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