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Saturday, 20 December 2008

Bank of England - FOI request

1. Has the Bank either recently commissioned designs for, or sought approvals for, new high denomination banknotes of greater value than £50? (e.g. £100, £500 or £1,000 notes)

2. What is the anticipated lead time in bringing a new bank note to press?

3. Does the Bank have in place contingency plans in the event of having to print very large numbers of new high denomination notes quickly?

Why don't fuel retailers have a poke?

OPEC's slap to Gordon Brown last week at his suggestion that they don't seek to cut quotas raised the curious assertion that fuel retailers are currently prohibited from displaying the tax breakdown of petrol and diesel at the pumps. If this is true, wouldn't it be a simple matter for fuel retailers to provide this information on till receipts? Only asking.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Labour finally acknowledge the evidence

Well, it's taken several decades but it seems Labour have finally recognised what we've been telling them all along; that children brought up without their biological fathers have an overall negative impact on us all. As I've posted at length in the past, children growing up without their real dad:
  • Are more likely to experience problems with sexual health
  • Are more likely to become teenage parents
  • Are more likely to offend
  • Are more likely to smoke
  • Are more likely to drink alcohol
  • Are more likely to take drugs
  • Are more likely to play truant from school
  • Are more likely to be excluded from school
  • Are more likely to leave school at 16
  • Are more likely to have adjustment problems
  • Are less likely to attain qualifications
  • Are more likely to experience unemployment
  • Are more likely to have low incomes
  • Are more likely be on income support
  • Are more likely to experience homelessness
  • Are more likely to be caught offending and go to jail
  • Are more likely to suffer from long term emotional and psychological problems
  • Are more likely to develop health problems
  • Tend to enter partnerships earlier and more often as a cohabitation
  • Are more likely to divorce or dissolve their cohabiting unions
  • Are more likely to have children outside marriage or outside any partnership
Now the Mail reports that Balls and Byrne (and that sounds exactly like the music hall act it is) have produced an 'evidence paper' that finds
Seven out of ten young criminals come from single parent homes that make up only a quarter of all families, it says, adding that stepfamilies can also be difficult for children. .... Step-families, it found, produce outcomes for children 'similar to those growing up in lone parent families'. Their children 'show more psychological and behavioural problems than children in biological two-parent families'..... that children of single parents do worse at school, that two thirds of such families are poor, and a third of single mothers are depressed. 'An absent parent can be associated with adverse material and emotional outcomes,' the paper found.
Good. That's the first step. Now do something about it.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Fisking Bridget Prentice

Bridget Prentice is my MP. In thirteen years I have written to her three times; once to urge her to vote against the invasion of Iraq ('I'll go with Tony'), once to ask her if she had followed Tony Blair's lead in voluntarily donating her DNA to the national database ('No, but I will if Tony asks me to') and finally in the wake of the Damian Green arrest. I have today received her response to my last letter.

I have unassailable copies both of my text and the fax I e-transmitted; I mention this now for a reason that will be apparent further down. I will be happy for any computer bod to verify that I am not changing now in any way any word, space, punctuation, spelling or the like that the faxed letter contained. Or that Prentice's reply contained. I started;

"Dear Bridget Prentice,

I am stunned and outraged at the arrest and detention of an MP, Mr Damian Green, and by the violation by the Metropolitan Police of the privileges of the House of Commons.

This is a dark day indeed for democracy when the agents of the State can ride roughshod over the freedoms and privileges that we have fought for a millennia to win. I am writing to you as my constituency MP, not in the capacity of any place you hold under government, and I would most urgently beg of you that you consider what this government is about."

Her reply starts (with my comments in brackets)

"Dear (Raedwald)

Thank you for your faxed letter of 28 (sic) November regarding a number of issues related to Damian Green MP, the Shadow Immigration Minister (sic) who was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office."

Bridget continues on this subject;

"With regards to Damian Green MP, (really Bridget? You wish regards to Mr Green? Or do you mean 'With regard to Damian Green MP'?) I am not in a position nor do I want to make any comments on the proceedings of his alleged collusion in breach of the law."

Now this is just Prescott English. What the heck does it mean? Dear God, you'd think a minister of the Crown could at least string a coherent sentence together, wouldn't you? But it gets worse.

"I say this as an MP and Justice Minister. However, we must also acknowledge the importance of the police being able to conduct an independent investigation impartially and adequately and it is not in the best interest of the Government, Parliament or the country to interfere with police and judicial proceedings." (why is 'country' uncapitalised? It seems Bridget only thinks 'Ministers' and 'Governments' deserve upper case, and the country is not that that important?)

Oh really? So the halting by government of the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into BAe's corrupt deals with Saudi wasn't in the best interests of government? No, I don't suppose it was. The assumption that the interests of government coincide with those of Parliament, or of the country, is breathtaking, though - but this must be what Zanu Labour believe.

My letter to Bridget said

"This government may not value the privileges of Parliament, but I do. To wait until the recess to mount a raid on the Palace, to violate the very heart of our social democracy, is an outrage.

I find it quite incredible that the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith neither knew or was complicit in this vile business. I am almost stunned beyond words, and would ask you most sincerely whether your loyalties lie with your constituents, whose interests are lessened by this overweaning use of State thuggery, or with this government?"

Bridget thought:

"Jacqui Smith MP, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, has stated on a number of occasions that she will not prejudice the police's investigation nor did she know until after the arrest of Damian Green MP that he - or any other Member of Parliament - was being investigated by the police or was to be arrested. I think her statement on the matter is accurate and I will not make any further remarks on the issue.

With regards to your thoughts on parliamentary privileges (so parliamentary loses its upper case when privileges are mentioned?) I can understand the anger of Opposition (sic) MPs over Mr Green's arrest and the subsequent police search of his Commons office. However, this mustn't detract from the offences he is suspected of committing and the attempt to play down the significance of the alleged crime by the Shadow Home Secretary is mischievous.

Ah. So the independent report for the Met that found the whole thing was an almighty cock-up was wrong then? And wouldn't any half-way literate person have written 'mustn't detract from the seriousness of the offences he is suspected of committing'? Bridget goes on;

"It is better to show respect for the law and duty of parliamentarians to uphold the law."

Ooh Bridget, Gordon will be sooo cross with you. You must have seen the YouTube clip of him proudly proclaiming to have broken the law when as an MP he received leaked documents? And Harriet has 'fessed up to doing it as well.

"That is my position and I do not see it as a violation at (sic) 'the very heart of our social democracy' as you suggest in your letter. Of, Bridget. I wrote 'of'. 'Of' is literate, 'at' is just silly.

But the part that really, really angers me is this. I wrote

"Here in the borough of Lewisham we pay the salaries of around a thousand Metropolitan police officers - our share of the 32,000 strong force. Yet where are they? Our homes can be burgled, fouled and violated, the possessions of a lifetime stolen and trashed, and we are told it's no longer a concern of the police - we're invited to leave our details on an answerphone. This year nearly thirty teenage boys have been knifed to death in London, yet on the buses and in Lewisham market at the end of the school day are scores and scores of knife-carrying teens terrifying each other and causing public fear."

Bridget replied

"I do not believe that life in Lewisham is as grim, unappealing and crime ridden as you portray in your letter. If you feel that 'knife-carrying teens' are terrorising 'the busses' and 'Lewisham market' I suggest then that you raise the matter with the police."

What an inane, ill-considered, offensive and inaccurate parody of my original letter. Do you seriously imagine I would have written 'the busses' or was this your contemptuous reaction to any criticism of your foul and corrupt administration? Despite the fact that my letter was not only written in coherent English - a language you appear to have failed to master - but was correctly spelled and capitalised, your ignorant and semi-literate diatribe in response does nothing but betray spite, pettiness and a wholesome disregard of any of your constituents who refuse to believe the lies, spin, distortions and putrescence of your dying administration.

I will now spend every moment of my waking day working to unseat you from this constituency. Your personal malfeasance in relation to communications to non-constituents as a result of the boundary changes has already been dealt with by the parliamentary authorities. You have demonstrated here you are unfit to understand, let alone to respond to, the issues of state that come before you. Have you considered an alternative career in which literacy is not a major requirement? A sales supervisor at Marks and Spencer, perhaps? Or a senior waitress in Nandos? I'm sure readers could suggest suitable alternative jobs for you.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Fire deserts Dave's loins?

There have been a few times when Cameron has been roused to real passion, but only a few. Generally he rubs along as a reasonably charismatic sensible bloke who wouldn't scare anyone much. His emotional level has always been pretty constant, at a sort of relaxed determined level. If his knobs go up to 11, he's generally operating at about 7. The fire in his loins is the civilised flicker of a late-evening living room fire, not the blaze of a Greek street.

However, this past week something has dampened even that reassuring glow. As Toynbee pointed out in yesterday's Grauniad, he delivered his 'jail bankers' speech with all the charisma of a dead fish. And his stumbling performance in defence of welfare mums was unconvincing. Hague's performance at PMQs today was equally flaccid.

What do they know that's knocked the fuel out of their fires? That the Tory message isn't resonating with the public? That Mandelson and Campbell have spun them into a corner? I can't pretend Cameron's warmth towards both the big central State and Europe are to my taste, but he's our best bet in getting Brown's corrupt cabal away from power and I wish he'd raise his game. Politicians at the top don't have the luxury of off-days. Can someone throw a shovel of best furnace coal on those flickering embers, please?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Monday, 15 December 2008

Labour wriggling on the horns of a dilemma

The British economy can't afford Labour's central State. This is the stark message finally being realised by Labour's strategists. Direct non-pension welfare costs are about £80bn a year; 5m people are in receipt of welfare benefits. They are less healthy and commit more crime than others, so there are substantial additional costs that can be attributed to them from health and criminal justice budgets. In direct intervention costs (social and health services) it costs, according to Hazel Blears, £250,000 a year to monitor each dysfunctional welfare 'family'. To look after a child in care costs £40,000 a year. Councils will now break their overstrained budgets to err on the side of extreme caution as children's services directors across the land panic at the thought of being dismissed by Balls if they balls-up. With no prospect of increased government grants, and council tax rises effectively capped, and facing a substantial reduction in income, fees and charges as the recession bites, councils will have little choice but to cut the services most of us use; libraries, parks, roads, street lighting, rubbish collection and street sweeping. All this is understood by Labour; Michael Kenny, head of Labour-loving ippr's social policy desk, writes:

Labour's sharpest minds realise as well that anxieties about the purpose and direction of the government that dominated the pre-recession period, up until the summer of 2008, have been only temporarily eclipsed. Between the election that never was of the autumn of 2007, and Labour's conference of 2008, the Conservatives' critique of Labour's reliance upon the big central state and its commitment to top-down bureaucratic regulation, achieved considerable resonance.

At that time some on the centre-left began to propose the wholesale renunciation of social democratic principles and Labour's heritage. In the name of a shallow and overly individualistic idea of liberalism, they urged progressives to renounce the idea of deploying the central state – the political equivalent of asking Wayne Rooney to score goals wearing slippers instead of football boots.

But how can Labour tackle the policy mismanagement that Kenny describes as "increasingly centralised micromanagement of many of our public services (that) has over the last 10 years produced a clunking, overstretched and top-down form of governance"? He can see only one way out;
It is now time to gather together the rich but disparate array of projects, social enterprise initiatives and community schemes that attempt to deliver in these areas, and develop these into attractive models for social change. We need before us a plausible and general centre-left account of how public authorities can work in partnership with organisations to achieve socially valuable goals. Only then can the speculative Conservative vision of Burke's "little platoons" replacing the state in providing public services be confidently defeated.
But of course all those 'projects, social enterprise initiatives and community schemes' are, er, funded by the State. All Kenny is proposing is to replace centralised State micromanagement with less-centralised State micromanagement. It really won't wash. There is no substitute for real localism and the natural authority of the family, the neighbourhood, the community and intermediate institutions. Labour have no alternative to the State - it's all they know. This is quite brilliantly summarised by Fraser Nelson in this morning's Speccie Coffee House:
Community ties have been savaged by the destructive way Labour has implemented the welfare state. Dependency has replaced the horizontal ties - which once bound people to each other (families and communities) - with vertical ties, which bind people to the state. And this is how Labour likes it: an atomised society, not of families, but of individuals all preferably with a reason to be grateful to the state.

'Twas not always thus. Two generations ago, people would depend on each other - and volunteer on an ad-hoc basis. Give each other's children a skelp across the ear, impose and police standards of behaviour across the community. It was a natural, human, organic welfare system, that existed pretty much from when we crawled out of caves. It has taken billions upon billions of pounds to erode this amongst the poorest communities.

And this is Labour's dilemma. They have finally realised the central welfare State can't work, and needs replacing, but have no idea what to replace it with except our instinctive default 'horizontal' society. And this they can't bring themselves to do.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Pakistan and Somalia - Brown too slow

Back on 14th November 2007 I wrote:
Let's be clear. The threat, on the basis of convictions obtained so far, is from Islamic terrorists, and in particular those from the Pakistani and Somali communities that Labour, in a naive zeal of multicultutalism, have allowed to develop separately from the rest of the population into festering ghettoes of overcrowding, poverty, ignorance, disease and hostility.

If the threat is real, and cogent, and compelling, then we must deal with the source of the threat, without any mealy-mouthed prevarication.
Why has it taken Gordon Brown over a year to realise the simple truth that was evident to anyone with two brain cells long ago? And how much damage to our security has been caused by his dithering, inaction and third-rate intellect?

Fill your cupboards - food costs to soar

The UK hasn't been self-sufficient in food since the 19th century; a simple submarine blockade brought the nation to near starvation in the Great War, and this was repeated in the second war. Currently we import roughly half the food we eat, to the value last year of about £24bn. Of this half, some 65% is from the EU, with France, Holland and Ireland being our biggest food providers.

Cheese, bacon and ham, poultry meat, sugar, coffee, butter, tea, chocolate, citrus fruit, juices and concentrates, rice and pasta, oils fats seasonings and spices ... the list is a long one. The following DEFRA pie chart shows the source of food consumed in the UK (data sets HERE, chart 7.5)

Now with the pound dropping to parity from around 1.5 Euros to the £, a back of an envelope calculation suggests 65% x 51% = 33% of our food has just risen by 50% in price (never mind the dollar) - a rise overall of 16.5% in our Tesco basket.

I suspect Olive oil, ground coffee, demerara sugar and suchlike stays of civilised life will be disappearing quickly from the supermarket shelves at their current prices. They'll certainly be disappearing into my store cupboards ...