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Saturday, 11 August 2012

What does it all mean?

The weekend papers will be taking a common meme in trying to find a wider meaning to Britain's Olympic medal success. Is this indicative of Britain's broader superiority over Germany and France? Are we punching above our weight in the world? Do the results signal a renaissance in the UK's economic fortune? Government ministers are falling over themselves to announce more compulsory sport for children, and no doubt Whitehall mandarins as I write are drafting detailed prescriptive instructions to be sent to every headteacher in the country specifying exactly how many cricket bats, tennis nets and rugby balls should be held per pupil head.

In the post-games analysis never will the Chinese saw "Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan" be more proven. Every politician in the country will be elbowing a path to be identified with the country's medal success; Cameron and Boris are locked in a furious struggle to be more photographed at weekend games events than the other, and even socialists who secretly loathe the idea of competitive sports are grinning and struggling to crowd the podium pics. Even the vile and toxic Blair may pop up in the news claiming his part in the success. The coaches, families and small-scale sponsors of our winning athletes will be trampled in the stampede of publicity-crazed politicians as the contest draws to a close. 

Charles Moore in the Telegraph this morning manages the rare feat of coming close to the answer but then veers off into cliche. "Again and again, the pattern has been that a few people take up something – kicking a bladder, whacking a ball with a stick, jumping over a pole – for fun....... Almost none of this was done by government. It was worked out by the Marylebone Cricket Club or the Marquess of Queensberry or the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, and by hundreds more ad hoc individuals and bodies."

Burke's little platoons in other words have nurtured and kept alive grass-roots sports; Alf Tupper's Greystoke Harriers Club, the little yacht clubs around the coast with programmes of Summer dinghy racing, a local group of cyclists banding together to pester the local highways department, with their fetes and bring-and-buys and sponsored parachute jumps, aided by committed families, supported by the local ironmongers or animal feed merchants.  

In the end, all Cameron's prescriptive central State diktats, and all Whitehall's volumes of detailed compulsory sports regulations will achieve nothing except a wasteful bleed of taxes. I wouldn't even be surprised if Cameron set up a new sports quango - the 'Sports Commission' perhaps -  with half a billion a year in salaries and a swank glass office in Victoria. For there is nothing, absolutely nothing, into which the central State and its political class can resist sticking their grasping little fingers.  

Friday, 10 August 2012

Exploding barbies and absconding athletes

The various national 'houses' temporarily set up in London by competing Olympic nations to showcase their home nations are certainly making an impact. The New Zealand house was unfortunately destroyed early on by an exploding barbecue, leaving the Kiwis with feathers both ruffled and singed. And now, perhaps predictably, Africa House in Kensington Gardens has closed due to unpaid bills. Heads of African Olympic committees are urgently mounting an email appeal ("Beloved Dear Sir, I am acting for the Head of the Nigerian Olympic Committee ..."). The Greeks, not to be left out, have set up The House of Hellenes in the Carlton Club, attracting large numbers of (ultimately confused and disappointed) IOC members from nearby hotels after dark and in sunglasses.

Meanwhile organisers of the closing ceremony are adjusting split-second timings for the athletes' march-past to account for a number of absconded athletes, including practically the entire Cameroon team.

Plus ca change ...

Goldring is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

I'm in no way convinced that elected Police Commissioners are the answer to the problems with policing in Britain today - I still think a new Royal Commission is needed to make the changes to return the police to a Peelean force of citizen constables, locally employed and locally accountable. However, it's at least a step in the right direction. What is absolutely extraordinary and utterly misguided is Lord Justice Goldring's ruling that JPs will not be able to remain as magistrates if they stand for office. It betrays a complete misunderstanding of the role of the office and an unacceptable judicial bias toward a central, Statist criminal justice system. 

I can understand a ban on full-time, salaried members of the judiciary being barred from standing; Goldring's comments make sense when applied to High Court, Crown Court and District judges. However, merely because District judges share a jurisdiction with lay magistrates is no reason to exclude JPs. Many will see in this a further move by the Lord Chancellor's department to run-down and abolish the local magistracy in favour of full time DJs. 

It is precisely because magistrates are ordinary people rooted in their communities that they are the most capable authority to serve the lowest tier of the criminal justice system, disposing of 95% of criminal cases. They have done so in England since the 13th century. They were also ideally placed to license pubs until Blair's inane binge-booze reforms gave that function to councils. The old Police Authorities used to have magistrates sitting as by right - and indeed as the local bench would see most officers prosecuting minor cases, it was an entirely proper relationship for the local bench to have some influence on the way the locality was policed.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Do MPs need to talk to their wives at our expense?

One wonders how Jeremy Hunt courted his Mandarin Chinese wife if he didn't speak a word of the language, but hey! Never mind! being an MP he simply charged the £3,000 cost of mandarin Chinese lessons to the taxpayer.

Likewise Nick Boles, who's taken up with a Hebrew gentleman called Shay Meshulam. In order that they can make conversation at the breakfast table, you'll be pleased to hear we've paid nearly seven hundred quid for Nick to learn Hebrew.

But for any bachelor MPs thumbing the pages of their foreign brides / boys catalogues and wondering how quickly they can pick up Latvian, Hungarian or Thai at our expense, could I perhaps advise that if you're marrying someone whose language you can't speak you either live with it or pay for the bloody lessons yourself?

Filling stations to banned from selling alcohol

Just back from my latest trip to Poland and the bar-chat is around the proposed ban on filling stations selling alcohol. The ban is a major matter; they say; many rely on alcohol sales to subsidise the fuel price, and the industry is warning of price increases to cover fixed costs.  

We're not talking about an overpriced bottle of indifferent red to go with the wilted flowers here; Alkohole skleps here are frequently 24 hour a day conveniences, satisfying a deep need in the Polish psyche to be able to get a litre of vodka at 3am on the motorway. The vodka tradition here is alive and well, though I suspect a lot more hidden now. The train conductor who needs to calm his stress after an argument, the office worker at 8am facing an unpleasant day, the bored housewife or just a general all-day pick-me-up. The EU has been blamed for the demise of a small Polish bottle size (whose name I can scarce remember let alone pronounce) somewhere between a miniature and 500cl that was apparently just perfect for all those little 'vodka moments', but enterprising manufacturers are now said to be making the half-litre bottles in a variety of shapes guaranteed to fit discreetly into a pocket. And with the excuse that I was neither working nor driving, I have to say that a couple of 100cl shots of Bisongrass with your morning coffee certainly add a little something to the joys of Flemish renaissance architecture.

See comments. For 500cl read 50cl and for 100cl read 10cl. For Flemish read Florentine. So many errors in such a short piece. Sigh. 

Will Labour also fight for electoral corruption?

Clegg has revealed himself as unashamedly corrupt; in failing to gain support for Lords reform, a measure that would have aided his party rather than the interests of democracy, he has declared his support for rotten boroughs. These rotten boroughs are a disgrace, an offence, in a modern first-world democracy. The variation in the electoral quotient (EQ) between constituencies is not more than 3% in well regulated democracies; Cameron's proposed variation of 5% is at the outside limit of most developed democracies. Currently, the variation in the EQ in the UK is off the scale - at third-world levels. Any politician who like Sir Patrick (now Baron Cormack) can say it's "Country, Constituency, Party. In that order" would recognise the urgency for constituency reform. To do otherwise is to declare to the nation that your interests are "Party, Constituency, Country. In that order." Clegg has declared this. His putting party before nation has destroyed any residual credibility onto which he may have clutched. And constituency reform is not all that's wrong.

Of the 45m registered electors in the UK, says Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, are 3m who shouldn't be there but are, and 3m who should be there but aren't. Labour's pre-occupation is with the latter - presumed to be transients, students, immigrants and other 'natural' Labour voters. This group will also include petty criminals and civil debtors not eager to be easily found, anarchists and extreme Libertarians and even those who have just given up on our flawed democracy. Of the 3m who shouldn't be on the roll, some will be genuine duplicate registrations. Many will be fraudulent, particularly in areas with large Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant populations where electoral fraud is rife. Many will be from the army of Commonwealth overstayers who have settled illegally in the UK with minimal efforts at finding them being made. Labour is far less keen on measures to identify these 3m than measures to identify the 'missing' 3m - for purely Party reasons, of course. However, individual voter registration is underway - and, it is to be hoped, a combing-out of the worst of the inaccurate registers. This should be accompanied by a registration drive, to find the missing but willing. 

The question now is whether Labour will act in the interests of the nation, or in the interests of narrow Party advantage? The equalisation of constituencies is inarguable, and a potential huge electoral liability for Labour if that Party decides to support the rotten boroughs. Britain is in no mood for political self-interest.   

Monday, 6 August 2012

The poison of socialism was behind last Summer's riots

Well-meaning but fatuous fools such as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett writing in the Guardian this morning remain fixated on a mythical 'inequality' as the cause of last year's riots; at a time when we are celebrating inequality, when inequality has put the UK third in the Olympic medals table, they remain unable to accept that one man or woman may be able to run faster, play tennis better or cast P&L accounts more accurately than another. OK, accountancy is not an Olympic event but you take my point. The fact that our athletes have managed to overcome decades of socialist imposed 'equality' under which no child was allowed to win a race in case it upset the others, in which the talented were handicapped and restrained so not to expose the talentless and indolent, speaks volumes about the triumph of the natural human instinct to compete and excel.

If last Summer's riots were caused by anything other than avarice and opportunism, it was the legacy of decades of socialist social engineering that destroyed local and intermediate institutions in favour of a central State, destroyed the inherent authority of the family, undermined all the virtues in favour of a corrosive moral relativism, promoted instant gratification and created in the talentless, the indolent, the stupid and the feckless the illusion that they were entitled to the same material rewards as their opposites. The riots were caused, in other words, by exactly the sort of well-meaning stupidity evinced by Wilkinson and Pickett. 

And as we enter the final week of an international celebration of human inequality, when we watch transfixed at the results of determination, dedication, sacrifice, tenacity, discipline and deferred gratification on track, field and water, let's thank Hella that it's not being run by Wilkinson and Pickett and their gold-medals-for-all vacuity.