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Saturday, 9 April 2011

Labour school building waste worth five Carriers

Sebastian James, group operations director at Dixons, has just produced a report for the government on the Building Schools for the Future programme, and unsurprisingly he agrees almost exactly with the points I made here at the beginning of March (BSF: The value of piss-poor design). 

I said "The cost of this architectural Onanism is vast. Billions. There are few BSF schools that couldn't have been built at half the cost with a life of 60 years and a tried and proven layout; the old standard layouts produced by the London County Council architect's department need only minor tweaks to work in the digital age."

James says as much as 30 per cent of the total money spent could have been saved, that BSF did not provide consistent quality, or low cost, and that schools were created to 'bespoke' designs and calls for future new buildings to be based on 'a clear set of standardised drawings'.

However, contrary to what the poor muppet at the Mail thinks, this won't result in 'all schools looking the same'. The constraints and geometry of the site, exposure, orientation and location factors will determine the envelope, and varieties of local materials are available for the walls and roof. Standardised drawings allow for a whole raft of permutations. 

The point is this; Labour committed £55bn to BSF with no oversight. Whether James' 30% of this was wasted or my figure of 50% (which I think is closer), it is a matter of criminal malfeasance and incompetence and entirely symptomatic of Labour's unfitness to govern even a whelk stall. And the permanent secretary at the Education Department at the time should be hung in chains from the Tower for such monstrous waste rather then being knighted and having his mouth stuffed with pension gold.

Friday, 8 April 2011

A rare morning of truths

The Sun's not yet above the horizon but already the papers are filled with a rare cornucopia of truths; it's as if the coming sunlight has burned the obscuring mist away. And boy, in all it's nakedness, the truth don't half look horrid. 

Peter Oborne repeats what we all know, that the Euro is in a terminal spiral of decline. He berates the Treasury and the FCO for having absolutely no contingency planning in place for this, for being in 'denial', yet admits that we're so firmly locked into Europe and European finance that we can't escape the fallout, and he stops short of enunciating the only measure that would form an effective firewall - getting out of the EU as rapidly as possible.

Our irresponsible, ingrate banks are loaded with both worthless derivatives and now worthless Euro sovereign debt - when Greece, Ireland and Portugal default, as they surely will, our silly banks will probably get less than 50 cents in the €, and that spread over double the original term. Yet the word is that Vickers will not force a retail banking split; guaranteeing that our banks - and we - go down with the Euro. Again, the loyalty of these people to an international corporate behemoth exceeds their attachment to their native national interest. We should rip their passports up and boot them out. 

The failure of Boy Dave's little Libyan adventure isn't yet complete, so I'll refrain from crowing before my promised three months is up. The commentators lambast the latest cunning wheeze to help the rebels - to send mercenaries to train the insurgents. I'll bet the availability of arabic-speaking NCOs willing to risk their lives as Libyan mercenaries and who can train an indisciplined mob in less than four months can be counted on the fingers of Abu Hamza's right hand. 

MPs are still corrupt and venal creatures, the Squeaker is an embarrassment and the political class unrepentant. No news there then. 

And there you have, I think, enough truth for one day. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Well, at least he didn't apologise

Cameron's rather tenuous grasp of history should oblige his aides to steer his speech-making away from making historical pronouncements, particularly on foreign trips where the potential for damage, with foreigners being notoriously thin-skinned, is the greatest. In this latest case, he was asked on a visit to Pakistan how the UK could help resolve the Kashmir question. He replied “I don’t want to try to insert Britain in some leading role where, as with so many of the world’s problems, we are responsible for the issue in the first place.”

Well, at least he didn't apologise. And on the face of it, it's not that extraordinary an answer. If he wasn't aware of the Radcliffe Line, he was aware that Britain oversaw partition in 1947, and perhaps Balfour's 1917 declaration is also in the Cameron mind. And historians will argue whether it wasn't Jinnah's intransigence rather than Mountbatten's mischief that was responsible for the issue in the first place, but still. 

Blair, of course, would have apologised profusely, being both sufficiently stupid and impertinent enough to blame our forebears for just about everything. Brown would have blamed someone else, or would have denied that Britain ever occupied India at all. Major would have avoided the issue altogether, and stressed the positive benefits of a shared love of cricket. And perhaps after all, what one needs on these foreign trips is an approach like that of John Major. Cameron please note. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Localist betrayal

It's now becoming clearer by the day who are the real winners of Cameron's Localism Lite™ - and it's the same old corporatist bastions of the Leviathan Central State as it always was. Crapita, Serco, G4, Deloitte, KPMG, PwC and the rest. The firms that used to cosy up with the corrupt and destructive Audit Commission in imposing something termed 'the new public management', the firms that give mandarins and ministers the illusion of central control, the firms that are tightening their contractual stranglehold on British democracy. Whitehall has fooled any Coalition members who actually believed in Localism - and there were a few. It has engineered a system of central outsourcing that leaves power relationships intact whilst further destroying local accountability. The only thing that would give me any joy this morning would be to see the lamp columns of the Mall decorated with the swinging corpses of the Permanent Secretaries.

Whitehall and its compliant dummies at the helm of the NHS and local government will frustrate and subvert any effort to decentralise control to local communities. The coalition's ministers are easily frightened by the mandarins, scared of change by the bogeymen of local democracy. So yet again we have the expensive illusion of decentralisation whilst the  feudal steel and glass towers of PwC and the rest rise like castle keeps above a captive nation. What a waste. 

We're almost a year on from the election and already the Coalition's first great betrayal is obvious to all. Cameron is just a weak, foolish, intellectually ungifted scion of the State after all.  

Monday, 4 April 2011

No return to Omerta

Northern Ireland knew sectarian discrimination long after both the Britain and Ireland woke up to the bitterness of taste discrimination; even when it was unlawful to refuse to employ persons on the grounds of race in Britain, it was still 'necessary' to allow Harland & Wolff to refuse to employ a single Catholic at their shipyards. And sectarian policing in the province was not just a matter of discrimination intended to keep the Catholics in poverty - it was a matter of life and death. Extra-judicial murder by the old RUC, and in particular by the 'B' Specials, is ingrained in Catholic folklore, whilst the murder of RUC constables is equally ingrained in Protestant myth. 

The formation of the PSNI was a brave and necessary step, and that 30% of the force are now Catholic is testament to a growing 'ownership' of the force on both sides of the sectarian divide. With greater penetration into the Catholic community comes enhanced intelligence about the crime and racketeering gangs that disguise their evil under the badge of republicanism. They are not terrorists, they are scum, no different to the mafia. The murder of Constable Ronan Kerr is no different to the murder of Giovanni Falcone. No Catholic in the province should feel any sectarian loyalty that would hinder them from helping to bring these killers to justice. 

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Libraries and Zadie

Unlike Zadie Smith, I can't get too excited about council libraries closing. I grew up with Ipswich Central Library, a grand Victorian building packed full of books. The thrill was never the vast lending collection on the ground floor, but at the head of the grand oak staircase on the first floor - the reference collection. Here the walls of  this large rectangular rooms were shelved from floor to ceiling with the sum of human knowledge, the nation's every law, our democratic transactions and even the records of our cricket matches going back to 1864. More importantly, and this is the crux, it contained books whose knowledge had been overtaken by later scholarship. Early 19th century works on surgery, for example, stood side to side on the shelves with the latest developments from South Africa (this was the era of the first heart transplants). Even as a teenager I had no difficulty in understanding the difference between them.  

A few years ago I visited the then newly opened Lewisham Central Library. On the ground floor was a cafe and meeting area, a huge 'information' station of the sort found at the Boat Show, and some computer terminals. There was an area in which Autistic lesbians could exhibit their basket-weaving, and some posters. "Where are the books?" I asked one of the three staff in the service pod; she pointed upwards. On the first floor, in a small L-shaped room half the size of the ground floor, were a few chest-high shelving pods, and scattered so sparsely on their shelves that few could stand upright were a few books. Reader, I tell you no lie when I say I've got more books at home here than were contained in Lewisham Central Library. As a library, it was a misnomer. If it were closed tomorrow it would be mourned only by a few autistic lesbian basket-weavers who enjoy subsidised coffee and playing on the interweb. 

The Telegraph this morning has a denial by Zadie Smith's mother that she ever stole books from her local library, an accusation made by Zadie in a Pro-Ed little encomium the BBC permitted her the airtime to make. And thereby hangs, I think, a delicious tale. You see, Zadie was quite honest in commenting that stacks of books collected by her mother bore the imprint 'Willesden Green Library' and Zadie's mother was also being quite honest in declaring that she didn't steal them. What Zadie is inadvertent witness to is one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism in Britain - the stripping by moronic and vandalistic 'librarians' of the shelves of our libraries of any books that don't reflect the latest multicultural, politically correct, up-to-date writing on any subject. In the past twenty years they have been ransacked by the shelf-mile and consigned for sale at a pittance to the public; any history book written before 1980, any work of reference that was founded on the moral absolutism of a previous age, any work of anthropology that suggested physical differences between the races of men, every old book containing the banned words of the 1990s - all were censored, weeded and disposed of with a ruthless efficiency that would have made Goebbels proud. Leaving our library shelves bare of even the context of knowledge. My first diaphragm-wrenching laugh this morning came with the realisation that Zadie's mother had diligently bought stacks of these 'banned' books with which to educate her daughter, all still imprinted with 'Willesden Green Library'.

But the coffee-spluttering moment came in mother and daughter's admission that when Willesden Library announced a 'book amnesty', with great honesty and in all innocence, they no less diligently packed up and returned every banned and rejected book bearing the library's imprint. 

You really couldn't make it up.