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Friday, 19 August 2011

Best of luck to 'salty' Bob

I know Bob Frost, and I'm sure he'd be the first to agree that newspapers are for writing for, not appearing in. The Mail of course only tells an angle; in reality Bob is a highly capable and experienced sailor with more deep sea miles under his belt than many an entire yacht club. He's also immensely nice, extremely helpful, erudite, charming, witty and the father of a wonderful family. And at times his language can be a little salty. I remember him telling me once that his son had borrowed his small sailing boat to take his girlfriend out. To Madeira. They sailed there and back with as much sangfroid as a Sunday outing to the park. Like father like son. For Bob, a fit young fellow should spend his time taking a small boat out into the Atlantic Ocean and not smashing shop windows and puffing spliffies. His frustration at the wasted potential must be intense. 

Anyhow I wish him the best of luck and hope this little thing will blow over. Bob and chaps like him are the very backbone of this nation. We must treasure them. 

When the wind blows

The last time it felt like this was when Ronnie Reagan was playing a terrifying game of calling the Soviet bluff over nuclear weapons. No one knew at the time whether he was pushing too hard, whether an infuriated Politburo would respond with a pre-emptive launch. In Suffolk, the air was drenched in kerosene vapour as F4 Phantoms screamed across the sky at low level in a constant procession; the TA were getting ready to be sacrificed on the North German Plain to gain an extra ten minutes to get Bridget Bardot to a Channel Port when the T74s rolled, and the government issued a leaflet advising us to hide under the kitchen table when attacked with nuclear weapons. With a bucket and a roll of bum wipe.

The financial freefall is a funny old thing, though; firms (with the exception of banks) are generally healthy, lean, cash and asset rich, and in good shape to face the coming storm. The UK banks, still with $10 trillion of worthless derivatives hidden in the numbers, and the daft governments that have attempted to keep them propped up, are both looking distinctly ill. I've frequently said here the tonic is to let them all fall, write off those toxic negative assets and have a plan B in place to keep the ATMs full and allow business transfers.

Last time, when faced with instant incineration before we'd even been to Uni, I recall a moment of perfect calm, at Iken, possibly one of the most ancient and holy places in the Realm, as a late Summer Sun sank low in Suffolk's vast skies, and with Fleetwood Mac playing quietly on the car cassette. It was a moment of Buddhist-like insight; to quote that Austrian general's signal, the situation was desperate, but not serious. After that I ceased to worry about the bomb.

And this is from an album I've been listening to recently; her voice has got something that reminds me a lot of a young Stevie Nicks;

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Livingstone - Drunk or Senile?

Was it senility or alcohol that prompted Livingstone's crass and cringe-making remarks today? If he carries on like this, all Boris need do is ensure there's a broadcaster's mic somewhere near Livingstone after every lunch.  

The myth of 'The Rule of Law'

It's odd how many people accept this anodyne phrase without a moment's thought. Some fool of a scribbler on the Guardian uses the phrase twice in one article without once giving a moment's consideration as to its meaning; "Strip away the high rhetoric from these attacks and they amount to a rejection of government being subject to the rule of law along with everyone else," he dribbles, and "Scapegoating human rights, judges and the European court may be effective politics in the eyes of some in government, but it corrodes respect for human rights and the rule of law."

The same idiot will no doubt today be penning a silly article condemning the severity of the riot sentences, without a moment's thought that this, too, is actually, erm, the Rule of Law. You see, 'law' is not some abstract, disinterested, neutral, fair, equitable, impartial code of goodness that all have a moral obligation to follow; 'law' is inherently political, made by governments. And others less democratically positioned. Would this numpty exhort North Koreans to be obedient to the dictatorship because the 'Rule of Law' is paramount? Would he have encouraged Germans to obey Hitler's anti-Jewish enactments for the same reason? Make no mistake; a law that forces us to give votes to lifers is no less political than one that seizes Jewish assets. 

Police bosses, too, are susceptible to parroting the phrase with their thinking-cells switched off, whilst simultaneously condemning 'political interference' in their job. Where on Earth do they imagine the 'law' comes from? Hugh Orde, in an interview with the Indie, has made it explicitly clear that he favours the unelected politicians of the ECHR making laws rather than the UK's elected ones. Well, that's an opinion - and one we're all free to hold or not. And we all get the equal chance to vote on such things. Orde's vote on the issue should be worth no less than anyone else's. 

But there are many of us who would repatriate the power to make our laws, to return the power to politicians that we elect directly, not politicians appointed by the Euro monster. For this we must repeal the Human Rights Act and replace the European Convention with a home-grown Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. The Eurozone is approaching collapse - I gave it until September two months ago. We need to be free of the death-throes of this malign Leviathan as rapidly as possible. David Cameron please note. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Police power struggle is hurting us all

There is nothing new in the current tussle between government and Chief Constables; it has been going on, in one form or another, since the 1960 Royal Commission. A series of Acts - in 1964, 1976 and 1996 - have sought to establish the exact degree of operational control to be exercised over police forces by democratic authorities. Oh yes, the Secretary of State does have operational control over police forces, as do the various Police Authorities. What they don't have is tactical control. John Redwood summarises why it's important that police retain tactical control;
In a democracy the police need to be independent in important respects. We all want the police to investigate people connected with the government fearlessly if they have good reason to suspect they have committed crimes. We wish them to resist any temptation by those in power to have their political enemies investigated on trumped up charges. We expect our police to bring a neutral independence to consideration of crime and suspects, where the results of their labours are driven by the evidence rather than by any wish to please those in power , or through any sense of revenge.
However, it's up to Secretary of State and the Police Authority to determine and approve the particular objectives of a police force, and the resources in terms of share of police time and share of budget to be applied. In Cleveland, for example, the Police Authority may determine that tackling domestic violence is a key priority - and require the Chief Constable to target resources and show results. If a Chief Constable fails to heed these operational objectives, it's grounds for their removal from office by the Police Authority. Of course, Chief Constables resent this 'interference' hugely, and their collective reaction has been to comply as obstructively and bureaucratically as possible. Thus the over-complex and resource-sapping monitoring and performance recording that ordinary plods hate so much; in actuality, it's mostly just part of the struggle between police bosses and democratic authorities. Police bosses are saying "See, if it wasn't for your interference I could put 30% more coppers on the beat" and Police Authorities are saying "You're not using your resources efficiently". And this is where it goes to ground, for questions of 'efficiency' are decided not by the Secretary of State, or the Police Authority, but by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary.   

The truth is, the resistance to democratic control by police bosses is now not just covert and institutional obstruction but out in the open. They are now openly defying the authority of the Secretary of State, and more dangerously (and previously illegally, under s.53 of the 1964 Act, now repealed) potentially inciting disaffection amongst police constables. They seem to forget that the Secretary of State is the person of the Crown in Parliament. Their wish and that of ACPO, to escape all the requirements of democratic control under the fatuous and jejune presumption that everything is 'tactical' is doing the police, and the service they provide to us, immeasurable damage. 

There can be only one winner in this struggle - democratic control. We simply can't permit a special 'caste' of citizen operating outside of democratic control to exercise such immense powers over our lives. The police must be part of our society, integrated with and responsible to our communities, in accordance with Peel's principles, or they are a seditious body, in revolt against the Crown and the nation.   

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Who remembers Karen Matthews?

If your memory is good, you may recall that in 2008 Karen Matthews, mother of seven children, caused furore when she attempted to stage a kidnapping for cash of her daughter Shannon. There were several acres of print comment about the curse of the underclass and how Welfarism was making things worse, not better. Even before the financial crisis, Iain Duncan-Smith wrote;
A glance at the figures should show how we are already paying for this growing social breakdown. Over the past ten years the cost of policing has risen by 40 per cent, prisons and the courts by 46 per cent, youth justice by 45 per cent and working-age benefits by 25 per cent. Some forecast that the scale of this problem will double in the next 15 years. How will we afford that?
The astonishing reality is that a small number of chaotic, scofflaw 'families' - in practice 'family' is a fecund and promiscuous woman and her numerous offspring, frequently sired by a variety of fathers - cause a wholly disproportionate commitment of public expenditure. Cameron's brave measures of yesterday will have been as much at the urging of George Osborne as of IDS and Frank Field, you may be sure.

Back in March 2010 I wrote in critique of the Evening Standard's campaign for the dispossessed. Apart from taking issue with the paper's repeated use of the phrase 'she fell pregnant' as though this were an unexpected and accidental event unrelated to sexual intercourse - and as if the woman below couldn't link cause and effect, having 'fallen pregnant' eleven times by eleven different men - I was sympathetic as to our moral duty to help the poor and needful. 

I wrote "the articles paint a picture of a class of people whose physical, intellectual, emotional and moral capacities are unequal to taking responsibility for their own lives." and "What many of the underclass suffer most from is indifference; no one cares what they do to themselves. There are no neighbours or local leaders to chastise them, or to communicate standards of morality and behaviour or to demonstrate the joy of belonging. The very class of people most in need of guidance, support and supervision from civil society, those with the most diminished capacity, are those least likely to get it, and because it's not the State's job to provide these things, no one does." And that's the evil of Welfarism. I also quoted Simon Jenkins at length - and as his piece for the Standard at the time is particularly relevant today, I repeat it below; 
In 19th-century London that sort of local welfare came first from parish and corporate charities and then from the early London municipalities. By the end of the Second World War, London's borough and metropolitan health and welfare authorities were the envy of Europe. That is true no more. The freedom to innovate and decide local priorities has, since the Eighties, been removed to central government, where it rests inert to this day.
Excessive state regulation has sapped the philanthropic urge and disempowered communities. Tens of thousands of Londoners are clearly falling through the net. The reason is that Whitehall tries only to meet the target, not the need.
I doubt if the cases described in the Standard this week can ever be cured by central government action, however much money is hurled at surveys, consultants or task forces. Look at the fate of the “homelessness initiative” or countless wars on drugs. Nor is there likely to be new money, as the public sector girds itself for fewer resources and fewer people in years to come.
I would delegate much of London's welfare fiercely down to boroughs and below, to community and neighbourhood councils, letting them levy small local taxes to relieve the acute poverty which they, and probably no one else, see around them.
But another answer lies in an unfashionable quarter, in reverting to the voluntary and charitable sector from which London's welfare state emerged. We thought we could do without soup kitchens, the Salvation Army, church day centres, charity lying-in hospitals, citizens advice and private colleges. Now I am not so sure.
And here Cameron can bring together the strands of his reform policy; Localism and Welfare Reform, if he has the drive and the commitment. But will Whitehall ever allow it?  

Blog awards

Many thanks to James Higham for reminding me about the Total Politics blog awards; the little stickers in the RH column are a distinct second in terms of the rewards for writing this blog, which are really in your comments and reactions, but should you feel compelled to cast a vote I will feel suitably humbled and grateful;

Monday, 15 August 2011

Minor distinctions

To give Bill Bratton his due, he has tried without success to explain the differences between the 'zero tolerance' and 'broken windows' policies; zero tolerance, he says, was his policy towards police corruption, not street nuisance. It occurs to me that the only ears that might have noticed the distinction are our police bosses, themselves mired in an endemic and institutional corruption; it would at least explain their opposition to Bratton's involvement in sorting-out the mess that policing has become. 

However, if we're to move on constructively, we need to get some basics clear first. I take issue this morning with a sentence in an otherwise sensible Telegraph leader;
Maintaining social order and stability is the primary function of government.
Well, it's the primary function of government to ensure a national framework of civil and criminal law and maintain an equitable system for the administration of justice, but is it really the primary function of the State to maintain social order and stability? Isn't half the problem that we've abnegated this role to the State, but the State alone has neither the resources nor the capability to fulfil it? I think this leader writer should rather have said "Maintaining social order and stability is the function of a healthy society" - that within a framework of law maintained at national level, a variety and diversity of actors and intermediate institutions implements compliance.  

Finally, the distinction between the offences of 'riot' and 'violent disorder'. Following the Bradford Riots of 2001, 137 people were charged with the offence of riot and close to 100 convicted, with the average sentence being 4 to 6 years. So far I don't know of a single charge of riot made as a result of last week's disturbances - most have been for the offence of violent disorder, an offence with a lower standard of proof and a more lenient sentence. Perhaps it was the nature of the outbreak - termed 'shopping with violence' by one commentator, as opposed to an explosion of righteous anger - that defines it as falling short of a riot. And the point has also been made that if the disturbances were really about unemployment, poverty and lack of work opportunities, why were there not more 'resting' actors among those arrested? 

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Gus O'Donnell fights to keep Whitehall mandarins out of prison

Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell is fighting a desperate battle with MPs and journalists in refusing to disclose the scale of potential theft and fraud amongst those using the government procurement card (GPC). Limited disclosure of transactions to date has revealed that senior civil servants are illegally charging personal expenditure to the cards - otherwise known as stealing - on a widespread basis. It is difficult to estimate, but likely that theft from the taxpayer runs into at least hundreds of pounds by individual Whitehall mandarins. O'Donnell is desperate to keep details from the public including 'improper spending' (theft) on booze, fine-dining, theatres, furniture, clothing and electrical goods by the Whitehall nomenklatura

With sentences now being handed down for theft including six months imprisonment for theft of £3.50 of bottled water, and five months for possession of a stolen pair of shorts, value unknown but unlikely to be over £10, O'Donnell's efforts to 'forgive' his civil servants all thefts under £500 is out of tune with the mood of the nation and the actions of the courts. There is no reason why a civil servant who has improperly defrauded the taxpayer out of £3.50 for bottled water on the GPC should not also serve six months in prison. 

If Cameron's 'zero tolerance' means anything, it must extend to not only the immediate dismissal of any civil servant guilty of theft, but their prosecution in the courts. There cannot be one law for the poor and dispossessed and another for the privileged elite of Whitehall. To this end, there must be a full criminal investigation into spending on the GPC. It's time for Cameron to over-rule his chief mandarin. 

Hugh Orde's deep ignorance of London

You'd think that someone who is reported to aspire to become London's next police Commissioner would at least mug up a little on our metropolis, wouldn't you? Perhaps Hugh Orde's time as capo di capi of the shadowy and secretive ACPO organisation has simply left him wholly out of touch with real policing in London. Anyhow, Orde opines pompously to the Indie this morning, with reference to Bill Bratton's appointment:-
I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them. It seems to me, if you've got 400 gangs, then you're not being very effective.
Thereby demonstrating that he knows little of either London's 330 identifiable street gangs, 239 of them currently active, or of what defines, encourages and enables the growth of gang culture.   

Perhaps it is Orde's peculiar and quite astonishing ignorance of the state of our capital that leads him to make his clearest statement so far on his absolute opposition to either introducing democracy to policing or any type of local police identity or accountability:-
What I suggested to the Home Secretary is a more sensible approach, maybe to look across far wider styles of policing; and, more usefully, at European styles – they, like us, are bound by the European Convention.
European police forces operate within a system of Roman law and act as the paramilitary wing of the central State; they are largely national rather than local and beyond any democratic accountability to local communities. Britain's police, like those in the US, arose from our unique Common Law framework and are founded on the policing principles of Robert Peel. They are (were until the 1964 Police Act) locally accountable and should have direct democratic accountability. Bill Bratton, in other words, has more experience of British-style policing than any Euro police battalion Commandant, and that's what Orde hates. His whole credo is one of turning our separate constabularies into a national police force, on the European model, as a tool of the central State. 

If anyone now seriously imagines that this man is either qualified or suitable as a candidate for Met Commissioner they must be delusional. Orde is patently unfit even to wear the uniform of a police force that prides itself on its Peelean roots.