Saturday, September 15, 2007

Moving On

It's been a frustrating few weeks to support England Rugby, watching a side with injury worries before the tournament even began struggle with inconsistent form.

At least I can put that behind me today, when the to flight of domestic rugby, in the form of the Guinness Premiership which returns today, with the now traditional highlight of the London double header at a sunny Twickenham. Not for today the white of England, but the Black of Saracens, who, erm, have suffered some frustrating injuries in pre-season action and even more frustratingly have for several years alternated between the fringes of Heineken Cup qualification and an all too regular 10th place in the league.

It's hard work sometimes being a supporter of both club and country, but nonetheless I'll still keep the faith - I really believe this can be the season we build on the promise of last season and forge ahead and not slump down the table.

Allez les Noirs!

Cue the Conspiracy Theorists


I'm so relieved to find that I am not alone. It seems that many have been afflicted by half of the blogger environment suddenly turning German.

I'm sure that before long it will be written up as an evil EU plot. My suspicions must lie elsewhere, when arguably the country's leading political blogger not only disappears overseas, but is also a known German speaker. That said it would be very rude to accuse Iain Dale of hatching a plot for domination of the blogosphere when he has been kind enough to list this blog in the Top 10 Newcomers list in the upcoming Guide to Political Blogging, 2007/08, where I am truly flattered to be included in such distingushed company.

Oh well, I guess it has been an educational experience. How else would I have ever come to know that 'Tastaturkürzel' was German for 'Keyboard Shortcut'.

So it Begins?

Cambridge, Elitist?
Yes, but in the right way
Yesterday was not a good day. Not only did it see a very poor performance by England against the Boks (fair effort forwards, did we have any backs?*), but we also saw the possible beginning of something I've feared since the announcement of Broon's first cabinet.

Yesterday, John Denham, the Universities Secretary addressed the Universities UK annual conference in Leicester. He should, of course, have delivered a humble apology for the piss poor performance of a succession of NuLab Education secretaries who have delivered a debased examination system, and a stream of state educated eighteen year-olds many of which are less prepared for a top-flight academic career than any in living memory.

Of course though, honesty, integrity and basic decency have never been the hallmark of the NuLab project, so instead:
John Denham, the Universities Secretary, said some of the "most sought-after" institutions were shunning bright children from poor homes.

In a veiled attack on universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, which have the fewest students from state schools, Mr Denham said academics should do more to "identify and nurture the young students of the future".

Source: Daily Telegraph

It's hardly surprising that the attack was 'veiled', without this thinnest of defences I believe that the institutions at the heart his assault could have, and should have, taken legal action against Denham, as what he said, not to put too fine a point on it, was a lie.

The concept that Oxbridge, or any top flight educational institutions would 'shun' anybody on account of a 'poor' background is offensive and wrong. The truth, as I witnessed it, was the reverse. From what I saw at Cambridge, and I can't believe that for all its many faults, that Cowley Poly was any worse, the University bent over backwards to encourage state school applicants from underrepresented areas, and delighted in selecting those that made the grade. The only thing they will not do is compromise on their goal of achieving the highest possible degree of excellence in the output of their system.

Given that it is impossible to prove any inherent prejudice against those from less privileged backgrounds, as simply it does not exist, the only conclusion we can draw from government thinking is that Team Broon must believe that the institutions should accept a lowering of their standards in favour of some ephemeral concept of social justice.

It's the wobbly table leg principle. We've gone for an 'all shall have prizes' approach to secondary education, which leaves state school pupils at a disadvantage. No longer do they compete head to head with those with of more privileged background on tough but fair examinations at 16 and 18, but now all shine superficially with those with the means having more chance to demonstrate excellence through higher level examinations and better preparation for interviews. Does the government do anything to address this underlying problem? No, let's tinker with the one globally respected part of the UK educational system to cope with the situation we have created.

Denham needs to take a look at the broader picture. Leading Universities are doing all they can, and genuinely want to attract the type of student he claims to champion. If, despite this, the numbers look unacceptable to him, he really needs to focus his attack on his colleagues responsible for the remainder of the British educational system, not on institutions whose one real commitment is to an excellence (myself not included!) that is an asset to the country.

Thunder Dragon raises another salient point on the same story when he points out that no numbers were quoted for the number of applicants from different types of school. As so often the case where social injustices are alleged, they are conspicuous by their absence. It doesn't matter whether it is the number of women in Parliament, ethnic minorities in the police force, or 'poor' students at Oxbridge. If you want to land the problem at the door of the institution in question you must at least first demonstrate that those who apply do have a lower chance of success, and if this can be shown, that such statistics are unfair against objective criteria. Looking simply at the numbers of those who get over the finishing line may mask a catalogue of failures whose roots lie far beyond the control of the institution in question.

Of course though, the story is nothing to do with the prospects of poorer state educated students in the university system. It is simply another sign that behind the marketing facade, the good old fashioned envies and hatreds that have always been the driving force behind the labour movement are alive and well. They always have been, and always will be the real 'nasty party'.

* If is the end...bad luck Jason Robinson and thanks for all you have done, you've been a class act in the white shirt.

Friday, September 14, 2007

One Part of the Jigsaw

Portman Group ProveIt Card
A legitimate form of ID card?
Continuing the topic of my posts a few weeks ago, looking at the appalling catalogue of violent incidents of recent weeks, I felt that having criticised what I believe the government's approach might ultimately be, that it was only fair to look at some of the things that I think might actually have some effect on the problems we face. It's a tricky subject and I've yet to see a convincing solution put on the table, while some reports are casting doubt on the effectiveness of existing approachs such as ASBOs.

One of the themes of the sequence of violent incidents listed in the highlighted post was that among the catalogue perpetrators and victims there was a disproportionate number of the young. This is obviously saddening, and the list is not one of statistically significant length, but it tallies all too well with many people's real world experiences. This is not to demonise the young, the vast majority of whom are no more of a problem to society than I was at that age; occasionally a nuisance, but never really a problem. There is however clearly a subset who cause a disproportionate amount of problems to society.

Let's make one thing clear. This subset always existed, but where they would once hang around smoking they now linger round bus stops off their face on cheap alcohol, where they once might have indulged in petty shoplifting they now make more money from drugs, where they once might have been fought each other with fists they now carry knives or worse and don't really care who they use them on. Most of all, in the majority of cases, while once they knew there was a line which they knew once crossed would bring with it the intervention of adult authority; now they know their rights, the weakness of the criminal justice system and the number of their solicitor.

The damage this limited group cause to their own peers is not confined to the direct wrongs they may inflict, but also extends to an increasingly intolerant society to all young people. As I posted a few weeks ago, one of the most important ways you can get teenagers to engage in society is by giving them the right blend of rights and responsibilities in the management of their own lives as soon as they are capable of exercising them within the broad bounds that the reasonable adult world which they are about to enter has the right to expect them to. When you see some of the activities of the feral minority it makes it hard to believe in this principle, but believe in it I still do.

At the end of the day I still believe that the vast majority of people respond best to the challenges that life throws at them when given the greatest possible liberty to make their own choices. When forced or compelled even the most reasonable people can become resentful, especially if the heavy handed intervention of the state is down to a minority. It is impossible though not to consider what should be done about those that exercise those freedoms in a way that goes far beyond the limits of even the most reasonable and tolerant societies, and whose end result is the emergence of wholly unacceptable subcultures within which are found the roots of the evils of the last few days.

I should also say that, while considering myself a libertarian first and foremost, I am not part of that stream of thought that exactly the set same of fundamental liberties that should be offered to adults should also be offered, unrestricted, to children. Without the ability to fully comprehend the consequences of a decision, it is not reasonable to allow a child to have carte blanche to make some decisions. In the ideal world a responsible parent or guardian will act as a proxy in these situations, but we must accept the reality that in a minority of cases no such responsible person exists and we must reluctantly accept the role of agents of the state to fill the role.

I believe that it is in a understanding of basic principals such as these may lie one small part of the solution, and in particular the significance of that point where society hands over fully the rights and responsibilities over someone's life to the individual themselves.

Today, other than in the obvious cases of the age of consent and a few other examples, that point is almost universally at the point an individual reaches eighteen years of age. But when you really think about it, does that make any real sense whatsoever? We were all eighteen once, and to say that everyone was pretty much on some magic plateau with the same level of maturity is absolute bollocks.

Most of the rights offered are keenly sought, especially driving and access to the increasingly limited number of pubs and clubs without an over twenty-one policy; I suspect that sadly the right to vote is felt to be less important but still has symbolic importance. The ability to do any of these things responsibly at the age of eighteen will inevitably be highly variable.

Over recent weeks David Cameron's team have been making some encouraging noises that show they understand this issue. I'm not entirely sure that the idea of suspending driving licenses in of itself would be enough, but I think a wider concept of being able to suspend the privileges of adulthood for a certain time could be effective.

The problem is with the driving license idea is that it would be too hard to police effectively, especially considering the current attitude where the police prefer to focus on those motoring offences that can be policed with a camera and a database.

Portman Group ProveIt Card
Sorry, you're just not ready
Suppose though that other rights that are typically awarded at eighteen could be suspended for a period, say as far as 21?

I hate the concept of ID cards with a passion, but for reasons of practicality and with extremely limited purposes, various forms of ID card do exist for young people to prove their age. Imagine that for anyone between 16 and 21 that a single properly managed card could be endorsed by order of the court, indicating that the person in question may be 18 but as evidenced by their behaviour they are not yet to be treated as being capable of exercising their adult rights and freedoms.

Such an endorsement could perhaps be extended as far as the age of 21.

Couple this with a crackdown on pubs, bars and clubs to force them to check this ID card and refuse service to those so endorsed. The same could go for applying for a driving license, voting, buying cigarettes and alcohol down the local off-license and so forth, possibly also to the right to chose you own educational choices at 16.

In there could be a genuine deterrent. Who wants to be among the few people that can't go clubbing because they had shown that they still just behaved like a child and therefore were being still treated like one? Perhaps we may even begin to turn around the direction that peer pressure currently presses.

The endorsement would not be like an ASBO, because there is no pride in not being able to do the kind of things your more mature and sensible friends can quite legally do. It would also be a very genuine punishment, and keep them away from the kind of situations where in their immaturity they could seriously impinge on the rights of others, without the negatives of custodial sentences, or the derision with which many other community punishments attract.

The underlying principle is that the age of adulthood becomes a movable feast.

Those who cannot yet understand the boundaries of how an adult should behave shall not receive the liberties of adulthood at the same time as those who can.

It's pretty draconian in a way, but there is a very real problem. What I'd really like to do is leaven it with some real additional freedoms for those who have not proved themselves incapable of handling them. I can't think of something completely appropriate as yet, but I'm working on it as the majority of well behaved young people, I am sure, could handle some greater freedoms, and they are not just as much, but more affected by the misdeeds of a tiny minority.

As a society we need to distinguish between the two, and offer the maximum freedoms to to those who can handle it, as much as we must emphasise the unacceptability of the behaviour of those who cannot.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Intelligent Policing

Pointless Sign
More Pointless Signs
I normally avoid the web offering from Sky News, even if it is only because of their annoying habit of pumping every story out through its news feed at least half a dozen times regardless of the story's merit. Sometime I almost delete the feed in frustration, but that would give undue prominence to the BBC coverage, which I wouldn't really want either.

One little story today did both amuse and irritate me.

Many of us will at times have questioned the effectiveness of some of the Police service's many poster campaigns. Most at least have tended to focus on either advice to people to avoid becoming the victims of crime, or on reminding people of offences that they may carelessly commit.

It seems though that the Hertfordshire constabulary has taken things one step further by pointing out the bloody obvious. In a story of how the Plain English Campaign has blasted the posters as an insult to the intelligence it transpires that:
"Don't Commit Crime" is stated on one of Hertfordshire Constabulary's posters - "All fuel must be paid for" has been added on posters at petrol stations.

Source: Sky News

There, doesn't that make you feel safer? No need for any more police on the street, now that the criminals of Hertfordshire know what they are doing is wrong.

What the Jobsworths Don't Know...

A Rare Privilege
It was a pleasant night in the Village yesterday. It was rounded of in fine style in a local pub that is a bit off my usual well-beaten path and I shall not name it, or even pseudoname it for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Not only was the drink sensibly priced by local standards, but once the crowd had dwindled to a half a dozen and three staff, the doors were locked and curtains closed. Not because it had reached the end of it's licensed hours, but it was about to become 'no longer a public space'. Ashtrays appeared and everyone, including the staff lit up.

I'm not entirely sure if the manager's interpretation of the law was correct, but nobody was going to complain and it was a strange delight to enjoy a cigarette in the time-honoured manner, knowing that what you were doing would drive some small minded jobsworth at the local council offices in to a fit of apoplexy if they knew.

In tribute to this act of common sense, I've temporarily abandoned my policy of only using images from sources where no copyright has been asserted, and have instead lifted the image for this posting right off the 'new anti-smoking laws' page from the local borough council's website. Sod it, I pay enough to them.

All nit-picking, jobsworth, killjoys can go and...well, pick your own favourite epithet for these sad individuals.

Taking Chances

Andy Farrell

Andy Farrell, England
flanker centre fly-half
Argh...just realised that I'd passed comment on the delightful EU yet again, after my promise to myself to lay of the wretched institution, so I'd better do something as a penance!

Commenting on an England rugby team more than twenty-four hours in advance of a big game certainly ranks as taking a big chance. There's still plenty of time for further illness or injury to intervene.

The local Springbok supporting contingent are in good voice, those that have not headed to Paris in anticipation of a good stuffing of England. They have every right to be confident. They were stretched a little in their opening game, but still looked like the kind of force that England failed to demonstrate that they could be in their opener against the USA. Throw in England's problems with injury, illness and the suspension of their captain too and things do not look good for the defending champions.

I can't help feeling though, that England will dig deep and will deliver something tomorrow. Perhaps not a victory, but a performance that may settle jangling nerves about the games against Samoa and Tonga. England have fed well of adversity in the past, and under Ashton, much as some may argue with some of his tactics and selections, some measure of esprit de corps, so absent under Robinson does seem to have returned. The other thing that we can be confident of is that they will give it 110%.

Nobody will give more effort than improvised fly-half Andy Farrell. It seems like an almost impossible ask, to start your first ever game in rugby union's most technical position against one of the world's leading teams, in difficult circumstances. That said he has all the skills that are needed. During his rugby league career, he will have taken more ball at first receiver than many specialist union fly halves, some of his kicking from hand has drawn occasional praise from even his most severe critics, and in the other code he had a successful place kicking record as good as Wilkinson at times.

I'm sure at times there will be a lot of chopping and changing between Farrell and Catt during the game, but I'm sure Farrell knows that this is an immense opportunity to silence his critics, and he is certainly someone with the drive to seize the opportunity.

Many of the fan's on the various message boards seem to have realised that the team selected is the only option, and have swung behind it, which is good to see. I hope the likes of Guscott are wondering if there is an outside chance that they might just have to face the equivalent David Campese's famous walk of shame after England's 2003 victory.

Come on England, give it everything; expected defeats linger little in the memory, unexpected victories last a lifetime.

Update 7:00PM: Yes, yes, I know, the chopping and changing between Farrell and Catt has begun already well before kick off. Looks like Farrell at fly-half at set pieces, and Catt in the loose.

Aller le Bleu!

Nicolas Sarkozy
The Mercurial Sarkozy
French President Nicholas Sarkozy continues to delight and frustrate me in equal measure.

Less than a week ago he was backing the idea of a 'council of the wise' to decide (i.e. not present options to the people) on the future of the European Union and supporting further state involvement in the financial markets. Typically, he shared the platform when he announced this with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

It's tempting to portray Merkel in the role of being a bad influence on Sarkozy on these matters, especially when it comes to the EU. While generally the growth of the influence of the EU is often portrayed as being a 'French Plot', I've always had the feeling that the French only become truly enthusiastic when they see clear national advantage in a further EU power grab; German governments have usually seemed to be the real force for integration for integration's sake.

The German position may seem more principled, but at least the French approach introduces some pragmatism over what really can be achieved.

It is Sarkozy's actions at the purely national level, acting purely on his own initiative that he is seen at his best, and yesterday brought news of his bravest act to date.

The International Herald Tribune reports:
President Nicolas Sarkozy is preparing to ask a small but powerful group of unionized workers to relinquish jealously guarded pension privileges, the opening gambit in a series of controversial labor reforms.

At issue are the "special regimes," the generous pension agreements enjoyed in certain industries and notably by employees of the state-owned rail company SNCF and the energy giants Électricité de France and Gaz de France.

Source: International Herald Tribune

The article highlights the key example of SNCF employees, who may retire at 50, an anachronism that dates from the 1930s where their working conditions did give them a significantly reduced average life expectancy. The reason for the special treatment has gone, so must the special treatment.

It also goes on to explain why this is so important. While quoting experts who explain that the proposed changes wll not solve France's own pensions crisis at a stroke, the same experts also explain that:
...selling further pension changes to the broader public - notably an increase in the retirement age, which is among the lowest in Europe - hinges on eliminating the privileges enjoyed by some state employees.

Source: International Herald Tribune

In there there is a message that should be heeded much closer to home. It is hard for the government to sell the message that we must all save more for our retirement. This is not only because so much of Britain's own pension crisis is of Gordon Brown's own making, but also because we see MPs themselves award themselves pension deals that are now just a distant memory in private sector, and them see them followed by certain servants of the state, such as Judges, bullying their way to the same type of deals.

Pensions and welfare reform are the most common 'Third Rails' of politics in the developed world. If President Sarkozy succeeds in tackling these vested interests he will truly deserve his position in the Legion d'honneur.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies...

Misleading NuLab Data
...and government plans for government statistics.

The weekend was somewhat taken up by Rugby watching duties, where the joy at seeing Argentina make a very serious point to the IRB by outplaying the hosts France in the opening fixture was soon tempered by another fairly clueless performance by England. At least I did have the consolation of seeing the acrylic clad, cheap jewellery bedecked, slack-jawed kevball fans crammed into the poky back room at the Base Camp.

I did spot an interesting article in the Telegraph, but with all the heavy drinking duties I had performed, all I could do was bookmark it and assume that someone else would pick up on. It doesn't appear as if anyone I read has, so I thought it was still worth sharing a slightly stale, if still relevant story.

It can have escaped few people how little faith we have in government statistics. Crime figures, analysis of exam results, school and hospital performance figures, increasingly seem to bear little relationship to the experience of our own experiences.

This is obviously unsatisfactory, and the government, in its normal style, has decided that something must be done.
What is needed, of course, is a powerful independent watchdog. Well, now there is one. He is Sir Michael Scholar, 65, a former permanent secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry and for the past six years president of St John's College, Oxford, Tony Blair's alma mater.

Sir Michael is the first chairman of the new Statistics Board which starts work next April, thereby fulfilling the Government's promise - first made 10 years ago - to make the process more transparent and less open to abuse.

Source: Daily Telegraph

So far, so good, but as the Telegraph goes on to highlight:
The only problem is that the figures that often appear most contentious come not from the Office for National Statistics but from the departments themselves. Crime and immigration figures are handled by the Home Office; schools data by the new Children's ministry, health statistics by the NHS.

Sir Michael, an old Whitehall hand whose son Tom is Gordon Brown's chief of staff, will have no direct control over these, yet they make up four-fifths of all official data.

Source: Daily Telegraph

In fact Sir Michael's bailiwick extends in terms of real control, only to figures for employment, inflation and other economic information - in other words those areas where there hasn't really been a real argument over the statistics for years.

In all other cases departments will have the same level of control of the presentation of their own data, and Government Ministers will continue to have the longest advanced notice of any politicians in the western world over potentially damaging data, allowing ample time for massaging and reinterpretation.

The government actively opposed almost all extra scrutiny of the way data was used for political purposes in these more sensitive areas.

Once again it's a case of something being seen to be done that is the key, whilst behind the scenes the ever growing government spin machine can carry on in its own disreputable way.

A Mixed Bag of Results

No, not a Rugby World Cup reference, where the gulf of relative performances between England and those of key opponents have brought ever more gloom to those who ride the roller coaster of supporting the men in white, as has every medical bulletin. Rather, I refer to the contrasting pronouncements of the TUC and leader of the ironically named Liberal Democrats, Sir Menzies Campbell, on the subject of the upcoming EU treaty.

Today the TUC did indeed vote to demand a vote on the EU treaty today. I will also say, in their favour that the initial coverage did contain a significant amount of comment from union leaders on the fundamental dishonesty of the government's volte face on the issue.

Over the last few hours however most of the comment I've read makes it sound, much as I had feared, that it may be merely a bargaining position, and that the opposition would evaporate were Broon to give way on his 'Red Line' on the status of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and through that back door, bring in the increased union powers that the Labour movement know they cannot sell to the British electorate.

BBC News quotes the GMB general secretary, Paul Kenny:
"If we get a referendum and the terms haven't change, it's going to be very difficult to persuade workers to vote for it [the treaty]."

Source: BBC News

Most of the union comment I have read has come from traditionally left of centre sources like the Guardian and the BBC, who probably have similar misguided sympathy for the the Charter, so it's hard to guess what motivates the majority in the union movement. That being the case, I personally give the TUC the benefit of the doubt and welcome their position, and just have to trust that the Prime Minister has the wit to know that to give way on one of his increasingly thin red lines would reduce his credibility from virtually to absolute zero.

Sir Menzies Campbell
Definite Loser
In any case, I suppose that to do the right thing, even for the wrong reason is better to than to do the wrong thing for the wrong reason. Once again this seems to be what the hapless Sir Menzies Campbell has done.

Having supported a referendum on the proposed Constitution at the last election, and suggested that he may be amenable to one on the reform treaty, he has caved in completely and declared it unnecessary. Nor, this time, was it a return to what may be a relatively principled position on the role of referenda in a representative democracy, the line that the Lib Dems have usually have adopted to ensure that the EU continues to get its way in the face of public disapproval.

As Shane Greer, currently persona pro Iain Dale, and Thunder Dragon have both spotted, Menzies has instead decided to stick rigidly to the party line; that is to say the Labour party line.
Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat leader, on Tuesday took the heat off Gordon Brown over the revised European Union constitution, arguing that a referendum on the new treaty was “not necessary”.


[Sir Menzies] told the Financial Times the new EU reform treaty was “sufficiently different” from the original constitution to avoid the need for a plebiscite. He said the only case for a public vote would be on a much broader “in or out” question about Britain’s membership of the EU, to prompt a serious national debate on Europe.

Source: The Financial Times

Fortunately it seems to be younger more forward looking Lib Dems who seem to be backing a referendum, as opposed to Campbell, once again pretty much marginalised in the broader debate, who once again has felt the need to follow the old failed approaches to resolving the agonies this country puts itself through over its relations with the EU.

The real beneficiary of Campbell's intervention I suspect may be David Cameron, not Broon, by leaving the Conservatives as the only mainstream party whose leadership backs a public say on the referendum. When you consider how closely he has parroted the Prime Minister's line, after a prolonged period of dithering, it's likely that many will draw their own conclusions over the Lib Dem position, should they ever get the chance to hold the balance in power in Parliament.

As for being the 'real party of opposition'...Sorry Menzies, that has probably just taken a fatal beating.

I've done far too many EU posts of late, so I'm going to place a short ban on the subject here for a while, unless someone suggests something really stupid and insensitive like putting the ring of stars on British passports.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Welcome News

Robert Mugabee
Evil Personified
I have always tried to give a bit of praise where it is due, as despite my occasional outbursts of frustration, I do believe there is a little good in everyone.

I've found it hard in the case of Gordon Brown. I can't really buy in to the idea that there was anything especially either good or bad in his handling of the largely failed terrorist attacks or of the foot and mouth outbreak. It would be fair to say that other than the 'must be seen to be doing something' COBRA meeting, there has at least not been any 'must be seen to be doing something' illiberal legislation proposed thus far, but saying that would sound like damning with faint praise.

Work kept me away from the world of blogs yesterday, but I was pleased this morning to read The Thunder Dragon has found something for which I think all right thinking people can praise the Prime Minister.

The Thunder Dragon quotes The Times:
Gordon Brown has thrown plans for a summit of African and European leaders into turmoil by vowing to pull out if Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe takes part. The Prime Minister, normally keen to promote Africa, believes that his boycott would be followed by several European allies and is hoping that the threat will stop Mr Mugabe from being invited.

Source: The Times

I'm pleased to be able to agree with the Thunder Dragon, in giving credit where credit is due for such a firm, and right position.

I hope that many more nations than some expect will join with the Prime Minister's position and realise that there are some world leaders who are truly beyond the pale. This could be accuse of being an appeal to deny a platform to Mugabe, something that I would normally oppose, but frankly with his control of his own media, Mugabe has all the platform that he needs.

This is not the same as half-witted NUS branches seeking to deny someone with only unpleasant views a platform, or even worse university staff unions trying to boycott Israeli academics who probably hold very reasonable personal views. There is a difference between opinions and actions. Repulsive views, unaccompanied by the threat or fact of violence are different, they must be aired to see their foolishness. To take another example though, I could see the justification in denying a platform to a National Front supporter, with a proven case of racial violence for which they were unrepentant.

Robert Mugabe does not only have unpleasant views, he, as a head of state, acts on them.

A Sense of Balance

Traditional Measures 'Saved' ?
I can't really say that I have a strong opinion on the subject of Imperial vs metric units. As I posted in the early days of this blog, I have a scientific background so naturally I'm somewhat more fluent in the metric system, but then I am still so many feet high, weight too many stones and pounds and drink a few pints after a half mile walk to a local pub.

Is it idiosyncratic? Yes of course it is. Does it really matter? Is it worth forcing change on a reluctant public? Of course not. It is true that the UK Metric Association manage to point to a few cases of engineering cock-ups due to different measurement systems and contradictory bits of law, but in the former case these would continue anyway, given that most involved the US which is unlikely to convert any time soon, and in the latter could just as easily be resolved in the favour of the traditional alternative.

Put simply, in those cases where the use of traditional units remains prevalent there is rarely, if ever, any need for conversion between systems as we view these quantities simply in terms of multiples of themselves. If I drink four pints, I drink four pints. The fact that equates to a rather cumbersome 2.272 litres is utterly irrelevant. I had a friend who owned a horse which I think stood at sixteen hands. Asking her whether a 'hand' was four or five inches, she wasn't actually sure, but it didn't matter - she knew that a horse of about sixteen hands was right for someone of her height, regardless of whether it was measured in meters or feet and inches; to me it was just 'big'.

What has irritated me is the politics of it all, and let nobody doubt it is all about politics. Was Lord "I'll never accept a peerage" Kinnock was a young man, I very much doubt that he was offended by the fact that he was served a pint rather than half a litre. Post his EU epiphany he has become a metric warrior, desperate to impose another symbol of European authority on the British people.

Of course though, it was never a European project, or so the likes of the UKMA were always eager to portray it not to be so. The impression that was always sought that it was a choice we had made for ourselves, that it was only our own national law that was responsible for the changes. Eurocrats scanned every pro-imperial statement for anything where a line had been marginally passed that could allow them to present the pronouncement as a 'Euromyth'.

Given the way metric enthusiasts promoted their system, they might find today's announcement by Gunther Verheugen, EU Commissioner for the Single Market, somewhat baffling. According to the Daily Telegraph:
Europe's Industry Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said it was time to end a "pointless battle" after decades of wrangling between London and Brussels over pressure to switch to the metric system.

Imperial weights and measures now face no further threat from Brussels: "It is entirely up to the British Government whether to keep pints and feet and inches, and the whole miles system, but as far as the Commission is concerned there is not now and never will be any requirement to drop imperial measurements," said the Commissioner.

Source: Daily Telegraph

He went on to try to secure further political advantage from his announcement:
Insisting that Britain’s traditional ways had never been targeted, he said: "Let’s get one thing straight from the off.

"Neither the European Commission nor any faceless "Eurocrat" has or will ever be responsible for banning the great British pint, the mile and weight measures in pounds and the ounces.

"These imperial measures form the part of the traditions that are the very essence of the Britishness that all Europeans know and love."

Source: Daily Telegraph

Mmm, well it is just about a truthful statement, but to pretend that faceless "Eurocrats" had no intention of doing so in the future is a bit disingenuous. Sorry Mr Verheugen, I don't think you deserve too much credit for this decision. That you may have decided to stop beating a dog is doubtlessly a worthy act, but the memories of the past beatings remain.

As for the warriors for the metric cause, their hysterical reaction to Mr Verheugen's announcement has put the lie to their claim that their objectives were only those of practicality and nothing to do with furthering European Integration.

For them these imperial measures form the part of the traditions that are the very essence of the Britishness that they dislike and abhor.