no, I don't believe politicians have changed their spots, or that the EU is any less of an issue today than it was yesterday, and I still loathe the political class.

But for one day, let's just enjoy the burden of Labour's malfeasance having been lifted from our country's back.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A deeply dishonourable deal

With the only certainty being a further general election in 2010 to sort the mess out, the public's perception of the party leaders' behaviour now will be critical. Clegg has been stripped bare, and the man beneath is not an attractive sight; a chiselling little Euro-apparatchik playing for power at the expense of the British people. Voters will remember.

As for Labour, their willingness to dump Brown - a man whom we must now regard as having laboured under a mental disability that should have excluded him from public office for his own well-being - will play badly in Labour heartlands where loyalty is singularly regarded. With a bit of luck, the entire run-up to the next election will have Labour's internal fighting in the background, and if we go to the polls again before Brown is replaced the country will be faced with the extraordinary prospect of voting for a party with an unknown leader. Nor can Labour's internal arrangements be used to postpone the next election until September - it will come as soon as Clegg's coalition collapses.

As for the suggestion that a Lib - Lab alliance would force through legislation to change our electoral system without a referendum, this is a deeply dishonourable course of action that betrays the sovereignty of the British people; it is the sort of thing we deprecate when done by African presidents consolidating power, and we certainly won't stand for it here. Neither, I think will a majority of MPs from all parties, for in such a Bill they will see the death of the political class.

At the moment Cameron is playing it exactly right. He may not be the world's most effective or charismatic leader, but he's blessed with a basic decency and sense of honour that is serving him well; he just has to be himself. Let Clegg and Mandelson sew up a deal, reap the ordure and suffer the ignominious collapse that will signal the next election.

Monday, 10 May 2010

That LibDem statement in full

Commenting on Brown's resignation, Clegg opined "It must have been a very difficult thing for him to say personally"

"I heard Sarah told him to tweet it, but Mandelson said this lacked gravitas"

"Over the past four days we have been working flat out to deliver an agreement that can provide stable government that can last"

"Over the past four days we have been working flat out to get ourselves a five-year deal, including replacement cars every two years"

"The talks with the Conservatives have been very constructive and I am grateful to David Cameron and his team for the effort they have put in. But so far we have been unable to agree a comprehensive partnership agreement for a full Parliament."

"The bastards won't give way. Vince MUST have his own jag and driver. And we need eight ministers - four of them in the cabinet. With armoured jags. All they'll offer is three ministers for two years and some Mondeos."

"We need a government that lasts, which is why we believe, in the light of the state of talks with the Conservative Party, the only responsible thing to do is to open discussions with the Labour Party to secure a stable partnership agreement."

"Look, we need pics of all our guys climbing in and out of armoured jags for five years. We know it's wholly irresponsible, but we think Labour will give us more cars for longer."

We will of course continue our discussions with the Conservative Party to see if we can find a way to a full agreement. Gordon Brown has taken a difficult personal decision in the national interest.

"But otherwise we'll go with Cameron's offer of six Mondeos, so long as they have back-seat DVD and leather seats. Gordon had to go, in his own interest."

"And I think without prejudice to the talks that will now happen between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Gordon Brown's decision is an important element which could help ensure a smooth transition to the stable government that everyone deserves."

"Look, it was chemistry, OK? The old bastard just kept saying 'My father didn't have a car at all until he was 62, relied on his bike..'. At least Harman and Johnson appreciate the necessity of quad speakers, surround sound and a seat material that doesn't bunch up in the arse-crack in your strides."

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Nadine Dorries caught with snout in trough. Again.

Just when you were beginning to think they'd learned a lesson, evidence emerges that MPs are still their old corrupt, thieving selves.

The Sunday Times carries a story today that suggests Dorries recently paid £10k of our money to her chum for an annual report that was never designed or printed. Dorries responds that a scrappy web page is evidence that the work was done, but can't produce a printed version or even details of the printer who printed it.

Time to call Inspector Knacker in, I think.

Merkel and Sarkozy pilfer Britain's purse

The police call it distraction theft. Whilst the victim is otherwise engaged, the thief pilfers their wallet or purse. Merkel and Sarkozy have put up the bail-out money for Greece through gritted teeth, looking spitefully to those non-Euro nations who seem to have got away with it, and today they have their chance to steal some UK money to ease the pain.

Darling is attending for the UK whilst talks continue, but he will be outvoted by the Federast majority vote system, and we have no veto. By tomorrow morning the UK will be potentially £8bn poorer and no doubt the crooks will congratulate themselves on a neat little theft.