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Saturday, 17 November 2012

The first cracks in the ice

Contrary to the message carried by the MSM and BBC this morning, that the PCC elections were a dreadful failure, I'm beginning to think they were more of a success than they look. The grudging reluctance with which the same press are reporting UKIP's thrashing of the LibDems for 3rd place in Corby is part of the same thing. 

What we're seeing are the first probes by voters not quite convinced that a political life without Labour, the Conservatives or the LibDems is possible. The decision of the dinosaur parties to stand PCC candidates on party political tickets was a huge mistake; voters have shown that if they are to elect local officials, that they want those officials to look to their immediate constituency for their remit and not party HQ in London. The scale of victory for independents is unprecedented. And even where candidates standing on a party ticket were perceived as independent locals rather than apparatchiks - such as Air Chief Marshal Sir Clive Loader for Leicestershire - they won handsomely.

If any encouragement were needed for a 'Vote for anyone but the Big Three' campaign for 2014 and 2015, this is it. The incumbent parties have been whipped raw. Any move now to award themselves more money from our taxes will only hasten their demise. 

So while the political class - the MSM, the centralist parties, their corporatist sustainers and all the dags on the fringe - continue their own inward-looking and exclusive political dialogue far removed from the real concerns of voters, the ice is cracking beneath their feet.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Martlets and tartlets

"I say Chester, look at that paintin' - Norfolk, come and see this paintin' - see those little birds painted in the four-leaf clovers? See the middle one?"

"Yes, Arundell. It's a swallow or martin, I'd say"

"But d'you see? The fellow's forgotten to paint its feet in. The damn thing's got no feet. Looks damn silly"

"I take your point. I'll have a word with the Peers' works superintendant and get some painted on."

Or that at least is how I imagine Herbert's portrait of Pugin that hangs in the Tea Room was defaced at some time in the past when feet were added to Pugin's family emblem, the mythological Martlet, famously footless in legend. Today, as Lords Hanningfield and Taylor and Baroness Uddin contemplate tucking into the full cream tea with House champagne (£16.75) in the Pugin Room, they might contemplate how easy it is for some people to regain their feet. 

Yes, Hanningfield and Taylor, those peers jailed for theft of £14,000 and £11,000 respectively last year, and Uddin, who was told to repay £125,349 or risk prosecution, are all back in the House of Lords and claiming expenses again, as the Indie reports today.

Rarely can offenders have been rehabilitated so rapidly, and rarely can they go from Prison Canteen to £300 a day attendance allowance plus travelling. Of course, they have to have the front to actually show their faces - and clearly these three have, demonstrating beyond doubt that avarice trumps honour amongst (some) life peers. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Bercow's contempt for the British people

As Speaker, Bercow is not only the moderator of debate in the Commons chamber, he stands as First Commoner in the Realm and represents every un-nobled one of us. When he sits in Parliament his eyes and his ears are those of forty-five million electors and when he speaks his voice has the authority of the people of Britain. Or so it should be, and so it was with all but two of the Speakers I can remember in my lifetime. George Thomas, Bernard Weatherill and Betty Boothroyd were each, in their way, perfect for the sessions of Parliament over which they presided. The office of Speaker itself somehow raised each in dignity and endowed each with an amplification of the qualities of fairness, equity and balance and a diminution of their partisan and personal pasts.

The magic of the office has failed abysmally in the case of the past two speakers - a Gorbals bully-boy of remarkable stupidity and corruption and a preening, divisive, poisonous pygmy. Not only have both been utterly immune to the dignifying effect of the office but neither gained a jot in admirable qualities. Rather, their times in the Chair allowed the very worst of their own vices, weaknesses and failings to become manifest and infect the body of the House like a foul cancer. And this is nowhere more apparent than in their enthusiasm for taking money. Martin tried to hide his own squalid peculation by blocking for as long as he was able the public release of details of members' expenses. Bercow's own record of questionable claims, and his refusals to marginally reduce his own rewards as other senior office holders have done, leave him looking mean and grubby, but this is not his principal offence. 

Bercow has plotted to neuter and destroy the authority of the IPSA, the body representing the interests of the British electorate in regulating the taking of public money by MPs. As a body it should not have been necessary, but the revelations of gross abuse in the Rotten Parliament sadly made it so - and as such the IPSA particularly deserves the support and protection of the Speaker as First Commoner. 

Bercow has betrayed and besmirched his office and has expressed nothing but contempt for we, the people who look to the Speaker as the pinnacle of our estate. I repudiate him utterly and wholly as anathema and false-Speaker, and urge all the commoners of this Realm to do the same.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Bureaucracy vs. Democracy

Your small businessman is a veritable superbeing. He or she does the work of the  HR department, payroll office, accounting, procurement, logistics, FM, PR and advertising specialties before breakfast - saving design and production, warehousing, sales and strategic management for the rest of the day. In many businesses, the entire back-office structure is a lady called Joyce. 

The public sector, in contrast, needs at least two people to carry out each separate function, no matter how small the operational end. Thus a single roadsweeper needs the 'support' of 22 managers and administrators before he swings a broom. It's not unusual to find a ratio of 1:2 - those 22 staff can provide 'support' for up to 44 roadsweepers before they have to start expanding their own numbers. In some bureaucracies such as the MoD, the ratio is as low as 1:1 - one civil servant for each soldier. And in the NHS and at the BBC the ratio becomes negative; it can take 44 managers and administrators to 'support' 22 doctors, nurses, radiographers and pharmacists. 

I think in this morning's Guardian Simon Jenkins fails to realise just how entrenched bureaucracy is in western democracies. You can't just take-out chunks of bureaucracy - it's not structured to be resilient, as is the internet. If you take the Payroll department out, the rest of the organisation not only won't be paid, they won't know what to do about it. They'll have meetings to discuss pooling their pocket-change before they'll take over the function. 

Bureaucracy has been hailed as the stability behind democracy; bureaucracy is what ensures that despite sudden political swings and changes of government, change comes slowly and manifesto policies are watered-down. Without bureaucracy, the agenda of forced inequality - more favourable treatment of certain people - would be unrealisable. Bureaucracy has a hive-mind and functions independently of any individual, so the brilliant and gifted have as little effect as the indolent and stupid. 

This is all, of course, exactly as Max Weber foresaw. He imagined bureaucracy as the most efficient form of administration in an increasingly complex world, the triumph of rationality. There may even have been a brief moment, perhaps in England between 1942 and 1944, when this was true. But Weber also foresaw the dangers of bureaucratic growth - and of the need always for democracy to dominate if we were to remain free. 

And as for Simon Jenkins' point that managers are next - yes, I think that's right. It's time to re-balance.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Expenses-thief Kaufman calls for press muzzle

Expenses-thief Gerald Kaufman not unsurprisingly called for press regulation yesterday. Kaufman's display of Golders Green kitsch at the taxpayer's cost included bespoke grapefruit bowls, a 42" plasma TV and other expensive and luxurious home furnishings all of which he said were absolutely necessary for his role an an MP. Since the Telegraph's exposure of his gross peculation, Kaufman has been smarting and looking for an opportunity to get his revenge. Leveson is it. A regulated press would be blocked from publishing details of Gerald's exquisite vulgar and tacky cut glass tableware. No wonder so many MPs also support Kaufman's position.

In fact, it's not hard to see how the pro- and anti- regulation supporters line up. Those in favour of press regulation include alcohol-abusing footballers with lives of unconstrained promiscuity, adulterous TV personalities, mendacious politicians, Russian oligarchs, bent and incompetent bankers, high street chains selling slave-wage goods, unethical doctors, arms dealers, con-men, Ponzi-schemers and snake-oil salesmen, corrupt Whitehall mandarins, fat-cat quangocrats, actors who pay for sex, lying Eurocrats, PR agents seeking to gull the public, negligent pharmaceutical companies, polluters and waste-dumpers, price-fixing energy companies, actresses with rotten septums, arselicking minor royals with a fondness for dictators, drunken Saudi princes, war criminals in hiding, benefit cheats, insane Council jobsworths, bent coppers, thieving public contractors, sex offenders, overpaid BBC executives, incapable military commanders, and every single minister, junior minister or PPS in government. 

And you really only have to look at those in favour of it to understand what a very, very, bad idea it is.

Monday, 12 November 2012

2016 Charter for BBC in question

It's been a year in which the painful shortcomings of the BBC have become all too obvious. There was the disaster of the Royal Jubilee river pageant, during which the world's broadcast technology leader with a £5bn a year budget couldn't even manage to maintain an audio stream from some boats in the middle of the capital's river to its banks because of drizzly rain, though the content, produced by the BBC's Head of Jackanory, was deeply insulting to anyone over 12 years old anyway. We learned that the BBC's new breed of reporters, like David Cameron, are deeply ignorant of our history; Lock the hatters, they avowed, made the hat worn by Nelson at Waterloo. 

We also had the BBC outclassed at every turn in reporting events in Libya, and currently Syria. Whilst Sky and Al-Jazeera film teams were up with the action on the ground, the risk-averse BBC teams, four times the size, filmed from their hotel balconies. Sky gave us the fresh debris of war and tracer rounds impacting on adobe walls whilst the BBC gave us distant plumes of smoke over the rooftops.

The Olympics were not filmed by the BBC and therefore went OK. 

Then, with interludes telling of coke-snorting on Blue Peter and Pudsey being in re-hab, we learned that the BBC's Saint Jimmie was actually Britain's most prolific kiddie-fiddler, abusing children under the BBC's banner for decades; "We thought everyone knew" they said, echoing the position argued by Labour's Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman that “childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in, with an adult result in no identifiable damage”. Harman was no doubt duly astonished at the stream of highly-damaged individuals who subsequently appeared on other channels telling their stories. 

That the Savile story wasn't broken by the BBC was the result of an editorial timidity exemplified by the Corporation's new Chief Executive, George Entwhistle, a man as charismatic a leader as an aged Galapagos tortoise, and with about as much sustained interest in his own organisation. Then the McAlpine story that was broken, and missed the target by a mile. Even this blog warned against mistaken identity. 

And now Incurious George gets a whacking payout from the TV tax in return for his past credulity and future good behaviour, still sulking and clearly believing the need for his resignation was 'not fair'. The BBC's 2007 Charter, awarded for 10 years, made it fair; the BBC Trust, headed by Lord Patten, was for the first time completely operationally independent from the broadcast organisation - and clearly Patten believes this also means that the Trust has no responsibility whatsoever for operational disasters, for his own resignation is slow in coming.

The shape of the BBC's new Charter from 2016 must now be in serious question. The need for change is manifest. The Culture Secretary now has the opportunity to re-think the Charter from the ground up - though I have little hope this omnishambles government will actually have the will to tackle the task.

Sunday, 11 November 2012


What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.