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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Riot damages

It is interesting to note that until the administrative reforms of the 19th Century, people had to pay for their own riots. That is, the Hundred had to tax it's inhabitants for the costs of damage caused by riots within its boundaries. This rather neat and very English arrangement ensured people would physically protect their own Hundreds from damage from outsiders rioting there - or else hold a retaliatory riot on their neighbour's Hundred to even things up. Like many sensible arrangements, it was ditched when the Hundreds were dis-empowered.

You might expect insurers these days to pick up the costs of riot damage - but this isn't the case. Sandwiched in the exclusion clauses between Radioactivity and Terrorism is Riot. For the insurers to refuse a claim, of course, it has to be a 'proper' riot, not just half a dozen thugs smashing the place up but:
12 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety.[s.1 Public Order Act 1986]
So who pays for the damage?

It seems the police do. Or rather, the police settle the claims made to them under the 1886 Riot and Damages Act, and we pay. As always. The owners of Millbank and their tenants, the Tory Party, are therefore set to get a first class building and office refurb at the taxpayer's expense. One can see some potential here ....

"Commander? Sir Cyril Tweep, Chairman of Ludgate here. Look, I wonder if you could do me a small favour... what? No, no, not young Jack's cocaine thing again. The fact is, I've got 20,000 square feet of a 1974 block that I just can't shift and we can't afford to remodel it at the moment. The lads have been busy on Facebook and I think we've got a riot going for Saturday; got at least three dozen from the LSE and we've had ads in 'Socialist Worker' all month. We've left sledge hammers and axes conveniently piled in reception together with about thirty gallons of lighter fluid, so we should be OK. Now the thing is, we need to be sure your lads don't intervene too early and muck the whole thing up; if you can hold them back like you did at Millbank, until they really get hold of the place .... yes, you will? Splendid! And the usual 5% kick back on the damages settlement, of course."

Friday, 26 November 2010

Student unrest 1968 - 1970

Student unrest at the end of the sixties followed a period of unprecedented expansion in the universities; the new concrete campuses more than doubled the participation rate, from something like 2% of 18 year-olds to 5%. After the second world war, higher education became virtually free to all those able to gain entrance on academic grounds. New courses were overtaking the immediate post-war science bias; between 1963 and 1968 the number of sociology undergraduates tripled. 

In the sixties the unrest puzzled Britain. Conservatives attributed it to a global Communist plot; Northcote Parkinson blamed it on women, the Chairman of the National Sheepbreeders Association attributed it to lack of vitamins and recommended more meat in the diet. The clergy attributed it to a resurgence of religious feeling, the Russian government said it was the start of the end of capitalism and Labour's education minister put it down to Grammar School thuggism. No two disturbances had the same cause; Vietnam, the Welsh language, squatters, Biafra, uni bus services, Rhodesia, accommodation, Greece, refectory chip prices and Ireland all sparked riots. 

But compared to what was going on elsewhere it was all very British. In France, a lecturer at Vincennes arrived to find that a fellow lecturer had convened a people's tribunal to try him for his life; he was only saved from death by a daring rescue undertaken by Communist students. In Japan, armed police fought pitched battles with students, and they too formed 'people's courts' in the university, so deeply humiliating a professor of electronics for not teaching his subject in a revolutionary way that he committed suicide. In London, the staff at Rhodesia House made tea for the besieging students. 

I'm wary of drawing too many parallels between 1968 and 2010, but how the protests roll out will be interesting to watch. Whether students will try to take control of their own institutions will be one thing to watch; have they forgotten how to do a 'sit in'? Will they try to disrupt guest speakers? Will Michael Gove be pelted with eggs? Or will it all just fizzle out, to be posted on 'Facebook' through a coffee-bar WiFi with a skinny Latte? 

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Time to abandon the banks

Tyler puts our national risk level at 8 with an estimated total debt level of $9tn. This figure's worth looking at. I think it's too low.

There are still some £500 trillion of derivatives floating around the financial centres of the world, which I once, incorrectly, described as 'worthless'. They do in fact have some residual worth; if you collapse the pyramid right back to the starting point, the Bank has estimated that the UK's net holding of truly worthless derivatives is 'only' $10 trillion. 

There are only three ways of dealing with worthless derivatives. You can pay them off, write them off or inflate them away. Since there is no money left to even pay off a fraction of the debt, and the scale of inflation required to deflate it is in Weimar proportions, it leaves only one option - write them off. The banks will all collapse, of course, but they're collapsing anyway as the markets refuse to continue the fiction of their solvency. 

So it's time to abandon the banks, ensuring as a matter of national security that a robust retail banking system is in place - beyond the control of the banks. 

The Squeaker is no joke

Simon Burns' reported riposte to Squeaker Bercow's "I'm not happy" - "Which one are you then?" - has more than a hint of the post-hoc put-down than the immediate response. Nevertheless, it formed part of a long string of jokes and humour at Bercow's expense delivered by Cameron to the Lobby. It seems like all good harmless fun, but in reality has a deadly import. 

Squeaker Bercow is a constant reminder of Labour's malice and corruption, little better than the disgracefully corrupt and sleazy Gorbals Mick whom he replaced. Our parliament has been poorly served by these last two stunted pygmies of Speakers, nasty corrupt little men who have fouled the dignity of the Speaker's chair. Bercow is no joke - he is poison. 

The fact that the Prime Minister feels comfortable in openly taking the piss out of Bercow is far more significant than many imagine. It is unprecedented. It signals a complete breakdown in confidence, and this means only one thing - Bercow must either do the only honourable thing in his life and go, or cling on with his pudgy little paws to the armrests just pretending to exercise an authority that few MPs recognise in reality.  

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

What Is It With Socialists And Rogue Capitalisation?

Somewhere in Britain is a secret training school for Trade Union bosses that teaches them to enunciate as though each word starts with a capital. Sometimes this secret training leaks out, as in this circular email from the Centre for Public Policy Seminars;

How Best Can We Prevent And Reduce Homelessness And Improve The Lives Of Those People Who Do Become Homeless?

Date: Monday 13th December 2010.
Time: 09:00am.
Venue: The Royal Commonwealth Society, London.

Hmm. Not the snappiest conference title, is it?

Juries work

Lord Justice Moses, from reported comments, comes across as a bit of a prat. He wants to stop juries from deciding who is telling the truth and reserve this for those who can do this more efficiently, like, er, Lord Justice Moses. 

Judges have a long history of resenting the power of juries made up of perfectly ordinary and unqualified persons  to disagree with them. Judges generally live sheltered and privileged lives a million miles away from the experiences of those in the dock, those giving evidence or those in the jury box. The suggestion that he is a peer of the shell-suited tattooed prisoner in the dock before him would surely be a suggestion offensive, nay even insulting to his Lordship, but there it is. The suggestion that the police witnesses may be telling porky pies, that prosecuting counsel has rigged the evidence or that the forensics may be about as reliable as the 188 are all I'm sure ideas utterly alien to his Lordship's cognisance. That slender golden thread of justice that may be the only hope of an innocent man lies only in the ability of the jury to discern truth from lie, something that twelve may do far more accurately than the alien creature in the red dressing gown perched like a hungry vulture above them. Long may it remain so.   

That's the way to do it!

John Ransford may have felt uncomfortable yesterday when thirty council leaders called on him to take a 10% pay cut. After all, he'd only recently secured his £300k package as head of the Local Government Association. But then came a bald announcement that his wedge was being reduced by 66% - 2/3rds, to around £100k. It's unclear whether he jumped or was pushed. 

This puts Ransford almost on par with the guy he will face over the cuts table, new UNITE boss Leninist Len McCluskey, also on a £100k wedge. Cheer up though, lads; it's still Champagne and canapes money. The beer and sandwiches are a way away yet.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Dirty Money

OK I can't resist posting this. I've just bought a bacon sarnie from the neat Turkish cafe / deli / lunch shop on the way into the office. No surprise there. The latex gloves on the hands of the two girls behind the counter are a novelty, though - and completely pointless. I didn't ask, but here's how my reasoning goes.

Money is dirty; it's covered with bacteria and viruses. You shouldn't handle money and unwrapped food without washing your hands in between. Or, like many cafes, have different people handling the cash than those handling the food.  The girls at the local deli used to do both, with bare hands until last week. I presume someone got a dicky tummy and complained to the Environmental Health, who made a visit and advised that they should wear latex gloves when handling food as an efficient alternative to incessant hand washing. 

They should also have explained that they should take them off when handling the cash. 

Labour's opportunist lust for power

The past week has confirmed what I knew all along - that Labour now lacks any kind of moral or ethical foundation, and is an organisation dedicated solely to the gaining and consolidation of political power for its own rewards. Miliband's message that Labour must start "with a blank page" and base its new ideology on policies that voters like, rather than policies to which the party has an historical or ideological commitment makes the scrapping of Labour's history clear. 

Harman's enthusiastic applause of Ed Miliband's condemnation of the Iraq war demonstrates that Labour is now committed to the "A big boy did it and ran away" strategy; her honest answer to David's question "Why are you clapping? You voted for it" should have been "Because I'm distancing myself from Gordon and Tony". Balls, too, has seen the blinding light of Damascene conversion. This Statist freak whose goggle-eyed support of 90 days detention was absolute, who warned that reducing it to 42 days would kill people, is now coming out in support of 14 days. The stench of hypocrisy rises like a miasma from the opposition benches. 

Labour should cut the guff and go straight to political bribery. "If we win the election, we'll reward our supporters from public funds" may be the quickest and most honest way to cobble a Labour manifesto together; it is, after all, a truth recognised almost universally. 

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Coalition Kings of Cool

When I mentioned to an ultra-hip young designer that the Department of Health is thinking about legislation (leopards, spots; the Big State is still with us) to force tobacco manufacturers to retail their cigarettes in plain, brown, packs his eyes lit up in approval. "Cool!" he said.