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.