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Friday, 11 February 2011

The answer to MPs' gripes is in Osborne's hands

All the signals are going up that the Political Class has decided to start topping-up the MPs trough again; the BBC are the conduit, as always, to soften up the public, and as usual they start by publishing a piece on which no comments are permitted. 

The issue-ground has been carefully selected as well - MPs' family life and their separation from their children whilst away at work. The first concession will therefore be free travel expenses for MPs wives and children.

Of course the selfish bastards are only concerned with their own family life, not with the effects on our family lives of having to live and work away from home for lengthy periods to put bread on the table. Construction workers and professionals in Dubai and the UAE, Oil workers in Aberdeen or on the rigs, HGV drivers spending ten days a time in Europe can all stuff themselves and screw their family life as far as our MPs are concerned; it's only their cosseted political diddums families that matter, not ours. If we want to see our children, we can pay for it ourselves, but they need us to pay for them to enjoy the same privilege. 

Well here's a message to all you whingeing shits on the green leather benches who are behind this troughing-up; if you really believe that family separation is so important, important enough for the taxpayer to bear the cost of alleviating it, then persuade George Osborne to introduce a tax allowance in the coming budget that will allow all of us, we as well as you, to reclaim 100% of the cost of family travel from our tax. 

No? It's just sleaze, troughing and political corruption, then. 

Don't be vague, ask for ..... Ashton?

William Hague is on the last leg of a three day trip to Tunisia, Jordan, the Yemen and the UAE; both the situation in Egypt and progress in Palestine will have been high on his agenda. Hague's  brisk and efficient approach will no doubt have made plain the UK's position on a number of issues. Before he left, he will have consulted broadly and been adequately briefed by the FCO. He will not, I'm pretty sure, have bothered visiting the old Conservative HQ in Smith Square, now the EU 'Embassy', will not have accorded the EU 'Ambassador' much regard, and will probably have left an underling to phone the EU's 'Foreign Minister' the captivating Catherine Ashton to let them know he was going. 

Whilst Hague can set off with a full set of papers in just a few days, it will take the EU another four or five months to work out exactly what it's position on Egypt is, by which time they will have had at least two new governments and signed new trade accords with every other nation in the region. Whilst the EU play like children with the trappings and titles of statehood, real states such as the UK must continue to do what states do. Ashton has probably got a visit to Egypt pencilled in for September, just late enough to have absolutely no influence at all on the political settlement there. At times one really has to be grateful that the EU is as institutionally incompetent as it is.  

It's a start

Prisoners will still get the vote, or at least some of them will, and the UK is still subject to the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. Yesterday's Commons vote will change nothing directly. Last year's new intake of Conservative MPs, increasing frustrated with Cameron's policy direction, got to flex their Parliamentary muscles, and let's hope they like the taste of it. Labour MPs, conscious that the public would hardly shower them in bouquets for defending the nonce's right to the ballot box, wisely went into hiding and pretended nothing was happening. 

The government actually consider the 'no' vote to be rather useful; the ECHR's criticism included the fact that Parliament hadn't considered the issue of prisoners' voting rights since 1870. Well, now they have; box ticked. But if Cameron imagines his MPs will now go quietly back to work, he would be mistaken. He has raised expectations that a re-negotiation of the UK's relationship with the ECHR is on the cards; to fail to deliver will undermine his relationship with the Parliamentary party and lose votes. He will discover, if he doesn't know it already, that there's no such thing as a free lunch. 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Oil Dilemma

In 1974 the oil price shock hit the industrialised West hard but left most parts of the less-developed world relatively unscathed. The Cambodian peasant plodding behind his Ox spreading human shit on his rice paddy could ask "Price shock? What price shock?". No longer. Today he's the grandfather of a large family that owns a dozen Japanese motor bikes and scooters and grows bijou vegetables plump on commercial fertilisers in polytunnels (the human shit these days all goes into large murky lagoons to fatten up those succulent giant farmed prawns that Tesco sell so cheaply). Likewise, the population of the Maghreb has exploded since the '70s, and Egypt is overcrowded with energetic young people all eager to consume as much electricity as possible. Those who will bear the pain of an oil price shock today are those at the margin across the world; those still living in corrugated tin shacks but with LCD tellies, a Korean-made Aircon unit and a laptop. Whilst globalisation has slashed the numbers across the globe living on a dollar a day it has also made them uniquely vulnerable to the price movements of a single commodity - oil. 

Whether Saudi oil production is stuck on a plateau, as the Guardian suggests today, whether less-economic forms of production such as deep sea wells or tar sands come on stream as prices rise, whether we've reached 'peak oil' or whether it's decades away are not questions I'd care to try to answer. What I can't miss is that none of the commentators I rely upon (C@W amongst them) are describing the recent oil price rises as a 'spike' that will quickly fall. The paradox is that much of the social and political unrest fuelled by high oil prices will be in the oil producing nations; the dilemma their often-despotic governments face is this - if they increase production to lower prices, the West benefits and they have less profit to keep their people quiet. If they maintain production at the cusp of demand, they make good profits but risk being hanged from the well-heads by a revolting populace. Tough call. 

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Thank you, Polly

Lady Toynbee's done me a huge favour this morning by providing in her polemical Guardian piece exactly the evidence I was looking for that cuts to the voluntary and charitable sectors are healthy, that the 'Big Society' reforms are turning out to be doing some good. 

The Appeal Court case lists on Bailii tell a dispiriting tale. Case after case has followed a similar pattern; a council turns down an immigrant family's demand for specific accommodation after having offered what they felt was a suitable alternative, and the local Rights / Advocacy / Law Centre (delete as appropriate) grant-funded by the same council then mounts a challenge in the courts. The poor taxpayer gets to pay for the immigrants' housing, two sets of salaries, two teams of solicitors and barristers and all the court costs irrespective of which way the court awards costs or who wins the case. In fact, most groups grant-funded by councils aren't concerned with providing a voluntary public service at all but with acting as lobbyists and special pleaders for their particular client group. Thus we're paying for both the councillors that we elect to take service decisions and the lobbyists that seek to distort their decision making process. Insanity.  

And it gets worse. Parts of the sector have evolved a sort of protection-racket in which they undertake not to make a big noise on behalf of their client groups in exchange for generous public funding that keeps their Chief Executive and senior team in salaried luxury. And Polly today usefully provides confirmation of this latter, utterly corrupt practice in her column;
Jonathan Porritt has named and shamed green groups keeping their heads down over selling off forests. It's a timely warning: those who stay quiet now will lose support in the long run. He was joined by Deborah Doane, head of the World Development Movement. "The same is happening with development NGOs – there is a fawning attitude over this government which defies belief. Many are acting in their own self-interest, at the behest of government, fearing cuts if they raise their head above the parapet. So professionalised have they become that they've lost the view of the role they're meant to play – to uphold the public good, and fight for the rights of the commons, by keeping government held to account."
 Toynbee is of course as mad as a bucket of eels and is utterly accepting that the role of tax-funded voluntary groups is to lobby, not to carry out a public service. If those tax funded 'green groups' or 'development NGOs' were actually doing anything but lobbying for their client groups there'd be no case to answer, but Polly parrots the line explicitly above - "the role they're meant to play - to uphold the public good and fight for the rights .... by keeping government held to account".

No. No. No.

The only proper role for the tax-funded voluntary sector is to do stuff.  They should have teams of volunteers out clearing underbrush from those forests, or installing bat-nesting boxes. They should be wiping old peoples' bottoms, or doing their shopping. They should be caring for the sick and disabled, visiting prisoners, distributing soup and blankets to the homeless. What they should not be doing at my expense is full-time lobbying, or 'fighting for the rights' or 'holding government to account'. 

And if this government's measures are stripping this useless, obstructive, partisan, distorting and corrupt parasitical growth from our democracy, then they're working. 

Thank you, Polly. You make the argument in favour of Cameron's measures so much clearer. 

Monday, 7 February 2011

Another one down

They're falling like ninepins. For all of you lovers who remember with as much fondness as I the romance of a long weekend in Paris some decades ago ..

More fake science

More rubbish science this morning in the Mail, which really should know better. This time it's a Danish loony who wants to ban open fires and wood burning stoves on health grounds. You need to read the article carefully to discover that he's got absolutely no evidence at all that people are actually harmed by using open fires; he bases his conclusion on two facts he's discovered; that if you drench a petri dish of DNA with wood tar, it dies, and that his sister-in-law, who has a wood burning stove, sometimes gets headaches. 

In fact, it's even worse. The loony studied two distinct groups of people from two different areas - those who used wood burning stoves all the time, and those that never did. He found no health differences at all between the two groups - none whatsoever - but rather than being honest enough to admit that wood-burning stoves have no health impact, he twisted the reality in the way that bent, loony scientists do to find that;

1. The wood burning area had more smoke particles in the air
2. If someone breathes in twenty billion trillion smoke particles, they'll get ill. 
3. QED - wood burners are a tool of Satan and must be banned

About the only people who give credence to fake science such as this are, unfortunately, the civil servants at the heart of the Central State, who no doubt will now be preparing legislation to ban wood burning stoves. 

Sunday, 6 February 2011

If your child has head lice, blame 'Rab' Butler

As a prime example of a muddled but well-meaning central State pouring millions of tax money into doing something that people did quite adequately themselves already only to leave the situation worse than it was before, this from today's Indie;
The other problem, she says, is that when routine scalp inspections were introduced as part of the 1944 Education Act (leading to the establishment of an army of "Nitty Nora" nurses whose job it was to examine thousands of schoolchildren on a regular basis), parents stopped taking responsibility for the problem.
"Before that, lice were a problem that parents had to deal with – the knowledge was there in families, and if they were discovered people knew how to get rid of them," she says. "But that knowledge has disappeared. In fact, she maintains, "Nitty Noras" were spectacularly ineffective in detecting head lice infestations. "They were a complete waste of time. They couldn't possibly hope to detect the lice in every child's hair – they missed most of them."
I really can't add to that. If your child has nits, blame 'Rab' Butler. 

Muscular liberalism?

Muscular liberalism? Muscular Christianity I'm aware of, and Muscular Conservatism I could understand, but isn't Muscular Liberalism a bit like strong spaghetti or robust cowardice, a contradiction in terms? Social liberalism has always meant an absence of moral standards and controls. I'm confused. 

White Trash Sally Bercow is not novel

If you've never read Nicholas Monsarrat's 'Richer Than All His Tribe' I urge you to search Abe Books to find a copy. In it a Labour life-peer is sent off as Governor-General of a British colony preparing for independence, bringing with him his wife, Bobo...

".. a one-shot erotic poetess who had written a notorious narrative poem, banned in half a dozen countries, which read like a catalogue of her past lovers, complete with their achievement-ratings. It had been called 'Oh Come! All Ye Faithful', and its jacket alone, on which was a nude photograph of the authoress quartered like an anatomical Ordnance Survey map, was a collector's item. She was now First Lady of Pharamaul, entitled, amongst other things, to the curtsys of all lesser females."

Monserrat develops wonderfully Bobo's wild swings between insisting on rigid formality and wholly inappropriate chumminess where protocol should have prevailed; she attempts to seduce her husband's ADC and makes a clumsy pass at one of the colony's leaders-in-waiting, an African statesman of great gravitas and dignity. She is an embarrassment to the entire British establishment, and viewed by the natives as the worst kind of white trash, undeserving of respect. The parallels with Sally Bercow are obvious. I won't spoil the ending.