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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Hope for the Euro?

The cynical street view of the debt crisis - that the German government gives money to the European Union rescue fund so that it can give money to the Greek government so that the Greek government can give money to Greek banks so the Greek banks can repay their loans at face value to the German banks - is set to become reality next week as the German Parliament is set to agree an enormous $285bn contribution to the rescue fund.

Those clever Germans over at Der Spiegel think they know a better way; the German government gives money to the German banks to provide cover for them taking a 50% haircut on their Greek bonds and in exchange for a government share in the banks. They calculate this would cost Germany only $27bn for the German banks and another $16bn to prop up banks in the PIGS - thus saving $242bn. But of course such a step wouldn't force the Eurozone into fiscal union ....

John Redwood sets out the effects of Eurofiscalism on the UK if Dave and Boy George sign up. Both pieces worth a read. 

Friday, 23 September 2011

On the brink?

Will this be a Black Friday, with the markets plummeting still further and investor panic spreading, or will the muppets work out that quoted firms are still pretty resilient (with the exception of the banks) and claw a point or two back on the scale, only to repeat the panic next week? Will Greece finally go 'pop' and end the suspense? Will the Eurozone 17 still crouch with eyes closed and fingers in their ears going 'nahnahnah'? Will China's manufacturing sector implode? Waiting for the global financial denouement is getting more wearing and fatiguing than the thing itself.

In the City at 6pm yesterday though you wouldn't know there's a war on. The pavements outside the pubs were packed six deep in the warm September dusk, the glass and chrome ground floor shops blazed with smug wealth and the gold leaf on the old signs gleamed warmly; late shift sweepers brushed the spotless streets with not a vacant lot in sight and only the sounds of the bottle-skips receiving another tipped bar-skep was audible above the late traffic.

Funny old world.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Less Conservative than before ....

The Total Politics results are in (just about) and Raedwald features in several categories; last year's position in brackets:-

Top 100 Political Blog - 62 (104) 
Top 50 Conservative Blog - 25 17 (16)*
Top 50 Right Wing Blog - 25 (46)
Top 25 Libertarian Blog - 12 (-)

It's just a bit of fun and not to be taken too seriously, but many thanks for your votes and in particular for all your comments. That I'm perhaps not as chatty as many bloggers in the comments is due to generally being ready for bed when I get home in the evenings rather than anything else .... 

*Thanks Caroline for the advance notice ** and the correction!

The limits of FOI?

The MP for Loamshire, holding a junior minister's position in the Department for Innovation, unscrews the cap of his fountain pen to write his weekly letter to the Chairman of his constituency association. Theirs is an old partnership, dating from the time he first took his seat in Westminster thirty years previously. They both hold to the old courtesies, reserving email for impersonal messages.
" ... and if you can, it would help me to know the views of our car-dealer members on the proposed £2k levy on diesel vehicles that our LibDem friends are pushing to include and our civil servants are supporting. My instincts are that this is simply not the time, but some hard evidence would be useful."
A private party communication or a piece of government business, and therefore subject to FOI disclosure? And as the communication was a hand-written letter, the MP for Loamshire couldn't even claim privacy under Data Protection Act rules as he could with email. Now his department's permanent secretary wants to trawl through all his constituency office correspondence to uncover anything that may be subject to FOI. 

I can't help but suspecting strongly that the 'furore' arising from Michael Gove's private emails is manufactured, and has been manufactured by Whitehall mandarins. "A meeting of permanent secretaries yesterday discussed ordering a "trawl" of personal email accounts held by Mr Cameron, senior aides and government ministers to see if they contain messages which fall within the remit of the Freedom of Information Act, The Independent understands."

Mandarins have never in their history acted proactively to assist the working of FOI. The contrary has always been the case. The many emails sent by senior civil servants that now carry the signature line 'Sent from my Blackberry' or 'Sent from my iPhone' all fall outside the repository that FOI requests comb through, so why not a trawl of the mandarins' smartphone records as well? Why not a trawl of the mandarins' home computers and personal laptops? 

There's much more to this than at first appears. What game are the mandarins playing here? An attempt to define the limits of FOI to their own advantage? A suspicion that ministers are governing without them? The carefully planted news stories from the Cabinet Office suggest that Gus O'Donnell is in this up his neck, but for what outcome?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The insanity of Labour's central Statism

There is probably no service that needs to be more local than firefighting. Getting a fire tender to a fire in the shortest possible time has always meant that tenders are stationed in ones and twos or twos and threes in little packets strategically positioned to provide the swiftest response to the greatest number. It's not something that any sane person would think could be bettered. The overwhelming majority of - almost all - fire calls are for minor incidents that can be dealt with by a single tender. A very small number of larger or more serious fires and other incidents, 7/7 or Buncefield for instance, require tenders and appliances from much longer distances to attend. 

All of this is currently adequately handled by some 46 fire control rooms. The lunacy that possessed Labour to imagine that 9 regional control centres were needed instead to co-ordinate the statistically insignificant number of major incidents is beyond comprehension. That Labour could manage to spend nearly £500m on the scheme, that it could even get beyond a gateway review at the £100k stage, is testament to the insane scramble to centralise every single aspect of the State under Labour without rationale, reason or rhyme. If an average taxpayer pays £10k a year in tax, the waste represents a year's payments from 50,000 taxpayers - the working cohort of an entire English county. 

Yet not a single Labour ex-minister, not a single Labour MP, not a single Teflon Mandarin, is to stand in the dock to face charges of malfeasance and maladministration or misconduct in public office. Whilst these looters and despoilers get away scot-free, the common people are being jailed for not paying the TV Tax, or as Richard North is bravely documenting, under siege or having their homes violated by a class of licensed thugs and thieves. If Parliament had any balls at all, it would pass a Bill of Attainder against every ex-Minister and Teflon Mandarin with fingerprints on this Fire debacle and seize their homes, yachts, savings, pensions, cars and holiday cottages as a salutary lesson in the duty of stewardship of public funds. 

Monday, 19 September 2011

MPs' EU Referendum a specious distraction

The call by the '22 Committee for a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU is nothing but a specious distraction. The proposed question is not 'in' or 'out' but 'whether Britain should be part of a political union or of the trade-only relationship we thought we had signed up to'. Since opinion polls have already definitively answered this question, a referendum is pointless unless it propels the government into a course of action, which clearly it isn't going to do. 

Today the Troika will again agree to believe the myth that Greece can reduce public expenditure, and the markets will signal their scorn. By the time I get home again this evening we'll all be several tens of billions worse off. It's like making a coastal passage in a leaky boat in which the pumps can't keep up; instead of turning inland and beaching, Europe stays on course, getting ever lower in the water, ever slower over ground, until the engine room is inevitably swamped, the pumps short-circuited and the entire boat sinks beneath the waves. There's no-one in the wheelhouse willing to put the helm over. It's really not the time to ask the passengers to vote on the choice of the destination port.   

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Architectural Cream

Ed P in a comment below has reminded me what a good building the new Turner Gallery in Margate is; this is the N side of the cluster of simple concrete rectangles. Very simple, very beautiful, and the space inside is sumptuously pure and clean and divinely lit. By Sir David Chipperfield, who also designed the River & Rowing museum in Henley - another superb structure. Margate is substantially bigger than the dreadful Colchester mess. And at £17m about £11m cheaper. 

Architectural arrogance

One day I'm going to write a book called 'The cost of pisspoor design'. The Uraguayan designer Rafael Viñoly's new Colchester art gallery will be amongst the entries. 

An art gallery is a space in which people and art can interact. Inside, the art is the star, not the shed. You need large areas of flat vertical wallspace, high enough for large works but not so high, ideally lit by natural daylight through Northlight roof glazing. You need to restrict the UV light that damages pigments, and control temperature and humidity within fairly tight limits. With people moving in and out, breathing, and opening and closing external doors, the environmental conditioning needs to be quite clever. You also want to minimise solar heating effects and cooling shocks. In plan, an oblong or rectangular gallery layout maximises wall space to floor area and volume. A decent architect will achieve all this internally, and - here's the skill - produce a building that looks good from the outside.

Viñoly seems to have ignored every single design rule in producing Colchester's 'Firstsite' - from here on to be referred to as 'Viñoly's Crapsite'. Here's what the Guardian's Rowan Moore thinks;   
A great wall, which might be a nice place to put pictures, not only curves but also slopes outwards as it rises. Other gallery walls also curve or are made of glass. Some spaces are very high, to no purpose. On the rare occasions when a plain, blank piece of wall presents itself, it usually gets punctured by doors. Firstsite will show temporary exhibitions of contemporary art, and say that "art practice has changed so much in recent years; artists are creating work in so many different media", so the idea seems to be that flat surfaces for fuddy-duddy paintings would not be needed as much and there would be installations and sculptures instead. Except the slope of the walls narrows the space at ground level, precisely where you would most want room to circulate around large objects. Oh well, perhaps they can project some video pieces. Or would, if a profusion of windows at many levels did not make much of it almost impossible to black out.
Colchester Council would be better off turning it into a 'fun pool' with flumes and slides and charging £10 a time to try and recoup some of the bloated £28m of public money that Viñoly has managed to waste on this truly awful excrescence.