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Saturday, 5 June 2010

Predictable opportunists call for national Police

With utter predictability, the ACPO lobby and their dags are being quick to use the Cumbria shootings to call for the creation of a national Police service, happy to consign their colleagues in Cumbria to implied failure in their argument. The following points were seriously made by ex-Met AC Andy Hayman, perhaps demonstrating why he never made Commissioner.

'Cumbria is one of the smallest forces in the country. It is too small to cope with this type of incident'
Point one; could Kent or Essex or Thames Valley have done any better? Could any largely rural force? In fact, it now seems armed officers from Cumbria were as close as 30 seconds behind him, but he was a cab driver, on his own turf. The only point that seems to be at question is whether there was a helicopter available, and access to a (shared) helo is a very weak argument to merge forces.

'In the last 12 months, Cumbria police have faced the Cockermouth floods, a coach crash in which two people were killed and now Bird. They're too small to cope with these major incidents'
Um, this would make more sense if all three major incidents occurred at the same time. They didn't. And Cumbria police coped well with all three. Look, when we build a street of houses, we connect the whole lot up to a nine inch sewer. If they all flushed the toilet at once, this would be grossly inadequate; we'd need a three foot diameter pipe. But we don't. You see, one uses probability theory to size things, including police forces.

'When a major incident occurs, forces may need 'mutual assistance' from neighbouring forces. This is an expensive solution at a time the government is cutting budgets'
No it's not. It's a damn sight cheaper than paying for a surplus of resources sitting idle most of the time. Neither is it an argument for merged forces; a Chief Constable is probably keener to contribute resources he can charge his neighbour for than a divisional commander would be to deplete his own resources. The overall cost to the economy is exactly the same.

'The most important factor in responding to a fast-moving incident is clarity'
And Hayman's own force, the Met, has demonstrated on several occasions the utter failure of clarity amongst commanders in Britain's largest, best equipped and most heavily resourced police force. Ask how much clarity came from Cressida Dicks last time she commanded a major incident.

While there is sound common sense in forces sharing helicopters, forensics and SOC investigators, even rubber rafts and specialist plant, this is not a valid argument for either merging forces or creating a national force. Major incidents form less than 1% of all police activity; we need forces designed to provide the 99%.

When you take morality out of politics you get Mandelson

I almost missed Max Hastings' piece for the Mail yesterday in which he excoriates the memory of one Peter Mandelson. When you take all morality out of politics, when your greed and hunger for power alone overcome every moral scruple, you get Mandelson. The stench of Mandelson's myriad corruptions, the repugnance of his lust to suck-up to those with money and power, his manifest inability to tell the truth and his abhorrent gluttony for Mammon's tarnished coin all make Mandelson about the most odious shit ever to have walked the corridors of power.

I, for one, will not enrich this distasteful little troll by one penny by purchasing his book. However, I suspect the above characteristics will prove fascinating enough for many to do so, and certainly it will be required reading for those of the loathsome Political Class.

I would rather we remembered Mandelson as a prime example of what happens when politicians lose every vestige of morality; he lingers as a rank flatus consequent of Godless venality. I curse his memory, and curse his foul distortion of the national good to line his pockets. May he be damned to eternity.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Whitehaven - let's just get on.

Death awaits us sometimes in the most unexpected places; Whitehaven is hardly the sort of place you'd expect a mad gunman. But then neither was Dunblane, or Hungerford. Some of the most sensible comments come from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian ... er, criticising the Guardian;
The Guardian today demanded a "full inquiry and published report" into the Whitehaven tragedy, followed by "new laws" to plug any loopholes.

I would be surprised if former ministers David Blunkett and Charles Clarke were not penning articles claiming that Whitehaven "proves" the need for identity cards and wider criminal checks. Goaded by the media, officials will be drafting papers requiring all guns to be banned, all taxi drivers tested for mental instability and all disputatious families reported by their solicitors to the police. That way we can dump all our cares and woes on the state and claim they are no responsibility of ours.

The public should be invited to reject the politics of fear, that sees life as a perpetual terror of what might happen and a perpetual investigation of what has. It should not be asked to regard every child as a victim and every adult a paedophile, a terrorist or a mass murderer. The government should stop spending stupid amounts of money on a security lobby now running amok through the public sector.

There is no such thing as safe. There is only safer, and safer can require the greater watchfulness that comes with taking risks, witness new theories of road safety. Removing risk lowers the protective instinct of individuals and communities, and paradoxically leaves them in greater danger. But there is no government agency charged with averting that danger. There is no money in it.
He's spot on. These things happen from time to time; let's just get on, shall we?

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Liam Byrne - Living with Liam Byrne

Living with Liam Byrne


I find it necessary to issue you with this 11-page memorandum because since 6th May things here have not been entirely to my approval. Opposition means that I will have to rely on you to satisfy my requirements to a far greater extent than before, and since thirteen years of government have corroded your memory of how I require things to be done, this aide-memoire will assist you. Please study it carefully and commit it to memory.

Coffee / Lunch. My first coffee should be brought to me in bed exactly six minutes after the alarm clock has gone off. I like a cappuccino at exactly 11am and a mug of soup at 12.30 (Tomato on Monday, Chicken and Vegetable on Tuesday, Mushroom on Wednesday, Asparagus on Thursday and Oxtail on Friday).

The dining room should be cleaned before I come down in the morning. The newspapers should be laid on the table in alphabetical order. The white-board should be cleaned before I come down. If I see things are not of an acceptable quality I will blame you.

When briefing me on our neighbours, you should tell me not what you think I should know but what you expect I will be asked. For example, number 42 asked about our tomatoes this year and you had failed to brief me.

Notes for the milkman should be printed in Times Roman in 16 point and centred left-aligned on one sheet of A4 80gsm white paper.

Never put any suggestion to me unless you fully understand it and can explain it to me in 60 seconds. The suggestion that we holiday in Malta this year was particularly poorly informed and you struggled to name the Maltese Head of State, the currency and describe the climate.

You will maintain a grid showing what I am doing at any moment in time. "At home waiting for call from BBC", "At home waiting for Ed to call", "At home waiting for Warrington Gazette to call", "At home waiting for anyone to call" are all acceptable headings.

I will maintain my open-door policy and you may approach me in the dining room at most times when I am not on the phone, but you must remind yourself ten and five minutes before our meeting is due to end of its termination.

Finally, you will never, ever, comment that nemesis inevitably follows hubris.

Budget needs commitment on immigration

Benedict Brogan writes convincingly in the Telegraph this morning on the need for Cameron's government to show its teeth on immigration, and no doubt Cameron realises this already, but I wonder if he has the slightest idea what to do?

As I've posted several times before, half of our immigrants aren't a problem. They contribute positively to per capita GDP and place few demands on public resources. As the ippr found, they can largely be classified by country of origin; from the US, Canada, India, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand. But others have a deleterious effect on the economy, sucking down our PC GDP and making parasitic demands of our public services, crowding-out our own poor in competition for scarce resources. They, too, can largely be classified by county of origin; Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Portugal, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. They come here for our free housing, free health care and generous benefits system.

So Point One. Any immigration policy must be targeted at the latter; we must turn away the chronically sick, the indolent, the unqualified, the ignorant, the unskilled, those too old or too frail to work and all their dependants.

There were several countries missing from either list above whose nationals have a mixed economic effect but who are here in very large numbers, principally Nigeria, Poland and the Baltic states. The NHS couldn't function without its Nigerian and Ghanaian staff, but paradoxically maternity units in London are crowded full of Nigerian girls sprogging on the NHS. The other characteristic of these cohorts is that they send money home, and a lot of it. Taking money out of the economy in this way and at this time is a bad thing. The number of illegal Nigerian overstayers is massive; the FCO has estimated there between 800,000 and 3m Nigerians in the UK (and it seems most of them are here in South London). Realistically, I reckon there are 1m Nigerians here, perhaps half of whom shouldn't be.

So Point Two. Not only the reintroduction of exit controls but a rigorous combing-out of illegal overstayers and measures to deport EU nationals who aren't working. Perhaps we should consider a privatised immigration service; in the days when we just had Traffic Wardens, few tickets were issued, but after the introduction of competitive parking enforcement services, the private sector responded magnificently, issuing millions of additional tickets. Powers for licensed bailiffs, parking enforcement firms and suchlike (Group 4 etc.) to detect and identify illegals, with a 'bounty' of say £1,000 for every one deported, would make rapid inroads into the backlog. This would also play well with the electorate. And I dare say that such firms would employ a fair number of legal Nigerians to some advantage ...

Finally, as much as I value the relationship we have with Commonwealth nations, we must bite the bullet and restrict the right of Commonwealth citizens to live and vote here. Reciprocal rights that were almost academic when travel to the UK meant many weeks at sea and a liner ticket that cost five years' wages are grossly outdated in an era of dirt cheap and instant air travel.

The coming emergency budget will make assumptions about the economic consequences of immigration at current high levels; demand for schools, hospitals, buses, housing and welfare are real costs. Cameron has an opportunity to be bold, and to cement his pact with the British public. If Clegg will let him.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Hands off the plonk

Because I smoke and am over forty, it's quite pointless me drinking seriously expensive vintages - their subtleties are lost on me. I also dislike all those heavy 13.5% New World reds; give me the old 11% every time. For years I've been quaffing Tesco or Sainsbury bog-standard French Red 11%, from 1.5l screw-cap poly bottles, often with a squirt of soda, sometimes with an ice cube or two. I really don't care.

For years it was £4.99 - £2.50 a bottle. Now it's £6.99, still only £3.50 per 75cl. I may drink a small tumbler, or several. When guests sup, I pour it into a big glass water jug for the table. It's healthy, and it's cheap.

What I don't want when next I crack the screw-top is to have in the vision of the corner of my eye some squint-faced old maid with parts dry as sandpaper and dugs like saggy purses from some State health warning body wagging an admonitory finger at me. Can't we pack all these raddled hags off to climb Everest or something? I didn't vote for this.

I don't understand it, but I wouldn't ban it

News that a fit, healthy, bright 28 year-old had to be left to die on the slopes of Everest when he encountered retinal problems shouldn't surprise anyone. I believe that something like one in eight of those who attempt the climb die in the attempt. Yet there is still a long waiting list. I guess everyone believes they will be one of the seven who make it, and can dine out for the rest of their lives on being one of the (relatively) few who have climbed the tallest mountain.

The odds seem lousy to me, and I don't need the kudos, so I can't really understand the drive that tempts otherwise sane people to take the risk. And although the premature death of another young man is to be deeply regretted, I certainly wouldn't ban anyone from making that choice.

But for anyone so tempted, may I suggest an alternative? Those who have swum the Channel are still relatively rare, the accomplishment is highly mentionable, and probably rates at least 50% of the kudos of having climbed Everest at a tiny fraction of the risk.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Daylight is the right remedy

The disclosure this morning of the civil servants earning more than the Prime Minister may come as news even to staff in their own departments; the office staff who have so much difficulty getting money for a round out of the Finance Director at Christmas will be even less happy to learn today that he earns ten times their own salary.

Eric Pickles has already blocked a £240k salary for the new Audit Commission boss, and rightly so. The right figure is about half this.

These public sector fat cats are going to have to slim down - and quickly. Under Labour their snouts have been thrust deep in the trough, taking the differential between a basic admin grade and the top job from around 6x to around 12x. This also applies to the forces; a General should get about 6x a Lieutenant's wedge of £30k, about £180k.

So why should a full General get £60k a year more than the head of the Audit Commission? Well, because the pay multiple is based on the skills and ability of the basic grade - a £30k Lieutenant, rather than a £20k Admin Officer. And why should a Lieutenant get £10k more than a civil servant? Well, think in terms of who and what each are responsible for, the risk each faces and the consequences of the decisions made by each of them, and the physical and mental qualities required of each. The same differential applies at the top of each profession. Men don't die because the head of the Audit Commission misses a 0 off the end of a balance sheet.

So let the daylight flood in to illuminate the distortions.

The Hay Guide was developed in the US in then middle of the last century, but it still holds good for comparing the worth of jobs in large organisations and bureaucracies. Evaluating public jobs using the Hay Guide eliminates taste discrimination - and many of these bloated salaries are the result of positive taste discrimination by the Labour government - and ensures equity between as well as within public sector organisations.

And finally let's lose the myth that these troughing salaries are required to 'retain' people of high calibre in the public sector. They're not going anywhere.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Israeli pirates kill many in international waters

Israel's territorial waters extend to 12 miles from her pre-1967 coastline. Within these waters, under international law, she may seize, search and detain any vessel under any flag, including those making 'innocent passage', just passing through, if such vessels pose a threat.

To use a gang of heavily armed pirates to board and seize vessels under other flags, and to slaughter the civilians on board, in international waters, is a despicable and irresponsible criminal act under international law. Until recently, such pirates would have been liable to hang under English law.

Coming so soon after Israel's deployment of a gang of assassins using forged British passports, it is becoming clear that this rogue, failing state is posing the sort of international threat once posed by Libya.

I have strongly defended Israel's right to live in peace and security within her pre-1967 borders for as long as I can remember, but even I am now losing patience with this rogue state.

Laws again

Your comments on the Laws post are mostly right and I was being remiss. Either you have a zero tolerance of corruption amongst Parliamentarians or you don't. Laws is as guilty as the others, and I don't think the sentencing magistrate would give that much weight to either his sexuality or his abilities as Chief Secretary.

However, I believe rehabilitation is possible. How many decent soldiers, upright citizens and honest burghers were shocked into future rectitude by one early brush with the law?


When the chips are down, when natural or man-made disaster hits, when your secure world and all its certainties is turned upside down, will you be one of those who immediately organises help for yourself and others, securing drinking water, finding heat and clothing, food, shelter, treating injuries and the like, or will you be one of those who will sit and wait for the State to rescue you?

I'm pretty sure most readers are in the first category, certainly the sailors. And my generation, the cubs and scouts and CCF generation, can certainly make a fire, dig a latrine at the correct distance and construct a bivvy. And we can shoot, and snare, and fish and have enough elementary medical knowledge to recognise most basic problems. There even used to be a useful chapter in Reed's Nautical Almanac, the yottie's bible, on childbirth procedures, though this and similar useful stuff, like a tear-out Lloyds Standard Form, have gone in favour of marina adverts. Many of you will be leaders in one form or another, and in an emergency will automatically rise to responsibility.

Not so the group on the train yesterday, parents (many mums) and kids (by no means all white) on their way to a campsite for the first time. Hopeless. Utterly hopeless. These were not the benefits underclass, but the respectable lower-incomed, or what we used to call the working class. A bit rough at the edges, but sound enough. I gathered they were off to a camp site where the tents were pre-erected, and served by a shower and ablutions block and even a TV room and a site shop. The questions the kids were asking, and the adults inability to answer them, left me wriggling in impatience to interrupt. Of course I didn't.

What was clear is that in an emergency, this lot would have been useless. The State has knocked all the resilience and self-reliance out of these people. The entity featuring largely in their conversation was 'They', meaning the State, the emergency services, the site's managers, someone else, anyone else. Every contingency was answered with the expectation that 'They' would sort it out, deal with it, have made provision for it.

There were two points that struck me. First, a hundred years after we recognised that working-class city kids needed opportunities to see the country, it still isn't happening. Being attacked by cows on the campsite whilst asleep was a recurring theme of their fears.

Second, when the chips are down, we will rely on our abilities of self-organisation at community and neighbourhood level; self-reliance will be the key, not waiting hopelessly for State aid. Local and intermediate institutions must be strengthened. The family and not the State must take precedence. We must learn to live without micro-management from Whitehall. We must re-empower the working class. If we do so, we stand half a chance of successfully facing whatever will be thrown at us in the coming years.