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Saturday, 21 August 2010

Soaring energy and food prices this winter

The Glasgow Herald reports on the ending of cheap energy deals as the energy companies prepare for a winter of soaring gas and electricity prices; elsewhere, food cost inflation of 30% over the past 3 years is being widely reported, with more to come as manufacturers and brewers take advantage of a tiny blip in world grain prices to push margins. VAT is set to rise. Vehicle fuel prices could rise by 8% by the start of 2011. All in all, it's hard to see how either the RPI or CPI can stay anywhere close to the Treasury target of 2% - but equally hard to see how an increase in the base rate could help restrain this inflation. A report this morning on R4 suggests we have reduced our savings deposits by £60bn over the past year as the elderly and retired dip into their pots.

Those on the margin - in work, but with little income headroom to absorb price shocks - will be hard hit. Pressure for wage increases will grow. Those on benefits will suffer. As a nation, we don't yet know the meaning of the word 'austerity' but I've a feeling we will.

There will be two groups of people walking on eggshells. First, the financial sector, and the announcement of City bonuses before Christmas. Secondly the rich class, the new Kulaks. Earning over £100k these days is deeply unfashionable and as the pain bites the wise will disguise their wealth, trade down their cars and shun conspicuous consumption.

All in all, not a happy prospect.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Warning: Thieves operate in this area

Before very long, Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee for Standards in Public Life will publish an issues paper on party funding. It is absolutely vital to the health of our democracy that nothing in such proposals gives any advantage to the incumbent parties, that nothing effectively establishes Labour, the LibDems and the Conservatives as the 'official' State parties. This would be the death of democracy in the UK.

At a time when the Labour party is over £20m in debt and near to bankruptcy, there will be a strong sympathy amongst the media and the political class to give a favourable wind to stealing our taxes to prop up the terminally ill organisation. The LibDems, too, with only 60,000 members before entering into coalition and, I suspect, very much fewer now as the closet socialists leave the party, will lobby strongly for State funding.

Hayden Phillips' proposals for funding are so risibly biased to the interests of the incumbent parties they can be dismissed without further consideration. Phillips appears to believe not that a diversity of parties are vital to a healthy democracy, but only that a financially secure and flourishing triumverate of established parties provides good health. His outright dismissal of the 'Power' proposals for individual voter choice on funding, divorced from the vote actually cast at the ballot box, is both corrupt and dangerous.

I would go even further than 'Power' as I believe only a shift back from the metropolitan centre to local will help us cure our democratic ills; I would ensure that any funding was paid to local associations only, with an absolute legal prohibition on the national party requiring local parties to hand any of it over at all. Thus only parties with a registered association in the constituency would benefit, and the political class be starved of the gold that feeds central Statism.

These arguments are for later in the Autumn, however. Until then, watch your wallets and handbags - thieves really do operate in this area.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Bless the Guardian

The listing of columnists on the Guardian's CIF page proclaims "Labour fightback has begun - Peter Hain: A new poll shows the public is rejecting these callous cuts"

Alongside a graph that shows that, er, 55% of Guardian readers support slashing spending.

You'd need a heart of stone ..

Spending Challenge charming naivety

Asking the nation's public sector clerks how money could be saved was never going to produce the most strategic package of spending measures. Allowing them to vote on each other's suggestions was only ever going to compound the folly.

Getting a grip on the results on the Spending Challenge website is not easy. At a time when the Treasury have released millions of lines of raw economic data for us to model ourselves, the task of releasing 100,000 suggestions in raw format seems beyond them, and we are stuck with useless search filters and an utterly obscure and unhelpful user interface geared at five year olds. Totally crap. 0/10.

From what's available, what the clerks seem to have come up with is this;

1. Get rid of FOI. It's taking up too much of our time.
2. Get rid of elected members / MPs as they create too much work
3. Issue all government letters in black ink only and save colour ink costs
4. Stop using consultants because they earn more than us
5. Stop ministers having expensive lunches

I searched in vain for suggestions to close libraries to the public to allow the librarians to better look after the books and reduce wear and damage to the stock but no doubt they're in there somewhere.

I'm not knocking genuine direct democracy, but the coalition really hasn't got this one right. The whole thing has become open to parody and ridicule. It needs correcting.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

St Ethelburga

Using Microsoft 'Powerpoint' in 2010 is the mark of an unreconstructed throwback. These days, quite frankly, if something involves someone else giving a presentation using 'Powerpoint' I won't go. Life is too short to detail the horrors of your common unqualified middle manager let loose with transitions, sound effects and no limit to the number of poorly laid out, ill thought and pointless slides he can inflict on a captive audience.

But tomorrow I am to give a presentation that requires some graphic support. Really needs it. Describing one of your dining chairs over the phone with the person at the other end having to draw it accurately from your description sort of really needs it. So I left it until last thing today to put together a simple series of half a dozen images to show as a full-screen pdf, as one does. And every single thing that could go wrong with a wide area network with thin client architecture did.

I've always accorded St Ethelburga, as the patron saint of throats, the privilege of being the patron saint of public speaking, and by extension of business presentations. My heartfelt prayer to her earlier this evening paid dividends and all is now resolved for tomorrow.

Anyone who wants to know a little about this remarkable lady might out of interest visit this site, where even I can painfully make out some of the phrases without asking Guthrum for help;

Anna hātte hyre fæder, Ēastengla cynincg, swȳðe Cristen man, swā swā hē cȳdde mid weorcum, and eall his tēam wearð ġewurðod þurh God

Leaderless Labour level peg the Coalition

The most curious finding of today's Guardian / ICM poll is that Labour and the Tories are level pegging on voting intentions at 37% - despite Cameron's policies being popular with voters and Labour not having had a leader since the grossly incompetent and failed Brown departed in ignominy.

Perhaps this is the answer. Voters are still fed up with the political class, with professional politicians, and a leaderless Labour party has the virtue of being 'not the coalition' without the vice of a leader to loathe.

By next month when Labour's leadership debacle draws to a close, I predict that the first poll after the new leader is chosen will show a substantial drop in Labour's support. Particularly if that oaf Brown releases his 'I certainly was in the right'1 book at the same time as a reminder of just how awful they were ...

1 From Pink Floyd's 'Money';

"Hu Huh! I was in the right!"
"Yes, absolutely in the right!"
"I certainly was in the right!"
"You was definitely in the right. That geezer was cruising for a bruising!"
"Why does anyone do anything?"
"I don't know, I was really drunk at the time!"

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Ash madness

The 70 year old woman handed a FPN for dropping ash at a bus stop could make an uncomfortable precedent for local councils. Yes, ash, not the fag butt.

If ash is now to be classified as 'litter' under the terms of the EPA, every council vehicle on the road will now be liable to be fined. Ash, you see, along with soot is a component of vehicle exhaust, and a dustcart idling at the kerb may deposit as much ash as from Mrs Martin's fag.

And if ash now counts as litter, why not rubber dust from vehicle tyres and the dead skin and hair constantly shed by humans, including by the litter gauleiters themselves?

The council themselves seem doubtful over this one, commenting that "In general terms, however, our wardens do not issue fixed penalty notices for dropping cigarette ash. They do for dropping cigarette butts, which are specifically classed as litter under the Environmental Protection Act"


Has Blair screwed up over donation?

This is the most intriguing story of the day; just what did Blair promise, and what did he mean?

I don't know a great deal about publishing contracts, but I'd imagined that an advance was an advance of royalties. Blair's reported £4.6m, I'd imagine, is therefore made up of UK sales royalties, overseas sales royalties and UK and overseas serialisations. Mandy made £400k from his serialisation, so say a round £600k for Blair. As for the £4m, if he makes £20 a book (and this could be double the reality) he'd need to sell 200,000 copies for the publishers to break even. This, I'd imagine, is wildly optimistic. If the book only sells 30,000 copies, does he have to pay anything back? Maybe the publishers are happy to take their money in the long term, from future reprints and public lending rights payments, in regular dribbles.

As to what he's promised to give the RBL, this seems in doubt. The Mail's in no doubt this morning, saying "the former Prime Minister was trying to ‘ease his conscience’ by giving the £4.6million advance and any profits from his book to the Royal British Legion." but the Telegraph has a story that casts doubt on exactly what Blair has promised, and who gets the tax advantage.

There's the delicious possibility that Blair never intended to give his advance away, that what he meant was he'd keep the advance and the RBL could have anything earned by the book over and above this. Ambiguous phrasing and an August media starved of news meant the press had soon decided themselves what he meant - and that included the advance. If this is the case, it's too late to backtrack. The MSM should hang onto this story until Blair's donation becomes absolutely tangible.

As a footnote, there's nothing new in blood-soaked donkeys seeking reparation for their deeds; it was General Haig, perhaps the bloodiest butcher of the Western Front, who set up the Haig Fund in 1921.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Don't cut the cutters

Customs cutters, that is.

The UKBA has just five cutters to patrol the whole of the UK's coastline. Four of these are up to date Damen Stan vessels, 42m and capable of 26kts. The fifth, the Sentinel, is an older design and currently responsible for Scotland's 3,000 miles of coastline. Word is that the UKBA is planning to scrap the Sentinel without replacement and rely on just Seeker, Searcher, Vigilant and Valiant to patrol the entire UK.


The time is right for the creation of an HMRC Auxiliary. The cost of procuring and maintaining new small patrol craft is minimal - it's the crew that costs. I'm sure if the government supplied 20 or 30 new small cutters, under 24m to allow most experienced yachtsmen to command them, together with training opportunities for our young men and women who want to learn our island race's sea-skills, the benefits would grossly outweigh the costs.

It's not the Dutch yachts carrying cocaine that trouble me, but the Dutch yachts carrying Jihadists, radioactive materials and explosives and weapons from Eastern Europe.

With an Auxiliary force on the water, UKBA can spend its money on a couple of unmanned drones, not only to fill the RAF Nimrod gap until the new MRA4s are built from the skeletons of the old 1950s de Havilland Comets MR2s but to add to the level of border security and provide targets for Auxiliary HMRC service interception and boarding.

Would I give up three days a month to serve in a new Auxiliary HMRC? Of course.
(Um, that thing on the foredeck that looks like it should be a 40mm Bofors is actually a fire hose)

At last - some common sense on coal

A welcome report in the Guardian today that Cameron will allow new coal fired power stations to go ahead. This is nothing more than plain common sense. At the very least, Cameron's commitment to 'green' energy is on shaky scientific grounds, at worst it could destroy the UK's national competitiveness and leave the population heating baked beans over paraffin stoves.

When China is commissioning a new coal fired plant every day, half a dozen new plants in the UK won't make a spit worth's of difference to global carbon emissions and will provide a much needed boost to our dire energy security position.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Japanese Surrender

Maj Gen Sir Charles Lane witnessed the Japanese surrender to Lord Mountbatten in Singapore's Council Chamber;
"When we had all taken our seats the Japanese delegation of seven were marched in. They wore no head-dress or arms and, in fact, had been searched before they were allowed into the room. The seven were made up of two Vice Admirals, two Air Corps Generals and three Army Generals, including Itagaki who was representing Field Marshal count Terauchi, the Japanese Commander-in-Chief Southern Regions, who was ill and unable to be present. When they were seated I looked very carefully at all these Japanese senior officers' faces and tried to see in any one of them anything which I could classify as clever or nice featured in any way. They really had "beastly" faces without any trace of kindliness in them, in fact, quite barbarian.

A few moments later the Supreme Commander came in and, of course, everybody stood up; later we sat down and Itagaki presented his credentials. Lord Louis then read out the instrument of surrender and requested Itagaki to sign. This he did, affixing his own and Field Marshal Terauchi's seals."
Gen Percival, captured when Singapore fell, was not there to see the Japanese surrender. He stood instead immediately behind Gen MacArthur on the deck of USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay as Hirohito's representatives confirmed the terms of the surrender.

The deaths of 12,000 Commonwealth POWs at the hands of the Japanese cannot be forgotten, and indeed resonates personally. The 18th Division, arriving in Singapore just before the surrender, was an Anglian division. Amongst those captured was Fr Malcolm Cowin, RC Chaplain to the 2nd Cambridgeshire Regt. He survived Japanese captivity and the war, and built the church of Our Lady and St Thomas of Canterbury in Wymondham, Norfolk as a 'debt of honour' to those 12,000 dead, and a focal point for FEPOW, the Far East Prisoners of War Association. He was my school Chaplain.