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Thursday, 27 February 2020

Sajid Javid's uninspired whine

Sajid Javid is not a man who can craft words well. His sad little litany of complaint in the Commons yesterday demonstrated not only his unpolished am-dram rhetoric, but more importantly his utter lack of understanding of the central task of this government. It really is just as well he's no longer in office.

The clue is in Allister Heath's piece in the 'graph today -
Brexit isn’t enough: politicians need to take back control, to renew our democratic culture, reintroduce accountability and improve the quality of the state. They need to be forced to take responsibility even when they don’t want it. They must become their own masters, working on behalf of their electorate, not spokespersons for out-of-control departments. They need to relearn to be managers, moulding the system to their commands. They should hire their own people, not inherit hostile teams.

If politicians cannot make their minds up on an issue, they ought to call referenda, not abdicate decision-making to mandarins or judges. Our system of government is no longer fit for purpose: the old Yes, Minister civil service and its jobs for life and gongs for failure has run out of time; but so has the more recent technocratic and juristocratic experiment.
Javid's exhibition was not so much that of an extinct Ovine as that of a newly castrated goat realising he's missing something but not quite realising what. Ministers who gain their stature from a powerful and unelected undemocratic nomenklatura propelling them into cabinet should not be surprised that their bass has turned to treble, their rumble to a pitiable whine, when their civil service bollocks have been lopped off.

In this period of transition, in winning back the organs of the State for democracy from the unaccountable establishment that has captured them, the powers exercised by Number 10 are a necessary discomfort for ministers. And an opportunity to learn to grow a pair of their own. As Miss Patel is so competently demonstrating.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The corruption at the heart of Europe's courts

I'll post on the Trade Agreement negotiating positions when we publish the UK's position paper, but for now, a little nugget for you all. It's hugely satisfying when some independent academic evidence comes along to validate a point one has been making for many years - in this case, the inherent corruption and mal-judice embodied in both the ECR and ECHR. The European Centre for Law and Justice, normally a body that campaigns on social justice issues, has just issued a research study.
The study has found that, out of the 100 judges who have served on the bench of the European Court of Human Rights in the period 2009-2019, nearly a quarter (22) have strong links to George Soros’ Open Society Foundation or to NGOs like Amnesty International and others which are funded by it. Human Rights Watch, for instance, has received $100 million from the Open Society Foundation since 2010.

Some of the NGOs receive so much of their budget from Soros that they are in effect wholly owned subsidiaries of his foundation.

The links between the judges and the NGOs are substantial. They include working for years as members of the board of directors or executive council of these NGOs; having teaching posts at institutes funded by them; being a salaried director of programs for the Open Society Foundation or associated NGOs; and undertaking other forms of paid work for them. The full list of these links can be found on pages seven and eight of the report.
And that from a decent piece from RT

Monday, 24 February 2020

Covid-19: Living with the threat

Up here in my high Alpine valley the sound of helicopters is not unusual. Air ambulances here ferry skiers with broken legs and fallen climbers rather than the UK's stabbing victims, and the power company Kelag use them constantly for checking the web of power cables. Helicopters at night, however are something else, but last night at about 9pm came the throb and bass beat. The origin and direction of the Bundesheer's Bell Hueys was in no doubt - from the Gebirgsjäger base over the Villacher Alpe to the Italian border crossings. Hey ho, I thought, they're closing the borders. Last Summer they ran an extensive exercise to airlift troops to the Alpine passes in the event of another migrant surge, so the sound and path of the helos was quite familiar. In reality this time, it's a Chinese virus rather than Iraqi economic migrants that they're tasked with stopping.

In the event the borders haven't yet been closed. There is intense pressure from the EU - backed up with a generous dispensing of millions in cash - to keep the EU economy going at all costs. In Brussels, the security of their federation may outweigh the fate of 1% of the EU's 460m subject peoples in the minds of the apparatchiks.

The Mayor of Villach is concerned about the legal brothel at Hohenthurn. Up to 120 prostitutes, mostly from eastern Europe, work there and at weekends floods of Italians - 400 to 500 every weekend - cross the border to buy their favours, reports ORF. He tells the press he is powerless to close the brothel, and the Italians are unlikely to restrain themselves.

I suspect the authorities, including our own government, now accept that Covid-19 cannot be contained, as I wrote a week ago, on Monday 17th. It's all moving very quickly now. The actions by the Italian authorities are likely to be a mix of panic-reduction measures and blame avoidance. Realistically, they have no chance of halting the pandemic.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Shutters start to come down on internet freedoms

We are now, as an advanced culture, moving into a phase of the most pernicious and regressive restrictions on free speech since we fought battles in the 1960s and 1970s to establish those freedoms. Oh I know that's been the cry ever since when, mostly from those with extremes of views that no-one missed very much. 'Spiked', which hides under our spoof Guardian offers, has long advocated a pure freedom that would allow anyone from kiddie fiddlers to murderous Islamists to post anything, but most of us want some restrictions. And that's the problem. First, we're a European nation but there's no homogeneity in the law - 
In most of Europe, defamation is a criminal offence, and in the dark-red nations it's an offence for which citizens can be imprisoned. The UK, Ireland and Norway (in the fringe blue nations defamation tends to be dealt with by a midnight visit from men with guns) are alone in upholding the freedom to risk only one's wealth from defaming someone. However, as we've seen, the Online Harms (how loathsome is that title!) White Paper proposes making a number of non-criminal statements into statements to be censored, under the pretence of protecting children but clearly aimed at protecting politicians and wealthy figures in public life.

In France, the release of a video made by M Macron's chum Benjamin Griveaux of an act of masturbation has angered the énarque elites; it should be the right of all French politicians to send Onanistic videos to vulnerable young women. Or maybe to their grandmothers. What has annoyed them in particular is the extent of internet anonymity that allowed the spread of the material; they want to include measures to identify wanking-video re-posters in a proposed raft of anti hate-speech legislation currently going through parliament. However, as Politico EU has reported, the draft French legislation is already in trouble with the EU, who consider it incompatible with EU law.

In Germany, legislators are set to pass laws requiring internet companies to report offending posts to the police. As the FT reports
Under the planned new law, which is the toughest of its kind in the world, social media platforms will not only have to delete certain kinds of hate speech but also flag the content to the Office of the Federal Criminal Police (BKA). Posts that companies will be required to report include those indicating preparations for a terrorist attack and the “formation of criminal and terrorist groups”, as well as those featuring instances of racial incitement and the distribution of child pornography. The networks would also have to give the BKA “the last IP address and port number most recently assigned to the user profile”.
However, given that defamation is also an imprisonable offence in German law, it is easy to imagine a tweak or two to include insults aimed at politicians and public officials - the law stands as

However, one major issue remains. The national location of servers on which the offending material is posted. Facebook, Google and Twitter are already rolling out systems architectures that avoid a physical EU data presence. The effects of GDPR and swingeing fines to date have already made them cautious.

If US servers (and, less likely, UK servers - our civil servants love the German defamation laws) are immune to the new rafts of Euro Censorship legislation, what option does that leave for French and German governments except to restrict access to social media in the same way that China does? Are Euro versions of Weibo, WeChat and YouKu the future?

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Dimbleby no better than a thief

Throughout Africa, the delusion of corrupt rulers and their apparatchiks that underpins and pervades their thefts is that the organs and instruments of the State somehow belong to them because they exercise power. If you're the Nigerian Minister of Petroleum, they reckon, surely that means you're entitled to more than everyone else's share of the black gold? Why, stealing those millions must be practically legal.

And so with Dimbleby and the hereditary BBC establishment. They think they own it. They don't. Dimbleby's claim to speak for the BBC is no more and no less than mine or yours, no greater or lesser than any British citizen who has paid for every VT editing machine, every redhead light, every executive conference suite, every sound mixer and every HD camera. We all own an equal share, and we all have an equal right to an opinion about the future of the BBC.

The petulance and fury exhibited by Dimbleby and his dags is because of their grossly distorted sense of entitlement and displays a contempt for the rest of us. You don't own the BBC, Mr Dimbleby, and to pretend that you do is theft.

Friday, 21 February 2020

The turning of a page

I suppose there must have been other ages in our history in which we saw such rapid change, and many momentous changes that creep almost unnoticed until they are absorbed into our lives almost without fuss. But sometimes it's the little things that so forcefully strike one with a heavy blow. Oh, I'm not some Luddite railing against change - change is a necessary part of our social and national progression. But just sometimes what's gone aches like a lost limb.

Today it's the ban on coal and undried wood. I was, in the jargon, triggered. And suddenly I remembered one perfect evening many years ago, at my little flint rubble cottage in Needham Market one windy Autumn night. I'd made supper, which just needed reheating in the oven, and Jennie drove us over in her battered old Mini to a seventeenth century pub some three miles away. There we sat companionably by the huge double-room inglenook in which an entire Elm root crackled and glowed, sharing a packet of fags under the crooked black oak beams and nicotine cream plaster. We drank no more than about three pints each and drove back home for supper.

Jennie is no more, taken by cancer. Her car would no longer be allowed on the road - one simply doesn't see old cars like that any more. And now that pub fire, which has warmed whole generations of villagers, will be cold for ever more. Of course the pub was closed eight years ago, after the smoking ban, and because no one would risk driving after a pint. The pub was lit by low wattage incandescent lamps, which would have been replaced anyway by harsh plastic-white LED lighting, and the black tar coating on the inglenook would be condemned by the Health for its phenol content. 

It struck me in a moment that in a year or two, not one element of that simple evening would any longer be possible. That's change.

The fire at the Dunwich Ship - another great pub fire I have known

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Flood

There's something wrong with our water management. It's all something of a mess, muddling along with the best of intentions but a woeful lack of holistic understanding. There is no simple answer, no pabulum. It's complex and it needs strategic direction. Here are some of the elements

Building on flood plains - reducing absorption
I've never known  a mediaeval church to flood, however heavy the rain. The land on which they are built may only be a metre higher than the surrounds, and barely noticeable, but it's enough. The land on either side of the rivers on which there were no houses, grazed in the drier Summer months, held the winter rainstorms. Culverting the rivers to allow development, building on flood plains and paving surfaces in impervious materials on which to park cars mean floods.

Dredging
The Somerset levels, newly dredged as a result of Owen Paterson's intervention, have not featured in the disaster news this year. Having said that, dredging is not a universal panacea, and many of the areas flooded from the recent heavy rain would be just as flooded if a regular regime of dredging had been in place. Despite the clear view of the Daily Mail that dredging is the universal panacea, it isn't.  However, their story does highlight the regulatory difficulties, see below.

I used to take joy in exploring the little creeks, old wharves and bywaterways of the South East in my tough little Land Rover of a boat - one of which was Faversham. There's a speciality business there repairing, maintaining and restoring Thames barges that is clinging on by its fingertips, choked by a silted waterway. There's an upper tidal basin that used to have a swing bridge, now covered in reeds. It used to serve the adjacent Shepherd Neame brewery, with small coasters able to load beer direct from the cool stores. For twenty years a local group have been trying to dredge the creek and safeguard the economic and employment uses and the sustainability of a centuries-old human development here. Their most recent applications are salutary. They need to get ticks from Kent County Council, Faversham Town Council, Swale District Council, Medway Ports, The Environment Agency and the Marine Management Organisation. Last time I visited, they still hadn't managed to dredge the upper basin.

Faversham Creek

Rewilding
There are sensible measures that can be taken to undo our past misunderstandings of the best ways to handle water. Restoring upland peat bogs which act as natural sponges to hold water is good. Selective planting and land management in ways that hold water in the soil, in fields and hedges is good. Taking rivers out of narrow concrete culverts and putting them back in meanders in flood-able land is good - and all will have benefits for wildlife and for the environment. But we shouldn't be driven by the interests of the biosphere in crowding out human use from parts of the country that have been cultivated and managed for centuries. Again, rewilding measures are not a panacea.

One good example is the work on the River Quaggy in SE London. In Victorian times and in the 1960s it was forced into a concrete culvert and became little more than a storm drain. Today it once again behaves like a river, and the fish and the proverbial Kingfishers are back, as it meanders through the urban parks and green spaces on its course to the Thames.

The Quaggy today
Mis-Regulation
The Daily Mail is quite clear - it's all the fault of the EU Water Framework Directive and Tony Blair, but in reality it's a little more nuanced than that. Ross Clark in the Speccie makes some interesting points, including
Flooding policy changed sharply in 1996 when the old National Rivers Authority was subsumed into the new Environment Agency. I don’t recall it being led by a single engineer in 24 years; its current chief executive is a social anthropologist.
It's not just the EA. Though their eclectic interpretation of the WFD has given us 'Clearing the Waters: a compliance assessment methodology for marine dredging and disposal' - an exemplar of bureaucratic overkill it's hard to better. But it gets worse. In addition to the EA we have the MMO - the Marine Management Organisation, who tell us their mission is "(to) license, regulate and plan marine activities in the seas around England so that they're carried out in a sustainable way". So if your waterway is tidal, as Faversham Creek is, both the EA (freshwater and rainwater disposal) and the MMO (dredging of sea and briny waters) must be satisfied. Ross Clark has found the EA to be run by a social anthropologist; the two quangocrats at the top of the MMO are
Chair - Hilary Florek - Hilary is a strategic communications and marketing specialist with extensive experience in both the public and private sectors.   
CEO - Tom McCormack - Tom has more than 25 years in public service, including senior positions across the Department of Work and Pensions. Tom is passionate about improving colleague engagement and leadership capability at all levels.
So no engineers at the top of the MMO, either.

The waters of, erm, water management in the UK are brown and murky. The whole thing is not simple, and desperately needs a razor-sharp intelligence to re-order it all, a Michael Gove. The problem is that there are simply too few Michael Goves in government, and too many establishment messes such as this.