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.