Thursday, December 27, 2007

Last Orders?

First we came for the witches...
Just before Christmas, the Devil highlighted some worrying statistics concerning the health of the licenced trade in England in recent months. The Christmas period has, in a limited way, allowed me to witness this first hand in two very different parts of the country.

In the Village, the pubs and bars, with very few exceptions, were like those of a ghost town compared to years past in the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas. Usually anything bar Monday evening would see the level of custom somewhere between heavy and heaving.

It should be said that according to a contact in the pub trade that the Village is somewhat notable for strange seasonal swings in business out of line with generally accepted patterns, but the same could never be said of my old home town in the heart of the Yorkshire beer belt?

Yet here again the pattern was similar, with the rather nice pub that was my local from before legal drinking age until I started my long drift south was closed down, apparently having run into financial difficulties despite a fine location and, the last time I was there, a solid customer base. According to more expert opinion on West Yorkshire hostelries, in the form of my father, this was not an isolated problem, with his typically pessimistic prognosis being that the pub "was on its way out".

It would, of course, be easy to lay the blame directly at the door of the most significant act of national government apropos the premises in question, in the form of the smoking ban, but this, I'm sure is simplistic and, while doubtless significant, not the whole story. There are changes in lifestyle that may play a part and many may applaud, and there is the fact that visiting the pub is becoming an increasingly expensive pastime.

If there is any truth in the imminence of the £4 pint, reported widely before Christmas, due to the rise in world grain prices, the future does not exactly look rosy, especially for those without the strength that the numbers of the large chains can bring.

With the risk of sounding like Jim Hacker having watched my dad's entire boxed set of 'Yes Minister' over the last few days, the Pub is a real British institution; except, of course, to those in the government who believe that great British Institutions are things like ID cards. It does seem to be an institution though that is under some threat at the moment and as an Industry that has shown itself very capable of moving successfully with times and fashions it is hard to conclude anything other than that much of the current threat must come from some of the extraordinary external factors, most of which in some form stems from Government actions.

In this context, even a raise in excise duty in line with the RPI next time around can only be interpreted as an overtly hostile act. True, it's a racing certainty that there will be some sort of concession for the likes of the Scotch Whisky industry, considering the Prime Minister and Chancellor's personal political needs, but if anything I would have thought that the impact of a rise in the cost of raw materials would be less for such a product than in the case of a simple pint of beer.

HMCE revenue from wine, beer, cider and spirit duties is forecast to cross the £8 billion mark in 2007-08, just under 5% of HMCE revenues, even before you take into account VAT receipts. It's a healthy enough take already and it's about time the government realises that they have their knife at the throat of the golden goose.

The problem is that it is easy to present it as a 'moral' tax on health grounds, but it should be noted that the reported fall in pub trade has not been accompanied with any similar statistics on falls in the problems associated with the down side of alcohol consumption. Freed from the constraints of providing a high staffing ratio, a convivial premises or, for that matter, a quality product you can still buy loopy strength lager from the supermarket for about 70p a can, so why should there be any such change?

Incidentally if I buy a pint at Base Camp, I am guess I am paying around 46p in VAT to the Treasury, buy the cheap supermarket alternative and the figure drops to around 13p, so perhaps the puritanical element that still holds such sway over our hopeless government should not take unalloyed pleasure over the sight of the damage they have caused.

It's time to give the licensed trade a break. Even if it's beyond the wit of ministers to understand the concept that less tax doesn't always mean less revenue, surely they can find some way to make the burden fall more heavily on the sales of cheap and nasty booze that can more easily find its way into the hands of those under age to consume it, without further damaging a sector that, while not without its faults, is still fundamentally an asset to the country. This is also, to any intelligent person, not the time for the government to once again satiate it's nanny fetish with further smoking restrictions, such as exclusion zones near the pub door; were only there any signs that the current government was composed of intelligent people.

Perhaps also they may choose to reflect on the nature of those areas which will resent the loss of local pubs, and those parts of society where the pub plays has the highest significance in local social life.

Some day the time will come when those in Labour's heartland will realise that Labour only represents them to the same extent that other parties such as the Lib Dems at one extreme and, sadly, the scum of the BNP do at the other, and in terms true empathy with their day-to-day lives, the metropolitan elite that is the bedrock of the NuLab project comes a poor third.

Labour's agenda of clumsy paternalist puritanism can only hasten this time.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Wishes

Thunder Dragon very politely apologises for tagging me with the '8 Christmas Wishes' line, but he need not have done so...compared to the many less voluntary (at least in my mother's eyes) activities that accompany my annual pilgrimage back to God's own county it is an absolute pleasure to tackle this.

First though, because without it this posting would not be taking place, I must give thanks for the rise of the 'silver surfer'. True, my father cannot remember the password for his own wireless networking, but armed with an old modem cable, a Stanley knife, some Blu-Tack and a vague memory of how a network patch cable should be wired I've managed to secure a direct connection to the router.

Secondly, but chronologically only, my best wishes for the Christmas season to one and all. I'm only just over the six month mark in terms of active participation in this strange blogging world but, from that limited perspective, it's good to know that so many people actually do give a damn about some of the big issues of our time, even if many may come up with very different diagnoses from the same symptoms. Yes, on occasion some may offend from time to time, or even outrage, but better that than the idle indifference or even hopelessness that the fusion of modern politics and the modern mainstream media seems to spawn.

I might agree with the unlikelihood of some of the more political wishes expressed on other blogs coming to pass, and disagree with the desirability of others being inflicted on us all, but for all the more personal hopes and dreams, may they all (subject to any conflict of interest with those listed below) come to fruition in the coming year.

Anyway, back to the task in hand then. I'm not a complete anorak, so like anybody else I have a few hopes and dreams, one in particular, that I'm not prepared to bare my soul, or anything else, over here, so here are the top eight wishes for 2008 I can share here:

  • Ken Livingstone to take up the post of Newt Keeper at Caracas Zoo at the personal invitation of fellow crackpot Chavez, as Mayor Johnson orders a job lot of P45 forms from HMCE for his predecessor's trough swillers.

  • To borrow one of the several I could have done from TD: For the premises already leased to be used as ID card interrogation centres to be redeployed as low cost office space for innovative start-up enterprises following the scrapping of the scheme by Gordon Brown's third Home Secretary.

  • England to take a Six Nations Grand Slam, or at least the title while Saracens win some their first silverware in a decade, or at least get to a final.

  • The media, even the 'serious' media, to get the likes of the Beckhams, Winehouses, and without wishing to sound callous Princess Diana and Madeleine, into some sort of perspective.

  • Gordon Brown to flip in public, so that even those that would like to see the continuation of a Labour government realise what a potential menace he is.

  • For all the trouble spots of the world, but perhaps especially Zimbabwe, Iran and Pakistan, which if they dealt with their respective political problems could very quickly become valued members of the world community, at least some glimmer of hope next year, and for Russia not to have joined my personal list of deeply worrying countries in twelve months time.

  • Lib Dem activists to realise that the generation of Conservatives with whom they could not do business are a dying breed, and their alternative in 2008 or 2009 may be to prop up an astonishingly illiberal government for outdated tribal reasons.

  • That those who are having a much less comfortable Christmas than most of us serving in the likes of Iraq and Afghanistan understand that for all the fair words and foul deeds of those in power that they have the best wishes of the overwhelming majority of the country behind them.

It's just ticked over midnight as I post this, so I guess it's a bit late to tag anybody. Best wishes to one and all, I'm heading downstairs to raid the wine rack.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Wishes

Yo, fucking Ho
In the true spirit of Xmas, some bloggers are turning their mind to what kind of festive gift they would offer their best beloved politicians. I can't really outdo some of the thoughtful gifts that have been suggested for these well-loved (swap 'well' with 'self' and it starts to sound honest) characters.

Throw in an afternoon of Xmas shopping in Dante's twentieth level of hell (Kingston-upon-Thames) and my cup of human kindness runnethed under so badly I began to wonder what they themselves would be asking for:
Dear Santa,

My name is Gordon and everyone tells me that I am a good boy, apart from nasty people who are fibbing, and not doing proper fibs like what I do.

I don't want much this Xmas because I got a good present already this year, but my friends are cross with me 'cos I broke it. I was trying to look after it, honest, even my best friend (Ballsey, not the pretend one) says so.

I would like something called a 'spine' though. Everyone says the head boy at school before me had one, but he wouldn't let me borrow it. Lots of people got cross because he had one, even his mates, but it made him look cool. Can I have one too, pleasssssssse!

I'd like a new woolly jumper too, or if I can't have that I'd like some good policies. Whenever I have to play top-trumps with that rotter Cameron at break on Wednesdays he always wins even though he doesn't have many policy things, but his are OK and mine are rubbish cause I don't have enough time to write them out before they go wrong. Even when I borrow his cards I get into trouble for not writing him a "thank-you" letter!!!! He is nasty to me, Santa, even nastier than my friends even if they only pretend to be nice even though some of them say there should even be another head boy!!!

If I can't have some of my own or some of Cameron's can I have some of the orange gang's? (shhh Santa...don't call them that or some of them get cross)...They have loads!!!!! Like if they play against snotty Murdoch in the lower school they have one lot, and then they hide those and use other one's when play against Toynbee junior...that is cheating should not give them presents at all!

Finally, can I have some 'charisma', I think it's like some kind of after-shave or something. I don't think that bully-boy Cameron or crappy Cleggy even shave (he is sooooooooo cross because his mate Huhne does and they almost made him house captain as well!!) so why can't I have some!!! It's not fair!

Thank you Santa,


PS Cough up you beardie fucker or I will tax the hooves off those bloody reindeer of yours, bang you up until the middle of January for your illegal Al-Queda inspired overflights of the UK, and wait until headmaster Barosso finds out that you do different stuff in different countries!!!!!!! He'll make you write out 67 squillion lines in Latin, or French or whatever it is, and even getting smelly Miliband to do it for you doesn't get you out of it.

Play ball, and I'll send you some new elves for your sweatshop to help you because they are not fagging for me properly. Give me my presents and you can have Miliband, Smith, Harman, that little Scottish lass and the bloke with weird eyebrows that always is creeping around me just because he grew up in the same village as me and her. Deal?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Measures of Success?

Measuring Achievement?
It's been a bit hard to blog anything for the last few days as my heart's really not been in it, or anything else for that matter. The rip roaring excitement of the Lib Dem leadership election wasn't quite enough to snap me out of it, actually as it happened that particular bit of breaking news wasn't even enough to snap me out of a very light post-luncheon snooze this afternoon.

Luckily for me, though probably not for future generations of school children, some later news on the government's highly suspect plans for 'Advanced Diplomas' has at least partially roused me from my slumber.

According to a BBC report, the University Admissions service, UCAS, has decided that the proposed new diplomas should be worth more than three 'A' levels on their points system. Fortunately, the BBC manages to summarise the salient bit of information in just one line in one of its information boxes:
Advanced - takes broadly the same time to do as three A-levels, worth 3.5 A-levels

Source: BBC News

Where the article is a little light though is on where this 17% increase in pupils natural ability and effort or teaching efficiency is going to come from, however I can already envisage the government of whatever political colour it may be at the time, crowing over such a radical success, however illusory it may actually be.

I'm not sure what the nature of UCAS is, whether for example it falls under the somewhat overused term of 'quango', but to an extent it hardly matters. It must deal with primarily with public institutions and examination systems whose basic structure is dictated by the government and will know that any suggestion of anything other than continuing success, at least as far as statistics are concerned, will simply not be tolerated.

Already, as the BBC report reminds us, only four in 10 university admissions officers in a survey stated that the Diploma would be a "good alternative" to A-levels and the Russell Group of leading universities has expressed qualms over the scheme. Little good though will it do either group, so addicted now have successive education secretaries become to suspect statistics over the real world experiences of the likes of the universities and employers.

Sadly I suspect that when the scheme extends to more traditional academic areas, limiting choices to broad brush stroke subjects such as 'Humanities', 'Science' and so forth, the voices of the achievement hating 'anti-elitists' will further entrench the worrying drift of the upper end of the secondary education system towards the type of model inflicted on the same pupils earlier in their school career.

Friday, December 14, 2007

December Fool

LEGO Ambulance
Ambulance attends scene of
LEGO drive-by shooting
No, not Brown. For once.

Sometimes you see a story and seriously wonder if you have done a Rip van Winkle after a few too many pints of the black stuff and have woken up on April 1st.

This tale from Sky News is a typical example. Mercifully it now seems to be filed under their 'Strange Stories' category rather than in the main news section where I first read it this morning. It concerns a book entitled 'Forbidden LEGO' and, shock horror, it contains details of how to build a LEGO gun capable of firing, erm, LEGO bricks, worse still for some it looks set to become a best seller.

The response from the unnamed, but I suspect familiar quarters, is all too familiar:
But in Britain, there has been concern about the effect the book may have on children.

Source: Sky News

At least Sky have not had the sense of humour failure that those who are 'concerned' have had, as I'm sure their reporting of a commenter worrying that it was a slippery slope leading to the first LEGO nuclear weapon was as tongue-in-cheek as the comment.

From the video clip at sky the gun looks great fun and I'm sure the 'candy catapult' and 'continuous fire ping-pong ball launcher' the book promises are great too.

Without a doubt the most inspired bit of teaching I ever saw in my time at the local comprehensive was a series of lessons in Craft, Design and Technology, one of the few completely mixed ability lessons I did. In the spirit of 'Scrapheap Challenge' and 'The Great Egg Race' teams of two were given 4 lessons to build a machine to propel a ping-pong ball as far as possible, using all the offcuts of wood and metal we could scavenge and with all the tools and resources of the CDT department at our disposal, before the grand test session out on sports pitches.

For once, the whole class was keen to participate and took every detail seriously. I was seriously annoyed that by beautiful but complex mangonel type contraption came second to a machine that consisted of little more than a few strips of springy plywood laminated together. Even in that though there was a genuine lesson in design.

I only did CDT for the couple of years before selecting 'O' level options, but I do remember several people actually discovering that there was at least one subject at school that they actually enjoyed and thought was worth working at.

I'm pretty sure that if it had not involved the firing of projectiles or something equally non-politically correct, like a powered vehicle, the whole exercise would not have gone down quite so well. In a similar way, pre-Xmas chemistry lessons that produced bangs and flashes got everyone's attention without anyone going to suggest terrorism as a choice to a careers advisor.

As for the LEGO book, I shall admit that I succumbed to the temptation of a grown-up Meccano set a few years ago. I fear that once again I may have to nip out to buy a Xmas present for my fictitious nephew.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Caption Competitions

It is, of course, impossible to compete with Mr Fawkes' incomparable Friday caption competition, but this photograph, which I won't risk the wrath of copyrightwallahs by reproducing here, from the Telegraph's story on Brown's tardy appearance in Lisbon today amused me even more than the pathetic sight of Brown being led through the empty room where lunch was being cleared away.

I'm a bit torn over a caption between "Miliband sends tailor's dummy to Lisbon to avoid embarrassment in 2009 leadership bid" and "Sim José! it's true, Sr. Brown has installed an emergency off switch, watch this..."

It was nice to see Sarkozy break precedent and speak a few words in English to the press too today, especially when you could see the amusing insincerity in his "We need Gordon". It was far more likeable than the Cheshire Cat grin of Barroso at seeing the plan of Ms Wallström and himself, one of the of Deception, Demagoguery and Democracy Deletion come to fruition.

Life Out of Office

With Blair making notably little progress in his chosen post Prime Ministerial career relating to the Middle East, it seems that reporters are starting to turn their mind to what he is actually up to at the moment. It appears that the Guardian has found part of the answer in a piece entitled "Blair lands role in Bush's doggie video". Please note that it is "doggie", not the more familiar Blair adjective of "dodgy", nor does it relate to anything remotely pornographic.

The full version of the edited down video from the Guardian is presented in all its appalling splendour below. Be warned though, you will soon want to fast-forward to around 5 minutes and 10 seconds to see that unlike in America where a B-list actor can become a great president, it seems that here in the UK a reverse process applies to mediocre Prime Ministers.

For those that cannot stomach even a short cameo by Blair, here is his part of the script:

FORMER PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR: Congratulations Barney and Miss Beazley on becoming Junior Park Rangers. Well done.

As someone born in Edinburgh, Scotland, it's always good to see the Scots doing well.


For the uninitiated 'Barney' and 'Miss Beazley' are the Bush's two Aberdeen Terriers. It's noticeable that he finds it easier to congratulate dog's of distant Scottish heritage on fictional appointments than certain Scots to real jobs.

Then again, as ever, Blair speaks carefully in saying "it's always good to see the Scots doing well", as until Brown does something well, a somewhat distant prospect, he clearly feels little need to offer the same fulsome congratulations to his former chancellor.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ho Bloody Ho

Office Party Aftermath
Another year, another war zone
I have to admit, this is not my favourite time of year. Other than the traditional Boxing Day Leeds Rhinos fixture, a rare opportunity to go and watch the other code and escape overheating and overeating, there is little in the festive season that fills me with cheer and goodwill towards my fellow man.

In particular there comes that annual series of amateur drinking fixtures, known as the office party. Down at the Base Camp there is one such display of second rate booze handling in progress as I write this, and judging by the faces of the normally cheerful staff, even Doktor Doob, it is living down to the reputation of such events.

The main problem is the number if inexperienced players in the typical side, many of whom will doubtlessly be heading in my direction to fall off the taller bar stools shortly. All will be of perfectly legal drinking age, and few will be teetotallers, however at many of these occasions it's a bit like letting seventeen year olds drive HGVs on their provisional moped licence.

I'm too much of a libertarian to want anything in particular to be done about it; it's just bloody annoying. As it happens I was more impressed with Antony Worrall Thompson's sensible suggestions on the Daily Politics, of limited, and situationally appropriate, additional opportunities for teenagers to learn how to handle alcohol in a responsible way, rather than a big-bang, off the leash at eighteen approach. It was a thoughtful piece, that considered the mindset of the teenagers he was thinking of, but it didn't involve a crackdown or ban so I don't think anyone in Gordon's policy unit will be interested.

Bah humbug to one and all.

Equal Treatment

Italian Football
The Italian football tinderbox
As some will know I have little time for soccer and I have even less for the particular case of Manchester United which for me epitomises much of that which I want rugby never to become. It is hard though not to have some sympathy for the five supporters who have been stabbed tonight in Rome.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there is an endemic problem in the Italian game, with firearms involved on occasion and even explosives; already a police officer has been killed, yet there seems to be little imminent prospect of the type of action that was taken against English clubs in the eighties which was severe, and ultimately largely effective.

The trigger of course was the Heysel disaster of 1985, in which 39 died. Yet it was not just the 39 deaths that was the justification for action for, if it was, the punishment would have been meted out, rightly or wrongly, solely to Liverpool. It was not though, and all English clubs were barred from European competition for five years, on account, it must be assumed on the prevailing anarchy across the game and the lack of effect of measures taken by domestic authorities. Even back in those days, as it happens, the ugly side of Roma football that had flared in the previous years fixture against Liverpool was ignored in the absence of a formal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the disaster.

It is true that the Italian football authorities do seem to have been a bit harsher in their own response than the FA was twenty-odd years ago, and were quite decisive over some of the corruption allegations, however it appears that not all of their action has not been effective.

It is probably about time UEFA considered imposing the same kind international purdhur on Italian football sides. The fact that, so far, more modern stadia than the crumbling Heysel have prevented another large death toll does not mitigate the need for action, as there are counterbalancing factors, such as the appearance of firearms, that mean that we are just waiting for another tragedy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Making the Worst of a Bad Job

Brown and Miliband try on the new official Foreign Office treaty signing uniforms

Gordon Brown has been struggling with his decision decision over how involved he should be in the proceedings surrounding the signing of the rebadged EU constitution.

Yesterday he appeared to have two options to select from. Should he show a bit of nerve and show his personal support for the treaty he used to loathe so much by turning up in person to be photographed signing it? Alternatively, would he rather take the shifty and cowardly way by not wishing to be frozen for posterity with his pen hovering over a a document that will probably be causing bad headlines for years to come?

Even amongst those of us who are not that keen on the document in question and are even less happy with the fraud perpetrated on the electorate over the promised referendum, many would probably have preferred the former option. Not for once to further embarrass the walking embarrassment that is Gordon Brown, but because, at least in my case I felt that to be the only leader absent would look like an act of petulance that would reflect badly not only on Brown, but on the whole nation. The latter option would have been much more in character for Macavity Brown; cynical, calculating and counter-productive.

Amazingly though, the Prime Minister has truly excelled himself by coming up with a third option, worse than either of the two he was initially weighing up, by turning up late, missing the incriminating photographs and signing the treaty in private over lunch.

I don't like the treaty, but whether our Prime Minister should sign it is a private debate within this country, as much as the likes of Barroso may wish otherwise, just as although I'm sorry that the Danish Prime Minister has also lacked the courage to involve his own people in the way they clearly wish, that is purely a matter for the Danes.

If though, on the public stage, the treaty is going to be signed by our government, I would prefer it was done with a little dignity, but sadly that's another quality Brown lacks entirely.

A Life Less Ordinary

Evel Knievel
One Final Leap into the Unknown
My news reader today brought coverage yesterday of Evel Kneivel's surprisingly low key funeral in his home town of Butte, Montana.

I must admit I never had a lot of interest in Kneivel's bizarre and often unsuccessful stunts, the heyday of which was when I was still a toddler, but nonetheless the coverage of his passing has brought on a bit of a nostalgia attack. Such was his aura, for all the failures along the line that although it was to be a couple of years before I had headed off to infant school, I do remember that the Kneivel jet cycle toy was still the first 'must have' toy for all the boys there.

The obituaries in any newspaper usually joins the select band of fashion, football, and court and social pages that I don't give the time of day to but I did enjoy the Telegraph's send off, a couple of weeks ago, for Kneivel. A couple of personal highlights:
"Thereafter Knievel worked briefly as an insurance salesman. He sold 271 policies in a single week, but left his employers when they did not immediately offer him a seat on the board.

Then he embarked on a successful career as a safe cracker, working mainly in Oregon. He also had spells as a bank robber, swindler and pickpocket."


"At the height of his fame in Britain, newspaper leader writers contrasted unfavourably the inability of Chancellor Denis Healey to keep interest rates up with Knievel's skill at defying gravity."


"He married his childhood sweetheart Linda Bork in 1959. She fell for his romantic nature after he kidnapped her three times."

Source: The Sunday Telegraph

OK, kidnapping et el. are not to be applauded, but in reading the whole article it's clear he was a man who understood that it wasn't the length of one's life that matters, but what one does with it and that's something I'll take over the puritanical tyranny of the government and their henchmen in the health and safety executive and the BMA any day.

Racing Certainties

Crap Logo
As a health advisory I shall say once again I am very pleased that London will host the 2012 Olympics. This still does not take away my fears about the ability of the current government to organise a piss-up in a rugby club furnished with unlimited free alcohol from every brewery in the land.

When you hear a minister, and yes, one of any politically colour, assure us that the sum of money to be spent on any particular grand initiative is known, capped, and under control we can, without even bringing cynicism to bear, assume that the real number is unknown, fundamentally without bounds and would take a forensic accountant a lifetime to calculate, even after the event.

For a well run government project we can put a finger in the air and guess that there is about an eighty percent chance of a noteworthy overrun on past performance, with such cast iron assurances in place. When it is admitted chance that there is a twenty percent chance of this happening, we can assume that the only real question on the Olympic overrun, even on its already doubled budget is how much, and how many nines we place after the decimal point on the likelihood of it happening.

I personally want the Olympics here in London, but we really need to start seeing the hard numbers, and the real funding plans. London should, if well run, should turn in a real profit in the medium term, but there is a real question over whether this is even remotely likely with our current financially incontinent central government, even before you begin to wonder about the business acumen of our local scion of the school of central planning, the ever useless Ken.

At least the legendary newt fancier has promised that no further burden will fall on London's council tax payers. At least in respect of the Olympics that is, as in other areas it is now seeming likely that the mayoral precept may put a spanner in the works of the attempts of more efficient (non Labour) boroughs to ensure that central government's politicisation of block grants do not result in large increases in local tax liabilities.

Well, at least we know that Livingstone will put the money to good uses for the benefit of all Londoners, not just a select few.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Not Waving but Drowning

Life Belt
Another overused life belt
It has been pretty amusing watching the Labour party's pitiful attempt at a fightback over the last ten days or so. As they sink deeper in to the mire they have fallen back on every trick in the Labour handbook.

The problem does seem to be that so low has their stock fallen now that even once friendly parts of the media now rightly tackle each initiative from a starting point that it is nothing but a publicity stunt. It may be that the hostility provoked among many correspondents by Brown's clumsy handling of his non-election has really come home to roost, or simply the undeniable fact that much of what is being done is unmitigated crap.

It probably started just over a week ago when the very slim Labour play book was opened at the well thumbed 'B' for 'Ban' page. Banning activities that are legal but disapproved of by the more puritanical elements of the government is something that still seems to set the pulse racing among Labour MPs, but there was a problem in that there seems to be much less public clamour for criminalising anything in particular at the moment. Undeterred though, the rather bizarre combination of sun beds and cigarette vending machines were declared joint public enemies number one.

For god's sake, sun beds and cigarette vending machines. Only the most stupid in society don't realise that there is a risk associated with both pieces of technology, but we really can't legislate around this sad tiny minority. There would be many legitimate businesses closed in the case of sun beds, simply because the government thinks that whether to take a chance on a well regulated tanning salon is a decision only their Robin Reliant minds can make. As for the impact of cigarette vending machines on smoking behaviour, I wonder if the government could bring into evidence even a single case of someone whose smoking career started by buying a pack from such machines and, as every serious smoker knows, for us the use of these rip-off machines is simply a sign off piss poor mission planning for a night out.

Flipping further ahead in the play book, we come to 'T' for both 'Terror' and 'Tough'. The government consulted its terrorism riskopportunity assessment index, added on five and divided by the first number they though of and came up with the same assessment as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's 'Deep Thought' computer as to the answer to the ultimate question, forty-two. Unfortunately, as everyone knows, maths has never been a strong suit for the Home Office and it looks as though poor old Jacqui Smith may be just as bad at counting the number of her own side's MPs willing to extend the terror detention limit as she has been at counting the number of former attorneys general willing to support her proposals, the number of jokes that would be made at the expense of Lord West, and for that matter the number of overseas workers in the country.

For the remainder of the week there was far too much flak about other government policies such as a casual attitude to our personal data held by government agencies and the provenance of the governing party's funds to hope for any good headlines. Nor did it help that Brown also opted to make use of his own personal addition to the list of Labour ploys, scribbled in after he took power under 'Macavity' with the news of his preplanned non-appearance for the signing of the EU treaty. We had to wait until Sunday for another used and abused page of the manual to be opened at 'E' for 'Educashun', 'Educashun' and 'Educashun'.

Now, as it happens, I think there is some merit in the proposals on SATs, unfortunately they were delivered by the one person in the government who has been, by fairly common consent the only person on Labour's front bench more over-promoted than the Prime Minister himself. I think that there were quite a few on my own side of the political fence that were quite worried about Ed Balls becoming a powerful player for the government team, but out fears have proved to be groundless, as he mumbled and stumbled through his TV appearances yet again. Government of all the talents or jobs for your mates? Gordon needs to make his mind up; Balls and fair few of others should remind him that he can't have his cake and eat it too. Given that the news was still pretty hot, I'm sure that Balls would have known that he was leaving a wide open goal to bring up our precipitous slide down the international educational league tables, but he really should have had the self-knowledge that he was in no way the man to occupy the last line of defence.

Then finally today, we have the Prime Minister's whirlwind tour of those last refuges of the political scoundrel, Afghanistan and Iraq. Filed under both 'G' for glory, and 'R' for reflected, the plans were followed to the letter as they should be, well rehearsed as they are, down to the flack jacket, probably this time featuring the armour plating that his penny pinching as chancellor shamefully led to being supplied on his preferred 'too little, too late' basis. Surrounded by people who have more courage in their fingernail clippings than Brown has in the whole of his bloated frame he delivered the remarkable news that, erm, nothing had changed since he last created a security headache in these type of blighted areas.

There was also another mini-whirlwind in that other entry under 'E', this time in the form of the 'Environment', with a suitably grandiose plan, coming seemingly out of thin air, to generate a vast proportion of our electricity from wind power. Now wind is something that the government produces in large quantities, mainly of the hot air variety, so perhaps I should defer to their judgement however suspect. It does though sound like a typical headline-grabber-with-no-immediate-need-to-deliver-anything ploy. To be fair, this one has played better with the media, so obsessed have they become with the 'climate change is everything' mantra, but its place in a glut of hastily rolled out announcements has not escaped notice.

At least in this case we can get a measure of the unmitigated joy a visit by our dour Prime Minister brings to our fantastic serving men and women from the various message boards the MOD haven't managed to close down yet:
  • "at least we didn't have to suffer him here at Souter, we just had to put up with a visit from the other Browne"

  • "Any chance of him doing a quick tour of the AOR in a dayglo vest?"

  • "Did you feel dirty, need a wash following such close contact with the slimmy git?"

  • "After 10 years of ignoring the Armed Forces, he now apparently wants to be their best friend."
Source: British Army Rumour Service

On another site there were many references to doing something to Brown called 'slotting', but I wouldn't in my ignorance wish to inadvertently mention anything that may be either obscene or complimentary to the dour one.

There is at least one difference from the Blair era in two of the stories, in that what is being proposed in not even really policy, but actually yet more additions to the lengthy list of 'reviews', which will probably consist more of reviewing newspaper headlines than the real meat of the issues. At least Blair, at times showed conviction, a word that could never now be applied to Brown, other than in a sense that probably keeps him awake at nights.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Unlearned Lessons

Test Tubes
More Failed Experients
One of the drawbacks of the daily developments in the HMCE data fiasco stories and the even more rapidly snowballing Labour funding scandal is the number of equally serious stories that haven't had quite the full prominence they should have as especially the TV media focuses on the more immediately politically gory.

The recent sorry tale of how far the country has fallen down international league tables for educational attainment in key areas highlights a scandal in comparison to which lost HMCE disks and dodgy donations pale into insignificance.

It is true that some of the statistics need to carry some limited health warning, but the scale of the slide is to vast to ignore, and it's also damn certain that the government will avoid any fully objective exercise in measuring our relative educational performance against our near neighbours like the plague. There are various fairly straightforward exercises that could be performed to properly and scientificually squash the idea that GSCEs are getting easiser and that A levels may be heading the same way, but it's a cast iron certainty that the government will fight to the last ditch to avoid any such investigation.

Their bleating response has been everything that we have come to expect from this increasingly discredited rudderless government. First prattle on about the inputs , that they've spent X billion and so forth, ignore how such spending may or may not have filtered through the system and move straight on to outputs, based on bare statistics on exam results fewer and fewer have any real faith in. At outouts, the story ends, the outcomes are ignored.

That we have high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy and that employers and universities complain that young people coming to them lack the skills of their predecessors, are dismissed as some form of false conciousness or due to other factors beyond the control of any government.

Look at issues like crime, and it's the same script. Say that the government has spent an extra X billion, talk about selective crime statistics, dismiss people's very real feelings, based on their real experiences, that the streets are less civil and probably less safe places than in the past.

The international comparison tables at least did get some degree of airtime over a couple of days, but it's only one of a number of equally significant stories in the same vein in recent months, that should taken together should shake the confidence of those with the most unquestioning of naive beliefs that massive public spending is the sole or most important route to progress.

One that shocked, but did not surprise this time last week was from The Guardian, linking poor levels of participation in science in the state sector to the decline in support for individual science subjects rather than a single integrated science course. This common sense, pure and simple. It shows an understanding of the mindset of children at that age that this government is only just acquiring after they have done the damage.

I did physics and chemistry at 'O' level, but had no interest in biology as it is taught in school whatsoever, despite later going on to study biochemistry and genetics at university. Only the lowest of the four de facto streams studied combined science. Had I been forced to take combined science I would not only have performed poorly at the biology elements in which I was not interested, but would have been likely to be sufficiently demotivated to perform as well at the other two. It's been hard to find exact numbers taking different options in the current state sector, but the tone of nearly everything I've found on the Internet points to a sorry state of affairs. The 'theme based approach' seems to dominate too, in other words an excuse to make guiding students in their writing essay on climate change take the place of serious scientific education.

Giving kids as much choice as possible has to be a key to motivation, and motivation is a key to real performance. Society has a right to expect people to leave school literate and numerate otherwise they may become a burden on that society, for everything else people will, given a chance, tend to make the decisions that are right for them and find their own niche.

I was given pretty much a free hand on my 'O' level options, and I only really made one mistake, and on that I think I was conned. I took geography instead of history, and was horrified to find that the interesting physical geography with field trips to see ox-bow lakes and the like was to be replaced by worthy human geography focusing on the dilemmas facing Indian subsistence farmers in their choice of how to use cow dung, and some bloke called Mr Yagi who was having a tough time selling Tatami mats in modern Tokyo. Other than that though I came out pretty well from my experience of state education to that level.

I'm sure the money spent has had some positive effects in the last few years, but it's hard not to wonder how much of this benefit has been expended in order to compensate for poorly conceived educational theories that ignore the most important stakeholders in that education, the children themselves.

A Momentary Lapse of Incompetence

Robert Mugabe
Mad, bad and dangerous to know
It should not be forgotten amongst the myriad tales of govenment woes that even the most abysmal of governments do on occasion, even if it is by accident, the right thing.

It's only fair to say that on a couple of issues in the last week or two Brown's miserable administration have been on the angels. The score might be about 10-2 but the consolation goals deserve a limited respect.

First of all, as already highlighted by the Thunder Dragon, the government has stood firm in its stance over attending the EU-Africa summit because of the presence of the thoroughly evil Robert Mugabe. As I've often posted here I have nothing but contempt for those who attempt to deny any form of platform to those the spongiform minds of those afflicted by tertiary leftism try to dictate should be silenced simply for their wrongthink. There is a huge difference between evil thoughts and evil deeds though, and one that places Mugabe in a different league to the Griffins and Irvings of this world. As appalling as these people are they do not even advocate violence, let alone practice it as Mugabe does through a thousand proxies. It is actually quite worrying that there are people who see some sort of moral equivalence between the cases.

As for the alleged controversy over Clare Short's comments on the reasons why Baroness Amos was chosen to be sent to the summit, I'm loathed to intrude into what seems to be purely Labour party private grief. I would differ slightly from the Thunder Dragon's view on her attendance in principle. As far as I can see Baroness Amos seems perfectly well qualified to act in this capacity and it would have been reckless in the extreme to leave the UK completely unrepresented and leave everything to the sometimes suspect judgement of some of our partners.

The other thing the government deserves some praise for which, while a little faint, is not intended to be damning is it's resistance this week to the EU's continued attempts to impose a mindless working monoculture on us all, this time by demanding that the full panoply of supposed workers 'rights' on temporary agency workers virtually from their first week on any given assignment.

In the whole range of employment related directives dreamed up by feather bedded bureaucrats in Brussels, there seems to be little or no understanding that there are a significant number of people who choose of their own free volition to adopt work patterns very different to their own. Yes, there is exploitation at times that needs to be tackled, but in the mindless drafting of broad directives Brussels machinery only achieves new rights for this group at the cost of stripping rights from another.

For the first few years of my working life I worked some ridiculous hours, and rarely took more than a handful of days off in the course of a year. I was not compelled to do so, but I was well rewarded for it. Every day of holiday not taken was repaid at time and half at the end of the year. I worked the hours to best exploit the performance related pay schemes that were in place, and my efforts my employer, my clients and myself were all very happy. Now already the first practice, of paying for untaken holiday, is outlawed by the EU, and they desparately want to end my right to opt out over their legislation on the latter.

It's not a way of life everyone would choose, but I liked it. We don't all, over the entire course of our working lives want the same couple of weeks off in the summer, a week at Christmas, and so on and so forth. When I've worked in FSA regulated businesses and been forced to take a week off at a time when I had no real yearning to go on holiday, I resented it badly. My prefered way of life was to take a few months off at a time either between jobs or on occasion with the willing blessing of my employers. I've made good use of these kinds of sabatical to enhance my life in ways that a fortnight in Ibiza never would.

It wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but it was mine, and the thrust of the EU employment legislation is already half way through stripping me of my rights to persue my working life and career in the way that makes me most happy. Where are my rights? Removed to make us all fit the views of some civil servants, doubtlessly with precious little exposure to the real world, of what the ideal working life is like.

The same arguments hold against the plans over agency working. I'm sure there are agency workers who are treated badly and if so there may need to be some narrow, targeted legislation. Narrow and targeted is not the the Brussels way though, their legislative arsenal is filled only with various forms of blunderbuss. I've done temporary and agency work at various times, always for very positive reasons. The lack of security or supposed rights was well compensated for in the financial rewards, and both those companies which employed my services and myself were happy with the flexibility the arrangements afforded us.

At another end of the scale even this government understands the simple message that is lost on the befuddled minds of the EU that what they call 'rights' becomes translated to 'responsibilities' for an employer and the more responsibilities they seek to heap on the shoulders of the employers, the less inclined they will be to take the risk that such responsibilities represent to the business. Also they realise the vital role that such temporary work can play in getting the unemployed back to work, the old corporatist EU sees only one model of employment, and in their discomfort over more progressive models would rather see work as being an 'all or nothing' situation, not an 'all or something' choice.

It is faint praise for the government in that they have already allowed much of the damage in the area of employment law to be done, but the fact that they are prepared to fight for some last vestige of free bargaining between employer and employee to remain should be accorded some respect.

OK, even adding these two issues together is not anywhere close to balancing any single one of Labour's manifestly poor acts of government, but it's something.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Dangerous Dancing

Whose tune is danced to?
There are still those, even beyond the confines of the BBC who fail to understand that their attachment of the term 'right wing' to the likes of the BNP is dishonest in the extreme.

Hopefully articles such as this should disavow all but the most mentally corroded of this lazy assumption. As a précis for those without the time to read any Guardian bilge, the 'BNP Ballerina' Simone Clarke has joined the executive of a union called 'Solidarity' who seem to spout the real voice of trade unionism, including a distrust of 'foreigners taking our jobs'. Their real crime, at least as far as the TUC are concerned, is that they are not an officially approved union which sometimes criticises certain (and on this alone I will agree with them) backwards looking unions who are 'official' but also called 'Equity'.

<lie>I don't like poking fun at the internal travails of the left</lie>, but it does feel good to sit on the diametrically opposite side of the political circle from the likes of Bob Crowe and Ms Clarke, and despise the authoritarian left wing instincts of both the TUC and their proxy government as well as the BNP.

For those who think that this is a cheap dig at the left and have some experience of life outside the south east, simply ask yourself one question. If some TV company paid you to go under cover to infiltrate and recruit on behalf of the BNP vermin, would you choose: the local Con/Liberal Club, or the local Labour/Working Men's club?

If there was to be prize money at stake, I know where I'd be staking my pitch.

The BNP is a creature of the authoritarian left, and it's time the moderate left started to take some responsibility for it rather than simple colluding in the lazy media characterisation of it as a right wing organisation and hoping some guilt will attach by distant association to the Conservatives.

Whichever path the Lib Dems take under either Huhne or Clegg I think many both within and without the party will hope they will abandon to some of the statism that has crept around their message in recent years and become the voice of left of centre liberalism to mirror what Cameron has already achieved to the right of centre. The statist right wing exists only in dimmest of memories of thirty-somethings like me, leaving the David and Goliath of the BNP and Labour to fight for the big state left vote divided on either side of the racist/non-racist axis.

This has been one and only time that I've ever tried to persuade someone to vote Labour; they couldn't stomach the Lib Dems, and their alternative choice was much worse, and for that the person the selection of the only two viable candidates was as natural as breathing.

As an aside, to have had a couple of pleasant beers with good company, then to come home for a couple of glasses of wine (cheapish but nice burgundy) with good music (Zero 7, Something for's in the ear of the beholder) and a bit of a internecine squabble in the trade union movement has seemed like a good way to end a bad week - gawd, what am I turning into!

Blissful Ignorance

Dan Hannan is becoming an increasingly prolific poster over at his Telegragh blog. He certainly ranks as my favourite blogger amongst elected representatives at the moment, with a powerful writing style reducing issues that the EU elite would rather remain obscure, or at least opaque, in the minds of the public to their stark essentials. It attracts a fair amount of intelligent comment, including familiar more reasoned pro EU voices in opposition such as Chris Sherwood, even if it does have the usual dose of Brussels fruitcake, in this case from a A-list loon called Johan de Meulemeester.

Most of Mr Hannan's postings are in his typical intellectual style, but in a recent posting he shows that he's still capable of a chuckle at more basic fare.

Well, at least somebody has fallen for line of the hardcore, federalist Eurofanatics, even if is one the Americans they detest so much.

Bolt Holes

Gordon at Number 10
There have been a number of very tedious stories that have dominated the mainstream media in the last couple of weeks, but none more overblown than the exotic but hardly earth shattering tale of alleged fraud that is 'canoe man'.

Today's headlines have focussed on what the Telegraph calls his "Canoeist's 'Narnia'-like secret passageway" in what seems to be a popular literary allusion attached to this story.

I've become bored stiff of this story even more quickly than that of the teddy bear teacher but, for all that, I can't help wondering if there isn't at least one other person in the country who is thinking that a secret passage leading from his current residence to his old one is actually quite a good idea. After all you never quite know when there will be a policeman knocking at the door rather than standing outside it, not that is, if you happen to be the leader of the Labour party.

That said, over the years Brown has shown himself to be the master of the disappearing act even without the help of such props.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Succession Planning

Gordon Brown
Bottling it Again?
Could it be that the Prime Minister is finally beginning to wonder if his tenure in Number 10 may be somewhat shorter than he may have hoped? After all, at Prime Minister's questions on Wednesday he did seem to be getting in some practice for what would almost certainly be a very brief spell of cross-examining a future Prime Minister Cameron from the opposition benches.

Now it appears that, perhaps with one eye to his legacy, a convenient diary clash has been arranged such that it makes his attendance at the signing of the EU reform treaty highly unlikely. Of course, it is protested, that he would love to be there but let's be honest the dates of both the treaty signing and the Commons liaison committee must have both been known for some time and it seems improbable to say the least that something could not have been arranged.

It would seem that the general opinion that Brown wouldn't be able to perform his Macavity act once elevated from the Treasury to the top job may have underestimated the depth of the Prime Minister's cowardice.

It looks then that the face that will loom from our TV screens over each fine leather bound copy of this most illegitimate of treaties will be that of David Miliband. Each time the European Court of Justice renders one of the much vaunted 'red lines' worthless it will be the same images that will be replayed, of a Foreign Secretary who Brown has already ritually humiliated over by taking the headmaster's red pen to his last speech on the EU.

Naturally, in his own opinion at least, the Prime Minister is a man of the greatest personal integrity, so to suggest that he would wish to poison a potential political rival with a slow acting political toxin would be ridiculous...wouldn't it?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's the Issues Wot Count

ID Card
50 Million Tiny Millstones
There have been so many polls to comment on of late, but most convey the same message about changing attitudes to our current government. I enjoy these as much as the next man who has deep concerns about the man at the top; feelings which I never had to the same degree about the Blair administration, but ones that more and more I find others have come to share.

The classic response from the Brownites is "ahh, but it's the issues that ordinary people really care about". Well, for a start that is now nothing more than an assertion of dubious provenance, not really an argument. I know many people significantly more left leaning and less attuned to the day-to-day goings on in Westminster than myself who are starting to worry about the kind of mood music that drifts out from the Brown Camp. More than that though, it's the kind of statement that assumes that not only is the policy fundamentally right, but that ordinary people agree with that assessment, with the airy complacency and arrogance of the current government that more and more are coming to detest.

On one policy, that Brown could so easily have ditched, with nothing but credit to himself for doing so, it may be that he has made another major misjudgement. It was without surprise, but with pleasure nonetheless I read the report of the first YouGov poll showing a majority of Britons who oppose the ID Card/National Identity Register scheme. True, this comes after the HMCE data scandal(s), but it also comes well before the real costs start to hit the wallet directly and before such joys as a trip to the registration centre become an everyday reality. It's hard to see anything other than a ratchet on this one, as the unsustainable arguments in favour of the scheme wilt in the sunlight, just as even the practical objections alone to the scheme begin to ripen in the public's mind.

I suspect Brown doesn't really care one way or the other about ID cards on a personal level, but saw it as a 'tough and decisive' buoyancy aid to his premiership. There's really not been much in the smoke signals about what he believes about this subject, and frankly it would be odd if even the most political of beasts didn't really have the occasional "frankly I don't give a damn" issue where you just try to read the polling runes. In this type of analysis though, it may well come to pass for Brown that this buoyancy aid may increasingly seem more like a rather large and costly millstone. It couldn't happen to a nicer bloke.

As for the government line that the HMCE data fiasco is in fact an argument in favour of handing more data to the government, I'm frankly too tired to give it the contemptuous treatment it truly deserves.

I haven't even tried (and nor has any minister as far as I can see) to understand the argument they are peddling. Are they really saying that for every piddling little transaction we must present ourselves for our biometrics to be checked (no phone banking, no use of your plastic on the Internet, even if unconcerned about the government having such detailed information on our day-to-day lives anyway)?

Or is it simply a case of poorly informed, inadequate political figureheads spouting what institutionalised civil service mindsets, befuddled by the sales pitches that I know the major consultancies can cook up, tell them to say?

The intellectual incoherence of the government line on the subject is offensive enough even before consideration of whether it springs from politically motivated dishonesty or simple inadequacy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More Lies, Damn Lies and...

Abacusmicus Membership System
...Labour Party funding.

Today was one of my less efficient days at the coalface of my paying job. I suspect in terms of progress made on a few fronts, it could almost count as a day of negative achievement, as all that I actually managed to do was wire up a FreeView receiver to a a spare PC display in the office, thereby ensuring continuous distractions in days to come.

Being the sad anorak I am, though in my defence I would say the alternative early evening fare wasn't much better, I ended up watching poor old Jack Straw take his punishment in the opposition day debate on party funding over on BBC Parliament.

It was a bit of a guilty pleasure to be honest since, as I've posted before, Straw is one of the few front line Labour troops I have any real heartfelt respect for. If there's anyone who was genuinely enraged and appalled by the recent funding scandals I suspect it would be he. Straw manfully took thorough kicking, while at least one of those who should really be on the receiving end of it sat grim faced to one side.

I should say in the interest of impartiality, I'm big enough to admit that the debate that followed on the incompetencies of DEFRA, was a poor effort by Team Cameron. To get bested by 'Rabbit in the Headlights' Benn on such a week suit for the government was a bit unforgivable. Perhaps though the Conservative front bench team may have been reported for cruelty had they followed up the frontal charge on party funding with further such brutality.

The highlight was the effective demolition of the arguments in favour of preferential treatment for Union donations alone. One passage from Francis Maude alone should have been enough to convince at least the likes of the Lib Dems who for some bizarre reason still seem to back the government line on this issue, but sadly it did not seem to.

Discussing the ludicrous concept that these donations are just the aggregate of thousands of willing members' small donations, Maude had this to say:
After all, it is the trade union leaders who decide how many affiliated members they are going to declare. Let us look at the numbers. Unison is one of the unions that does put the right to opt out up front on the application form. More than half its members have exercised that right and decided to opt out. Other unions, such as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, and the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers, declare that 100 per cent. of their members pay the levy, with no opt-outs whatever.

Even that is not enough for two of the biggest beasts among Labour’s paymasters. Amicus and the Communication Workers Union both calmly state that more than 100 per cent. of their members pay the political levy. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) for his research on the subject. Amicus shows that 109.4 per cent. of its members pay the political levy, and the CWU declares that 104.1 per cent. of its members do; I am sure that that would not have happened in the Health Secretary’s time at that union. That shows what a sham the situation is. We are expected to allow what are plainly block donations by the trade unions to be treated as individual voluntary donations. It is laughable."

Source: Hansard, 4th December 2007: Column 705-706

There could be no clearer indication of the deceit that underlies the nature of the unions' block donations to Labour.

I could personally stomach some form of mechanism where a member of a union actively opted in, at their own additional expense, to paying a defined some of money to the Labour party as part of the process of joining a union, but this, of course, is not the type of voluntary donation that Brown is desperate to keep his sweaty mitts on.

The other great sight was seeing another wound inflicted by Straw's own backbenchers. Having little better as a line of defence for their rotten party, the only pinprick of damage they inflicted on the opposition was based largely on attacks on Lord Ashcroft, even if it did mean skirting around the distinction between legal and illegal donations, and only being able to attack his tax status. Unfortunately, the pin with which they inflicted the minuscule wound, turned out to be from a grenade left in Mr Straw's lap:

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): To help the House in relation to what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, could he confirm the tax status of Lord Mittal and of Sir Ronald Cohen?

Mr. Straw: An individual’s tax status is a matter for them and for the Inland Revenue and the Electoral Commission.

Source: Hansard, 4th December 2007: Column 711

Thereby quoting Tory chapter and verse on such matters.

What a hopeless rabble. It's all too clear why Brown has had to look beyond the confines of his own party to fill ministerial posts. Like a badly drilled school trip to the theatre to see Shakespeare they laughed on the wrong cues and bayed out of time with the dialogue, even protesting against allegations made by Maude that their own leader has admitted were true.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Roots of Distrust

Gordon Brown
Do They Mean Me?
I while ago I came across an article on ZDNet on ten classifications of bad managers. It was generally meant to be about IT managers, but really could apply in any walk of life. Sadly I couldn't find it back at it's original home, but fortunately found a pretty accurate version of the core classifications reproduced elsewhere, as it does seem to have a particular relevance right at the moment.

I wouldn't actually title these as 'classifications' of bad managers, but more characteristics of them, as anyone who has encountered such creatures will know that the woes they bring tend not to come singly, but usually in a fairly full featured package deal. Actually, I think it is possible to suffer from one or two of the lesser defects and still be a pretty effective manager, once you get to three or four then you're in an organisation that is likely to have some pretty serious headaches.

Anyway, with no more ado:
Type one: The "Anything for the good of the company" Manager / LeaderThis Manager has a distinctive cry that sounds like this: "Look at me! I worked Christmas day and even when I had cholera. I walked to the office for six weeks after my car crash, even though both my legs were broken. Why can't you stay another hour each night without pay? I would."

Type two: The Mean and Nasty Manager / Leader
This manager is of the old school, a right scoundrel. Their idea of being a good manager is to be unapproachable or, in their words, "hard but fair". They are neither. After sacking a member of the team, they might be heard to say: "I had to let them go; they weren’t showing the right level of commitment. They want you to work rather than let you attend your mother's funeral. “What do they think we're running here? A holiday camp?"

Type three: The Non-stick Manager / Leader
This manager has sloping shoulders from which any blame will easily slide. They will not give a straight answer to a straight question, just in case you might quote them at the court martial. Whenever something goes wrong, they will produce documentary evidence that they were somewhere else at the time. They are more of a nuisance and a waste of salary than a danger, unless you happen to be the victim of one of their decisions.

Type four: The Missing link, or "What Manager?"
They seek him here, they seek him there, Those workers seek him everywhere.

Type five: The Flashy Brass
This manager has a sign on their desk or office door, a badge or some similar marking of rank. If they thought they could get away with it, they would wear pips on their shoulders or gold bands around their jacket cuffs. They will take outrageous liberties, like instructing a junior member of staff to wash their car or go out to collect their dry cleaning. When you question this, they will point to this mark of office and say the immortal four words: "THIS says I can."

Type six: The "I don't want to hear it" Manager / Leader
This is probably the manager of a department near you. When the team gives an honest answer to an honest question about the timescale of a project, they will throw up their hands in horror and give the cry that clearly identifies them. In fairness, this manager takes the cares of the world on their shoulders and worries about them. They lie awake at night fretting about delivering the monthly reports on time. They present themselves as a tough, go-getter, but are often covering an inadequacy. Be gentle with these managers, but most of all ignore them. It's easier that way.

Type seven: The Buzzword Manager / Leader
Often found, after a long search, in deep water wearing the latest Ralph Lauren concrete collection, Buzzwordia manages by use of a string of clichés and ideas that they heard at management seminars. Meetings with them are not for the weak-stomached, and it is advisable to keep a bucket handy, just in case. Think about the last person you heard say: "There's no 'I' in team." "Assume makes an ASS out of U and ME." "I can't spell success without U."

Type eight: The Best Mate
This is a well-padded, red-faced manager, given to back-slapping and calling in favours, even before any are owed. They make unreasonable demands in the name of friendship and invite you to their children's birthday parties, even though you can't stand kids unless they have been barbecued. These managers make you want to slit your throat as they ramble on about the fantastic time they had on their last sales seminar or golf tournament.

Type nine: The Two-Minute Manager / Leader
This is the type of manager who asks for an update on what has been done during their absence, then abruptly cuts off the answer after two minutes with a cry of "I don't have time now. I want a report on my desk first thing Monday morning."

Type Ten: The Patronising Manager / Leader
Nobody can do it quite like them. They were there when they landed on the moon. In fact, they designed and built the entire communications system. They also cabled Canary Wharf using only a pair of pliers, a cotton bud, and a cocktail stick. They won the Paris to Dakar rally in a car they built themselves from old beer cans. They caught the biggest fish, had the best golf handicap, and is, of course, a close personal friend of the Managing Director.

So, how would the person in the most important managerial position in the country stand in this light:

Charge One: Guilty. "And he came back from holiday...floods...blah blah...not like Cameron sunning himself in Rwanda....blah blah...nuff said"

Charge Two: Guilty. I think that those that think about it have always suspected that Brown would be a bully in the office. The evidence is seeping out as well highlighted by Thunder Dragon and the original Spectator source. The nice, cerebral Mr Brown is the thinnest of veneers. Expect stories like this to outnumber even the funding fuck-ups in the next few months. We've all met the like of Brown, and as surely as night follows day...

Charge Three: Guilty. Even the most one-eyed commentator must be astonished by Brown's ignorance of anything happening in the inner core of his own party.

Charge Four: Guilty. I can't think of anyone I know who would dispute this characterisation of Macavity Brown, including those I know who actually still like him.

Charge Five: Not Guilty. Let's be honest...this is not Gordon. He couldn't do it if he wanted to. All of his predecessors could, but to pull off the big set pieces was, and continues to be beyond Brown's limited capabilities.

Charge Six: Guilty. To be honest, it's the most fair minded explanation of the Prime Minister's ignorance of what has been happening within his own party. It's still not good.

Charge Seven: Guilty. True it's a challenge to think of a cabinet minister of either colour not guilty of the charge, but in his career as Chancellor it was more obvious than most that big words were being a substitute for for good policy.

Charge Eight: Jury Out. Ok, he tries the big dumb grin, even when being challenged on why our personal details are now in the public domain. Does Brown simply just not care, or is he simply a grinning village idiot. I'll be fair and assume the latter, but frankly we don't know.

Charge Nine: Not Guilty. Yes, Broon's instinct is to demand a 'report' or a 'commission' on everything, but let's be honest, it's for different reasons. His objectives is to buy time to spin up the spin machine. The bullying side is covered under other headings.

Charge Ten: Guilty. Even sensible Labour supporting friends worry about the patronising tone of senior government figures. 'Patronising' faces stiff competition but is likely to be one of the top three defining adjectives of NuLab's time in office.

I've tried hard to be fair, but I've been in organisations where what has floated to he top has not always been the cream. 7 1/2 out of 10 on the unfitness to manage scale is something I only once could have tagged a real world person with the same outlook when I was personally involved in making the choice. I assumed that time that it was a bit of a joke from a recruitment agency that we had more than a few social relationships with, unfortunately Gordon Brown is already Prime Minister.

My flippant comments are based on the public domain Mr Brown. The really worrying thing is that he fits a certain recognisable role so well that I can't help feeling that the real thing is even worse.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A New Dawn Has Broken...

Kevin Rudd
Other side of the world
but the same tired agenda
...has it not? Well perhaps not such a new one from a more global perspective.

Amongst the news stories I had clipped away during my hiatus from serious blogging I found quite a lot on the aftermath of the sad demise of John Howard's administration in Australia.

It's not worth revisiting them in detail a week on but from a bird's eye view there is something very tiringly familiar in the the tone of the various headlines that Kevin Rudd's camp have managed to generate in the international press after their election success about the direction he wants to take his country.

Take this, from Sky:
  • "Rudd To Apologise To Aboriginal People"
Yes, a new administration, elected promising real change for ordinary people in fact focusing first of all on a politically correct, but fundamentally meaningless gesture. Yes, treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia was appalling, but Kevin Rudd didn't do it, nor for that matter did John Howard.

Then there's this from the Telegraph:
  • "Calls for Australia's Rudd to hold referendum"

This of course refers to calls for a referendum on becoming a republic. Frankly this is a matter for Australians on which I have very little in the way of opinion. Rudd is a keen republican, which is fine, but, in common with most other leading Australian republicans, he seems to be a little bit reticent about his views on the details of how a democratic presidency should work. So then, a personal commitment to constitutional reform with out clarity on the end point of the changes. Sounds familiar?

Other stories have commented on the firm commitment to remove Australia's welcome, but small and non-critical contingent of troops from Iraq, an issue that is doubtlessly popular with much of the Australian public, but is hardly an earth shattering act of political leadership. On the environment he has promised much the same line on climate change that our own politicians have been asking us to swallow for a few years now. Yes, I'm sure action will be taken, and the changes Australia will make will have the same effect on the the climate as our own, none whatsoever.

Rudd seems like a nicer kind of human being than our own revolting Prime Minister and that may secure him a longer tenancy in Canberra than it looks like Incapability Brown might be offered of Number 10 by the British People. It still looks though, very much the same threadbare, visionless modern left agenda of our own government.

The old left was something I always disliked, but at least they had a substantial dream of the sort of country they wanted to create. It is true that the same critique could be applied to the modern right in our own country to some extent, but at least the core values of the value of individual freedom against an over mighty state guarantees them some relevancy long in to the future. With their former economics thoroughly discredited by the realities that history teaches us, and the idea of campaigning for a bigger state, at least overtly, something of a bygone age it's pretty hard to understand what purpose those that describe themselves as left of centre serve any more.

Sadly my Australian friends, I suspect you are facing just what we have had for more than a decade. More tax for little more benefit than covering up the inadequacies of your ruling classes and ill considered gesture politics. I think Rudd does have a role model for matters more serious than emptying bodily orifices in Parliament and I'm not convinced he has picked wisely.

The Road to Adulthood

The Scowling Marathon
The weekend has not been a pleasant one in the Village. It would appear that the high street is playing host to the winter games of the XVIIth Chavolympiad.

All bus stops and most shop doorways are occupied. It seems that the bus stop near the Base Camp is playing host to the boys under 15 getting mullered on a single bottle of Budweiser finals, while doorway of the florists down the road is hosting a round of the teenage girls screeching contest.

I don't like to sound too old-gittish about it, but it's hard not to look back and think 'was I ever like that?' and realise that I'm pretty sure I was not, and nor for that matter was anyone in the town in which grew up, a far less well heeled area than that were I live today. There are a hundred and one explanations tossed around for the growth of what tends to get lumped over the term 'anti-social behaviour' but to be honest few of the ones I've heard seem to me to get to the heart of the problem and consequently most of the solutions seem way off the mark too.

The Labour government, of course, with its incredibly stunted imagination believes the solution lies in bans, crack-downs and restrictive legislation; the merit of each initiative is assessed in it's potential for hogging newspaper space to displace the daily diet of tales of government failings.

Cameron's vision of National Community Service or whatever it was at least showed some originality of thought even if it is, as I've said before, a vision that can probably only be preached to the converted. There is, and I think always has been, an instinctive distrust from teenagers of activities organised by them by the adult world for their greater good. To a large extent I actually think that there is a actually something perversely healthy in this scepticism.

I can't help wondering, with my Conservative leanings, why the market has not provided a solution. After all, there is a clear large demographic group which in many parts of the country, surveys tell us, relatively cash rich. When I look at the plethora of identikit coffee shops up and down the high street I wonder why one doesn't try providing the same kind of social environment as some of the more popular bars in town, with everything bar the alcohol. With the relative proportion of the increasingly similar drinks prices extorted by the government in the two types of establishment differing so wildly it's hard to imagine it being an unprofitable venture to offer evening opening and a teen friendly environment that they would actively choose.

Of course, it might just be that my own view of organised yoof activities is a little bit jaundiced by my own limited experience of it. It was decided, at I think about thirteen that I should be packed off to the local scout troop every Wednesday evening. As it happens it was quite good fun, but perhaps not quite in the way that Baden-Powell may have hoped.

On the plus side it gave an early introduction to democracy, in that we were allowed to elect our own patrol leaders. We exercised our choice wisely, selecting the most mature both in attitude and appearance. The latter consideration may seem a bit superficial, but in fact it was the key criteria in determining their chances of buying beer and cigarettes for those who were still too youthful to bring their own provisions for the post meeting festivities.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Teddy Bear
Gordon Bear
Now that is offensive
I hadn't meant to pass any comment on the current furore about Gillian Gibbons, being hopelessly skewered between the ridiculous actions of the Sudanese government in seeing this case go to court and my dislike of the stupidity of a person who goes so ill prepared to a particularly fucked up part of the world, where an especially fucked up version of a religion that even in it's more reasonable form I find tests my tolerance with its distrust of many values I hold dear.

This is not to say I would not have felt the same indignation as most had some more barbaric punishment been handed down by the court, but frankly under the circumstances I didn't feel any deep and abiding anger over the 15 days in jail that actually was issued. I like a few pints of an evening, as such I've never had the slightest interest of visiting even a more reasonable Islamic state for more than a couple of hours and with a loose tongue and a hot temper I would never want to risk going to a hard core one where I would know I would have to think twice about by every word or deed.

It is not a position of intolerance, far from it. Whenever I have travelled outside the safe cocoon of the core Anglosphere or Europe I go out of my way to understand and respect local customs, even when the punishment for a mistake is no more than a disapproving stare. When I was in India I respected the need to not engage in public displays of affection towards somebody I have a lot of affection for and I tied myself in knots avoiding showing the soles of my feet to those locals sharing the cramped sleeping compartment of an overnight train from Jaipur. Facing the risk of criminal action in a justice system so devoid of the slightest trace of common sense or tolerance is not a risk I would take.

I have to be honest then and say Ms Gibbons has seemed a bit of prat thus far and I have had little sympathy for her. I still don't, as long as she gets to do her 15 days and comes home safe; It is today's demands by Sudanese mobs for Ms Gibbons' head that are the truly shocking sight, not the doubtlessly unpleasant couple of weeks she faces.

The Danish cartoon fiasco was bad enough, but maybe, when I stretched my mind far enough I could understand some offence being taken, however much my non-religious mind baulked at the degree of offence and how it was publicly manifested. I can't really apply even this very little degree of understanding to the current case. To call for the death of fellow human being over what, if it was a failing, was a minor and well intentioned one, I hope would shock people of all religion or none.

There are far too many calls for moderate Muslims to stand up to repudiate the more extreme actions committed in the name of their faith. Even if I felt that my own Christening into the Church of Scotland was anything other than it was 'what you did' at the time, as well as an excuse for a party, I wouldn't expect to be called on to show any contrition for the many bad acts of the Christian faith down the ages.

If though I was a believing, moderate Muslim looking at the image presented by my co-religionists in the Sudan though, I would be thinking of the image that was being presented of my faith and wondering how that image could be improved. To have the public face of a system of belief distorted by such lunacy should be a major issue of concern.

Oh, and as for the argument about "how would you feel if your child had a bear called 'Moses' or 'Jesus'?" I think the answer for most Christian parents would be "delighted, just as long as it's not 'Gordon'".

The Price of Pride

Navstar...It's there,
it's free, it works
It appears that the faintest glimmer of hope that common sense may prevail has finally been extinguished over the ill-starred Galileo project, with the news that EU member states have decided that the opportunity to piss several billion euros up the wall, on what is essentially a vanity project, was too good to pass up on.

Last minute hopes that sanity may have prevailed with rumours that the Spanish had major objections quickly evaporated when it transpired, unsurprisingly, that these objections were not rooted in a principled disagreement with the fundamental wastefulness of the project, but rather rested on a demand that more of the money be wasted in Spain. In any case, in the shape of things to come Spain, a EU state of some size, was simply outvoted and ignored, until some face saving compromise could be agreed.

With the deal secured, the need to maintain the party line on the very questionable real world benefits of funding another new global positioning system from the taxpayers pockets (private enterprise having lost interest long ago) could finally be dispensed with:
...[EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot] pointed out that once up and running, Galileo will "ensure the economic and strategic independence" of the EU, as "special navigation is an indication of power" on the world stage.

Source: EUobserver

Yes, as it always was intended, we have to fork out at least €3.4 billion for something that is indeed nothing more than a dick length extension for our lords and masters.

Even the figure of €3.4 billion should ring alarm bells, not because it seems horribly large, but in a sense it seems far small. Considering the research and development still to do, the size of the constellation of satellites required, and the well known eye watering costs of space projects it seems completely and utterly unrealistic. I can't help but suspect the number is more related to the amount in the pot, from underspend on agriculture and administrative budgets, the 'politically acceptable' amount.

Naturally though, the 3.4 billion is enough in one sense. Once it has been expended the 'in for a penny, in for a pound arguments' can be deployed and more money can be squeezed from the taxpayer to see the dreams of EU leaders, if not those of any sane EU taxpayer, realised.

Anyway...the Commission says €3.4 billion, delivery in 2013, so I'll start the sweepstake. I'm going for €8.5 billion and I think that 2016 will be the year we will rush to buy Navstar GPS receivers before some form of compulsion comes in to use the EU alternative when it goes live in 2017.

Incapability Brown

Michael Ancram
All Hail the Chieftain
So it's official; Knacker of the Yard is back on the case of that serial offender, the Labour Party.

It may be that there may be the slightest glimmer of a smile on the face of some at Labour HQ. They will doubtlessly hope that the treatment the treatment of Ian Blair will be reciprocated in deciding whether actions were criminal, incompetent by design, or incompetent by accident.

There are already signs that the die hards of the left know the game is up. On another blog I saw in the comments left by one such pitiful creature whose proud boast was that even if recent polling data (properly treated with caution with those on the right) that the Conservatives may have a 13% lead in the popular vote was replicated at a general election, that a 20 seat majority for NuNuLab could be the outcome. He may well be right, but it's not something I'd be proud of even if I had the required mental insufficiencies to be a Labour supporter.

To be honest, on the facts alone, though serious, the latest Brownian debacle is the least serious charge standing against this group of pointless muppets. It is its position at the bottom of a long list of failures that makes it so significant, as does the general reaction of the media.

The only game in town over PMQs was whether it was Vince Cable or David Cameron who landed the heaviest punches on a Prime Minister who came into the ring with a large number of standing eight counts already counting against him and already knowing his only weak counterpunch would be to reel of a few discredited statistics.

On this matter I think the best contribution, quietly delivered as it was, was overlooked. Cameron's final assault was delivered well after an average start, and was harsh, but at the same time reflected the general mood of the media, and in that, for once, in all probability the instincts of all sentient life; Vince Cable's 'Mr Bean' joke was snappier, and drew the most instinctive support.

I though, give the trophy to someone that I had to abuse on the only other occasion he has drifted in to my political conciousness, Mr Michael Ancram.

He asked a simple question:
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): In the face of the recent crises that have beset the Prime Minister, particularly this last one, he has told us that he learned about them only at the last possible moment. Why does he think that members of his Government—and, indeed, of the party that he purports to lead—are apparently so intent on keeping him in the dark?

Source: Hansard
Quite, and let us not dismiss the idea that Brown was completely unaware of what was going on, pathetic as it is, out of hand entirely, for there is a reality that many, who have worked in the management structures of large organisations, will all recognise.

It is simply this, that one of the most identifying hallmarks of a bad manager is that he or she becomes a person that his immediate juniors feel they must hide every personal or organisational defect from. It's a pattern of behaviour discussed at length in every serious MBA course in the land and the 'villain' in every discussion is the person higher up the corporate food chain. Seeing Brown's ritual humiliation of West and Miliband is a better case study than any dusty textbook of why this is the case; a bad manager, by the very nature of who they are, engenders such behaviour.

I doubt, but do not entirely discredit, the theory that Brown was only aware of the manifest incompetence of his juniors days (and 'days', even in the singular, is, in of itself unacceptable) before it became public knowledge. Yet, even if this remarkable proposition is accepted it may raise more questions than it answers about Brown's fitness for office.

Management is a tough job. It's not something I was born to, and it's something I struggled with and sometimes failed on. I'm not Mother f***ing Theresa, but I did realise the overall failures were in no small part my own; I learned, and I moved on, and worked out how the world really works.

Sadly I think our Prime Minister would consider this beneath his dignity and, if we are to believe the 'I knew nothing' line he should, in any sensible society, realise that even the couple of years that our constitutional settlement will allow him before his name only has currency as part of a joke, is two years too many.