Monday, 31 December 2012

Reynard

Thanks to Greg for this splendid shot of an urban fox; the banshee night-screeching apart, I have to say I also enjoy seeing them here in the city. I recall watching a 'Springwatch' with Bill Oddie and a camera crew spending a whispered night hidden in a ditch for a few seconds glimpse of a fox whilst outside my rear window a vixen was delicately picking (I think) earthworms from a newly dug bed, watched amiably by the two moggies. 


Wood Pigeons, too, perhaps aware that city folk don't eat them unless they arrive back-down on a plate have become bolder than ever I've known them in the country; with all the diet-discipline of Labradors, some have grown to prodigious size and waddle about lazily with bulging crops. 

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Localism and Hunting

Cameron could demonstrate both his support of Localism and fulfil his electoral commitment to take action on the Hunting Act by devolving the decision. A simple two-line Bill that abolished the existing Act and gave each local authority the power to make Byelaws banning the hunting of mammals with hounds would surely be a victory for democracy?

Lambeth, Southwark and Tower Hamlets could therefore ban hunting to the great satisfaction of their electors whilst the debate in the Shires would be more nuanced.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

How dare these Euverts pervert our police

Cameron is quite rightly under pressure to reject 135 Euro crime and policing laws in a British opt-out from Europolicing. The key term is jurisdiction; we're being asked to surrender our own jurisdiction over our own police to Brussels. For just as our criminal and civil law is founded on principles quite different from European Roman Law so are our police supposed to be. The plotting and fiddling by successive Home Secretaries since the 1960s, together with the perfidious and antidemocratic ACPOs malign influence, has sought to not only wrest control of the police from local to national level, but turn our police forces into a single, national force. The Police Act of 1964 started a process that we are only now beginning to reverse. 

The British people can only ever effectively be policed by a Peelean force; local, accountable and civilian in character. I'd guess some 95% of police activity is dealing with theft, burglary, vehicle offences, public order, minor drugs and public disturbances. The need for any kind of European 'intervention' or 'co-ordination' in any of this policing activity is precisely nil; it's small scale local stuff that's utterly routine to police. Neither, let's be honest, are we particularly anxious to have the power to extradite back here a Czech flasher or a Polish shoplifter who have gone back home. And our sense of fair play conditioned with a few centuries of buccaneering in our blood means that should a Brit make a successful 'home run' without arrest after flashing in the Algarve or shoplifting in Marseilles we consider it an injustice to extradite them. The Euros have never understood the psychology behind 'British Bulldog'.

For the tiny but potentially significant volume of serious crime and terrorism that we need to investigate and enforce at a national level, we already do. As we already co-operate with other police and intelligence services from around the world - not just Europe. So what is this European integration of policing all about? Even its most fervent supporters won't claim it will improve clear-up rates, reduce crime or make our streets safer, and it's a matter of record that anything with a Euro dimension automatically becomes less efficient, so it's certainly not about efficiency. Nope. There is one reason and one reason only behind this integration of Euro-policing - as a support to Euro Federalism. It is wholly political and has nothing to do with policing. 

So when Viviane Reding, an unelected Euro Commissioner who used to be a Luxembourg journalist, hammers Cameron for considering an opt-out from EU jurisdiction over UK policing you can be pretty sure we're doing the right thing.

And one final thing. Our police bosses are in desperate need of corrective training and discipline; they have forgotten who they work for, and have been deluded enough to believe they have a remit themselves to open a dialogue with the EU independent of their local democratic control. Ms Reding quotes UK police bosses as being 'horrified' at the prospect of an opt-out. Their view is not relevant - they must do as they are instructed by the British people. Any Chief Police Officer who doesn't understand this can get out now.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Botwulf

Back to Middle Earth and the Shire for the Christmas feast, to a feasting-hall well provendered by the sister-in-law. Few of the company were eaten by trolls. Which was nice. And so to the Boxing-day hunt moot and the largest attendance by supporters I've seen so far. A short talk from the Master, frustrated but restrained and loaded with social responsibility - a decent and honourable man who resisted any temptation at rabble-rousing or divisive rhetoric. Still, from the many comments and mini-conversations amongst the contagiously friendly crowd it was clear that Nigel Farage was the only politician who could have shown their face here with impunity. It was only a couple of hours and 1000 or so people but I think there were two results; one a recognition that loathing for the established parties was more common than not, and secondly the process of a collective recognition, as of a man joining his regiment, looking about him and thinking "well, these are the people who will be beside me in battle".

Botwulf or Botulph founded a monastery at Iken-ho in the age when Anglia was slowly turning from pagan to Christian, and when the land was periodically disputed between Angles, Saxons and Danes all with strong links of kinship across the North Sea a day and a part-day's sail away. I could write a paragraph here about the misguided ignorance of historians still seeking to identify the location of geographically fixed cathedra from this age, when the bishop would travel with the king and his court in his progress around the three or four royal burghs and the See would be wherever the bishop was. Anyway, when Botwulf died around 680 his body was moved to Burgh, a place much troubled by a water-troll. Botwulf's success when alive in taming such creatures at Iken-ho perhaps gave belief that the ability survived his death. And indeed he was at Burgh for fifty years before being dug-up and moved again, this time to the Abbey at Bury, and one hears no more of the water-troll, so it may have worked.

The sole surviving Beowulf manuscript dates from around the eighth century when the tale was set-down by a scribe at Rendlesham in Suffolk. The version he wrote down features Dane names, but in the oral original the place names and person names would have altered with the audience, only the mythical-poetic elements remaining constant. A hero from across the water comes to the aid of a king troubled by a monster, or two monsters, or a monster and a dragon. Magic swords are usually involved, as are marshes, feasting halls, warriors and princesses. And exactly like pantomime, these epic tales incorporate issues of current concern, so the 'snapshot' taken by the Rendlesham scribe incorporates references to both Christianity and paganism. 

Anyway, to Burgh in the pouring rain, safe in the brother's Disco, where we sat contemplating that fallow field to the north of the church all within an ancient Roman fort later used by the Anglo-Saxons, looking down to the valley and the flooded marshland to Grundisburgh, or Grendlesburgh. For here was indeed one of the Heorots and one of the Hrothgars of one of the versions of Beowulf, with a supporting cast of water-trolls and their mothers, gold sword hilts, buried treasure and miracles. And just a little bit of that old magic sparkled and into mind came a clear vision of the hunt and the supporters translocated here to this great fort; just for a few moments was this ancient place populated with spearmen and thanes, the clatter of harness and the thud of great horses. There is still a little magic here in Suffolk. 

The site of a Heorot; St Botwulf's church in the centre

Listen to us. We DO know best.

The jaw-jaw politics game is going right to the wire in 2012. With signs that the EU may still implode as a result of its own single-minded federastry, unelected 'dishrag' Herr Von Rumpy this week sought to start re-writing this potential historical outcome by blaming British Euphobia for any collapse. At the time of writing, 1102 furious comments from Telegraph readers say everything worth saying about the contempt in which this silly little man is held by the British public.

On 13th December I reported that Spain's bad-bank was set to launch to market some 89,000 homes and 13m square meters of building land, but that this represented just those holdings worth more than €250,000 that had been transferred from the good-but-bankrupt banks. Ambrose writes today of efforts by the bust banks to offload their residual property holdings before the bad-bank's portfolio hits the market; with a fall in value of 75% from 2008 levels expected, and a potential free-fall that could see some developments worth just 5% of their peak value, offering an attractive investment opportunity for any Germans brave enough to acquire holiday homes at the bottom of the market and proving that everything will sell if the price is low enough.

Meanwhile nearer home Bruce Anderson confirms what we all know already, thereby upholding the great tradition of hindsight exhibited by the MSM;
A generation ago, the populists warned that the abolition of the death penalty would lead to a sharp increase in the murder rate plus the proliferation of gun crime. They feared that if schools abandoned traditional disciplinary methods, many classrooms would become ungovernable. They were also afraid that in practice, comprehensive schools for everyone would mean secondary moderns all round. They were convinced that uncontrolled immigration would undermine the quality of life in our inner cities. They were equally certain that welfare payments which merely subsidised idleness would turn the welfare state into an ill-fare state and condemn its clients to demoralisation. They were perennially suspicious of the EU. To put it mildly, there seems no reason for those who held such views to prostrate themselves in repentance. Not that they are inclined to do so, which helps to explain the Tory party’s poor performance in recent elections: its failure to achieve its demographic potential in an increasingly middle-class society. A lot of potential Tory voters see little point in turning out for a party that persistently ignores their opinions, especially when they believe that they have been proved right.
In the days when the Tory Party formulated policy on the basis of a bottom-up information flow from hundreds upon hundreds of local Conservative Associations to Central Office they wouldn't have missed this. Now there's a new name for this old process - 'crowdsourcing' - which will no doubt be miraculously discovered by the party as a hip, modern replacement to policy wonk tanks and metropolitan gurus - but perhaps discovered too late to do the party any good.

And so as we drift towards a 2013 that few are anticipating with much pleasure we must ask again where are the politicians who will do justice to the wisdom of the people?

Monday, 24 December 2012

Whose family am I aiming at?

The army in Flanders in 1914 was still the regular professional army, serving soldiers and reservists who had seen service in India and the Empire, men whose training and fire-discipline at Mons had convinced the Germans they were facing machine guns rather than SMLEs. It is not surprising therefore that this was the cohort that co-operated in the Christmas truce, rather than the later Kitchener armies, for no one hates war more than a professional soldier. The Germans (as is usual) started it; they lit candles and sung carols in the front line trenches, their artillery refrained from firing. We responded in kind.

For a thousand years families in England have gazed into the flames of a Christmas fire with their thoughts reaching to their men gone to war; on Crusade in the Holy Land, somewhere in France, at sea, in Central Europe, the scented Empire, the Middle East. Afghanistan. And as those men's thoughts turn to their own families and firesides as they watch over their rifle sights, as John McCutcheon sings, they wonder whose families they are aiming at.

As my eyes scan the pixellated effect formed by hundreds of passport photographs of the fallen of the recent wars, with far too many boys amongst them, my heart finds it impossible to find the forgiveness for 'Bloody' Blair and his war-stained coterie that my head requires, and I must still swallow hard my anger and think instead of the Prince of Peace. Too many homes this Christmas will be missing a son, a father or a sister.

May we all have a peaceful and charitable Christmas.

   

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Andrew Mitchell is no angel

Chief Whips are not chosen for their sunny and helpful dispositions, humility, gentleness or Christian passivity. Neither are they renowned for their gentility of manner or general air of human forgiveness. The qualities a party leader generally looks for in his Chief Whip are not distant from those displayed by the fictional Malcolm Tucker; he must be an outgoing bastard not afraid to threaten, seize by the testicles, blackmail, bully, hound, plague and torment the party's backbenchers. Whips know which MPs are shagging persons other than their spouses, which are closet inverts, and which have their Dolphin Square apartments rigged with rubber, leather and the paraphernalia of deviant sexual habits. 

Mitchell's efforts at self-rehabilitation this week are therefore becoming a little risible; he's over-egged the wronged innocent to the extent that he's actually lost credibility. That sick-making kiss inflicted upon a young WPC was followed by leaked accounts from 'friends' at his disappointment that Cameron did not fully back him, and now a lachrymose and self-indulgent account in the ST today detailing his martyrdom at the hands of Plod. It's all just too much. 

The likely story is that Mitchell is a foul-mouthed little haemorrhoid with a short fuse who swore and cavilled when refused the use of Downing Street's main gate; this may not have included the words 'pleb' or 'moron', but was undoubtedly sufficiently offensive to upset Plod's own inflated self-importance.

The whole incident could have been dealt with by a Willy calling them both in for a bollocking in the Cabinet Office and that would have been the end of it. Unlike Thatcher, Cameron doesn't have a Willy and a bollocking from Cameron would have all the force of a severe reprimand from Sergeant Wilson, beside it being inappropriate for a PM to do himself. 

The way this thing is going has all the elements of mutually assured destruction.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Switching

Switching - utility providers, that is - has become a regular exercise for many of us. It's not that the new tariff gains us that much, it's the minor satisfaction of getting back the £250 that the buggers have been sitting on. And they're all the same. Six months from now my new provider will have carefully calculated my direct debits to provide them with an interest-free £250 of my money. Multiply this by half a million customers all with substantial credit balances and you can see the source of the Chairman's million quid wedge. 

A couple of tips for anyone new to this. Three or four weeks after you've switched they will write to you advising you of the credit balance they intend returning, but just need you to provide your latest meter readings. Don't whatever you do give them your current readings; instead, give them exactly the same readings as you provided to your new supplier three or four weeks previously. 

And secondly, though they take your money instantly by direct debit, they will only refund your credit balance by cheque. Sent second class. 

And they wonder why we hate them so.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Plodgate - the evidence

There are two critical pieces of evidence that are damning to the police. Above is the fake email (clicky) from a serving police officer who was not present pretending to be, it seems, a semi-literate Chinese tourist but one who can't resist in CAPITALISING proper names in the text, as plod is taught to do in written statements. The Officer who wrote this should certainly be dismissed from the police, as I've written below. 

The second is the leaked statement from an officer actually on duty that says
After several refusals Mr MITCHELL got off his bike and walked to the pedestrian gate with me after I again offered to open that for him.
There were several members of public present as is the norm opposite the pedestrian gate and as we neared it, Mr MITCHELL said: “Best you learn your f—— place…you don’t run this f—— government…You’re f—— plebs.” The members of public looked visibly shocked and I was somewhat taken aback by the language used and the view expressed by a senior government official. I can not say if this statement was aimed at me individually, or the officers present or the police service as a whole.
Note the same ploddish capitalisation. 

As BE points out below, this officer is lying. There were no members of the public at the gates - and certainly not a fictional Chinese man and his nephew.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Plodgate

Pandora Maxwell is the one name I'd expected to pop up on Leveson that didn't. A police tip-off to the press ensured that when plod went knocking on Pandora's door at 6am there were photographers there to record the public humiliation of the Maxwells. How are the mighty fallen and all that. Others in the public eye, favoured by the police, can attend a station of their choice to be arrested by appointment with little press attention. It may be far fairer to implement a Scandinavian type anonymity for all, but somehow this doesn't quite chime with a robust press tradition of red meat; the Maxwell family had defrauded their companies and were living comfortably whilst their pensioners had been reduced to penury, and perhaps their public pillorying in the press was as fair a penalty as any directorship disqualifications imposed by the courts. 

Still, the police tip-off has an honourable tradition in a nation such as ours that prefers to cut down tall straws; handcuffed pop stars and soccer players being pushed into the rear of squad cars are the staple photos of our mass press. Leveson's recommendations would see them banned - police officers would be prohibited from making this kind of tip-off. 

Of course sometimes they get it spectacularly wrong, as in the case of Chris Jefferies. Some form of words from the police told the press that they'd got the right man for Jo Yeates' murder, and the press duly unleashed a torrent of vilification against the innocent man. For which they all later paid substantial damages. 

As to Andrew Mitchell, it's a tale of two halves. The video shown on the Telegraph website proves little - it shows nothing of the length of the previous dialogue at the main gate between Mitchell and a police officer, and provides no additional evidence at all as to whether the word 'pleb' was used. However, the fabrication of evidence by an officer who was not even present is far more serious.

This wasn't a tip-off, it was criminal malfeasance. The officer fabricated a witness statement as a result of which the Chief Whip resigned; he also leaked the notebook of one of the officers who was actually present to the press. Clearly this individual had an animus against Mitchell and was willing to lie to further it. For the fabrication of evidence alone there can be no further career for this man in the police - that must be clear. Whether he faces criminal charges is up to the CPS. For leaking the notebook, the case is blurred. This information would be exempt under FOI and only enter the public domain if produced in court. Disclosing it would neither pervert the course of justice nor aid and assist a crime - so it must be a disciplinary offence only. For now. However, under Leveson's recommendations such disclosure would be unlawful. 

Real life is always more complex than codes such as Leveson's imagine. Mitchell is not an innocent, all policemen are not honest and the press is rarely fair. Let's live with it.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Conservative Waugh

Evelyn Waugh was an enigmatic little chap. A 'snobbish misanthrope' who penned a series of amusing and lightweight novels during the 1930s until he contracted pretensions of literature. Scoop, Put Out More Flags and Decline and Fall should still be satisfying reading for any schoolboy, and still be able to induce an audible guffaw. Looking at his portrait pic one would take him as a perfect analogue for his unfortunate creation Apthorpe in Sword of Honour, rather than the noble but frustrated Crouchback in whose character he undoubtedly cast himself.

Craig Brown in the The Mail catalogues Waugh's particular hatred of Christmas, and his deep dislike of his own children, Theresa and Bron. "Maria Teresa and Bron have arrived, he is ingratiating, she covered with little medals and badges, neurotically voluble with the vocabulary of the lower-middle class — “serviette”, “spare room". By keeping the children in bed for long periods we managed to have a tolerable day" he wrote in his diary in 1945, when the children were aged six and seven. 

Craig Brown omits the story Bron himself told of that Christmas. At the end of the meal the maid brought in a single banana on a plate, an undreamt of wonder to the children after six years of wartime rationing. It was the first time either of them had seen the fruit. They watched as Waugh carefully peeled away the skin .... and proceeded to eat the entire thing himself. 

How much of his later misanthropy was due to bearing a girl's name is unclear but it dogged him throughout his life, one contemporary review of Scoop referring throughout to 'Miss Waugh'. Muriel in the Colony would have addressed him in the same way, but out of mischief.

Waugh of course also reflects how far liberal conservatism has come since the 1950s. Unpleasant but successful men exercising patronage through local Conservative Associations that could make or break small businesses, run local planning and development to suit themselves or exclude from local society those they disliked. We must be glad that such men have gone.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Great Sadness

The obscenity of the violent death of so many little ones in Newtown leaves one gasping for rational explanation. This was comfortable, settled, median suburbia, utterly average. But then Dunblane also would have been the last place one expected this sort of carnage. These rampages seem to be predictable only in their unpredictability; the West is full of angry teen boys who play GTA on their computers, angry failed men such as Thomas Hamilton or Derek Bird. If they haven't got a semi-auto rifle they'll use pistols, or shotguns, or samurai swords or felling axes and billhooks. No matter what security, what precautions, what screening, what control of lethal implements one introduces, the man who has gone beyond reason and whose depth of despair drives him to such evil will always find a way to kill many. And yes, it seems it is just men. 

Is it in some way our fault? I mean the fault of all those of us who cope with what life throws at us, make the best fist of it we can and keep buggering on? Our expectation that everyone else should do the same? To understand that death, divorce and disappointment are more likely companions on the road for most of us than health, wealth and connubial bliss? Or should we just accept that rarely one individual in tens of millions just goes over the edge, can't cope and so resents the rest of us that he'll do mass murder?

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Cycle control

I'm a lapsed cyclist. I rather unkindly laughed out loud this week at a work colleague who now commutes the 1500m distance between home and office by cycle and is a recent but enthusiastic cyclist. When I mentioned I was thinking about getting a bike for the Spring, he suggested I attend a cycling proficiency course. After I'd stopped laughing I explained that I had more than 20,000 cycle miles under my belt and used regularly to cycle 80 mile a day round trips on some of the most dangerous 'A' roads in the country, that I used to build my own bikes from bits and spares to achieve bespoke perfection and that I came from the generation that anticipated using a puncture repair kit on a long road trip and could still lever-off a tyre, extract the tube, find the leak with the aid of a wet drainage ditch, fix it and ride off again. Never mind taking a link out of a heat-stretched chain on a baking Summer roadside with only a Yale key, bent nail and a lump of flint. 

In place of Isotonic drink holder was nothing. To assuage true thirst stop at a field with cattle in, locate the trough, plunge your face in the water and take deep draughts. They don't mind sharing. I've never owned a little torpedo hat, never worn dayglo lycra and frankly find those expensive little clicky shoes much favoured by city commuters rather comical. In Summer, a breast pocket to keep your fags in and in winter a well-zipped Barbour. This was an age in which cycle-consciousness amongst drivers was non-existant; to survive you had to front-up 30 ton Sugarbeet wagons on 'A' roads, high-speed artics whose passing vortex pulled you towards the heavy trailer wheels, coaches that raced past you at 60 with just a few inches clearance and of course car drivers blind to anything with fewer than four wheels sharing the road. At junctions you needed the courage at all times to take the centre of the road and compel the queue behind you to follow until the other side when you could safely fall back to the left.

But I can't remember ever being angry or militant about it; even during all those angst-filled years of youth when even the slightest injustice would move me to fury. It was just the way it was. Many times I had to flick the bike into a ditch or a verge to avoid collision and suffer lesser injury by choice, twice I've ridden straight into carelessly opened offside doors. It was par for the course. 

So get ready, London, for a large smiling middle-aged man in a wax jacket riding a home-made cycle. Appearances can be deceptive. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Labour's shameful lies on immigration

Today Ed Miliband will try to get Labour back into the immigration debate. In a mealy-mouthed distortion, he will apologise that Labour didn't do enough to integrate the latest wave of immigrants. He won't apologise for opening the floodgates to all-comers, to abandoning immigration controls, in a naked attempt at party-before-country gerrymandering. He won't apologise for the strains on schools, hospitals, housing and public services that have disadvantaged the poorest and least able of the pre-existing population. He won't apologise for Labour's disastrous policy of apartheid or multiculturalism that encouraged division, conflict, competition for rationed resources and discrimination all on racial grounds. In fact, Ed's twisted and distorted gob will even qualify what he means by 'integration' - not at all the same as assimilation, it seems. Ed will define integration as, er, an ability to speak English.

But worse than all of these convoluted lies and distortions that will come from Ed's crooked mouth will come the biggest lie from Labour's twisted heart - that immigration is the fault of the immigrants. The sub-text of his speech will seek to shift the blame for immigration from the Labour Party to the immigrants themselves. In this he's seeking to regain ground lost by Labour to the vile BNP and EDL, repositories of white working-class race hate. Ed's dog-whistle 'talking tough' phrases on penalties to be imposed on non-English speaking immigrants will mean little in practice but appeal to the base instincts of Labour's grass roots racists. Ed will blur the crystal-clear distinction between being opposed to uncontrolled immigration and discriminating against immigrants. It is the same error most grievously committed by Rotherham Council. Perhaps a little more RE in school would have taught these bigots that "hate the sin, love the sinner" is a tenet more widely practiced by tolerant and fair-minded Britons than Miliband would ever dare to credit. 

So let's be clear. Unbounded immigration was the fault of the Labour Party, not the fault of the immigrants. Anti-immigrationism is not the same as anti-immigrant. Multiculturalism is evil and divisive. And political parties that put their own interests above the national good and are prepared to demonise immigrants for party advantage are beneath all contempt.  

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Pennington's E.coli burger scare

E.coli is pretty well everywhere and we generally get along with it quite happily. The odd strain, notably E.coli O157, can be fatal. In the UK 17 people died as a direct result in Lanarkshire in 1996, and a further one, a child of 5, in a separate outbreak in South Wales in 2005. So, eighteen deaths in sixteen years. That's about equivalent to the number of fatalities caused by cheese injury. 

Westminster Council's Environmental Health Department is responsible for food safety in one of the world's key cities. Millions of people eat meals in London, a city with an international cuisine serving everything from Nigerian bushmeat (monkey) to Kangaroo steaks. As a result of precisely NO E.coli infections whatsoever from rare beefburgers - let me repeat, after not one single reported case of food poisoning from rare beefburgers - Westminster is muscling all burger outlets in the borough to take rare and even medium burgers off their menus. Never mind informed customer choice. Nanny has decided we're simply not clever enough to make our own decisions. 

Behind the scare is Hugh Pennington, an impartial and now retired 'expert' who earns money from his impartial and expert books such as When Food Kills. He was one of the forces behind the creation of the Food Standards Agency, a government quango of remarkable risk aversity. With the connivance of officers in Westminster Council, Pennington has contrived a health scare with little foundation. He would be better off fighting for higher safety standards in the bulk cheese industry, preventing all those feet crushed by blocks of cheddar or shoulders wrenched reaching for truckles of Stilton. Why he's launched the campaign now in the middle of Winter when microbacterial activity is at a low is anyone's guess; perhaps he's building up the risks of undercooked Turkey. 

Sod 'em all anyway. I'll continue to take my duck and my lamb pink, my beef bloody and my cheese unpasteurised. I'll wash it down with uncounted units of alcohol and wrap it up with a post-prandial fag.   

Spain's bad bank to sell to whom?

It's a clever wheeze. Spanish banks are sitting on a mountain of property loans for homes worth about half at open market value of the fictional asset values on the banks' books. So create a new Bad Bank and transfer all the toxic assets at partially inflated book values to it, leaving the original banks healthier but taking a reasonable hit. The Bad Bank can then sell the assets at OMV and take the balance of the hit on the loss. OK so far? But the Bad Bank will not just charge the losses to the Euro taxpayer. It is intended to be funded by private investment, producing a return of 14%-15% over 15 years. But as hardly anyone will invest by taking a straight share of equity, only 8% of the Bad Bank's capitalisation will be equity. The remaining 92% will be, er, debt guaranteed by the State (up to €55bn) and 'perpetual subordinated debt'. 

From today some 89,000 homes and 13m square metres of land will start to go on the market. These are just the high-value end of the scale, largely commercial developments. Bad loans of under €250,000 have still to be transferred. 

Just one question, Baldrick. Who's going to buy? And where are they going to borrow the money from?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Maria Miller's 'dependent' parents

Bent minister Maria Miller is now claiming that her elderly parents, housed at public expense, are her 'dependents' and therefore it's quite OK for her to have charged the taxpayer £90,000. Even the 2009 pre-IPSA edition of the Commons expenses code doesn't go this far; 

"PAAE is available to reimburse Members for the additional expenses necessarily incurred in staying overnight away from their main home for the purpose of performing their parliamentary duties."

In other words, the charges must have been wholly and directly necessary in providing accommodation for the MP, not her 'dependent' relatives. And I doubt also that Miller's definition of 'dependent' comes anywhere near the definition of 'dependent' relatives used by the government for immigration purposes;
  1. Parent must be unable to wash/dress themselves and
  2. Parent, even with financial and practical help from British child, must be unable to obtain required level of care, because no such care is available and there is no one else in the country who can provide it, or because it is unaffordable and
  3. Sponsor must have sufficient income / savings to be able to look after their parent without recourse to public funds
This is a crock. 

Bent minister fiddles expenses shock

Bent government minister Maria Miller fiddled £90,000 of our tax money to fund a house for her parents. So inured have we become to theft, fraud, peculation and sleaze amongst our politicians that there is no public astonishment that Miller is allowed to continue in her government post, let alone that she is not facing the sort of criminal charges that any one of her constituents would face if they'd defrauded their employers of this sort of sum. The greasy immunity of the political class from the laws that apply to the rest of us kicks in. 

In the early 17th century the polarisation of the nobility and the newly wealthy commonality led to a civil war that ended the last vestiges of feudal government. In the early 19th century the ascendancy of the winners of 1688 - wealthy merchants, landowners, the professional classes, householders, the Church and army, well-done-by commoners all - was challenged by the disenfranchised commonality, the labourers, cottagers and boarders. At the start of the 21st the conflict lines are forming again. On the one side the out-of-touch political class and the dying parties, the international corporates and a mandarinate and bureaucracy serving the interests of both, on the other a mass of disenfranchised and disadvantaged consumers and taxpayers hungry for change.

There are those who look for conspiracies. There are none. There is no secret compact between the government, Common Purpose and Coca-Cola, just shared advantage. Likewise there is no secret conspiracy between UK Uncut and the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, just a shared interest in exposing and publicising the immoral advantages enjoyed by the other side, amongst them the deeply corrupt Maria Miller.

Gordon Brown was stupid enough to believe that he could redefine the concept of 'fairness' towards a definition based on enforced equality of outcome. His efforts fell as flat as a lead balloon. We, the British people, already have a deep, inherent and instinctive understanding of fairness; it's one of the characteristics of our nation. Not only 'a fair go' but 'a fair say' and 'a fair do'. The movement for change and reform in the 21st century, as in the 17th and the 19th, is for addressing the unfairness and immorality that has accrued in the system. Maria Miller and her sort may be the last cohort of professional politicians who enjoy immunity from jail.  

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Cameron reprises Chamberlain

Imagine if in 1939 we'd heard

"I have today sent Lord Halifax to Berlin to negotiate terms with the German government. We are only a small island, and my government is unable to carry the burden of opposing the might of Nazi Europe. If we negotiate, we may be allowed to retain some vestige of democracy and our ceremonial traditions; if we do not, we risk being run by facsimile diktat from Berlin, without any freedom of action whatsoever.

All naval, military and airborne units of His Majesty's armed forces are hereby instructed to offer no resistance to the forces of the German Empire, to lay down their arms and place themselves at the disposal of the occupying power. 

I'm very sorry, but my government just aren't up to the job of leading the nation down any other path. Giving in is the least bothersome option, and we stand a good chance of keeping our weekends free."

Do you really imagine we'd have stood for it, or would Chamberlain have found himself hoisted up the nearest lamp-post? And how different would our reaction be today?

Come to that, imagine that in 2010 Herr Von Rumpy had advised us in advance of the election 

"Brown was a great Prime Minister of Britain. I hope the policies he put in place will continue after the election"

Substitute 'Monti' for 'Brown' and 'Italy' for 'Britain' and that's exactly what he's just told the Italians. They seem quiescent. And sadly, as much as I'd like to think that had he said it here the EU Headquarters in Smith Square would have been ablaze, I'm pretty sure that apart from some huffing and puffing he'd have got away with it. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

While Jimmy fiddled

A reminder this week that back in the 1970s when Jimmy fiddled his way across the UK and we bopped to glam rock at the local YMCA, across the Atlantic the regime in Argentina was quietly killing its young dissidents. The Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) housed around 5,000 political prisoners over the time of its use of whom only about 150 survived. The remainder were either taken to the cellar and shot, or drugged with Sodium Pentothal and 'transferred' in batches on one of the Navy's Short Skyvans. They would be stripped naked, and once over the Rio de la Plata, pushed one by one from the rear cargo ramp. 


Alfredo Astiz, the 'Angel of Death',  who surrendered to our forces at the beginning of the 1982 war, was once again in the courtroom with 67 others, facing charges over the murder of over 700 victims of the Argentine regime. He is already serving a life sentence imposed in 2011. It has taken all week just to read the charges to the accused. 

It's unlikely you'll have read of the trial in British papers last week. However, El Pais reports fully - not only because of the traditional interest in South America, but because of the resonance within Spain for bringing to light such crimes committed during the Franco era within Spain itself. As more and more skeletal remains and scraps of leather and buckles are dug from their execution graves a question is gaining traction in Spain as to the future of Franco's tomb itself in the Valle de los Caidos. 

A reminder that in many parts of Europe living memories of being groped by a vacuous radio DJ pale into insignificance in comparison to experiences of State terror, torture and death.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

NHS Death Factories

If you're old, if you're sick, if you're inarticulate or incapacitated, if you haven't got a sharp-elbowed champion to protect you from the NHS, then avoid hospital admission like Ebola. An NHS where consultants are the new GPs and the average junior doctor has about as much knowledge of medicine as a PC World salesboy has of motherboards, where nursing staff have never been so highly paid or so poorly vocationally committed, where staff have to be coerced to wash their hands, and where basic human dignity has little place. If you're inconvenient, a nuisance or they simply can't make a diagnosis, you risk being placed on the Liverpool Death Pathway, deprived of food and water and drugged to the point of unconsciousness until you die. It's less offensive than the method used by the T4 clinics to euthanise patients - an exhaust hose from a truck - but none the less effective. 

More and more frequently one hears from friends, relatives and colleagues or reads in papers of all flavours of the deaths of relatives or spouses from lack of care at the hands of the NHS. Even as I write, hundreds of older people, many who served this nation in the last war, are being shepherded towards institutional death. How many would have fared better at home, cared for by relatives, with visits from a wise GP? How many would have recovered, won another decade of quality life? Of course there are few wise GPs left. 

We've lost our way on healthcare. We've spent too long defending the 'Carry On' NHS of competent and caring SRNs, stern Matrons, erudite consultants and clean linen, spent too long defending the NHS of the 1960s, and all the while the real NHS has changed out of all recognition. Nurses with 'tramp stamp' tattoos, binge hangovers and Chlamydia more interested in their mobile phones than their patients, timid and self-doubting Bengali housemen, consultants swamped with trivial referrals from GPs who simply can't be arsed any more, indolent contract cleaners and a stifling bureaucracy isolated from the shit and pus behind walls of Powerpoint presentations and performance indicators. The NHS is sick. More money isn't the answer. 

Friday, 7 December 2012

They'll miss us when we're gone

From Snr JI Torreblanca writing in El Pais;

If we examine the legacy that the UK has left Europe, the list is anything but small.

First, the number of members. That we are 27 (soon 28) is due in large part to the continued support from the UK to EU enlargement. The fact is that we are a large, open Europe largely thanks to the UK. The same is true of the internal market; no nation has led the project like the UK, which has been and is a major source of wealth and well-being of Europeans and we have also the main asset and appeal of the European presence in the world. From the eighties of the last century, thanks to the vision of the UK, and its support of the use of qualified majority for matters related to the internal market, we have made rapid progress on the path of market creation, inward and outward , while keeping under constant budgetary control policies such as agriculture, which came to rampage and absorb more than half of the EU budget. Unfortunately, the EU has a budget too small, largely because of the United Kingdom, but also more rational, transparent and geared to innovation and jobs through the British effort clip the wings of the alliance between regional agricultural stakeholders and European bureaucracy.  

And it is also true that the EU, with its variable geometry, in which Danish, Irish, Swedish and British can accommodate their desire not to be part of the Euro, that defence, freedom of movement and social policy is also the responsibility of London. Not to mention foreign policy and European security, inconceivable without the participation of the United Kingdom, as the Germans, as has been demonstrated many times, are not up to the job of helping the EU to become a global player. The fact is that, for better or worse, whether we like it or not, the legacy of the United Kingdom is a powerful and current one. It is paradoxical that the UK has to leave the EU it is moulded so deeply. And on top, after they leave, we will continue using English to understand a British Europe without Britain.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Blacklisting - action needed now

Never have I so wholeheartedly supported an newspaper piece than that by Seumas Milne in Tuesday's Guardian. "Thousands have been driven out of work in Britain by corporate spying outfits. It's an outrage that calls for more than an inquiry" says Milne, and we can but agree. An edited version of the article appears below;
As in the phone-hacking scandal, the evidence of illegality, surveillance and conspiracy is incontrovertible. In both cases, the number of victims already runs into thousands. And household names are deeply tied up in both controversies – though as targets in one and perpetrators in the other. But when it comes to the blacklisting scandal, the damage can't only be measured in distress and invasion of privacy. Its impact has already been felt in years of enforced joblessness, millions of pounds in lost income, family and psychological breakdown, emigration and suicides. Behind the blacklists is the shadowy organisation "Common Purpose". 

Liberty has equated blacklisting with phone hacking, insisting that the "consequences for our democracy are just as grave". Keith Ewing, professor of public law at King's College London, calls it the "worst human rights abuse in relation to workers" in Britain in half a century.

The victims of Common Purpose's blacklists include members of the public who had requested, under FOI, details of how their taxes are being diverted to the shadowy organisation. Their personal details were circulated to all public authorities in which Common Purpose 'plants' have attained positions of authority with the intention of blacklisting them from exercising their basic rights as citizens.

Corporate managers who were up to their eyes in Common Purpose's blacklisting continue to occupy some of the most influential posts in the civil service, local government, the NHS and civilian management of the emergency services. 

Of course, blacklisting by the left isn't new. The 'closed shop' arrangements in which employers were blackmailed by Trade Unions into employing only TU members or face strike action and bankruptcy allowed Unions to exclude from earning a living, no matter what their qualifications or ability, anyone who disagreed with their socialist agenda. Printers, dockers, construction workers and their families were condemned to poverty and starvation following blacklisting by the Unions. 

A new 'closed shop' under which only those deemed acceptable by Common Purpose can gain public employment, and those that disagree with them are blacklisted, is the greatest danger for the present century. 
 

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

James Crosby - driven by greed

The first lesson any successful business learns is that it's not about turnover, it's about profit margin. No matter how great the sales figure, if you're losing money you've got it wrong. The chart engraved in our brains from microeconomics 101 on which the marginal cost curve meets the marginal revenue curve and magically reveals the point of maximum profit has served many successful businesses well. Except, of course, the really big ones.

When you're very big, it's not about profit margin, it's about turnover. Poor profits can be disguised by a spiralling sequence of mergers and acquisitions, and of course the bigger you get, the more that greedy executives can cream off in salary and bonus; "Yes, I'm paid £5m a year, but that's only a tiny fraction of a percent of our turnover, you know .."

Amazon don't make profit because they're acquiring market share instead, using coercive means to lock-in consumers to their products. As do Apple. The wise avoid them, adopting open platform gadgets instead. Coercion by technical block is not a sustainable business model, as Microsoft found. But banks aren't consumer technology retailers - the global financial market is free and open, and banks only establish market share if they're fundamentally sound, i.e. profitable. 

James Crosby, like Fred Goodwin, drove a bank into the ground because he was greedy. He admitted incompetence to a Commons committee, but it was far more than that. Like many others, I can't understand why Crosby isn't now in prison, rather than enjoying a pension of £570,000 a year, a reward of such obscenity that it defies rational understanding.

Monday, 3 December 2012

A Winter warming hatchet job

The list of those in the public eye to whom I have taken an instant dislike is quite long. Inevitably, those first judgements don't change - their subjects merely become increasingly more irritating as time goes on. Salman Rushdie was an early member of the list; just a few paragraphs of the Satanic Verses revealed his unique brand of petty pomposity. Along with Billy Connolly, Terry Waite, Neil Oliver, Maya Angelou, Griff Rhys Jones solo and Noel Edmunds he shares an instant channel-change effect for the TV; I will instantly stab the face of the remote at random just to get any one of them out of the parlour immediately.

Zoe-with-an-umlaut Heller's hatchet job in the NYRB on Rushdie's Joseph Anton is therefore a welcome winter-warmer, to be relished at a slow read with a pint of hot spiced cider at one's side. Rushdie is not an attractive person, and Heller has his measure. Splendid stuff.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Please lose the £ ...

Well, I almost did it. I actually started filling in the online membership form, happy to pay £30, happy to declare I've only ever previously been a member of the Conservative Party and not the BNP, NF and their offshoots, but then I couldn't do it. That bloody Mr Byrite pound sign. It's just so naff.

Please, UKIP, get a decent graphic artist working on your logo and I promise if you lose the £ sign I'll join. 







Time to bust the cosy Party club

It won't be long before the dying private clubs that are the big three parties start bleating again about getting more tax funding. Never mind that in a 2008 paper for Policy Exchange Michael Pinto-Duschinsky calculated that with TV broadcasts, free postage and central and local government expenses and allowances all added in they already get £1.75bn 'free' over the electoral cycle. 

The cosy Westminster club looks after its own. Mandarins and ex-mandarins such as Hayden Phillips and Christopher Kelly also have a stake in maintaining the status quo of 'one in, one out and Buggins' turn', hence the corrupt and distorted recommendations of their respective 'independent' inquiries. The club's self-preservation mechanism is nowhere more apparent than in the distribution of over £9m of tax cash to the big parties;


P.D.G. 2012/13 Short Money 2012/13 Cranborne Money 2012/13 TOTAL % of 2010 election votes % of tax funding
Conservatives 455,193 NIL NIL 455,193 36.1% 4.9%
Labour 455,193 6,313,426 540,898 7,309,517 29.0% 78.3%
Liberal Democrats 455,193 NIL NIL 455,193 23.0% 4.9%
UKIP NIL NIL NIL 0 3.1% 0.0%
BNP NIL NIL NIL 0 1.9% 0.0%
Scottish Nationalists 171,337 176,892 NIL 348,229 1.7% 3.7%
Greens NIL NIL NIL 0 0.9% 0.0%
Democratic Unionists 155,788 157,013 NIL 312,801 0.6% 3.4%
Sinn Fein NIL NIL NIL 0 0.6% 0.0%
Plaid Cymru 151,509 75,423 NIL 226,932 0.6% 2.4%
SDLP 155,788 66,610 NIL 222,398 0.4% 2.4%




9,330,263

In fact if there were an election tomorrow, the LibDems are the only party whose share of the pot is about equal to the share of the vote they would get, according to the latest Opinium poll in today's Observer. If Labour win in 2015, the Conservatives will pick up the £7.5m annually instead. One in, One out and Buggins' turn.

This isn't an argument for PR; I'm convinced that FPTP remains the best electoral system for this nation. No, it's an argument for bringing to an end the pernicious distortion of throwing tax money at some parties but not at others. This funding encourages central, Statist parties in league with a central, Statist mandarinate and Big Corporatism. The total of £9.33m is equal to 311,000 members paying £30 a year each - a membership total that not one of the big three parties can come even close to. With a combined membership of less than 450,000, fewer than 1% of the electorate, this tax funding almost gives them equal match funding in lieu of real members. It's a disgrace; it's distorted, corrupt and exclusive. And we must end it.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Closing Labour's immigration doors

The dramatic recent falls in immigration are being linked in the press solely with this government's commendable actions in closing one of Labour's biggest open gates - the bogus 'business studies' colleges. With a right to issue visas, 'students' mainly from Africa and the Indian sub-continent paid their dosh to these back-doors into Britain and in return had the right both to work and to bring in their spouse. Work was often full-time rather than the permitted part-time, and spouses were soon filling the beds of the local maternity wards. These free-riders have effectively been excluded, whilst the real universities have not suffered at all - the increase in Chinese students, few of whom intend to stay permanently, making up for the lost bogus scholars. 

But I don't think this is the only factor in the immigration drop. Construction output has slumped over the past year, as the chart shows clearly;
With this downturn have departed many of the Bulgarians, Albanians, Romanians, Poles, Portuguese and Turks from our construction sites. Their work patterns are complex - many work, say, eight months in the UK then spend the rest of the time at home helping with harvests. For others the two-week Christmas shutdown becomes a couple of months, as they catch up with building their own homes or caring for their elderly mums. Browsing the easyjet fares tables will tell you when they're going and returning. Many who go home this Christmas won't be back - there's just not the work. 

And this kind of labour market flexibility is vital for UK construction, and should be welcomed by a UK government unemcumbered by employment and housing costs. Let's make sure we don't lose the baby with the bathwater. 

Friday, 30 November 2012

LibDems utterly destroyed in by-elections

Watching that egregious little waste-of-space Clegg's performance in the Commons yesterday, nothing gives me more satisfaction that totting up yesterday's by-election results;


Rotherham Middlesbrough Croydon N TOTAL
Labour 9866 10201 15898 35965 57%
UKIP 4648 1990 1400 8038 13%
Conservative 1157 1063 4137 6357 10%
LibDem 451 1672 860 2983 5%
Turnout 21330 16866 24458 62654

(Apols for the early mis-post)

Will MPs prove they're still crooks and fraudsters?

The newspaper industry exposed the Rotten Parliament as a nest of chiselling little crooks in which very few MPs had resisted the opportunities for theft, peculation, avarice, fraud, improper enrichment and petty greed at the taxpayers' expense. In the wake of that great disgrace, which also brought a welcome 'churn' of the Commons, one would have expected the proper response of a chamber committed to the national interest to be greater transparency, restraint, and a system of compensation based on equity and probity. 

But not so. Those old hands from the Rotten Parliament who remain continue to imagine they deserve a privilege that the public have already denied to them, and have spent their efforts finding the loopholes in the new IPSA regime. They have learned nothing. In their prehensile brain stems they still believe they are 'special', that they deserve first-class travel and all the pampered luxury of the international hotel at the public expense; their concern is now how they can hide or disguise this from the voting public. 

Leveson has offered them the opportunity not only for payback, to administer a kicking to the newspaper industry that humiliated them, but an open door to introduce and to subsequently modify, grow and expand laws that will prevent the press ever again exposing their fraud, sleaze and corruption. Clegg is nothing but an unprincipled rogue, a chancer, a fly-boy who has had his day and can be ignored. Labour, on the other hand, have already shown that they are prepared to put party first and country nowhere in their refusal to reform advantageous Rotten Boroughs of third-world standards of electoral probity that shame us to the world. To muzzle Murdoch they would sell our freedom for a mess of electoral pottage.

Leveson's report is responsible and balanced to an extent that few expected. The real danger, the legislature's response, is yet to come.