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Saturday, 4 April 2009

Discredited Civil Service at the heart of lies and spin

The disease that gnaws at the heart of British politics is not only the self-serving corruption of the political class, but a politicised senior civil service committed to the excesses of the Leviathan State and to European Federalism. The need for reform is again highlighted by Peter Oborne in the Mail this morning in his take on the G20 communique:

The true story is that Gordon Brown seems to have corralled fellow leaders into perpetrating a gigantic collective fraud on world public opinion.

It is a sign of the degradation of the civil service over the past ten years that senior British government officials were happy to throw their weight behind what was little more than a lavishly funded PR stunt.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Jeremy Heywood - the senior Downing Street official who was deeply implicated in Tony Blair's sofa Government ahead of the Iraq War, when Britain was run by a close-knit cabal, when Cabinet government collapsed and normal procedures such as note-taking were ignored - should have been heavily complicit.
Only deep and heroic surgery, what arboriculturists would call 'crown reduction', has any hope of salvaging a working civil service from the rubble of Labour's scorched earth retreat from power.

SBEs - What you should know

What are SBEs?
Seriously Botched Economies (SBEs) are serious, sometimes painful ailments that can cause damage to your nation if not treated. Some SBEs affect only one part of the economy, others can damage the entire nation. Don't let this happen to you - get a confidential diagnosis

Don't be embarrassed!
It is important to know that many countries like you get SBEs. As many as 10% of the World's nations suffer from some sort of SBE. If you feel embarrassed, the most important thing to remember is these problems are very common amongst economically active nations. Getting treatment from the IMF is the most important thing, to ensure it doesn't spread to other countries.

The IMF will prescribe an appropriate course of treatment. This may involve removing the source of the illness such as a Socialist government as well some nasty medicine. Don't be tempted to use another country's medicine; it may not work. Don't stop the medicine when the symptoms start to clear up; you need to see it through to remove all traces of the Socialist virus.

What are the signs and symptoms?
You may not show any symptoms, but if you do, you may have the following:

  • Pain in your purse area, or difficulty in passing cash
  • Loss of interest in opening letters
  • Pain and irritation caused by Socialist politicians
  • Lethargy or enforced indolence as the virus attacks your income
  • A drip or discharge from your wallet that you cannot control
  • Burning or pain when viewing still or moving images of ministers
  • Increased time spent in the Jobcentre Plus
  • Loss of house or other accomodation
How to protect yourself
The easiest way to avoid an SBE is not to vote Labour. If you must vote Labour, take the following precautions:
  • Only vote Labour in seats where another party has an unassailable majority
  • Vote Labour then write 'HOON' on your ballot paper to ensure it's spoiled
  • Wear a blindfold when marking your ballot paper
  • Try voting Lib Dem or Green rather than full Labour; this can be just as satisfying for many people, but at far lower risk of catching an SBE.
Remember, the IMF is here to help you get rid of your Socialist problem as quickly as possible, so your country can on with its economy as soon as possible. Don't be embarrassed - call us today!

(Britain should not be embarrassed in going to the IMF, says Cabinet Minister)

Friday, 3 April 2009

You're OUR representatives, why not let US decide, Dave?

Cameron told his R5 audience that he favours a substantial increase in MPs' pay in return for them losing their controversial allowances. But Dave is hardly an uninterested party, is he?

The Wisdom of Crowds allows for far better decision making on this issue. If all the guesses at the weight of a pig are averaged, the result will be closer to the actual weight than individual guesses.

So open the issue up to the entire nation; let every voter pick a figure for a new MPs' basic salary after the abolition of all the 'allowances' including second homes, communications and the rest. Then average them. The result will be absolutely right.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Catherine Ashton: The good news

Back on 6th October last year I wrote a naughty post about our new EU Trade Commissioner, Catherine Ashton. A bag of spanners was mentioned. As was the contraceptive potential of Ms Ashton's presence in the teenage consciousness. I opined that her presence in the UK was critical if we were to stem the tide of teenage pregnancies. Now, it seems, I will have my wish - but at a price.

Reader, October may seem like recent history to you and I. When the hard-pressed stores were putting up the Christmas decs. Before the January bad news. Perhaps your own tinsel and baubles, despite the spousal reminders, have still to be returned to the loft. A score or so of weeks have passed. And now Open Europe have revealed Ashton's leaving deal from the EU.

She will get a 'resettlement allowance' of £18,700. She will get three years of 'transition payments' valued at over £89,000 per annum. And she will enjoy a pension of £9,600 a year. These rewards are much reduced, of course, from what she would have got had she spent more time in the job.

Brown now needs to find a new job for this handsome and capable woman. Could I suggest that Catherine Ashton should be Britain's first Porn Tsar?

Sending a signal to the public sector fat cats

I've written before about Labour's 'Greed is Good' culture at the top of the public sector; to misquote Mandelson, Labour is intensely relaxed about senior public sector managers making themselves wealthy at the taxpayer's expense. Over the past decade, top salaries and rewards have doubled from being about 5 - 6 times a base level employee's reward to 10 or 12 times. With final salary pension schemes, these fat cats will be creaming disproportionate rewards from the public purse. We may not be able to end this culture overnight, but we can all help to bring the spotlight of publicity on the names and the faces.

I'd urge readers therefore to respond to this Local Government consultation.

The proposals are to require councils to name senior staff and provide a full breakdown of their salary, pensions and rewards. The consultees on the government's official list will mostly have an inbuilt bias against disclosure; they will lobby for their continued anonymity on the basis of Fred Goodwin's windows, and seek to restrict the information made available on the grounds of the risks of information and identity theft. I shall be responding as follows;
  • Support fully the disclosure of all the reward elements listed at the level of detail proposed
  • Would support extent of reporting at Chief and first-tier officer levels, and would encourage government to widen this to include any permanent or contract staff earning over £100,000 at 2009 / 2010 value (i.e. fully identified and full details given)
  • Support fully anonymous banding of other staff earning over £50k in £5k bands subject to above (i.e. anonymous reporting from £50k to £100k)
I repeat, the consultation as issued has an inbuilt bias against implementation; the civil servant's letter asks specifically of councils that "you could ensure that copies of this letter are shared with officers / employees within your organisation who may have an interest in the proposals (i.e. have details about their remuneration package published). Individuals' views will also be considered in response to the consultation"

In other words, they're inviting every senior council fat cat in the country to write in on an individual basis to object to the proposals.

So please send your own (polite) signal. Our voices will make a difference.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Vacant: pretty vacant.

There's no point in asking us you'll get no reply
Oh just remember a don't decide
I got no reason it's all too much
You'll always find us
Out to lunch

Brown's robotic, charmless address in St Paul's was a dirge not a speech. Wooden, clumsy and emotionless it was an artless collection of spin words and phrases delivered with all the passion and panache of a lobotomised Sloth. Public speaking does not come easily to Gordon Brown; fluency, cadence, pitch and balance elude him and every speech sounds like Mr Brown the actuary giving a talk on the road signs of America to the local Rotary club.

Is this important? Yes, it is. An ability to speak effectively in public - to an audience or to the Commons - indicates a suppleness of mind, an intrinsic understanding of others, a melding of the man and the message. The fact that Brown can't communicate effectively may not only be at the root of his petulance and rages but reveal a man who subconsciously doesn't actually believe a word of what he's saying.

Politics is not a profession - part 8

This time it's Simon Heffer in The Telegraph who writes the words:

The generous system of salaries and allowances has ensured that people with a vocation tend to avoid politics, and those who seek a career – with all the cynical manipulation of the electorate it entails – are drawn to it like maggots to rotting flesh. It has also meant, on both sides of the House, that the inexperienced and unqualified predominate. Is there a link between that and the terrible state of our country's finances? Of course, as there is a link between a second-rate political class and our poor schools, our bloated public sector, our sporadic health service, our demotivated police force, our cruelly exploited Armed Forces, and so on. The worst sort of politician is the professional politician, and the present system of remuneration ensures we have them in abundance.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

From Libya to Calais; the human cost of protectionism

The young West African man who had emailed me asking for help was explicit in his response to my question as to why he wanted to come to England; "They will give me money". He made no connection between the 'they' and me, as a taxpayer. England was a place where, if you managed to get in, you would be given money, a flat, healthcare, education and the protection of the State. Was it not true? Members of his extended family, of his group, were already here and sending home money and goods. England was rich. "They will give me money" and, with an eye to acquiring the additional richesse of consumer goods that make the west so attractive a destination, "I will work".

And so several million Africans are moving north on foot, on the back of trucks, on cycles or mopeds. From Niger, Mali, Burkino Faso, the Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria, the Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia. Morocco turns thousands back to Algeria. In Libya alone there are up to 1.5 million irregular immigrants from the south. They are gathering to find a way into Spain or Italy, and from there very often to Calais, and England - the holy grail of an economic migrant.

Tens of thousands have died on the journey; in the Sahara, or at sea, or casually murdered for their cellphone or credits. Another 300 are reported drowned today in an attempt to cross to Lampedusa in open boats. And still they come.

Calais has a backlog of about a thousand. Maybe a hundred more arrive each week, as a hundred manage each week to slip into a truck or bribe the driver to carry them across the channel. Maybe more. Who knows. And through Hull, Felixtowe, Newhaven, Southampton. At every leaky point they come.

The government could do far more, of course. The drift is fuelled by tales of our largesse; if that largesse turned to parsimony, if housing, healthcare, education and welfare were restricted, word would soon travel back to Accra and Bamako. We could fund an advertising campaign in those nations demolishing the myth. We could deport more economic migrants more rapidly; a journey that may have taken them a year or more could be reversed in a flight of a few hours. We could check freight more rigorously. But these measures alone will not stem the human tide moving north into Europe.

The EU's agricultural policies are unashamedly protectionist. To give Bertrand, Cristophe and Adelbert a decent living from their uneconomic crofts we beggar African agriculture and enterprise. The price of Bernard's new Renault is a trail of bleached bones. As the G20 meet this week we will see more protectionism, and not less. Africans will suffer economically very quickly. The migrant tides will grow, and will take increasingly more of our national wealth to turn away. Giving aid to African nations isn't the answer; opening free markets is.

Time to switch the mortgage

I haven't got a big mortgage so the interest rate cuts of the past few months haven't produced much of a windfall from my tracker. However, indications of rapid inflation to come later this year means I'm now looking for a good three-year fixed rate. It's time to switch.

Back on 9th October last year, Radio 4's 'In business' ran a special programme with a panel of experts (the podcast seems to have disappeared from the BBC's website) that predicted exactly this situation; a short-term period of deflation, printing money, then rapid inflation.

Guido also points out that the Bank is expecting this.

Tom Harris can relax - Labour don't need Dan Hannan's help

A few days ago Tom Harris was venting like an outraged teenager at Dan Hannan's demolition of Gordon Brown in the European Parliament. He spluttered that it was outrageous that a fellow Brit should poke fun at our PM in front of foreigners. Presumably Tom wants us to ensure our audience are wholly card-carrying Brits before we rip Gordon a new orifice. Well, good news for Tom; Labour doesn't need Dan Hannan to make them the laughing stock of Europe. The relish with which European papers have picked up the Onanism on expenses story will guarantee lots of sniggers and oscillating fist motions at this week's G20:-

Monday, 30 March 2009

Brown proposes fixed overnight allowance - but how much?

Brown has proposed replacing the £23,083 second homes allowance with a fixed overnight allowance for MPs whose main homes are outside inner London. But how much?

A Travel Lodge in central London at short notice is about £100 a night. Add £20 for dinner and £10 for breakfast and a cab fare and I'd guess £140 a night would be a fair allowance. The House sat for 165 days in the 2007 / 2008 session, so this would come out at £23,100 a year.

But of course it should only be payable for each day an MP attended; those only attending 100 sittings a year would get £14,000 and those only attending 60 sittings a year would get £8,400.

This actually seems fair to me. Where's the snag?

'Standard' eviscerates Lee Jasper

The Standard has just published its exchange of letters with ex-Livingstone crony Lee Jasper a couple of weeks ago. It's a brilliant rebuttal of Jasper's new line that he wasn't mates with the men whose cases are now with the Crown Prosecution Service, and contains the mirth-making counter-charge from the 'Standard':
May we remind you that you were forced to resign after we published leaked emails in which you proposed to “whisk away to a deserted island beach,” “honey-glaze” and “cook slowly before a torrid and passionate embrace” a lady friend to whose projects you had granted at least £450,000 of City Hall money. You declared no such personal relationship with the woman in question, whom you addressed as “darling,” or with her organisation, as GLA rules require.
If only Jasper had filmed as torridly as he wrote; Labour spouses such as Jacqui Smith's would no doubt have paid top-dollar for the DVD.

That Eric Pickles savaging in full

I like Eric Pickles. He's one of the most competent members of Cameron's team, with a formidable intellect and grasp of policy. He's also the one man who can mastermind a big-bang devolution of government from Whitehall to Town Hall. Eric's Parliamentary expenses claims are relatively modest. His savaging at the hands of the Question Time audience was really more because he was there - he was a lighting rod - rather than because of any personal shortcomings. Almost.

I spent more than three years commuting into London. I had to get up at 4.30 a.m. to catch a 6.00 am train, then another 40 minute trip across London. It was often nine or ten at night before I got home. Eventually I moved here, and luxuriated in the benison of having time, just having time. I was a lot further away than Eric's 37 miles, and had to work five days a week and not three, and for 48 weeks a year and not 30. Every day at Liverpool Street station you can see tens of thousands of commuters spilling into London from further than 37 miles away. Eric's attempt to justify his second home on these grounds went down badly with the audience.

Eric got it in the neck because he represented a political class increasingly out of touch with ordinary voters. Little turds like Maclean. Bent MPs like Harry Cohen and Derek Conway. Naive and stupid MPs like Jacqui Smith and Harriet Harman. With the combined membership of the three main parties down to just 1% of the electorate and both State funding and MPs' increased pay and perks unacceptable to the country's voters in a recession, there's really only one way for the political class to go; a massive clean-up. Imposed from outside, as no-one trusts MPs to do it themselves. A Royal Commission.

'I wanna buy a new babee'

The repugnance many will feel over Madonna's purchase of a new 'babee' is not misplaced. That she is American may explain why she fails to recognise the crassness of this act of self-gratification. In this case the reward is emotional - she is buying the unconditional love of an infant, until it grows to the point when she will need to buy another - rather than economic, as was the case in the past when Europeans bought Africans.

She could, of course, spend the same amount as she will on acquiring and maintaining this one infant on paying local Malawi families small stipends to adopt and care for many of their nation's orphans, and thus improve the sum of human happiness many fold. But this is not about them, it's about Madonna.

The law of unintended consequences

Today the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, a government quango, proposes radical changes to maternity leave that would give fathers up to four months paternity leave. At the same time, mothers' leave would reduce from nine months to six months. The proposals would cost no more than just over half a percent of GDP, the ninnies preen.

Fine. The pay gap is currently rather stubbornly stuck at about 18%; a very small part of this is due to taste discrimination against women. The proximate reason for the difference is the amount of time women spend out of the workplace having and caring for babies. One of the consequences of introducing equality of parental leave, which will also act to catalyse fathers taking career breaks to look after the kids rather than (predominantly) mothers, will be that the pay gap will shrink.

One of the other consequences will be that employers will tend to employ men and women beyond their childbearing years, or those who can be classed as confirmed bachelors or spinsters. Half a percent of GDP may be peanuts in this age of fiscal profligacy, but the costs of parental leave to a small enterprise can often be crippling. The public sector will take the proposals up willingly, but with the longer term consequence that single men will earn more and occupy higher positions than married men.

In other words, the changes are likely to improve overall the employment conditions of every group other than young would-be parents.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Let dead Jewish terrorists rest in peace

The Englishman is quite right. An American Israeli's campaign to re-open the case of dead Jewish terrorist Alexander Rubowitz and besmirch the name of one of our war heroes should be abandoned.

My father served in Palestine during '45 to '47, and some of the murders and terrorist acts committed by the Jewish terrorist groups, including the hangings of kidnapped British sergeants Clifford and Paice, were felt to be particularly below the belt.

In return, we hanged many of Robowitz's fellow Irgun and Lehi terrorists; Olei Hagardom, Shlomo Ben-Yosef, Dov Gruner, Yehiel Dresner, Mordechai Alkahi, Eliezer Kashani, Moshe Barazani and Meir Feinstein (who both cheated the hangman by killing themselves), Avshalom Haviv, Yaakov Weiss and Meir Nakar. Robowitz avoided the gallows and met his end in unclear circumstances.

The anti-Jewish riots in Britain following the murders of Sergeants Clifford and Paice damaged 300 Jewish properties in Liverpool in five days of rioting; a synagogue in West Derby was burned to the ground, Jewish gravestones were uprooted and synagogues across the country had their windows smashed and Swastikas daubed on their walls. The Times reported that in Eccles a group of 700 'cheered each hit' as Jewish properties were pelted with bricks and stones.

The past, they say, is another country. That water has long passed under the bridge, and former Jewish terrorists have been rehabilitated. The dead are dead, and will be so for a long time. There's nothing to be gained by raking over these ashes.

Did libertarians create Radio One?

There is an interesting academic debate going the rounds at the moment in response to the assertion that the modern age began in 1959. This is probably more true for the UK than elsewhere; we had retreated from Empire, and our young Queen began to form her identity as head of a new Commonwealth. From 1959 we began to abandon our lead in aerospace and nuclear technology. Children born in the Blitz were then young adults, and demanding a very different nation to that which rationed their meat, milk and chocolate in childhood. We started to reject the 'establishment', from the Lord Chamberlain's censoring of stage plays to the grip of the old-boy network on the nation's institutions.

There is an emerging allied analysis that casts the 60s not as a left-wing social revolution, but a right-wing libertarian societal shift. Robert LeFevre has long been held as the guru of modern libertarianism, and the Mises Institute helpfully reprints online his influential 'The Nature of Man and his Government', published in 1959. Prescient in parts, such as this:
In our own time we have seen one curious variance occurring to this otherwise monotonous and easily predictable routine. The "ins" and the "outs" have performed a merger. The party in power has now scarcely a discernible difference from the party out of power. And the reason for this merger is self-evident. The government has in itself grown so large and so formidable that it tends to absorb any and all politically interested persons, regardless of party affiliation. And since, in the main, there is no real difference in political parties, each party desiring only to rule — each party adopts an advertising program consisting of those public statements which each party leader feels will win an election — the merger is that of blood brothers and constitutes no betrayal.
In which he predicts the rise of the political class, the whole when re-read now foreshadows the find-yourself self-help communitarianism that underlaid the 60s:

You can grow with the growth of your family and your home. You can grow with the growth of your business or your work. But you cannot grow with the growth of your government. You must shrink, and from the shrinkage the government grows. You are on the threshold of a new world. This is true every day of the year and every year of your life. Can you and will you discipline yourself so that you will not employ an agency of coercion and affliction to compel others to support you in your fondest hopes and dreams?

Interesting that in the week in which Curtis' new romcom 'The boat that rocked' is released to question whether the north sea pirate radio jocks were not lefty anarchists but libertarians seeking to break the shackles of an overweening State. The mantras of personal growth and realisation that I listened to for years from Radio Caroline now seem to owe far more to LeFevre than Kropotkin. Discuss.

Sunday sleaze: Onanism on Parliamentary expenses

Mr Jacqui Smith does not look so far gone in years and health that his libido is quiescent, and no doubt the strain of his spouse being many miles away in London during at least part of the working week has driven him to seek regular relief by other means. It is not therefore overly remarkable that he has subscribed to a supplier of pornographic films. No doubt many lonely executives in Travel Lodge motels have done the same.

That his wife has claimed for his onanistic stimulus on Parliamentary expenses is quite another matter. Even lonely executives on expenses have the grace to ask to be billed separately for their adult videos.