Tuesday 2 March 2004

I feel better already

Unknown @ Tuesday, March 02, 2004
Well, that's alright then. Nick Raynsford is threatening to cap council tax increases to ensure that rises don't exceed 6%. While that is half the percentage increase of last year, it is still nearly 3 times the rate of inflation.

Monday 1 March 2004

About time too

Unknown @ Monday, March 01, 2004
Looks like the Conservatives have come to their collective senses, and decided to pull out of the Butler whitewash. Taken them a while, but they finally seemed to have cottoned on to what the rest of us realised weeks ago; that the Butler Inquiry will achieve nothing with regards to revealing the truth.

Meanwhile the Government is doggedly hanging in there, still refusing to reveal the Attorney General's legal advice. In many ways Tony Blair now reminds me of HAL9000 from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Faced with trying to maintain a high-level deception, the poor thing became psychotic, much like HAL9000. However I do think it unlikely that Tony will resort to murder to maintain the lie, at least not directly.

This may give an insight into how the legal position was identified. After Foreign Office experts decided that war would be illegal, the US suggested that Tony find himself some new lawyers. So Lord Goldsmith wanders over to Professor Christopher Greenwood of the LSE, the most hawkish lawyer he could find, and based his advice to the Government on Greenwood's opinion.

John Major, himself no fun-loving fan of human rights, waded in on Breakfast with Frost yesterday, pointing out the obvious that country will remain divided as long as Lord Goldsmith's double side of A4 remains for the eyes of the Cabinet only. And although Tony Blair keeps falling back on the defence that the Attorney General's advice is covered by constitutional convention, there are exceptions to the rules defined in the parliamentary rule book, with disclosure occurring as recently as 1971. Besides which, Blair can't have it both ways. On previous occasions (most recently with the leaking of Dr Kelly's name to the press) he has shown himself to be no stickler for constitutional niceties. Either Butler's remit must be extended, or the inquiry scrapped and a new one set up in its place, with broader terms and members appointed by all parties. Until this happens, there can and will be no progress on other areas, not in health, education, welfare, transport, etc, etc. Instead this government will remain hog-tied and ineffectual, while the cancer of doubt gnaws at its heart.

And Tony has the temerity to be disappointed with Clare Short. Maybe he should take a look around him at just how disappointed we are with his performance.

Faintly disturbing

Unknown @ Monday, March 01, 2004
As someone who has grown up hearing about the Troubles on the news as a child, being caught in bomb scares in London, etc, there always seemed to be a perception of the IRA and Sinn Fein as the bad guys. Even though I am older and more enlightened, there are times when the words of reason uttered by Sinn Fein still catch me out. And to be honest, I do sympathise with the Republican Movement in the latest squabble around restoration of powers. Even the DUP don't seem to be screaming and shouting as much as David Trimble's UUP. And from a purely demographic perspective, the various Unionists ought by now to becoming to terms with the fact that their historical dominance cannot last much longer.


Unknown @ Monday, March 01, 2004
Obviously the only thing green about the UK Armed Forces is some of the camouflage, especially if their objection to wind farms is anything to go by. Apparently any wind farm within 45 miles of a radar station interferes with signals, but only in the UK. In Germany it is only a problem if the wind farm is within 5 miles, and elsewhere it just isn't a problem. I can only assume that the MoD is still using WW2 vintage radar in an effort to make savings, as it is hard to believe that a modern radar system can distinguish between aircraft and missiles and ranges of 100s of miles, but gets confused by a windmill half a county away.


Unknown @ Monday, March 01, 2004
Westminster City Council and the Met have brought a new meaning the word Audit. According to them, auditing beggars in Westminster involves arresting, finger-printing, taking DNA samples and then bailing them. As if criminalising them is going to solve the problem. And it gets better. Apparently charities that run soup kitchens could be prosecuted for parking or environmental health violations. I kid you not!

Yeah right, we all believe that.

Unknown @ Monday, March 01, 2004
So Tony once roughed it on a London park bench, having travelled there to try and become a rock star. Or at least that is what Cherie would have us believe. Once again, Tony is portrayed as a man of the people, who can empathise with the suffering in society.

What a load of bollocks. After all, we've been here before.

Anyone remember Blair's claim to have sat at the Gallowgate End, watching his teenage hero Jackie Milburn play football for Newcastle? The only problem being that when Milburn retired, our Tone was only four, and the Gallowgate End had no seats at the time.

Or the time when a 14 year old Blair attempted to stow away on a flight from Newcastle to the Bahamas? Which would have been tricky given that there were no flights from Newcastle to the Caribbean at the time.

And then there's his favourite dish. Is it fresh fettuccine with sun-dried tomatoes, or fish and chips from his local chippie in Sedgefield? Depends on whether you read the NSPCC Islington Cook Book or his local Labour Party news-sheet in Sedgefield.

Not bad for a pretty straight kind of guy. If he can't be honest about his own past, how in hell are we expected to believe him when he talks about the major issues.

Happy happy joy joy

Unknown @ Monday, March 01, 2004
Good old Clare Short. Not only does she recieve a threatening letter from Cabinet Secretary Sir Andrew Turnbull, warning her not to give interviews regarding the bugging of Kofi Annan, but she went on ITV's Jonathon Dimbleby programme to publicised the fact.

And now it seems that the Ministry of Defence is facing legal action of the deaths of 13 Iraqi civilians. It seems that Public Interest Lawyers (bit of an oxymoron there methinks) are preparing to sue the MoD for compensation on behalf of the victims' families. So the lawyers will get richer (at our expense), the victims' families will get a modicum of compensation (at our expense), but meanwhile the families of servicemen killed in Iraq will still get bugger all in real terms. And all this for participating in a war of dubious legality.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Tony has any regrets about signing the Treaty of Rome which set up the International Criminal Court? With all the debate around the legality of the war, it would be ironic were Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon to be hauled up in front of the ICC for waging illegal war in Iraq. After all, if the justification was the location and destruction of WMDs then any military action that did not relate to such activities (e.g. use of cluster bombs, hitting restaurants in Baghdad, etc) could be deemed illegal under the terms of the ICC. Funnier still, that the US didn't ratify the Treaty and thus is not bound by its terms.

Part of the problem stems from Tony's desire to be liked by, and have the support of the majority of people. Fully aware that there was no consensus of support for regime change, yet convinced of the moral rightness of his cause to remove Saddam, Tony had to find an issue upon which he could build his support. He settled - in a decision which will stay with him forever - on alleged WMDs. From that point onwards, the die was cast and so the case for war was built from lie upon lie, mis-direction upon mis-direction, until even tony himself was most likely no longer aware of what was truth and what was falsehood. For a pretty straight sort of guy, he now appears incapable of talking in anything but lawyer-speak, full of evasions and meaningless phrases.

Until the Attorney General, along with Blair and co, comes clean on, this issue is going to drag on and on. What is needed is not another whitewash - this time headed by Butler - but rather a comprehensive public inquiry into the whole case for war. Until that point, it is the duty of all people to challenge and question the Prime Minister on his actions, and to hold him to account.

Friday 27 February 2004

Your taxes at work - Public Sector Job for the week #1

Unknown @ Friday, February 27, 2004
Each week I will try and find the most pointless, ill-defined or biggest waste of money public sector job. Because although there are many necessary roles in the public sector, there are also those which are in many ways unnecessary. Feel free to add your own suggestions for "tax wasting job of the week". 

Employer: Haringey Council
Title: Deputy Democratic Services Manager
Salary: £31,347 - £35,928
Description: As well as being second in command (of what - ed) , this key position will be responsible for supporting several high level bodies, assisting with full Council meetings and supervising a number of support staff.

Nice salary, but just what are the duties and responsibilities? What skill set is required? Totally vague and ill defined job posting.

But then this job caught my eye. A Benefit Realisation Consultant for the NHS earning between £35,000 and £60,000 + extensive benefits.

Try reading the job description and work out just what - if any - added value that role brings to the NHS. If you plough through the b*llsh*t and doublespeak in the description, it seems to be a high level bean counting job. Nice work if you've the stomach for it, but will it really improve the standards of health care in this country? Especially when compared to a 'G' Grade Mental Health nurse with 2 years experience who's upper salary level doesn't even reach the lower level of our Benefit Realisation Consultant.

Enough to make one renounce citizenship

Unknown @ Friday, February 27, 2004
This country must really hate people who apply for citizenship. Why else would we subject them to a brass band playing Phil Collins songs? That constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in my book. Perhaps that's the real reason why the asylum numbers have decreased, the thought of Easy Lover blasted out by a brass band. It would certainly make me think twice about sticking around.

Something wrong here

Unknown @ Friday, February 27, 2004
Whether or not you agree with breaking into a military base, surely there is something wrong with the legal process when a person can spend more time on remand awaiting trial than their actual sentence. I bet Susan Brackenbury is more than a bit pissed off at spending 8 months on remand for criminal damage, to only be sentenced to 6 months when found guilty.

Wierd things diy-ers do

Unknown @ Friday, February 27, 2004
Who the hell paints the inside of their airing cupboard? Ours is probably typical, stuffed with a hot water storage tank, a tangled mass of pipework and shelves loaded with horrible pink towels and eternal beau bedding given as a wedding present by great aunt Maud. So one has to question the sanity of Christine Mulliss who spent 14 hours trapped in her airing cupboard whilst decorating.

Sour grapes

Unknown @ Friday, February 27, 2004
So Robin Cook believes Clare Short was wrong to make the UN bugging allegations. Does he truly believe this, is it more a case of sour grapes that Clare has upstaged him as the voice of opposition to the war from within the Labour Party.

No end in sight

Unknown @ Friday, February 27, 2004
The legacy of the war in Iraq will probably haunt Tony Blair to his dying day. Every day something else seems to emerge from the shadows. Now we have a deputy legal advisor from the Foreign Office who quit her job because she did not believe the use of force was legal. Does anyone apart from Tony Blair really believe in the legality of the actions taken by the UK and US in Iraq? I for one would love to know what exactly was the Attorney General's advice to Tony Blair on the legalities of the war.

Who will rid me of this troublesome woman

Unknown @ Friday, February 27, 2004
Is there no end for Bliar's misery over intelligence and Iraq? Hopefully and in a word, no. Had he been open and honest about the reasons for war right from the beginning, then more people would have been prepared to believe him now. As it is, there is an air of shabby dishonesty surrounding all his pronouncements on these matters. At lot of debate has gone on regarding whether or not Claire was right to speak out, and most of the papers seem to think that she should have kept quiet. Certainly as a member of the government, she had a duty as part of collective responsibility to say nothing. And at this point it should be noted that as a minister she actually voted for the war. However, on the other side of the coin, she was - like Katharine Gun - a public servant aware of a potentially illegal act, and therefore almost obliged to speak out. So damned if she did and damned if she didn't. And today it comes out that Hans Blix had his mobile phone tapped whenever he was in Iraq. And Richard Butler's phone was tapped as well. So not only did the US and UK undermine the authority of the UN by riding roughshod over resolutions and ignoring diplomatic efforts, but now they appear to have gone further by bugging the UN. If diplomats can't hold discussions in confidence within the portals of the UN, then what hope is there for international trust and cooperation in future. Whether he likes it or not, Tony Blair must accept more responsibility for this state of affairs than George Bush. After all, it was Blair who repeatedly tried to justify the war in terms acceptable to the Labour Party. Had he not raised the profile of intelligence information (and its misuse) then it may very well be that these issues would not have been thrust into the spotlight. The only way forward now is to be open and honest. This should fall under the remit of the Butler Inquiry, but somehow I doubt that it will be anything more than another sanitised whitewashing exercise.

Thursday 26 February 2004

Not Political

Unknown @ Thursday, February 26, 2004
So the decision not to prosecute Katharine Gun was not political. Well, I'm sorry, but I don't believe it. If she'd broken the OSA then that would have been grounds for prosecution, and after all she wasn't denying leaking the email. Now I'm no lawyer, but given that the legality of the war in Iraq remains ambiguous, then surely a defence of acting to prevent an unlawful war is no real defence at all. Whereas leaking an email in breach of the OSA was a criminal act. So the reasons for not prosecuting must surely be political. Now the actual political reason is open to question. One option is that Blair wanted to draw a line under Iraq and British Intelligence, and a trial would just have kept a running sore in the public eye. Or perhaps a trial would have forced discussion of the legality of the war and revelation of any incriminating documents. But either way, to deny a political motivation is disingeneous at best. Or maybe, just maybe, the government was concerned that any random selection of 12 good persons of the jury would be almost guaranteed to be anti-war and thus rule for the defence. If that is the case, then it either shows how little respect the government has for the public to believe that a jury could not be impartial on such a matter; or shows just how comprehensively Tony Blair has lost the battle for hearts and minds over war in Iraq. And Blair's discomfort has been further increased by Clare Short's bugging claims made earlier today. She is often referred to as the "conscience" of the Labour Party, and perhaps now and again it would do Blair good to listen to his conscience. He will undoubtedly get revenge via the Labour Party disciplinary processes, although only a fool would be too bloody minded. Just as Margaret Thatcher was condemned to spend her remaining days in power tarred with the brush of the Poll Tax fiasco, so Tony Blair should resign himself to the fact that he will be perceived by many to be a war monger who acts on weak and twisted intelligence information. So much for the legacy of Things can only get better.

Political Balance

Unknown @ Thursday, February 26, 2004
Got to smile at this story from Wales. Not so much for the trial by media aspects, but for the fact the each of the 4 main parties in the Welsh Assembly had an AM involved. It does like one benefit of the Welsh Assembly is the increase in employment, albeit in non-revenue generating jobs. Can't wait for Prescott's regional assemblies. Then we'll show the Welsh and Scottish what true waste and inefficiency are.


Unknown @ Thursday, February 26, 2004
I thought hospitals were places where you went to get better. Over the last 10 years, the risk of getting worse has gone up with the increase in cases involving MRSA. I wonder whether such an increase would have been seen had the traditional matron still ruled the wards? Instead, the best we get is a Director of Infection for each hospital, and a raft of statistics and targets.

Bravo BBC

Unknown @ Thursday, February 26, 2004
At a time when every media article about the BBC seems to highlight either past failings or future uncertainties, a bit of good news. The BBC has won the Zayed Prize, an environmental award worth $0.5million. Whilst some broadcasters would make a big song and dance about winning such a prize, good old Auntie remains quietly reserved, refusing to crow about exactly the sort of thing it does best. Could you imagine any commercial broadcaster winning such an award? Of course, no profit in it.

Nice, but

Unknown @ Thursday, February 26, 2004
Getting communities involved in promoting local branch lines is good, and will undoubtedly benefit the routes in question. At the end of the day though, it is still window dressing which fails to address the major issues facing Britain's rail network.

Arise Citizens

Unknown @ Thursday, February 26, 2004
So today, in Brent Town Hall, the UK will hold its first ceremony for immigrants granted British citizenship. Seems like a pretty good idea, though it does make one wonder about all the people previously granted citizenship. Are they any less loyal? Probably not. And what about people born British citizens? The concern is not with the ceremony itself, but with the way some sections of society may present it. With hindsight those involved may wish that it had been a more low key event. And why suggest that ceremonies in Scotland and Wales would involve singing something more appropriate than the National Anthem? They are - after all - becoming British citizens, not Welsh or Scottish. What would they sing anyway? The Scots haven't even settled on a national anthem themselves, though the Welsh have Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Imagine having English as your second language and having then to sing in Welsh....

Blair's intelligence problems

Unknown @ Thursday, February 26, 2004
Nope, I'm not questioning Tone's mental faculties (tempting though it would be), but just pointing out that this government could do with getting a bit more "with the program" in Intelligence matters. Skipping over the almighty s***w up that underpinned Iraq's alleged WMD and the reasons for war, first questions are now being asked as to why Katharine Gun was even charged under the Official Secrets Act. All she did was leak an email which contained nothing more secret than that intense focus was to be placed on the monitoring of UN communications. And now good old Clare Short comes forward to announce that the UK intelligence community was involved in bugging the office of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the run up to the war in Iraq. Now was the case dropped because of lack of evidence as was claimed yesterday? Or was it to prevent the potential release of more embarrassing information? On past performance I know where my suspicions lie.

All change

Unknown @ Thursday, February 26, 2004
As Ann Winterton has the Conservative party whip withdrawn for making yet another racist joke - this time about the cockler deaths - in a public forum, Malcolm Rifkind looks set to return after being selected for one of the safest Conservative seats - Kensington and Chelsea.

Can't say I'll be too sad to see Winterton's departure as the woman, while not stupid, obviously lacks even a modicum of common sense. And there are already too many fools in Westminster. As for Rifkind, well he's a nice enough chap, though a bit of a lost sheep since he lost his Edinburgh seat in 1997. I do wonder if he has had his day, and would have better spent his time persuing other avenues within politics. One thing's for sure, he is unlikely to have quite the impact on the nation's psyche as his predecessors in the seat; namely messrs Portillo and Clarke.

Wednesday 25 February 2004

Returning to the fold

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 25, 2004
It's nice to see the Christian Church in Britain making an effort to engage younger people in a more realistic manner than previous trendy schemes. And while the Alpha course is good, the church should do more to encourage new members at the grass-roots level. A local parish holds film nights once a month, where excerpts from a specific film are shown, along with discussion of the issues raised. And interestingly enough, although there is a Christian emphasis, the discussion generally focusses on moral and ethical dilemmas in a way that engages both secular and religious viewpoints. And before anyone gets the impression that the films selected are specifically Christian in tone, let me list some of the films recently watched, or to be watched:
  • Gladiator
  • Schindler's List
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • American Beauty
  • Brassed Off

The bottom line is that the church has to appeal to potential new members in a non-dogmatic way, allowing people to become as involved as they wish, rather than an all-or-nothing approach. And all credit to the various members of the clergy throughout the country who are making the effort. And for the tub-thumpers I can only say "Wake up and start living in the real world."

Like bullies in the playground

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 25, 2004
One day, just possibly, we may see a slightly more mature approach to politics in Northern Ireland. But not, I fear, just yet. Why is it that leading figures from all sides threaten to take their bat and ball home at the slightest issue. Now I'm not belittling the incident in question, but I have to question David Trimble's attitude. The alleged false imprisonment involving Bobby Tohill happened less than a week ago, and the Independant Monitoring Commission as only just been asked to investigate, yet David Trimble wants Sinn Fein out now. Even that old firebrand Ian Paisley is being a tad more circumspect. Certainly if the IRA is proved to have been directly involved then Sinn Fein should face the consequences, but to prejudge the matter and threaten to walk out shows a level of maturity more suited to the school playground than the political playing fields of Ulster.

Rail Frustration

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Over at Bloggerheads, Manic rails (if you'll pardon the pun) at the gross ineptitude of SWT and the other train operating companies. And he's perfectly right to do so. While he is organising a campaign, I'd suggest he widen his target to include the leasing companies which actually own all the shabby and poorly maintained rolling stock. Porterbrook for example (never trust a business who's site uses frames) is owned by Abbey (formerly Abbey National), Angel Trains is owned by RBoS and HSBC Rail is owned (unsurprisingly) by HSBC.

So all the operating companies lease their rolling stock from three banks basically who operate as an oligopoly. The punter pays his fare to the operating company, who also take a cut of the tax payers money as a subsidy. The operating company then pays the leasing company. And this is where the problem lies. For starters the leasing companies operate outside the control of the Department of Transport, so there is reduced accountability there. Throw into the mix the differential between the price paid by the leasing company to purchase the rolling stock, and the annual leasing charges they levy on the train operating company. Part of this is due to the fact that the rolling stock has a service life of 30 years, but the TOCs are given lease period of 6 to 8 years. Add in the high specificity of the rolling stock, and the lack of market competition, and it is no wonder that the system is a mess.

A national rail network is simply too large and critical to be privatised, especially in the manner implemented by John Major's government.

Today's heroine

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 25, 2004
The UK Today would like to congratulate Katharine Gun, a GCHQ translator sacked for revealing the content of a secret email. She has today been cleared of breaking the Official Secrets Act. And her motivation for realeasing the email? She argued that she was acting to prevent the illegal war in Iraq. Good on her.

Glue and paint not included

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 25, 2004
So you can't sell an armoured car to Zimbabwe, but you could sell the engine, transmission, body and armament as separate items. Well, that's all right then isn't it? After all as long as it is only weapons components you're exporting then you're not breaching the U.K.'s ethical trade policies. While I wouldn't go as far as to ban the sale of nuts and bolts, if you're going to restrict arms sales to unstable countries, then it must be all arms sales, regardless of whether they are components or completed weapons. Anything else is a double standard.

Is parenthood a right or privilege?

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Tough question, and one for which I don't have an answer. John Reid clearly believes that the chance of being a parent is a right, although one round of IVF treatment will only have a positive result in 25% of cases. But should the NHS even be providing this treatment? £75 million doesn't sound a lot when compared to the total NHS budget, but it is still a considerable sum, and with the success rate being so low, is a pretty poor return on investment in purely financial terms.


Unknown @ Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Way back in 1977, the BBC broadcast a brillant drama series called 1990. It was set (obviously enough) in 1990, but a dystopian 1990 where the Home Office Public Control Department effectively ruled the country. The PCD had abolished individual rights, introduced ID cards for all citizens and used sophisticated electronic surveillance. At the time, critics attacked the show for pandering to the middle class fear of a right wing police state. How ironic then that our current Home Secretary keeps proposing and introducing measures that 1990 portrayed as being the basis of the Orwellian nightmare state of the time. Now I'm not saying that such a dystopian end point is the inevitable consequence, but once such powers are on the statute books, the abuse of such powers by future administrations is not out of the question.

Thomas Jefferson hit it on the head when he said The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Anti-terrorism is being used too freely today as justification for the introduction of laws that could in future restrict your individual rights and civil liberties; freedoms you cannot afford to take for granted.

Tuesday 24 February 2004

Reform for reform's sake

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Once again Tone seems intent on radically messing around with institutions that, until he interfered, used to function reasonably well. Not content with having bullied and politicised the Civil Service, he now wants to make it work in a way more relevant to the modern age, which most likely means to have it function in a manner he and his cronies deem most appropriate. After the botched and unfinished job he has done on the Lords, I'd be very nervous if I were a civil servant.

Cruel, crazy, bonkers city

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Hmm, you could get a 3 bed family home in PRSY for the price of this parking space behind Harrods.

Show me the money

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
After too many years, they're final going to start doing something constructive with the Dome. And the government has the temerity to say that costs will start to reduce once work begins.Costs will reduce for f**ks sake. After costing the tax payer the best part of £30 million to keep it going, not forgetting the £628 million of lottery money splashed out on it in the first place, I'd expect to some some wedge back, not some poxy costs will reduce! And it'll still cost us money until 2007 when work completes (and if you believe they'll stick to that deadline, then I've a stadium in North London you can buy). Oh, and not a sniff of a mention of the ultra-effective Charlie Falconer.

Postal voting isn't the answer

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
At least some in the Lords are still in touch with reality. Having defeated government plans to extend all-postal voting trials to the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, perhaps we can now look forward to a more serious debate regarding the future of voting. Postal voting is far to susceptible to fraud and is definitely not a step forward, but rather a sideways move at best. With the progress made in technology, we should be able to come up with a better solution. And while we're on the subject, anyone know what happened to the Jenkins Report on Electoral Reform? Yup, yet another unfilled New Labour promise, neglected and gathering dust since 1997.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 little numbers

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Bravo Professor Adrian Smith. At last someone honest enough to admit that the current standards of numeracy are unacceptably low. Now all we need is the same for literacy.

Nothing new then

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
In a protest against proposed deregulation of their industry, taxi drivers are to stage a series of go-slow protests. Now once you've all finished laughing at that, given that most taxis here in PRSY make tortoises look like they're taking amphetemines, just think about the state of the bus industry after deregulation under the Tories. Bet you're not laughing now. And expect to see more cases similar to this.

Yet another ungood day for Blair

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
First up, Sir Nigel Wicks, to warn Blair that unless measures are put in place to protect civil servants, he can expect more scandals. Then comes the Guardian/ICM poll to reveal that 40% of Labour Party members say Tony Blair should stand down before the next election. The question is, will he ditch them before they ditch him? Hard to tell given his stubborn determination to keep going in interviews last weekend.

They don't get it

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Will someone please step forward with a coherent plan to take the BBC forward. While there is merit in some of the suggestions from the latest independant study, there is still too much focus on corporate methods of funding, including splitting the Beeb up. And I'd hardly consider Channel 4 as a shining beacon of light.

Numbers down

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 24, 2004
UK asylum applicants fell by 41% last year, which would seem like good news for the Home Secretary. And an increase of 23% in the numbers of failed asylum seekers being removed shouldn't be ignored. Not to mention the fact that the asylum and immigration budget is up to £2 billion.

But when viewed from the pespective of the failings of previous years and policies, I would reserve judgement on the overall success until we have at least 2 or 3 years of figures on which to get a truer picture. And at the same time, the UK will be the first country to begin enforced repatriation of failed Iraqi asylum seekers. Which, given the current state of Iraq, strikes me as an exceedingly bad idea, and the UNHCR isn't too happy about it either.

Monday 23 February 2004

Big Science

Unknown @ Monday, February 23, 2004
Now this is something I'd like to see taken much further. And is a component of one of the (few?) creditable policies from the Scottish Executive.

Tony, you've been nibbled

Unknown @ Monday, February 23, 2004
Well, I bet they're running scared in Downing Street over the latest report from the Committee for Standards in Public Life.

It just isn't cricket

Unknown @ Monday, February 23, 2004
It isn't rowing anymore either. At least not on the BBC. I dread to think what sort of popularist hash ITV is going to make of the Boat Race.

Blame all but themselves

Unknown @ Monday, February 23, 2004
For the last 6 years, we've had scare story after nightmare headline regarding the safety of the MMR vaccine, and possible links to autism. The consequence of this is that vaccination uptake is at a record low of 82%. And in some areas it is as low as 60%, a level at which herd-immunity is radically reduced.

Now we have the backlash, with The Lancet regretting its publication of Dr Wakefield's study, and various people and bodies falling over themselves to apportion blame.

But who ran all those scare stories over the last 6 years? That's right, the tabloid press. The same press now baying for blood. Maybe if they'd been a bit more in favour of reasoned debate from the beginning, we wouldn't be in the state we are, but what are a few children suffering from brain damage, deafness and other measles-related complications when compared to a few thousand more on your daily circulation figures.

And the government hasn't done itself many favours either.

Migrant Workers

Unknown @ Monday, February 23, 2004
Got to love the coherent policy this government has regarding the new EU members. Our Tone states "If they can't support themselves, they will be put out of the country". Yeah, in your dreams. I predict that the proposed worker registration scheme will be about as workable and effective as all the other schemes introduced by this government to deal with economic migrants.

And Blunkett harps on about the labour shortage over here. Well, that will be peanuts compared to the shortages back in the acceding countries once they realise that 12 months work in the UK entitles them to full benefits. As far as I can see, this will do nothing for the 10 new EU members who would better benefit from more focussed development aid and support from the existing members. But that would require some joined up thinking from a government that barely seems capable of formulating its way out of a wet paper bag.

Goliath, meet David

Unknown @ Monday, February 23, 2004
Or should that be "John Prescott, meet Elizabeth Winkfield"? Nice to see that HMG's favourite bruiser is now taking on 83 year old ladies. Methinks the government is running scared on this one. Why else would "Big John" wade in, albeit without fists flailing.

Friday 20 February 2004

A no-win situation for everyone

Unknown @ Friday, February 20, 2004
So 5 of the British residents of Camp Delta are to be freed from Guantanamo Bay. In spite of the fact that British anti-terrorist officers have only just begun investigations into the 5, David Blunkett - obviously in posession of some prescient ability - has already said that they pose no threat to UK security. Meanwhile Jack Straw said that they could face charges in the UK courts under anti-terrorism laws. And then the Tories weigh in with suggestions that they could potentially be charged with treason.

All a bit of a mess, not to mention a no-win situation for the government.

They could arrest and question the five, then set them free, thus making the US look like a bunch of incompetents for holding them without trial for more than two years. Or they could decide to send them for trial, this time making the US look like a bunch of pricks for denying the rights of the remaining inmates of Camp Delta. Either way it isn't going to do much for the special relationship. But the alternatives are to lock 'em up and throw away the key or - and this is possibly worse still - follow Ancram's suggestion to charge them with treason. Either way it makes HMG look just as bad as the US, and does nothing for Tone's street cred.

And just why the heck do the Conservatives think they might face treason charges? Simply because they took up arms in Afghanistan and thus may have taken pot-shots at the British forces deployed over there. Hmmm. Don't recall any active members of the various terrorist groups in Ulster ever being charged with treason, and they were not only taking pot shots at British soldiers, but doing it on British territory. So British citizens shooting British soldiers in Britain is not as heinous as the same happening overseas...

And as ever, the Murdoch tabloid rag goes for trial by brainless Sun reader, whereas the Mail takes an more balanced approach for a change. Meanwhile Murdoch's broadsheet toilet paper decides to place its olfactory apparatus up Tone's anus and give him the credit. The Guardian and Independant are probably closer to the mark on this one.

The detention without trial at Guantanamo has been a complete mess from day one, and will remain so until the US gets its act together and restores some semblance of rights to the inmates. That the British government has got itself entangled in the morass is an inevitable consequence of playing fast and loose with international law.

Thursday 19 February 2004

Just say no...

Unknown @ Thursday, February 19, 2004
... to GM food.


Unknown @ Thursday, February 19, 2004
Two things immediately spring to mind when reading this article.

Firstly I am amazed at the temerity of a man who, by his own admission, destroyed local NUM records during the miners strike to avoid any incrimination with regard to the death of taxi driver David Wilkie, to criticise a fellow minister's professionalism. Can he spell hypocrite I wonder? Two and a half months to respond to a letter vs ten years to admit to destroying evidence.....

Secondly, if these are the calibre of the people sitting in the Welsh Assembly, then what hope would there be of seeing any quality representation with Prescott's proposed regional assemblies?

83 year old rebel

Unknown @ Thursday, February 19, 2004
Mrs Elizabeth Winkfield, 83, is up before magistrates in Barnstaple today for failure to pay her council tax. However, this is not a case of total non-payment, as Mrs Winkfield has paid all bar £98.99 of her £787.81 bill. Her reason for withholding the balance is quite simple, she is objecting to a rise in council tax of nearly 18% last year.

18% is excessive by anyone's reckoning, but it makes you wonder where it is going. Councils can't have just become drastically more inefficient of the last 12 months, so there must be some other reasons as well.

How about local government pensions? At a time when many have seen their occupational schemes wound up, or seen the value of their personal pensions decimated by stock market losses and mis-selling over recent years, it must be galling to see their local council employees still able to take early retirement with substantial pension benefits. Why should the typical council tax payer be bailing out local government pensions at a time when they've seen their own future security vanish? Local government schemes should be run to the same standards as schemes in other sectors.

Meanwhile The UK Today would suggest than anyone faced with an unreasonable rise in council tax follows Mrs Winkfield's sterling example, and refuse to pay more than a cost of living increase of 2.8%.

Fashion victims

Unknown @ Thursday, February 19, 2004
So you love your new wooden floor eh? Well don't forget your slippers. More than 12,000 people were injured in falls onto wood in 2002, many as a result of slipping whilst wearing socks.

And the return of flares (those of us around in the 70s already knew they were a bad idea) resulted in trouser related mishaps doubling to nearly 9,000.

For anyone not of a nervous disposition, the latest report covering 2000 to 2002 can be found here.

There's no pleasing some people

Unknown @ Thursday, February 19, 2004
Now Michael Howard isn't necessarily my favourite person in Parliament, but he at least appears to be an improvement on his predecessor. Anyway, the Conservative Party has announced that he is off to Burnley, and while he is there he intends to confront the BNP regarding their extremist policies. He also concedes that his party has been weak in opposing the BNP in Burnley, and that they intended to try harder.

Now I was brought up to believe that it was a good thing to admit your mistakes and to learn from them. Obviously not the sort of upbringing experienced by either the local Labour Party spokesman or the LibDem peer Lord Greaves.

And in the next breath everyone is criticising Howard for arguing that the UK should at least implement transitional measures to address immigration from the 10 countries acceding to the EU in May. People even argue that the mere act of suggesting such measures is racist.

So firstly he is condemned for not having attacked the bigoted and racist BNP earlier, then he is criticised for opposing them now, and in almost the same breath he is being accused of racist policies. Poor sod.

I'll close with a brief and hopefully unnecessary reminder: A willingness to discuss immigration issues and alternatives to a complete open-door policy does NOT equate to being racist.

Wednesday 18 February 2004

Measure for measure

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 18, 2004
I've spent too many years working with information systems not to be concerned at this proposal from Judge Blunkett. The abuses perpetrated on the basis of flawed statistics and metrics in industry is bad enough - where it only impacts the business performance - without applying the same faith in numbers to our civil liberties.

The Return of the Looney Left?

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Wondered what George Galloway MP was up to since his expulsion from the Labour Party?

Wondered what the RMT Union was up to after its expulsion from the Labour Party?

Well, the answer is that they're all looking for a little Respect.

Along with a rather diverse selection of members, Respect is attempting to recapture the Left. And when I say diverse, I mean really diverse. The Respect Executive includes Ken Loach (Film Director), Mark Serwotka from the PCS, Lindsey German from the Stop the War Coalition, Nick Wrack from the Socialist Alliance, John Reese from the SWP and leader of the Muslim Parliament Dr Siddiqui to name but a few.

It would be nice to be able to come up with a clear and concise summary of their position, but one glance at their founding declaration is enough to make one realise that such summation is next to impossible. In some cases they make sweeping statements such as tax the rich to fund welfare and to close the growing gap between the poor and the wealthy few, and in others they get very specific with Raising the minimum wage to the European Union Decency threshold of £7.40 an hour.

However easy it would be to ridicule them for being an amorphous lump of old Lefties, there is a desperate need for some form of structured and coherent Socialist option in this country. Everyone is fed up with the same old Left vs Left battles, and if Respect could somehow put a stop to the incessant infighting that has characterised relations between the SWP, SA, SP, CPGB, etc then I for one would not decry their efforts.

But it won't work if they attempt to create a separate party to try and counter the Labour Party's current lack of socialist credibility. It would be very easy to argue that in the current situation we are facing a return to the days before Kier Hardy, but that is in many ways a defeatist position. It is saying that the Labour Party has not only failed, but is incapable of salvation. While is indeed true that many of the Labour MPs are so glad to be government that they appear to have ripped the page with Socialism on it out of their dictionaries, the recent back bench revolt over tuition fees shows that the patient has not yet expired.

It would appear that the Greens have seen the dangers inherent in Respect as an external entity; witness their refusal to enter into an electoral pact for the European and London elections. And this is where the real danger lies. There is a real risk that all Respect will manage to achieve is to split the minority socialist, anti-Blairite, alternative vote, and potentially allow in hard-Right parties such as the BNP.

History has show that Respect is pretty much doomed to failure, as were all previous attempts to create a more Left-ist (of any shade) alternative to the Labour Party. In their revolutionary desire to create a mass movement to oppose Blairism they have completely overlooked the cyclical nature of Labour's direction over the last hundred years. Blairism is just the current fashion, and will be no more enduring that any other -ism based on the cult of the individual rather than collective thought. The (at the time) apparently inexorable drift to the Right is almost invariably followed by a swift, sharp swerve to the Left.

If they truly want to break the mould, then they should do so by being the first group to try and organise reasoned, coherent and effective opposition from within. But they're too opportunistic for that because, at the end of the day, Respect is fundamentally the SWP trying to wrap itself in Joseph's Technicolour Dreamcoat. Anyone involved who can still spell Marxism or Socialism will hopefully wake up shortly with a stinking hangover, and deservedly so. This is no way to take things forward.

Tuesday 17 February 2004

European Legacy

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
A big thank you to Freedom and Whisky for the link to this map, which made me realise that there's still a bit of Europe for me to see.

create your own visited european countries map or write about it on the open travel guide

Who's confused?

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Well I am for one. And I daresay, based on recent performances, so are a significant number of Labour MPs.

On 1st May 2004, 10 countries become new members of the EU. Of all the existing members, only Ireland and the UK are going to grant full access to employment and benefits for migratory workers from the new countries.

Except Tony Blair decided that maybe tighter controls were needed. That was on 4th Feb.

Then less than a week later on 9th Feb, David Blunkett said there would be no restrictions.

And now, on 17th Feb, it appears that a deal has been done during talks at No. 10, the details of which will be presented to Parliament on 23rd Feb.

Meanwhile the Common's Home Affairs Committee will be hearing evidence on the subject from Beverley Hughes (Immigration Minister) next month.

Yet by the end of 2002 it was known when the accession of these countries would be taking place. So why all the to-ing and fro-ing so close to the wire, with Parliament being informed a bare 68 days before accession?

This is exactly the sort of issue which Governments can deal with in a proactive manner. They've had 12 months to get the policy pinned down, and yet it is left to the last minute. Or was it? Perhaps the real problem was Tony deciding, at the last minute, that he ought to add his personal touch; show the country that he is in tune with their fears.

Genuine confusion or plain old control-freakery? We'll probably never know, but it is exactly this sort of faffing around that diminishes the credibility of the Government to make reasoned decisions and abide by them.

Mutiny Mr Christian

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
The trouble at the Torygraph shows no sign of abating, with declining sales and internal strife. Worst of all, Richard Desmond is sniffing around the patient although hopefully either the Barclays or Associated Press will succeed.

About time too

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Sheikh Abdullah el-Faisal has lost an appeal against his conviction for solicitng murder.

What price a pint of McEwans 80/-

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
225 years of brewing is coming to an end with the closure of the Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh. Scottish and Newcastle blame high costs and low capacity as reasons for closure, but personally I suspect the real motivation is to realise the development potential of the site, located as it is near to major businesses in Edinburgh city centre.

Prison numbers up

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
The number of people in prison in England and Wales hit a record high of 74,543 last week. As usual there are calls for a reduction in custodial sentencing, more community service orders, etc, in order to reduce the prison population.

But surely that is simply papering over the cracks. We need to look at why people are committing crimes in the first place, and put in place preventive measures to dissuade people from turning to crime. It might involved community youth schemes, increased visibility of PCs and WPCs walking the beat, or any number of other options.

Once people have committed crimes, society has failed. And the prison population is but one symptom of that failure.

Campbell's gone...

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
... but his stick the boot in style lives on in a leaked document revealing government plans to split up the BBC.

The worst part is the idea of a federalisation of the BBC, with separate entities for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Talk about emasculation. Anyone who desires to see the BBC retain its independence would be well advised to follow the I Believe in the BBC link, and make your support known. This is the biggest threat to non-commercialised access to information you are likely to see, and a staunch defence is essential.

Something doesn't add up - reprise

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
A couple of great articles from Freedom and Whiskey on the council tax. While they are specific to Scotland, the points raised are equally applicable to the rest of the U.K.

Education, education, education

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Well, some positive news with regard to the proposed shake up of exams. Finally someone has realised that what is needed is tougher exams and less nannying questions, or basically a return to the state of exams during the mid 80's.

The concept of diplomas seems to be following the American model, and could be a step forward as well, as long as lessons are learned from the problems facing that system.

Monday 16 February 2004

The devil's in the detail

Unknown @ Monday, February 16, 2004
So far it seems to have been a reasonably good day for Oliver Letwin. The general response to his outline of Tory direction on public spending has been if not positive, then merely lukewarm in criticism. In many respects the Tories have been lucky with Sir Peter Gershon's revelations that increasing effeciences could save £10bn to £15bn. This from the the head of the government's efficiency review.

As with all major policy announcements, the devil is in the detail. And the Tories' £35bn saving without cuts to Health and Education does mean that some people are going to feel the pain as budgets are cut elsewhere. One prime area that I forsee being hit is transport, with the axe being taken to many new road schemes (much to the delight of the enviromentalists), and rail subsidies being slashed (much to the consternation of rail travellers).

For now, I'll give cautious acknowledgement that the proposals have some merit, but let's wait until the details are released before getting excited.

Pleased to meet you

Unknown @ Monday, February 16, 2004
Is the most likely next PM working on the special relationship with the potential next POTUS?

Could well make life interesting for Tony when John Kerry wins the Presidential Election.

First we had the War on Terror...

Unknown @ Monday, February 16, 2004
... now we have a War on Poverty. A good sentiment with regard to addressing Third World Poverty, but will we really see the level of commitment required, complete with coherent policies?

(For the ironically challenged, this is a post critiquing sound-bite approaches to important issues, rather than condoning the war on terror. Something you'd think could be grasped from the link to www.iraqbodycount.org. However, let it never be said that I can't be helpful. This post now reworded for easier comprehension, and for those with an irony bypass.)

Once upon a time

Unknown @ Monday, February 16, 2004
Long ago in the mists of time, there was a leadership battle for the Labour Party. The two challengers were Bryan Gould and the late John Smith. If things had worked out, Bryan Gould could have been Prime Minister instead of Vice Chancellor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Of course things didn't work out, John Smith won, and the rest is history.

One of the main reasons why Bryan Gould lost the leadership contest was his proposed alternative to the Poll Tax, a proposal deemed "electoral poison" by John Smith, and a dead cert election loser.

So what was this horrid policy?

At its simplest, Bryan Gould proposed funding local councils via a combination of property based taxation and a local income tax.

Electoral poison eh.

How things change.

I bet John Smith is spinning in his grave. And Bryan Gould is probably laughing his socks of at Nick Raynsford, whilst quaffing a fine New Zealand white.

A Truly Great Man

Unknown @ Monday, February 16, 2004
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of the truly great spiritual and moral thinkers of our time. He currently occupies the position of Professor of Post-Conflict Studies at King's College, London, a role that he fills almost to perfection. Today he will deliver the Longford Lecture, and through it challenge both Tony Blair and George W. Bush to apologise for an "immoral" war.

No surprises there

Unknown @ Monday, February 16, 2004
Fed up with criticism (much of it valid) from the business community, New Labour is threatening to take its bat and ball home. So much for being business friendly and engaging in dialogue. Theoretically we're still 2 years away from a General Election, but the behaviour of the Government, and Tony and Gordon in particular, makes me wonder if we're not a lot closer than that. And I mean a lot.

Thin end of the wedge

Unknown @ Monday, February 16, 2004
So there's talk of installing a bullet-proof security barrier to protect MPs from potential terrorists in the Strangers Gallery at the House of Commons. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the end result wasn't closure of the Gallery to the Public. And probably to avoid many more repeats of this sort of display of public feeling, rather than a real attempt to improve security.

Probably justified

Unknown @ Monday, February 16, 2004
Today sees up to 90,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union taking strike action against what they call "Poverty Pay". Benefits offices and job centres will be the worst hit, along with driving tests, where several thousand could be cancelled.

To be honest, when you look at the typical level of pay, it's hard not to feel sympathy with them. The average salary among nearly 11,000 administrative assistants is less than £11,000 and starting pay in the DWP is as low as £9,000, so they're not exactly earning megabucks for starters. And now they've been asked to accept cost of living salary increases of 2.6% for DWP and 2% for driving standards. Which probably wouldn't have been too bad were it not for the fact that senior civil servants are getting 9%.

So they have my sympathy, even though their strike action is going to hit pensioners and other benefits recipients to worst.

Friday 13 February 2004

A Valentines Gift

Unknown @ Friday, February 13, 2004
Well, tomorrow is Valentines Day so I suspect you're all rushing around worrying about what to get your loved ones. In the light of a recent survey I'd suggest a gimp mask or cock ring for him, or possibly some hand cuffs or weighted nipple clamps for her.

Those funky French may go on about what great lovers they are, but us Brits are close behind in the bedroom, more responsible with our contraception, and have far more kinky fun between the sheets. So go on, buy him or her that novelty toy. And if they complain, just point out that nearly half the population are into it.

Tony's present to Cherie

You know it makes sense.

Busy, but why?

Unknown @ Friday, February 13, 2004
In today's Guardian, Polly Toynbee writes in defence of the rising numbers of people employed by the Civil Service, and is highly critical of Michael Howard's proposed cost savings of £80billion by slashing their ranks.

She starts - not atypically - with a melodramatic outburst, comparing the cost saving against various department budgets, but rather out of context. She then mounts a robust defence, identifying the marvellous public spirited works these people do.

Unfortunately, she completely misses the point.

The Inland Revenue has more staff to deal with tax credits, which go to many more families than before.

Well, most of the additional IR staff are being employed to oversee an increasingly complicated system. Given that tax credits replaced allowances, then it is hardly surprising that more people are getting them than before. However the system is so complicated that many people eligible for them are put off from applying, and more staff are required to understand the continually changing legislation. Various accountancy organisations have repeatedly criticised Gordon Brown for his machine gun approach to introducing legislation which - in many cases - costs more to police than it raises. IR35 anyone?

The Crown Prosecution Service has more lawyers to take over the police work of deciding who should be charged - wasting less court time and releasing more police officers.

One shouldn't forget to mention the bureaucratic overhead of preparing the documentation for the CPS. Or the fact that the police staff released are in many cases not front-line crime fighters. And if more police are being released to crime-stopping duties, where the heck are they? Not around here as far as anyone can tell. And the CPS is hardly a paragon of virtue when it comes to selecting cases.

The Passport Office and the immigration service have grown: how else can passports and asylum cases be processed faster?

In the case of the former, getting the new computerised system working would have been a good thing, as anyone who queued during at a passport office during the fiasco a while back could tell you. And let's not even go down the asylum and immigration route shall we. Implementing a sensible and manageable policy would be a good first step. Rather than just throwing human resources at an unworkable system as at present.

The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence have more staff to deal with terror threats around the world and with war and reconstruction in Iraq

Now Polly, you're just being silly.

Among those on the Howard hit-list are Job Centre personal advisers who make the New Deals such a success that yesterday unemployment hit the lowest ever recorded.

You're joking now Polly, aren't you? I mean, raising the New Deals as beacons of light in the morass that is unemployment.

If you look closely, there's a thread running through the above, that can be summarised in one simple word - efficiency.

The prime mover behind rising number employed in the civil service - an employment sector that is primarily a revenue sink for the nation, and thus funded exclusively by those who do work in generating national income - is that they are trying to support a terribly complicated and inefficient edifice. The Inland Revenue is so inefficient that when recently challenged to produce evidence of the cost against benefit for legislation introduced explicitly to reduce tax avoidance, it was unable to do so. So how do they know whether or not such legislation is having an effect.

Likewise the Police, the CPS, the Immigration Service, etc, etc, etc.

The point that should have been made was that the cuts the Tories are proposing should only be made in conjunction with quantifiable improvements in efficiency. The improvements would undoubtedly be dependent on the passing of suitable legislation in order to introduce simplicity and clarity to the system.

The bottom line is that Polly believes in government as an expression of the people, is a supporter of the Left's belief in big government as a power for good, for reform and for justice. That no government has ever really achieved such a pinnacle is not an excuse to give up. It is however, a cautionary note on why the balance between big government and individual freedom of choice is a narrow and precarious place.

And today, I'm sorry to say, the government is too big, too interfering and too unaccountable.

Get involved

Unknown @ Friday, February 13, 2004
Early Day Motion 300 asks the Government to complain to the UNSC about the sale of biological agents by the USA to the Iraqi Government. This event gets close to the heart of the hypocrisy of the US in the scandal of its dealings with Iraq. The text of the motion can be found here.

To get your MP to sign up, please us the "Fax your MP" link in the sidebar.

Show me the money - coda

Unknown @ Friday, February 13, 2004
Well having had more time to look at the Pensions Bill, it gets worse. Firstly it halves the level of protection from 5% or the rate of inflation, which ever is lower, to 2.5% or the rate of inflation. So anyone with a private sector (not public sector note) pension had better start praying that inflation never gets out of control again.

It's not all Labour's fault. The origins of the crisis go back to legislation rushed in by the Tories in the aftermath of the Maxwell affair. They forced funds to buy annuities for existing pensioners first. As a result anyone not yet retired but who's fund was in trouble would end up with two thirds of bugger all.

However, Labour must accept responsibility for the majority of the pensions crisis. The stealth tax on dividend payments to pension funds netted £5 billion in its first year, but compounded this works out at about £100 billion. Sure there would still be problems, but nothing like the ones now faced.

Thursday 12 February 2004

Show me the money

Unknown @ Thursday, February 12, 2004
So at last the Department for Work and Pensions reveals its plans to address the nation's pensions crisis. An insurance fund with mandatory contributions. Wow, I feel a whole lot more secure about the future now. Unfortunately for many who've already seen their pension head down the pan, it won't do anything for them. Nor will it help existing pensioners who are struggling by now.

In fact, apart from some unquantifiable feel-good element, it is hard to know just what level of additional security it will bring.

The real problem is that, as a nation, we don't save enough, be it in pension contributions or personal savings. And it is hardly surprising when the incentives to save become fewer and fewer. PEPs and TESSAs were replaced by the more confusing and miserly ISAs, and don't get me started on the £5billion per annum raid on pension plan dividend payments.

If the government is serious about addressing the issue of financial provision in old age, then they need to put in place significant incentives to save for tomorrow rather than live for today and hope. And for starters, that means scrapping any thoughts of apply capital gains tax to first homes. If they think the pensions crisis is bad now, just wait 'til they've handed out a beating to people who are relying on downsizing their property in old age to raise an income.

And another benefit of savings incentives is that they might just discourage people from running up even greater personal debt.

Hey Stupid!

Unknown @ Thursday, February 12, 2004
Once again, in a demonstration of the DfES strategy of "when the music stops, grab a policy", A-Levels are to undergo a shake up in order to make it easier for universities to distinguish between numerous candidates with A grades. And you can see the problem; last year more than 21% of students attained A grade passes at A level.

Now I may be being a bit dense here, but how about making the exams as tough as they used to be, and maybe a little tweaking of the grade boundaries? Actually the latter is being considered, though carefully given the 2002 fiasco where a couple of thousand grades had to be adjusted upwards.

Oh, I see, that's discriminatory against weaker students. How stupid of me not to realise. Can't have poor little Tommy feeling a failure because he only got a grade B now can we. Poor little chap might have to sue the exam board for emotional trauma of not getting straight A's.

Anyway, once again the whole system is being reviewed and while we may hope for some clarity, the most likely result is yet another set of standards and targets, leading to confusion. Then just as everyone begins to get used the new system, off goes the music at the DfES again.

Wednesday 11 February 2004

Haven't they anything better to do?

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Let's spare a thought for poor (though maybe not for much longer) Rosie Reid. When presented with the financial nightmare of being a student, rather than rush home cap in hand to mummy and daddy or even the bank to increase her debts, she showed true entrepreneurial spirit. Successful businesses are based on finding a product in demand, and then getting the best price for it. Unfortunately the only in-demand product she could find to sell was her virginity. But hey, let's not knock her; she identified a demand, found a product to satisfy (ooer) the demand; marketed the product and is hoping to complete the transaction shortly. Exactly the sort of spirit that once made this country great, and just what Gordon Brown keeps banging (sorry about the puns) on about.

Only now the police are involved. Trying to decide whether or not she is guilty of soliciting.

Well let me save the CPS some time and money.

She is not selling her body. She is not selling sex. She is selling some of her intellectual property because - let's face it - for the majority of women post menarche that's all it really is. It's no different to you or I selling our knowledge to clients.

So to Avon and Somerset Police I have only this to say - Leave the girl alone and do something more constructive like addressing the reasons why you missed 6 out of 8 targets for tackling volume crime last year.

When is a bribe not a bung?

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 11, 2004
When it's modernisation cash for the Unions I suppose. Will be interesting to see how it ends up being spent. Though I'm not quite as cynical as the Tories, I do wonder if there aren't better ways of supporting workers in the modern labour market than simply shoving money to the Unions.

And I wonder if the R.M.T. would still be eligible given its radical modernisation step of expulsion from the Labour Party.

Can't these people read?

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 11, 2004
So now Jack Straw joins Tony Blair in the blissful state of ignorance regarding the distinction between battlefield and strategic WMDs.

Can't these people be bothered to read the documents placed in front of them? So while the Defence Secretary, the Chairman of the JIC and the former Foriegn Secretary knew that the claim refered only to battlefield weapons, the Prime Minister and the Foriegn Secretary didn't.

Meanwhile Donald Rumsfeld doesn't remember and isn't bothered. At least that's a marginally more honest position I guess.


Unknown @ Wednesday, February 11, 2004
The UK Today would like to offer Margaret McDonagh its heartiest congratulations on her imminent appointment to the institution formerly known as the House of Lords. She had a tough job and did it well. I for one would have wanted more than a peerage before I'd lower myself to handling Richard Desmond's dirty donations to the Labour Party.

Hip hip horay.

You could be next

Unknown @ Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Over recent years we've seen an increase in outsourcing of call centre and IT jobs to India. Now Reuters has taken it a step further by outsourcing journalism to India. I kid you not. As this story shows, Reuters are planning to transfer the routine reporting of Wall St business news to Bangalore.

Management makes the claim that the cost savings from this move will actually work to preserve jobs in the struggling company. That's a position I'll reserve judgement for now. From past experience this looks very similar to the stealth approach followed by other companies who claimed it would have no negative impact, only to make significant numbers redundant over subsequent months.

However, with the Civil Service hiring staff at a rate of 500 per week, perhaps there are some cost savings to be made by shipping the whole Government and supporting infrastructure to Bangalore or Mumbai. They certainly appear to have suitable skills, offering an improvement over many of the current incumbents of Westminster.

Tuesday 10 February 2004

Airfix Terrorism

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Now this is frightening. And so damned plausible.

Sad Ad

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Just saw that Peugeot 206 advert on TV. The one where the Indian lad covets a 206, but can't afford one. So instead he bashes some old Hindustan into a semblance of his object of desire. First few times I saw it, I thought it was great.

But then I thought about it a bit more, and its actually quite a damning comment on globalisation, or what should more accurately be called Corporate Colonialism. It basically says that we've successfully exported our desires and aspirations to a nation that can't as yet support them. And with the wave of outsourcing spreading east to China, is most likely giving them a brief glimpse of a false dawn.

I'm all for supporting developing nations, but outsourcing our corporate culture and attitudes is not the way.

This is a theme I'll come back to.

Who to blame?

Unknown @ Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Last year the town of Bury St. Edmunds was the winner of best large town in the "Anglia in Bloom" competition. This year the council have banned the hanging baskets that are a popular and prominent feature of the display. And the reason for the ban is quite simple, in that the council is worried that the heavy baskets could fall and injure the public.

At first glance it might be tempting to slag off the council for being pathetic. Indeed the chairman of the Bury in Bloom committee stated:

They are guarding their own backs over health and safety, but no-one has been hurt - certainly not in Bury St Edmunds, certainly not in Suffolk.

Unfortunately he's missed the point and the council aren't the ones to blame in this case. Instead the finger of responsibility should point firmly at the blood sucking legions of ambulance chasing lawyers. Not to mention the ignorant jerks who would rather fleece a couple of grand out of the council than take responsibility for their own lives for once. Net effect is that if the council puts up hanging baskets, the insurance company will put up the premiums. And the council will pass on the cost to the local council tax payers.

So we all end up paying for the selfish bastards who are unable to accept that sometimes accidents just happen. That sometimes it isn't anyone's fault in particular. Sh*t happens and you should learn to get on with life.

The world is an unjust place and there are far more important issues to address than ensuring that Joe Bloggs gets his two grand from the council for tripping over a crack in the pavement simply because he couldn't be bothered to look where he's going.

Monday 9 February 2004

Something doesn't add up

Unknown @ Monday, February 09, 2004
Here in Barnsley, Council Tax is set to increase by 5.35%.

At the same time, the CPI (Consumer Price Index - new inflation measure) sits at 1.8%, and the RPI (Retail Price Index - old measure) stands at 2.8%.

So why the inflation busting increase?

One reason is probably related to the wage bill. Public Sector wage rises were running at 3.9% last year, which directly impacts Local Government wage expenditure. Although a more significant hit probably came as a result of Gordon Brown's increase in National Insurance last year.

But locally, the main reason cited is increased spending on education.

Well, in a council with some of the worst schools and the poorest Ofsted results in the country, increased expenditure could be a good thing. If I honestly thought the charlatans at the LEA were even vaguely capable of managing the budget and delivering the results. Which I don't for a couple of reasons.

Firstly Edna Sutton, head of the LEA, has called for lower targets for Barnsley schools. Yup, that's right, lower standards. Her rationale is that the current standards are too high and thus unattainable, leading to disillusionment amongst education staff. Obviously she doesn't know much about human nature. Let's say the target was 70% of pupils achieving 4 GCSE passes. And the reality was only 50%. Is setting the target lower at say 60% going to achieve the desired result? Probably not. More likely is that the target will still be missed, though maybe not by as much. Maybe with a lowered target, they might only slip by 12%. Sounds better, until you realise that the pass rate has now dropped to 48%.

A long time ago a friend gave me some advice when I returned to Polytechnic (for those too young to remember, a Poly was a University that was in touch with reality). I said that I'd be happy with a 2:2 pass. He replied that I was a fool, and should aim for a 1st. I pointed out that my chances of gaining a 1st were damn near zilch. Doesn't matter says he. Imagine if you will, a monkey leaping from tree to tree. He can aim for the highest branch in the next tree, or settle for the lowest. If he aims high and misses, he still has other branches to catch him. If he aims for the lowest and misses, splat. So I listened to his advice, and gained a 2:1 Honours.

Anyway, back to the LEA.

The second reason for not trusting them is due entirely to their grandiose plans for completely restructuring the education system in Barnsley. The scheme is too complex to cover the details here, although information is available here. Basically the approach can be summed up as "The education system is failing in Barnsley. We've an idea what is wrong, but either haven't a clue how to address it, or are too frightened of the reaction we'll get. So instead we'll just completely change the system and hope that it works. After all, it can't be any worse than it is a present."

I won't tolerate that sort of attitude from IT specialists in non-critical business areas, so I sure as hell find it unacceptable from an LEA responsible for our children's education here in Barnsley.

Yet this is what we're expected to pay more for. The increase will probably help to cover the increased NI bill on Edna's rumoured £100k+ salary.

Who does Mark Byford think he is?

Unknown @ Monday, February 09, 2004
Or better still, what does he think he is supposed to be doing. Or even, just what sort of a person is the Acting Director-General of the BBC?

Well, based on his performance in BBC Radio 4's Feedback program, I guess the answer might be a cowardly wimp.

He said:

"The notion of exclusive here, exclusive there, exlusive everywhere is not appropriate for the BBC in the sense it is giving the flavour of competing with newspapers or whatever in bringing original exclusives."

Right. Well, I agree that the pursuit of exclusive stories should not be the sole objective of the BBC's news and current affairs staff, but that doesn't mean they should simply give up.

Byford continues:

"[the job of the BBC was] first and foremost to report news in a reliable, accurate and impartial manner."

Sure, but we're not talking court-of-law standards here. Or at least we shouldn't be, although in the post-Hutton media world it would seem that the BBC is supposed to reach unattainable standards of accuracy. Certainly higher than those of the Goverment or Intelligence Services.

National Treasure #1 - John Humphreys

Unknown @ Monday, February 09, 2004
An interesting interview with John Humphreys can be found here, and in the Radio Times. I would also recommend you catch his column in the Sunday Times while you can. Even better was his interviewing of Mark Byford on Today on Saturday.

So let's hear it for John Humphreys. A man not afraid to stand up to his bosses for what is right and good about the BBC. Thank you join for having the cojones to stand up to a bullying Government. And the less said about Mark Byford the better.

FBI - U.K. Style

Unknown @ Monday, February 09, 2004
Just what are they taking in the Home Office these days? Turn your back for 5 minutes and whoosh, the sound of another policy announcement winging its way from Queen Anne's Gate. Today we have the announcement of the formation of SOCA. No, nothing to do with balls, although depending on your perception of these sorts of things, you might want to think of it as having a lot to do with the by products of bulls... Anyway, back to the SOCA, more formally known as the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It is a merger of the NCS (National Crime Squad), the NCIS (National Criminal Intelligence Service) along with the investigative branches of HMC&E (Her Majesty's Customs and Excise) and the Immigration Service. The new organisation's remit is to tackle serious crimes such as drug trafficking, people smuggling, fraud and extortion. However, it will not deal with terrorism or murder; these crimes remaining with the current responsible organisations. And in order to hit the ground running, the SOCA will employ up to 5,000 agents, along with civilian staff such as accountants, computer consultants and financial experts to assist in investigations.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Very topical, what with the Morecombe deaths last week. I'd go as far as to say that it is just the sort of integrated organisation that is need to tackle these sorts of crimes.

As with most announcements these days, the devil is in the detail. 5,000 agents sounds impressive, until you realise that these aren't new agents, but are rather the result of the organisational mergers (NCIS: 1,200 employees, NCS: 1,750 employees, HMC&E: 1,850 employees).

And the issues of excessive bureaucracy that hamstring the current law enforcement agencies also need to be resolved. Otherwise it will become just another money pit, and a massive let-down.

And the responsibility for prosecuting these crimes will still lie with the regional forces, who are already struggling. What chance is there of seeing an increase in the successful detections and conviction of burglaries, muggings and other opportunistic crimes when the local police are tied up processing the prestige cases from the glory boys at SOCA.

To be brutally honest, a more appropriate approach would be:
  • an increase in number of conventional police;
  • increased emphasis on detecting serious crimes rather than persecuting motorists;
  • a massive reduction in the bureaucratic burdens of the existing forces;
  • a toughening up of sentencing by the courts;

So let's not get too upbeat about this. In reality it is more likely to be another piece of PR from the Blunkett machine than a truly constructive step forward in crime detection and prosecution. If the SOCA does get the go-ahead, I predict that it will become ineffective and bogged down in petty squabbling with the existing organisations within 5 years.

Friday 6 February 2004

Diplock mk2

Unknown @ Friday, February 06, 2004
These courts are one of the distinctive features that make Northern Ireland a very different place from the rest of Britain. Many major crimes are tried by judges alone, without a jury, because of the danger of intimidation by paramilitary groups. The courts were set up after Lord Diplock published a report in 1972 recommending non-jury trials and the easier use of confessions to convict suspected guerrillas.

Oh what a crazy country. As recently as 1996 the Labour Party - in opposition - voted against the government's anti-terrorism legislation, not because it was against such legislation in principle, but rather because one aspect that it would liked to have seen removed was the Diplock Court system. Once in power, the supporting legislation was instead extended. Sad enough for a party once so critical in opposition, but understandable. After all, in emergency situations powers are sometimes required which would otherwise not be necessary. And many would agree that in Ulster conditions had potentially warranted the exercise of such powers at times. After all, at the peak of the Troubles, terrorist acts of violence against the community at large were commonplace.

Since 9/11 the World has been perceived to be a less safe place. All remember the horror of the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. Back in the U.K. though, more people have died as a consequence of accidents on the railways than have suffered at the hands of Al Qaeda. So why in God's name does David Blunkett feel the need to introduce some form of Diplock System for terror cases in this country? Barristers involved in the process have described the proposal for "secret non-jury" trials as untenable. Nothing new there then, this government being particularly fond of not only proposing, but also attempting to implement other untenable "bright ideas". Not only does our esteemed Home Secretary desire the introduction of "trial-by-judge", but he also suggests a "lower burden of proof" be required for conviction in these courts.

Given this government's ability to go to war on the thinnest  most insubstantial evidence, one can only assume that these courts would have more in common with the Salem Witch Trials than any form of recognisable justice. The law may well be an ass, but it would seem that in the UK today, justice is blind.