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.