Monday, 30 November 2009

Leeches

The Premier League paid the astonishing sum of £70 million to agents in one year. It's astonishing and outrageous.

How has this situation come about? How are these licensed leeches getting away with it? I understand why footballers feel the need to employ agents. Football is big business these days and players need advice to negotiate the best contracts and the best terms.

But agents in other walks of life generally get by by receiving a percentage of the money earned by their clients. Actors agents, writers agents even estate agents. So how is it that clubs are paying them too? How has that come about? And why do they put up with it?

What seems to be happening is that the clubs are being contacted by agents who grease the wheels of transfers and facilitate them. This has the added attraction that clubs cannot then be accused of tapping up players contracted to other clubs. They talk to their agents instead. And it is in the interest of agents to tempt players with talk of riches on offer elsewhere so that they can get their nice juicy fees as part of the transfer. It's an invitation to corruption and it is taking millions out of the game.

The clubs could put a stop to this by simply refusing to pay these fees. Agents work for players. But of course that's never going to happen because they are all so desperate for success and to get the best available players that they will pay the price.

What a nasty, corrupt and meretricious world football really is if you scratch just a little beneath the surface.

A Policy For Growth

I've been critical of David Cameron recently in a few posts and so here is a bit of balancing praise where it is due. The Spectator reports that the Tories are planning radical cuts in Corporation Tax, with an aspiration to get it down to 20%, the lowest amongst leading economies, during the course of the next Parliament.

This is something for which I have been arguing for a while and is extremely good news. Current government policies are relying on public spending to get us back on track economically. This is the opposite of what they should be doing. Far from being 'investment' as Gordon Brown likes to call it, it is a drag on the economy because it sucks money out of the wealth generating private sector and into the public sector. Yes we need always to invest in roads, schools and infrastructure projects but the vast increases in public spending by Brown these last ten years have been nothing of the sort. I suspect he knows this which is why he has taken to using the I word. Brown seems to think that if he labels something in this way we will all believe him, that it will somehow seep into our consciousness.

This is why the current levels of spending and borrowing are so dangerous and need to be addressed so urgently. The billions currently being borrowed are effectively delayed taxes being levied far into the future. Taxes suck money out of the economy and cost jobs. They may create public sector jobs in the short term but the money has to come from somewhere. High public spending eventually destroys our ability to generate new wealth and profits which pay for our public services. Tax cuts, particularly those for business, encourage businesses to invest, employ people and create that wealth. Gordon Brown seems to either not know this or to be conveniently ignoring it so that he can create his bloody dividing lines. His current policies and determination to keep spending are destroying our ability to create the jobs of the future.

The next government needs urgently to look at our tax system and find a way to incentivise business and individuals to work harder and do some real investing in our future. Happily David Cameron and George Osborne seem to understand this and are saying so.

Iran's Game Of Bluff

As President Obama prepares to announce another troop surge in one intractable war zone, another part of the world, not so very far away, seems to be heading inexorably in that direction too.

Obama has had a really terrible first year diplomatically. All of his undoubtedly good intentions and willingness to reset relationships have been thrown back in his face. Now Iran has responded to his hand of friendship with a raised finger. They are, they claim, accelerating their nuclear program and daring the world to try and stop them.

Now of course it could all be rhetoric. This illegitimate government could be adopting the time honoured approach of trying to unite a nation by creating tension with outside forces. Defiance goes down well in a proud and ancient nation and that will have been Ahmadinejad's calculation. But more than that he is gambling that there is little the world will do if our sanctions and threats are ignored. He will also be calculating that Russia and China will as ever refuse to back more robust action. He will have noted that North Korea has been able to acquire nuclear weapons by stalling, doing deals, reneging on them and then being defiant until those weapons are a fait accompli. He is now planning on doing the same on the assumption that we are diplomatically and militarily powerless to stop him.

The difference is Israel, a nation whose very survival may be at stake. Israel will be watching and waiting. It will already be making plans. It can see in Ahmadinejad a man seized by a special kind of zealotry which makes him especially dangerous, much more dangerous than little Kim Jong-Il. Israel may not be willing to appease and talk much longer and I have every sympathy with their point of view. The whole approach to Iran has been a nonsense and a debacle so that now we are heading towards crisis.

Is anyone really surprised that we have reached this point? We've always known what Iran was up to and yet we have kept trying the same approaches, the same tired strategies and ignored the lessons of history. Iran is determined to have the bomb. But I for one do not believe that Iran wants it just so that it can feel secure as does North Korea. Iran is a nation with wider and potentially devastating ambitions led by men who believe in dangerous nonsense about their holy destiny. They have the mindset of suicide bombers but with nuclear ambitions.

It is time for Obama and the west to get serious on this issue before it is too late. They have to demand cooperation from Russia and China. We have leverage over both and can and should use that leverage urgently. We are not yet at the point where war is inevitable but we are not far away. Ahmadinejad thinks we are bluffing. I hope to god we aren't because we can't afford to.


Football North Korea Style

Everybody's favourite delusional fruitcake/vicious dictator, Kim Jong-Il, has apparently told North Korea's state broadcaster that next year's World Cup matches involving their team are to be edited so that they look good. Does that mean that the goals scored by other teams will be cut out and expunged from the national consciousness? Can you imagine what will happen if the opposition score a dodgy goal such as the Thierry Henry handball incident last week? Kim may well declare war.

I know that Kim keeps a tight rein on his country and that many of them may well really believe that they live in a socialist paradise under the leadership of a genius and polymath, but does he really believe that he can pull the wool over their eyes to this extent? North Korea last took part in the final stages of the World Cup in 1966 when it was held in England. So have his people been told that its a tournament that only takes place once every 44 years?

Communist dictatorships of course are very fond of international sporting events such as these in order to show off their superiority to the world. We assume that Kim, being one of the very few people in his country who has access to what is going on elsewhere in the world, is aware that his country is starving, its people malnourished and that it will probably lose and lose badly next summer in South Africa. He's setting himself up for a fall rather isn't he. One can only wonder at him allowing any coverage at all.

Presumably, when the unhappy elimination takes place, some poor TV presenter will have to slyly insert it into a bulletin. Something along the lines of: 'Today our glorious and well fed nation produced another few grams of fissile material, our dear leader, in between writing a book and an opera and directing his latest film, called several decadent imperialists in the west and rubbed their nose in their inferiority. Oh and we were knocked out of the World Cup. It was never offside.'

Or is it like when the BBC announces the football scores on a Saturday but advises those who don't want to know the results so that they can enjoy the game in ignorance on Match of the Day to look away for a few seconds and mute the sound? In North Korea they may well do much the same: 'And now today's football results from the evil capitalist abomination in South Africa. If you don't want to spend the next ten years doing hard labour and being retrained to be a good communist switch off your television now.'

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Read This Before Copenhagen

I've just found this really excellent summary on the Devil's Kitchen Blog of why Climategate means that the wheels have come off the AGW bandwagon even if they are unwilling to admit it. Have a read. If you are a politician definitely have a read before you go off and do something really really stupid in Copenhagen. If you are David Cameron have a read before you go sending out any more stupid e-mails talking about the real problem of climate change.

Here's the point: If people really insist that none of this matters and that we should go ahead with the hot air festival as intended it means that they don't understand the issues. That's the bottom line. So that includes most politicians (there are honourable exceptions) and almost all so called environment correspondents whose idea of journalism is to talk to the sort of people who have been caught out being economical with the truth and report what they say as fact. Roger Harrabin being a prime example.

Last year, during the economic crisis, ITN realised that it needed an economics editor as the bloody stuff kept being in the news and the BBC, being the BBC seemed to have two or three of them. So to compete with the BBC and they appointed someone who happened to be in the office at the time but who knew little or nothing of the subject. But at least then the could say that they had an economics editor. The difference of course with economics is that none of them agree about anything anyway and so there is never some consensus based truth to report, just a series of opinions.

Climate is very similar to economics. Nobody really understands the climate properly but to say that would not sound very scientific and might have cut off all of that government cash. And the same is definitely true of environment correspondents and editors. They are journalists who probably have degrees in English Lit or something similar. They have bought the AGW drivel because they trusted the scientists spinning it. Now they are looking rather foolish. Perhaps it will teach them to do their jobs properly in future and not just take everything on trust.


Tiger's Comic Turn

There is something extremely comical and indeed Laurel and Hardyesque about Tiger Woods' crash the other night. A man, pursued by his furious, golf club wielding wife, runs from his house, jumps into his car and drives out only to crash into a fire hydrant. This is comedy gold.

When someone makes a film of his life, or even if it is turned into a comedy sketch, please please for the sake of tradition make his wife a large domineering woman wearing a night dress and rollers in her hair. Tiger should run from the house and his trousers should fall down at least once. And after he crashes it would not be a proper crash if one wheel didn't come off and emerge from the smoking wreckage and roll away down the hill.

A Natural Twit

The Sunday Times reports that Prince Charles, the man whose alleged expertise in architecture has been offered to many British developers whether they want it or not, is to be called as a witness by the Candy Brothers whose massively expensive development in Chelsea he managed to frustrate earlier this year. Hurrah to that!

Charles imagines himself to be an expert in all manner of subjects, as a consequence of having bugger all else to do. He's like a blogger in a way. He picks up various newspapers, sees something with which he disagrees and is not shy about letting people know. I am not short of opinions myself and often let people know. It's just that in my case nobody takes a blind bit of notice. It's not immediately obvious why they should behave any differently when our heir does the same. An interest in a subject does not make one an expert as the diletante prince demonstrates every time he opens his mouth or unsheaths his pen.

Yes this doesn't stop him from firing off letters to ministers, developers, quangos, health authorities et al on all manner of subjects from architecture to homeopathic medicine. Neither does it stop him from doing so when various recipients, acknowledged experts who earn a living in their various pursuits, write back and point out that he is utterly wrong.

In recent months he has gone on a tour of South America in a private jet to investigate climate change. Yes, he is a sort of quintessential green meanie. Most of them as we know do not have real jobs, being middle class hippies and trustafarians. He must be the meanie in chief when you think about it. He has written to various developers offering his 'experience' to them. Ministers regularly receive letters from the pompous and jobless twerp offering advice. One can't help but wonder what they do with these missives. File them in the waste paper basket? I know I would.

I suppose this is the problem when one surrounds oneself with lackeys and yes men. People in this position frequently come to believe that they really do have expertise and great wisdom and seek to dispense it far and wide.

So it is entirely to be welcomed that someone aggrieved by this impertinent intrusion and indeed significantly out of pocket as a consequence will now be hauling the prince into court. Sadly they are not suing Charles himself. But perhaps after a mauling by a QC - that's someone who studied and worked hard to become good at something, Charles - he might realise that his expertise is the sort enjoyed by sofa based critics everywhere.

Still, if he really feels the need to give vent to his ill considered and ill thought out opinions without bothering people with real jobs he could always adopt the obvious remedy. Why not ask his friend Stephen Fry about blogging and Twittering?

Show Us Your Working

The University of East Anglia, in the wake of Climategate, has finally agreed to publish all of the data which it has so long jealously guarded. This is of course welcome news and not before time.

But is this the same data they said it was impossible to publish? Is this the same date that they were prevented from publishing for all kinds of intractable legal reasons? Is this the same date which, in some cases, had been lost?

The university has of course put up a sterling defence of its intransigence and of the language contained in some of those e-mails. But the simple fact remains that they have tried to keep this data to themselves. That is now how science is supposed to work. It is simple arrogance that they thought they would get away with it and, but for this 'criminal act' they would still be denying access even now.

In order for scientific theories to be evaluated they need to be tested by others. It's like when you're at school and your maths teacher tells you to show your working. It's not enough to give answers, you have to show how they were arrived at. The East Anglian climate scientists (a specialty that was unknown 30 years ago) need to show their working. They are not alone in this attitude but we cannot take their predictions and modelling seriously unless they do. It's really basic stuff.

Another casualty of this scandal will be the peer review process. It has been shown to be flawed and easily corrupted by scientists determined to shut out dissenting voices and have their own work accepted. Again this is not how science is supposed to work. And they wonder why people are so sceptical.



Saturday, 28 November 2009

I Really Want To Like David Cameron, But....Part III

I got an e-mail from Dave yesterday. I get them regularly. This one was about climate change. Was it a shocked and appalled reaction to Climategate? It was not. It was the usual stuff about tackling this 'real danger'.

Real danger, Dave? Are you sure?

The Conservatives, Dave told me, are going to be making various speeches over the next few days in the run up to the Copenhagen festival of hot air. And to be fair some of the ideas they will be talking about are not bad ones. But they tend to be the ones that have least to do with climate change. George Osborne for instance is going to talk about rewarding people for recycling rather than punishing them and have their bins inspected by licensed snoopers. A good idea. And Andrew Mitchell is going to talk about stopping our money from paying for environmentally damaging projects. I can live with that too.

But underlying all of this is the Tories' tacit acceptance that there is still a requirement to tackle this 'real danger'. Shouldn't they at least be asking questions about the Hadley Centre and its behaviour? They are paid for by taxpayers after all and their science such as it is could potentially cost us many billions of pounds as we try to tackle the real danger that is not real at all.

I know that most of the media have been ignoring this story but it is not going to go away. In the unlikely event that a deal is done in Copenhagen we want to know that all of the pain it inflicts is going to be worth it. And if a deal is not done then it may well fall to the Conservatives to take part in the continuing negotiations next year. Are they going to keep buying the consensus line for fear of enraging the Green Meanies and media chattering classes? Or are they going to do their jobs properly and ask some serious questions? There's really nothing wrong with asking questions even if it offends the Green Meanies.

Earlier this week Cameron, along with the other party leaders, set out their agenda for growth in the economy. How they reconcile these ambitions with their determination to saddle us with vast costs and taxes to 'tackle climate change' is the big unanswered question. It is also unasked of course because the media also buys this nonsense. But Dave and co would do well to ask themselves the question at least in private. The electorate, as recent polls have shown, will not be shy about asking it.


A Shiver Down The Spine

Oh no! Go out and buy warm coats, scarves, gloves and thermals. Buy snow chains for your car and keep blankets and a survival kit in the boot. Purchase some sturdy boots and plenty of warm sweaters. Knit if necessary.

The Met Office, the same organisation that promised us a 'Barbecue Summer' has predicted a 'Mild Winter'. You can almost feel the wind shifting round to the frozen north, although of course according to the Met Office this shouldn't matter because the frozen north is melting.

A nation waits - and buys some draught excluders just in case.

Looking Past The Headline Figures

The latest opinion polls since the shock of that IPSOS/MORI one of a week or so ago, show that it was indeed a rogue. What they also show are much more revealing however. They show that that slightly flimsy but still consistent Tory lead is holding.

But what they also show is that concentration on national figures are illusory and a waste of time. As ever this will be an election decided in a few dozen marginal seats. In this money is going to be a deciding factor and it is this that will most worry Labour. For years now they have been complaining about Lord Ashcroft and his millions and for good reason. The millions pumped into marginal constituencies is showing a clear Tory lead. It is this which will decide the next election and may, after all, whatever the national averages show, lead to a Tory landslide.

The first past the post system means that the parties pile up votes in certain parts of the country and that those vote piles are meaningless. But an unpopular and tired government isn't able to compete in the tighter contests as once it did. Furthermore, thanks to a precipitate drop in donations, a broke Labour Party isn't able to compete on the ground. The resources and activists just aren't there. It is in these areas that the election will be decided.

Friday, 27 November 2009

A WWW Shaped Recession

I can understand why people might want a holiday home in the South of France, Spain, the Balearics, the Caribbean and so on. I cannot and never have been able to understand why they might want to buy a holiday home on an artificial and rather tacky man-made island created in a desert kingdom. The prices were quite attractive and the weather is very reliable of course. But I still struggled to see the appeal especially when they started giving free houses to footballers who aren't exactly renowned for their good taste or financial acumen.

It seems I was not alone. Dubai, that great shining jewel of bad taste and excess is in financial trouble and asking to postpone its debts.

The reason of course all of this took off in the first place was because we assumed that, being Arabs, they had lots of money. If they wanted to sink it into a grotesque kind of Arab Disney World - which is close to being an oxymoron I've always thought - then surely they could afford to do so.

Yet now people are wondering if we are seeing another Lehman Brothers. Now people are wondering if this is the start of the much vaunted double dip recession, more government bailouts and more looking askance at smug bankers and wondering how they could be so stupid whilst being rewarded with their seven figure remuneration packages.

And this is a sign that we are still not being told the truth about the problem debts still afflicting our banks. This is almost certainly why those banks are still not lending normally, still trying to squeeze us for every penny they can lay their hands on and still keeping this country, alone amongst leading economies, in recession. Earlier this year I thought that the green shoots of recovery we were all seeing meant that the banks were returning to normal. I was wrong. Our government is still not getting to grips with the problem and this is what is dragging down the economy.

I don't think this will be another Lehman Brothers because we have all learnt the lessons of that debacle. But Dubai shows that there is plenty more toxicity out there and some of it is the toxicity not of giant and arrogant companies and banks but of countries. Greece or a country like it could be the next big crisis to hit the world economy.

This could turn out not to be a W shaped recession or even a VW one, but an appropriately modern WWW shaped slump the way we are going. Until governments, particularly our government, get tough with the banks and force them to go forensically through their books, we are going to be bumping along the bottom for a very long time.

ET Is Out There

NASA scientists are set to announce extremely compelling evidence that there has or may still be microbial life on Mars. A Martian meteorite found in 1984, but which hit the Earth 13, 000 years ago having previously spent millions of years in space, contains what are almost certainly fossilized bacteria - extra terrestrial life.

It's stunning and fascinating news. In itself it doesn't mean that life is still on Mars but it shows that it probably has been there until the planet became too hostile. And if we know anything about bacteria we know it can live and indeed thrive in pretty hostile conditions.

But more than that it does suggest that life may well be widespread throughout the universe. Earth and Mars are neighbours after all and there are plenty of other places just in our solar system on which conditions are much more promising for life to exist.

None of this means that we are about to find ET of course. But, if life is widespread the chances of ET existing are pretty good. But, as I have argued before - not least in my upcoming novel by the way - the likelihood of a Star Trek type universe teeming with intelligent life remains incredibly remote. Whilst basic life is most probably quite common, as this discovery may well demonstrate, the chances of it surviving for long enough to evolve into even basic animals remain astronomical. Bacteria lived on Earth for about half of its entire existence before conditions became right, evolution kicked in and the tree of life sprung into being. In the meantime any young planet or satellite can be assailed by all manner of disasters wiping out life before it gets started. Earth just got lucky. Very very lucky.

And even if there are a few of those billion to one planets out there which is of course statistically probable in an infinite universe, the chances of them being close enough to visit each other are fantastically unlikely. And then there is time. In a universe that is 13.7 billion years old what chances are there that life would dodge all of those astronomical bullets, evolve into intelligent life and do so at the same time as another form of intelligent life millions of light years away? Not good I would say.

So yes, the universe is probably teeming with life. And yes we are probably not alone. But we may as well be. Then again at least it means we can go about colonising our corner of the cosmos without worrying about running into Kling-Ons and Romulans. Instead, in millions of years time, having spread out around the galaxy, we will probably evolve into other species - after all its only their ears and those sexy ridges on their foreheads that differentiate them. ET will be out there one day. But he'll probably be related to us.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Tell Us Something We Don't Know

The thing about the Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq is that it is very unlikely to tell us anything we don't already know or think we know. The reason we want this inquiry however is that the others have failed to spell it out and so we are having another crack of the whip.

We know that Blair misled the House of Commons. We know that he and his cohorts got creative with the intelligence. They did indeed sex up that dossier. It would just be nice if this could be confirmed in black and white for us all.

I hold up my hands. I backed the Iraq war at the time. I believed our Prime Minister. I was wrong. And that is essentially what we want confirmed. We either want to be absolved of our complicity in this war or we want to be able smugly to point at the report and say: 'There, I was right. I told you so.'

In retrospect Blair must be rather pleased that he is not after all about to take up position as the new President of Europe. As a politician once more (albeit unelected) he would have been obliged to answer questions or at least dodge them repeatedly. As a private citizen and someone who is no longer an MP we can just watch in frustration as he continues to hoover up the cash and ignores our impotent rage.

Will there be lessons learnt from this latest inquiry? I very much doubt that it will tell us anything new or upon which we have not already acted. Like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown will most likely be long out of power by the time the inquiry reports as was always the intention. If he is implicated in any way then he too will be in some private role and frustratingly out of reach. But then that, as we also already know, is how these inquiries tend to work.

Heat And Strife

Here's a humdinger from the Green Meanies. The latest of their increasingly hysterical and fantastical announcements in the lead up to the hot air conference in Copenhagen is a 'study' which purports to reveal that climate change, in addition to creating vast deserts, whilst also increasing storms and rainfall (well that's what they say) and forcing us all to become vegetarians will make civil wars more likely. I know quite a few people actually who might easily become violent if denied a bacon butty, but it could hardly be elevated to civil war.

How do you study potential wars anyway? In particular, how do you study wars which might or might not happen if the weather changes? Have they taken people into laboratories and turned the heating up?

No. It's models again. Whatever would they do without their models? This however is two different forms of guesswork pooled so as to form something more flimsy than a paper hat in a (climate change induced) rainstorm. A one degree rise could see a 55% rise in wars we're told which would mean 390,000 deaths.

And this is the beauty of all of this modelling. They can stick in whatever data they want and get out these results. How do they know? They don't. Yet still journalists will print the stuff. These are people purporting to be scientists who are actually telling us that they know that people will fight more if the weather heats up by a degree over the next 20 years. They also know of course that however baseless their assertions are some journalist with the word environment somewhere in his or her title will take their multiple press releases and repeat them verbatim. Then again you don't need a computer to be able to predict that.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Compare and Contrast

Just an observation: Compare and contrast the way the media is reporting the revelations of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War with the lacklustre way that they are still refusing to cover the Climategate revelations.

We all know that we were lied to over Iraq and that they decided to go to war and depose Saddam come what may. They then concocted the evidence to support their plans and thus a kind of rationale for it.

Well the same is looking increasingly the case over climate change is it not? The scientists have deliberately created some dodgy dossiers, exaggerated or creatively omitted certain facts that do not help make their case. Yet one scandal gets banner headlines the other is ignored except by certain writers and the blogosphere.

You see the religion of climate change has spread into the media too. Even where the e-mails have been reported they have been downplayed. The so called journalists who have reported this story have gone for guidance to the very people who have been responsible for all of the alarmism. It would be like journalists going to Alastair Campbell to explain to them why that dossier wasn't dodgy. The right-on media is terrified of getting out of step on this and so the bandwagon keeps rolling towards economic disaster.

The more you read about this story the worse it gets. Yet still it's being treated as nothing.

This is our future we are talking about. In a matter of days now politicians (including Barack Obama now) will congregate in Copenhagen and discuss draconian (and unachievable) cuts in emissions. To achieve this they will have to impose taxes, regulations, vast transfers of funds, assume technology that hasn't been invented yet and all for a theory with massive holes in it. They do so based on the premiss that we must act now to pass on a viable planet to our children. All very worthy. But in so doing they will be passing on a world economy that will be bankrupt to our children based on evidence that has been shamelessly massaged and deliberately corrupted.

Five years on the media quite rightly continues to be outraged at the way we were taken into an illegal and unnecessary war. Why aren't they equally outraged that we are about to be committed to a war on something that is unproven, probably harmless and as expensive as a world war based on similarly flawed and fraudulent evidence?

I Really Want To Like David Cameron, But....

Part III

It's CardGate. Conservative Party Christmas cards did say 'Season's Greetings' until it was pointed out that Dave, two years ago, said it was politically correct tosh to put this on cards instead of Merry Christmas. So they've caved and Merry Christmas cards are now available. Will they have religious imagery on them? Who knows? But probably.

This shows a certain amount of hyper sensitivity does it not? After all such greetings are pretty much interchangeable really. As long as we're not wishing each other a happy Winterval, as was once the case here in Birmingham, surely it doesn't really matter?

I'm an atheist and yet I wish people a merry Christmas. To the vast majority of people Christmas is a nice time at the end of the year when they can get together with family and friends and have a good time. It has lost much of its religious connection for most people which is why language is immaterial. It's why all of that Winterval drivel was such nonsense. Happily this year Birmingham has Merry Christmas Birmingham in big lights on the front of the Council House and a Christmas Fair full of stalls selling memorabilia, mulled wine, beer and other festive frippery. I have yet to see hordes of offended ethnic minorities and protesting non believers. They tend to turn up and have a beer like everyone else.

So another own goal by Dave. If he can't have the courage of his convictions over a card and does a rapid U turn before the end of November it's a worrying sign for when he is in Downing Street.

The Banks Win As Usual

So, according to the Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords), banks are not unfairly charging their customers for overdrafts after all. Actually that's not quite what the ruling says. It actually says that these charges are beyond the scope of the Office of Fair Trading. The OFT could still come back and take another bite at the banks via another route and probably will.

A year or so ago, like many people, I successfully managed to get a refund of some charges from my bank after several letters and phone calls and a six month wait. It seems I shall have to wait a lot longer now if I am ever to get any more.

It remains possible of course for the government to amend the legislation and allow the OFT to rule on this matter or change consumer laws in some other way. The risk is however that banks will just plug the big gap in their profits this would leave some other way. They may for instance start charging everyone to withdraw money at ATMs. That would, as usual, hit the poorest hardest.

We probably now have to start this long and drawn out process all over again. The OFT has other regulations it can use to try to achieve what it failed to achieve today. But the banks will take the process right the way through the courts system once again and refuse to make any interim payments until that process is exhausted. Even if they lose next time they will find some way of getting money out of us and probably do so even if you are a model of financial probity and good sense which I most decidedly am not.

You can't win with the banks unless you happen to work for them and are in line for their bonuses.

PMQs 25th November

My god Gordon Brown can be flat footed. David Cameron took the unusual and rather brave decision, after asking about the relatively uncontroversial subject of help for Cumbria, of going on Islamic extremism. Hizb ut -Tahrir, a nasty Islamic bunch of extremist nutjobs, has actually been allowed to found a school. Cameron asked if they have received any public money. Brown had no clue and flailed around doing his tormented bear act.

This is Brown's trouble on these occasions and it must worry him and his advisers if the TV debates ever happen, he is lousy at dealing with anything that is outside his comfort zone. He has his pre-prepared lines and anything that falls outside what they imagine he is going to be confronted with leaves him looking desperate and ill at ease. For a workaholic control freak he doesn't seem very across things.

He of course spouted the usual lines about most Muslims being peaceable and law abiding but that is just avoiding the question. There are a worrying number of radicalised Muslims in this country and the government seems to have no strategy or policy to deal with them. It's all very well them talking about fighting in Afghanistan to defend us back home but how do they reconcile that with this revelation?

It was a hands down win for Cameron today. Brown was hopeless. He was equally lousy responding to Nick Clegg's allegations about the Chilcot inquiry and the government's attempts to keep a surprisingly (well, not that surprising) large amount secret. Again Brown flailed around and had no answer.

None of the pre-prepared stuff worked for Brown this week, even the stuff that was responding to planted and friendly questions. It's remarkable how difficult he finds it to think on his feet. Given how bad he frequently looks on television and that he is plain awful when operating out of his comfort zones, you have to seriously wonder whether Labour will be entirely comfortable about putting him in the firing line in hour long TV debates. It's a car crash waiting to happen.


Ding Dong!

If you have sex in a public place you do so in the knowledge that you will probably draw attention to yourselves. I once saw a couple doing it on a grass bank in Solihull town centre. A police car was just drawing up beside them as I drove past. Presumably the police felt they ought to put a stop to their tryst (as the tabloids would put it) if only to stop a nasty accident happening on the main road.

These days of course, given our interconnected world, such trysting can quickly spread your bum cheeks around the world in a manner of speaking. This is the case with this couple in Sydney, Australia who decided to go at it in a clock tower and quickly drew a crowd. Now they're doing the same on the net and reporters the world over are hunting for them. Quite what they will do when they find them is not known. But I'm sure that they will ask some pertinent questions and write a responsible article concentrating on the public interest angle rather than the 'phwooar, they're at it around the clock' type story. They must be desperately hoping that the guy is called Ben.

Not that I can take the moral high ground of course. I too have written about it and made those jokes. In my defence however it was just because I thought of that headline and couldn't see it go to waste. It should be read in a lustful Leslie Phillips type of voice. See? How could I resist? I'm expecting a call from The Sun any day now.


Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Crime Panacea

That this Times story doesn't come as a surprise should be the most shocking part of the revelation in a way. The police are arresting people they wouldn't usually arrest purely so that they can get their DNA.

It's like the old suss laws but now with science to back it up. 'He's a wrong 'un Sarge, I can just feel it.'
'Okay let's get him in and swab him. We'll soon see.'

DNA has become a kind of panacea for all crime and the police have, understandably, seized upon it as such. I have less problem with what the police are doing. They are just trying to maximise their powers and make their jobs easier. The real problem is the government and politicians who are allowing them to the detriment of us all. Ministers are supposed to be in charge but with crime the tail seems to be wagging the dog.

Just a few weeks ago we had the great row about advisers and whether their advice should be rejected. Of course it should, was the general consensus, because advisers advise and ministers decide. Ministers including the prime minister have often rejected military advice too as we have seen.

Yet when it comes to the police they seem to roll over. It was the same over detention without charge. The police wanted it and said that they needed it and so that was good enough for the government. Of course the police wanted it. They would have files on the lot of us if they could get away with it. It would undoubtedly make their jobs easier. But it is the job of politicians to strike a balance. On many aspects of policing: from CCTV, GATSO cameras, terrorism laws and especially a DNA database they have bought the police argument and ignored civil liberties. It is a function of the fact that Parliament has been utterly sidelined by overmighty government.

The biggest worry about DNA is that it leads the police to cut corners. It has become a kind of super witness which defeats all evidence and means they don't bother investigating properly. There are sometimes perfectly innocent reasons for DNA to be present in places, as the McCanns found last year when their hire car became the centre of suspicion. And mistakes do happen. Cross contamination does take place. Evidence is only as good as those gathering it and analysing it and to a worrying extent we all take this on trust. This over reliance on DNA will lead to miscarriages of justice and probably already has. It is time for the government or more likely the next government to redress the balance.

Monbiot On The Road To Damascus?

Newsflash:

Unlike David Aaronovitch (see last post) even the king of self righteousness George Monbiot in his Guardian column accepts that those leaked e-mails don't look good, that scientists have tried to keep data out of circulation and tried to prevent sceptics from having their own reports published. Of course he then goes on to try and downplay the whole thing, puts it down to one or two rogues and even tries to make a joke about conspiracy theories, but we have at least a partial admission of guilt from one of the Green Meanies in chief.

Let's be clear, I and most like me are not claiming that this is a vast conspiracy. I don't believe in them. What we are claiming is that science and scientists are just as prey to bias and prejudice and the need to keep lovely research grants coming in as are the rest of the human race. And, as we keep having to point out, AGW has become more than just a theory it has become a proto religion, not least at the hands of the likes of Monbiot himself, who is vicious about anyone who disagrees with him - he even (hilariously, ooh George you are a riot) claimed that deniers should have a kind of league table of denial according to how dangerous they are and did it via the pack of cards analogy used for Iraqi war criminals. Up there near the top was the journalist Christopher Booker. Monbiot really hates Booker - possibly because he is across the subject and knows what he is talking about.

This scandal was a clear cut example of one side of an argument trying to prevent the other side of the argument from having their say. That, as we also have to keep saying, is not science. It's the way the Catholic church used to behave towards science. It is obscurantism. The debate, they kept telling us and keep telling us even now, is over. Well clearly it isn't is it and these revelations prove it. Does it mean that the sceptics are right and the Green Meanies are wrong? No, not necessarily. But what it does mean is that we need to get at the truth, to keep doing the research and rigorously test both sides of the argument. Monbiot today, for all of his bluster and attempts at satire, has tacitly admitted that the debate is very much on. Hurrah to that!

A Journalistic Lacuna

Why aren't the mainstream media making more of a fuss over those leaked e-mails from the Hadley Centre last week? You would think at least that their curiosity would be aroused. But no. It's been extraordinarily muted and quiet ever since. Have the Green Meanies really got them all so cowed?

I can sort of understand why politicians have not reacted in fury and outrage. They are, as politicians are wont to do - especially when it comes to this issue - hedging their bets. Many politicians have been keen to be green whatever they may privately feel about the issues. It's a bit like religion - you don't have to believe but it does nobody any harm if you claim to be for the sake of those to whom this kind of thing matters. It makes them look more soft and cuddly and caring.

But climate change is not like that at all really is it? It's actually terribly important whichever side of the divide you are on. If things really are going to go all wild and out of control as the Green Meanies allege then there might be a case for doing something I agree - although their remedies tend, when you look behind the figures, to be worse than the disease. Similarly, surely we should be keen to ensure that the science really is as robust as the GMs allege given how much money it is going to cost us in building wind turbines alone? After all we are entering a period in which the public finances are going to be under severe pressure. If we're going to spend all of this money cutting carbon surely it would be nice if we were certain that it is all actually necessary and will make a blind bit of difference?

Which all makes the silence on those e-mails so baffling. The media is either not interested in what really is (no really guys) a scandal or they are too frightened to take on the GMs. David Aaronovitch in his Times column today just repeats all of the GM arguments about the science being decided and clear. Yet at the same time he admits that as a lay person he doesn't really know. So why are you not outraged then Dave at those e-mails which seem to show that scientists have been actively colluding to change facts to pull the wool over they eyes of laymen such as yourself? And they have been preventing sceptics from getting their papers published. That is how science is supposed to work and how the truth is arrived at. Yet they have been putting a spanner in the works. Why? Doesn't that pique your journalistic curiosity?Doesn't it make you wonder what they have to hide?

No, says Dave, the material is quite insubstantial.

The data and these e-mails are only coming out now because of the persistence of sceptics - or deniers as the GMs prefer to call us. That use of pejorative language and ad hominem attacks instead of arguing the facts should arouse concerns too as it does when politicians run out of arguments and go personal. But it doesn't seem to in this case. The truth has been revealed according to all too many and now we must all bow to the great green god and impoverish ourselves.

Happily the blogosphere has kept up the campaign and slowly the cynicism behind the science is coming out. The Hadley Centre used all manner of excuses to try and keep their data under wraps until the hacker came along. Again, why? What do they have to hide? Journalists just shrug.

I predicted at the start of the year that the wheels would start to come off the AGW scare and so it is proving in spectacular fashion. As the predictions of the Green Meanies have become more and more hysterical in the lead up to the Copenhagen circus so the public if not the media has become more and more wary. Yet the BBC is sending the sort of staff representation to this great useless talking shop that they normally send to major sporting events. Then when public scepticism was revealed in a poll a Times editorial called doubters (that's half of the population) village idiots. Oh how we all wish we were members of the always right and indeed right on metropolitan chattering classes.

The main stream media seems to worry about the rise of the internet and citizen journalism and complain constantly that standards are being lowered. Yet it is the blogosphere and citizen journalists who have kept on at this issue, exposed the lies and exaggerations and now have shown that there really are scientists out there who are not objective and honest saints who just want to bring objective truth and knowledge to the world. They are human and have an agenda just like the rest of us. Climate change has become an industry and a very wealthy one replete with lots of public grant cash for research and science. Scientists have to pay mortgages and have kids like everyone else. They also know a cash cow when they see it.

If the main stream media cannot or will not acknowledge how major a story this is and how much of a potential game changer then perhaps their survival in the internet era is in danger. It looks as though it deserves to be. It's an emerging consensus in the blogosphere and we all know how much they like consensus.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Compensation

I've never really understood why football supporters, having shelled out 30 odd quid for the privilege of seeing their team, often then decide to leave before the game is over. Football being a funny old game, such supporters can frequently miss out on a goal or other major incident in those last minutes just because they want to get ahead of the traffic.

I think even I would have made an exception had I been a Wigan supporter last weekend. They lost 9 - 1. You can see why anyone might have wanted to stream out of that one. Ironically they probably couldn't because, as away supporters, the police probably wouldn't let them.

But now the players, ashamed by this derisory performance, are actually going to refund their supporters. Hurrah to that.

And perhaps this is something that should catch on elsewhere. Derisory performances are by no means limited to footballers. What about when Britney mimed? Or when Sarah Silverman hadn't got enough material prepared to do a full length gig in the UK last year? Or when Chris Moyles opens his mouth on the radio? Refunds are the least we should expect.

And what about governments? Labour last week gave a guarantee of a good education whatever that means. But in 1997 they promised education, education, education. I know I feel short changed and I haven't even got any kids. I do however have to be served by the ill educated, low trouser wearing oiks in shops and fast-food restaurants. I for one feel let down even if they don't. Or maybe it's just that their poor education has left them unable to articulate it.

As You Were

The day has been full of articles and postings all predicting Conservative meltdown, Labour revival, hung Parliaments and Lib Dem deals following that poll from IPSOS/MORI showing the Tory lead down to 6 points. I was as guilty as everyone else, although I stand by what I wrote. I still think that Cameron needs to do and say more.

But the latest poll for Political Betting apparently shows a 17 point Tory lead with them on 39% and Labour down on 22% only 1 ahead of the LibDems. This sounds odd too. Polls are all over the place. I suspect that the position is as we were and the Tories have a reasonable 10 point lead but nothing spectacular. Labour still have a mountain to climb but had a cheerful weekend for a change and it put a spring in Brown's step. But his latest relaunches and sodding dividing lines seem, as expected, to have made no difference whatsoever.

The Deal Not Sealed

I am, as you will probably have surmised, of a centre-right sort of persuasion politically speaking. Nothing is that simple of course in this day and age. My politics cannot be neatly summed up in a way that that simple phrase implies. But as a shorthand it will do.

Am I a Conservative though? A difficult question that. Other than a brief flirtation with the party at university (I turned up for one meeting, and even that was so that I could vote for my then girlfriend) I have never actually joined or been actively involved. I have usually voted for them on the grounds that, when taken in the round, their views are mostly in accord with my views and thus I agree with most but not all of their policies.

It's unlikely that I could be a Conservative though. Well I suppose I could join the party but I would never get anywhere within it because I am too unconventional. I am an atheist, a republican, think that faith schools should be abolished or at least selection on the grounds of religion should be and don't give a stuff whether the Scots stay in the Union or not. It's up to them. Now on this last issue apparently I have much in common with many younger Tories but on the other issues I would suggest that I am out of step with what is deemed acceptable.

Now I would argue that it is perfectly reasonable and indeed logical for someone who believes in a small state and lower taxes to hold these views. I am a libertarian and a fervent believer in democracy. I applaud Tory ideas on localism, lower taxes as a matter of principle, less state interference in people's lives, greater freedom for schools, Euro scepticism and so on. Indeed I wish the party would go further.

And it is this last point which is the problem. The Conservative Party is really the only place for me to put my X. So why am I less than enthused by David Cameron and his rebranding? And if someone like me is unconvinced and wary then does this explain why the party is still struggling to seal the deal with voters who are less trenchant in their views?

And I think the problem with Cameron is he is too much the PR man. It's not his accent or his background which are the problem, although someone with my sort of background or accent at least in the top team would do them no harm at all in countering some of the rubbish from Labour on this subject. But he is too smooth, too willing to compromise or be pragmatic. He has to stay on the middle ground we're told in order to win. This is almost certainly true. But I am on the middle ground and I'm still unconvinced because he doesn't seem very convinced either.

This was why the other week I wanted Cameron to come out and argue for something better from Europe than their classic fudge. I wanted him to show some passion. We're told that Cameron is passionate about all kinds of things but we never see it. We're told that he is furious about the way this government has behaved and ruined our economy but we never see it.

Modern political parties seem terrified of conviction politics, but isn't that what politics should be all about? It doesn't have to be about extremes. It's possible to be passionate about democracy, accountability, proper equipment for troops for god's sake, education, welfare reform, reform of the NHS, immigration and the cronyism of modern politics. There is so much that this government has got appallingly wrong, infuriatingly wrong. Yet where is the anger?

Back in the summer when the various parties were talking big about the need for reform of our politics there were all kinds of discussions about what should be done. It's all gone now of course. But why aren't we talking about finally reforming the House of Lords? Why aren't we talking about the cronyism that saw an unelected nobody elevated to the second job in Brussels? Why? Because after he is elected Cameron will do the same. He won't reform the Lords, he has other priorities. No, he will create several new member of the Lords to balance up the numbers. Labour cronies will be replaced with Tory cronies. And they wonder why we are all so cynical. He has talked about reducing the number of MPs and of changing the over representation of Scotland. But that is because this suits him not because he is trying to remedy our broken system.

The state of this country is very much akin to what it was when Margaret Thatcher launched her revolution in 1979. Perhaps Cameron is just treading softly for now to try and get elected. But it's not really working is it Dave? Even if that poll last weekend was just a rogue poll the lead is too narrow for comfort when you are up against the most hopeless Prime Minister in a generation. If Labour had the guts and good sense to dump him they could probably still win despite the last lost decade.

That the Conservative Party is still wondering and worrying what happens next means that something is going wrong. It's a lack of passion and leadership. It's a lack of fire and ferocity. This hopeless, hapless and cynical government as things stand has every chance of holding on thanks to the vagaries of our electoral system. If that happens it will be a national disaster not just the latest Conservative electoral disaster. 1992 could be about to happen again but the opposite way around. Is Cameron the new Kinnock? I'm beginning to wonder.

Nabokov For Posterity

Before his death in 1977, Vladimir Nabokov - author of Lolita and one of the last century's truly great writers - asked quite specifically that the early work he had put in to his last unfinished novel - The Original of Laura - should be destroyed. This work amounts in fact to not very much, just early notes and fragments of prose which do not in any sense create a book or even the semblance of one.

So why is it being published apart from the obvious reason?

Most writers will tell you that the art of writing is in rewriting. Once the first draft is completed they can then go back and order it, refine it; they can work on characterisation, plot and possibly just punctuation. Nabokov had not even completed a first draft. He was jotting down ideas as any writer might do when an idea is forming in his head.

On one level of course it is fascinating to see how the great man worked, although this is the merest of glimpses. It is why museums and other collectors are willing to pay such vast sums for the notes and other papers of famous authors. Writers often have idiosyncratic ways of working and to follow the evolution of a famous work through early drafts, to see how chapters and paragraphs were reordered, how characters were created and then mutated can be endlessly fascinating. Indeed, since the development of a the word processor such records may end up being lost forever unless someone somewhere retrieves drafts from a hard drive somewhere and presses the print button.

But do an author's wishes count for nothing? It isn't as if this was a great work cut off in its prime. This is a barely formed work which he might have abandoned. Since he expressed the desire that it never be seen perhaps that was indeed his intention. How do we know that he didn't regularly work this way, start to flesh out ideas and then abandon them as unworkable?Surely we should suppress our prurient desire to pry even if we dress it up as intellectual curiosity? As it is, a great writer's last wishes have been ignored for a few pages which aren't at all illuminating with just a hint of some great phrases which might eventually have seen the light of day. I rather wish they had been consigned to the unforgiving light of the fire as requested.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Celtic Broadcasting Corporation

The SNP plans, if given the opportunity, to replace the BBC north of the border with a Scottish broadcaster. It's a plan which, according to The Sunday Times, is backed by 47% of Scots.

They really do live in their own little fantasy world the SNP. A Scottish state broadcaster funded only by Scottish licence payers would create one of the world's dullest broadcasters. Oh they would be able to spend lots of time covering Scottish Parliament and government affairs of course (how thrilling) plus maybe a little more exclusively Scottish current affairs output, but that's about it because that is all they would be able to afford. Television and broadcasting in general you see is terribly expensive.

Scotland at the moment, for all of the SNP moaning, actually (as usual) gets a very good deal out of the BBC. It gets the high quality programming that only a large and well funded broadcaster can afford thanks to the licence fees of the English. It also gets what is actually a pretty good deal in terms of exclusively Scottish current affairs output and a Gaelic service which almost nobody listens to. It even gets a Scottish soap - although Scots as often as not moan about this because it displaces other programming from England. The BBC has to provide separate and duplicate Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Irish) announcers and technical staff to play out programmes in the other nations whereas English viewers receive all of their services from London.

Withdrawing all of those Scottish licence payers would make little difference to England but would mean a poverty of choice for Scots, unless listening to lots more of Alex Salmond is your idea of choice. If you want to see what it would all be like take a trip over to Norway. That country (actually rather wealthy in per capita terms) has a broadcaster that would be similar to an exclusively Scottish public service. And of course they get their local output and news. But most of all they show lots of drama and comedy sourced from the BBC for which they have to pay. Another fine idea from the SNP.




A Democratic Europe

Daniel Korski in The Spectator argues that Euro sceptic criticisms of the dodgy and undemocratic deals done to appoint Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to their new posts are wrong because the last thing we want are powerful supra national figures with a democratic mandate.

Well I can't speak for other Euro sceptics obviously, but Daniel is wrong. I do want a democratically elected president and other commission figures. If that means more power being transferred and the creation of a federal state then so be it. At least it would be honest and democratic.

I have argued along these lines consistently for a while now and hoped that David Cameron might do the same as an alternative to the lousy system which Lisbon created. The idea of a federal Europe is not something to I am hostile to per se. It is the way it is being created by stealth with powers transferred to the shady Council of Ministers and the EU Commission that I am hostile to.

If Europe were being designed along properly accountable, democratic lines with an elected president who then created an administration around him or her I would be content. I can see that a federal Europe would have distinct advantages in an increasingly globalised world. What we have now is the worst of both worlds. We have our own national governments increasingly powerless to halt the European juggernaut and we the people can do nothing about it either because we have been shut out.

By all means let's elect a European president. Let's give power to a proper European Parliament. But let's do it openly and honestly and consult people first. I for one could live with that and other sceptics, who may after all be little Englanders rather than the democrats they claim to be, could have few complaints if this new Europe was created with proper checks and balances and with the permission of the people. One thing is more or less for certain, if such a president had to be elected it would not have been Herman Van Rompuy and that, ultimately, is the central point isn't it?

Reset Relationships

I was as enthused as anyone else by the election of Barack Obama. I genuinely thought or at least hoped that he would be a breath of fresh air, a watershed in international relations and that he would indeed be pressing that reset button.

And it turns out that I was right. But not in the way that I expected.

The reset button has been pressed. But it seems to have reset relations with various despotic, semi-despotic, proto-despotic or just plain belligerent countries around the world whilst displaying a seeming determination to offend and antagonise those who have long been allies.

So Obama has been remarkably tolerant and understanding towards the Russians and has bowed to their demands to abandon missile defence. In so doing he has offended various nations whose attitude to the Americans has been less fickle.

He has been remarkably tolerant of the Chinese whose determination to beggar the rest of the world so as to ensure their continued economic growth and huge export markets has created vast imbalances. But he has also been remarkably willing to overlook their more egregious sins on human rights and relationships with the rest of the world. In so doing he has offended the Dalai Lama for instance and is in danger of offending his fellow Americans who are suffering record unemployment levels seemingly to prop up a corrupt and murderous regime in Beijing.

He has been remarkably tolerant of regimes in Iran and North Korea who have shown repeatedly that they are not to be trusted and that their promises are worthless. Yet Obama's hand of friendship seems still to be outstretched and the offer of talks is still on the table in lieu of something more robust and effective. In so doing he has offended the nervous neighbours of North Korea and the people of Iran who tried in vain to overthrow their nasty and corrupt regime and received precious little support from Washington.

And then there is the issue of Afghanistan. Obama is still dithering over what to do and has signalled that no decision will be forthcoming until after Thanksgiving next week. In so doing he has embarrassed the leader of his most reliable allies here in Britain. Sure Gordon Brown is probably on his way out and Obama will really need to reset relations with Britain in the next few months. But does he have to kick a man when he is down?

I have always considered the media's obsession with the supposedly special relationship between Britain and America as rather embarrassing. Yes we have a close relationship but it ebbs according to who is in charge. Right now Obama seems determined to consign it to history. It is a decision he may come to regret. Britain has by and large and for better or worse been an extremely reliable ally over the years since we had a genuinely special relationship during the war. Yet Obama seems to have no need or special regard for it. We are being kept hanging and not being consulted about Afghanistan despite our sizeable commitment. Our commitment of course is only a tenth of that of the Americans but it is still the next largest and would leave a mighty gap if Gordon Brown decided to bow to public opinion and pull us out. Given the way he is being treated by his friend Obama who could blame him for having a characteristic fit of pique and doing precisely that.

For all of his impressive rhetoric and undoubted charisma Obama has not been a success on the diplomatic stage in his first year. His attempts at resetting relations have been naive or ineffective. And he seems to treat his friends with insouciance at best and sometimes outright disdain. Perhaps this is why his Secretary of State has recently confessed how much she likes Little Milly.

But regardless of Hillary and David sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G the abiding memory from this year will be of of the president being pursued through kitchens by a desperate Gordon. This new administration may have little time for the so called special relationship and may think we ought to take our place as part of a wider European state. It is however somewhat impolitic of them to make their feelings so obvious. If they treat the next British government with the same coolness and other less deserving governments so warmly in the future it may well come back to haunt them.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Gordon'll Fix It

The Sunday Times is also reporting (see previous post) that the Dark Prince of the many titles and minister for everything, Peter Mandelson, is pushing Gordon Brown to make him Foreign Secretary. This was supposed to happen had Miliband gone off to Brussels to take up their equivalent of the same job. Little Milly however, showing his characteristic bold decisiveness, decided not to take up the offer and so we were left with the Baroness nobody has ever heard of.

But this isn't stopping Mandy. It has always been his ambition to be Foreign Secretary like his grandfather before him and so he wants it now. So that's okay then. Let's not worry too much about the needs of the country. Let's have a reshuffle a few months from an election so as to resolve the long held ambitions of various ministers while they still have chance. This week, Gordon, I would like you to fix it for me to be Foreign Secretary.

This must be a worry for Brown though. If Mandy is really pushing for this will he be able to say no? What happens to Little Milly? Of course Little Milly has shown in the past that he has all of the resolve and bravura in these situations of a wet paper bag but he might surprise us. And then there is Ed Balls who is blatantly campaigning already for the leadership and is still miffed that he is not doing so from Number 11.

Brown would be well advised at this point, and with the latest opinion poll (albeit only one and possibly a rogue) showing a pronounced narrowing in the Conservative lead, of seriously thinking about calling that election as soon as possible. His ministers do not exactly have their minds on their jobs and indeed are actively campaigning for each others and indeed the PM's job itself. This is already a government that is falling apart. It might be about to tear itself apart before the foundations crumble.

A New Low

The Times is reporting that Gordon Brown is planning on announcing a partial withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in the run up to the election. I for one have been expecting him to come up with something like this. It's inevitable. His desperation to do anything to gain dividing lines with the Tories knows no bounds moral, philosophical or logical.

Can anyone say they are surprised any more by the depths to which this Prime Minister is willing to stoop? He has already been denying that our troops are not properly equipped and has refused to give the generals what they say they need to get the job done - a job which he gave them and was defending in a speech just this week. Now he is talking about a withdrawal which can only be for political reasons and in the run up to an election.

Either we are in Afghanistan as I argued the other week for the long haul or we should get out now and regard it as a defeat. The job is not done and is unlikely to be done to any kind of electoral timetable. But this of course will not stop Gordon Brown.

If he is really considering doing this then his colleagues should resign en masse. To play politics with this issue is a new and desperate kind of cynicism. Yes the British people want withdrawal but they will still see this for what it is. There has been much speculation that the LibDems were preparing the ground for changing their policy on this. That Brown is willing to do the same just confirms that he is unworthy to hold office.


The Dodgy Deal

It seems that, for all of his love of grandstanding on the world stage, Gordon Brown really is a lousy negotiator when it comes to these international summits. It's either that or his scorched earth strategy is going international.

According to The Times, Brown was advised by Peter Mandelson no less (who ought to know what he is talking about as an ex EU Commissioner) that it would be best for Britain for him to hold out to get one of the key economic portfolios in the new look EU. Instead Brown chose to install a woman who has no foreign policy experience whatsoever on the dubious grounds that she will be in position for 5 years and this will anger the Tories.

It's difficult to see what other interpretation we can put on this bizarre decision. The appointment of Baroness Ashton has taken everyone by surprise and probably not least the French and Germans who would have expected more of a fight. Instead the French get the position they want whilst generously conceding to Britain this undefined role. With someone with no real experience in it, it is a role that will remain undefined.

And this, as I keep saying, is just storing up problems for the future. The new strengthened commission is going to try and regulate our financial institutions and may end up doing all kinds of damage to the City of London. Presumably if Labour win the election or if, god help us, we end up with a hung Parliament the next government may well end up rolling over and allowing such interference. If the Tories win they will face demands to prevent this interference. If they don't Britain's decline will worsen.

Is Brown aware of the damage he is doing to this country by his inability to separate the nation's needs from his party's needs? Does he care? Why did he not fight for a better deal?

And this is why we so called Euro sceptics keep talking about this democratic deficit. This was a cosy deal done behind closed doors for which nobody is accountable but which will have a very real and lasting impact on this country. Brown, a Prime Minister at the end of his tenure and with no mandate, has done a deal that may well end up doing lasting damage to this country. Will the next government be able to defend us? It remains to be seen.

It's Just Weather

Given the recent appalling weather suffered in Cumbria and other areas of the UK in recent days which has led in some particularly tragic cases to loss of life, it was of course only a matter of time before various gibbering idiots blamed it all on climate change. Sure enough this particular gibbering idiot in The Telegraph does precisely that. This one even claims to be an environment correspondent or something similar. Clearly the Telegraph doesn't require any actual knowledge or expertise before it dishes out this title. Then again the even more ridiculous Roger Harrabin of the BBC actually managed to put together a report earlier this year which claimed that the terrible cold and snowy spell we were then suffering would have been much much worse had it not been for climate change. Did he have any evidence for this assertion. He did not. It was specious nonsense.

Similarly Geoffrey Lean's piece in The Telegraph today betrays him. The current weather we are suffering is in fact due to perfectly normal and easy to understand meteorological conditions. A large high pressure area is sitting over southern Europe and providing them with a lovely warm spell. But all of that weather from the Atlantic (that's the big ocean we sit on the edge of Geoffrey and which drives most of our weather) has to go somewhere and is being driven to us in wave after wave by the jet stream. Furthermore the fronts being driven to us are very wet because they are coming from the south west (a warm and wet direction, Geoffrey) as does the Gulf Stream.

When we had floods affecting western England a couple of years ago the Geoffreys of this world came out and blamed climate change then too. A later report into the floods said that they were wrong. It was just weather. Indeed it was the Jet Stream then too. It just ended up dumping all of the moisture a couple of hundred miles further south then. Some areas just get unlucky because slow moving clouds dump all of that rainfall in one place. This time it was Cumbria.

We get this every time the weather does something mildly unusual. But the thing is that it isn't even that unusual. Yes huge floods in comparatively isolated areas are hugely newsworthy and make dramatic pictures and of course lead to disaster and tragedy too. But we get this sort of weather every year. It's just that in this day and age the news organisations get their helicopters up there and we get live and dramatic pictures where once we just got a caption and a reporter on the phone. Britain has always been renowned for being wet and windy as a consequence of that big ocean to the west. Apparently Geoffrey Lean of The Telegraph and Roger Harrabin haven't noticed.

Rising Without Trace

Modern politicians are often, and quite justifiably, criticised for going straight into the Westminster bubble without first having done a proper job. Indeed Labour earlier this year seriously tried to do this for a girl in her twenties who has only recently graduated. Perhaps they were concerned about the levels of her student debt.

But at least when the likes of the little Milly brothers and George Osborne head off to the bubble they bother to get elected first. Sure they do so in nice safe constituencies thanks to connections in all the right places, but they have to stand for election and shake a few hands, endure some lessons in reality before heading off to the cosy confines of the bubble.

Others, as we have been privileged to see this week, thanks to the sudden elevation of Baroness Cathy Ashton, manage to forge entire careers managing public resources, telling the rest of us what to do and tackling various social ills without once having to justify herself to those of us who pay for it all. Baroness Ashton has been a CND treasurer, worked for the Social Work Training Council (a quango), worked for Business in the Community, whatever that is - but I feel sure that we probably pay for it somewhere along the lines and have never been asked whether or not we want to - and then became chair of what is effectively a super quango, a health authority. Chair? How did that Curriculum Vitae possibly qualify her to chair an organisation like that?

Every week I look through the Appointments section of the Sunday Times and see these various roles advertised and have often felt that I would like to get involved, either because I have an interest in what they do or feel that I can make a contribution. I have put off doing so since I lacked the experience. How foolish of me. It seems all I needed to do was make friends in the right places, possibly send a donation or two in the direction of a political party and I too could have mounted the government gravy train and could now be in Brussels with a hundred thousand airmiles to look forward to.

As I wrote here the other day, it is deals like this which will eventually lead to the downfall of the EU. But it is worse even than that. It just illustrates how these anonymous nobodies are ruling all of our lives without anyone noticing or, more importantly, ever being consulted. Baroness Ashton rose without trace to become a High Representative whatever that means. She was appointed in secret thanks to various deals, the details of which we know nothing. For now they've got away with it. It won't last because some time soon we are going to ask, hey who the hell gave you the right to make these decisions and affect my life? And they will say you did, via the Lisbon Treaty. It is not going to be pretty.

Friday, 20 November 2009

A Conspiracy?

I am not generally a believer in conspiracy theories. Most are ridiculous and the product of deranged wishful thinking. All of those theories about 9/11 for instance or the moon landings etc. It's silly, nonsensical and demeaning.

As a rule though conspiracy theories fall down because such conspiracies are impossible to pull off. How would they have managed to keep such outrageous abuses covered up? It's always amused me that George W Bush, widely derided as stupid by a considerable portion of the world's population, was at the same time accused of being at the centre of a sophisticated and elaborate conspiracy to blow up the twin towers and the Pentagon and then blame it all on terrorists. It's laughable. But what makes it worrying is that we all watched it happen. Live on television. Yet still people don't believe it.

60 years on, there are a significant number of people who deny that the Holocaust took place. That number will grow as the years progress because people find it inconvenient to accept despite all of the eye witnesses, films, photographs and documents. It doesn't accord with their world view. And let's face it that Holocaust happened and the world was embroiled in a devastating world war because one man and his cohorts really believed that there was a Jewish conspiracy trying to take over the planet.

So as a rule I don't believe in conspiracies. But this is not to say that people don't conspire on a smaller scale. I have always been resistant to the notion that global warming is a scam and a conspiracy which the Green Meanies have created. I suspect this is a simplification. The likes of the various environmentalist movements and even George Monbiot and Al Gore probably really believe in what they say. It's just that they have become so carried away with it all, so evangelical about their cause, that they are willing to be economical with the truth and to be utterly vicious and vitriolic about anyone who disagrees in order to get their way. It's not a conspiracy in the sense that they have not necessarily colluded and organised. It just often looks that way. But then so do religions, and AGW has become a religion.

But then today we see that the Hadley Centre, a climate research centre set up by the Met Office, has been hacked after it repeatedly refused to release a great deal of data requested under Freedom of Information legislation. The hacker has released the data and various e-mails on the internet. You can read about it on Watts Up With That and James Delingpole's blog. They prove that Hadley scientists have actively conspired to keep certain inconvenient truths, to use an inconvenient phrase, from the public, politicians and other scientists.

They kept telling us the debate was over and this was how they were trying to close it down. It's scandalous of course but, as I say, it's a conspiracy that was sure to come out. We sceptics have often been derided for picking away at the evidence and asking questions instead of just accepting 'the science'. Except, as we pointed out ad nauseum, science is not supposed to work that way.

These scientists colluded to prevent their findings from being disseminated and their work questioned. It was a conspiracy but an amateurish one because their graphs and science kept being questioned. Much of it was demonstrably wrong or cherry picked. Now they are exposed.

Perhaps now the media and politicians will finally sit up and take notice and ask questions about this shabby consensus. It's important because this is the future of our planet and we are proposing to spend trillions on a problem that may not exist. It would be nice if we were sure of our facts first and could trust those who present them to us. Science is supposed to be done in the open. When it isn't it should immediately cause to ask questions and wonder why.

Summary Justice

In Ozark, Arkansas, they don't hold with any of our namby pamby liberal sensibilities. Indiscipline and disobedience is not tolerated. The full force of the law is brought to bear on miscreants.

You see this is where we are going wrong in this country. Only recently we have had stories of teachers being suspended because they had to physically remove a misbehaving child from a classroom.

In Arkansas, a 10 year old acting up and refusing to take a shower had the law called on her by her frustrated mother. The police officer arrived, assessed the situation and approached the reluctant child.

Then he Tasered her!

Don't believe me? You can read about it here.

And this is what we should do. Show them some stern authority. Teach them some manners. Instil some discipline. That'll show 'em!

Earlier today I went into a branch of Poundland. I selected my items and proceeded to the checkout. "Wanna bag?" the surly youth 'serving' me grunted. A little taken aback I said: "Yes please." Yet this is where I went wrong. I should have grabbed him by the lapels and chinned him. When he then didn't bother to tell me how much I owed (yes I know it is Poundland but it's the principle that counts) I should have felled him with a left hook before handing over my tenner. When he gave me my change without so much as a thank you, a swift knee to the groin having leapt over the counter to the admiring cheers of my fellow customers would have shown him the error of his ways.

Did I do any of the above? Of course not. I just gave him a disbelieving stare and left muttering to myself.

And this is wrong. In this litigious age my feelings have been hurt and I need catharsis. The least the nasty little oik needed was a smack around the head and a few thousand volts shot up his arse to leave him quivering for a minute or so. This would have done him no harm at all. But more than that it would have made me a satisfied customer and surely that is all that matters?

Teachers, use this as your inspiration. You don't have to put up with their surly insubordination, their humorous ringtones and their constant inane chatter. Taser the lot of them. They just don't know they're born.

(PS - this posting was not written by Gerald Warner)

Irish Fair Play

Irish politicians are demanding a replay of the game between Ireland and France after Thierry Henry's handball earned the French a draw and dumped the Emerald Isle out of the World Cup.

Presumably the Irish leadership, after having two referendums on the Lisbon Treaty, now think that they can have replays whenever they get a result that they don't like.

Sex, Free Porn, Britney Spears and Me

Certain unscrupulous websites and bloggers have been known on occasion to use titles such as the one above to lure unsuspecting web surfers on to their sites under false pretences. I am one of them.

I actually did it a few months ago in an experiment to see if the theory was true. It is. That one page has been responsible for around 60% of all of my Google search results. Interestingly a large proportion of those searching for sex, free porn and Britney Spears are from parts of the world which are - how can I put it? - a lot more reserved and conservative about such things than here in Britain. Well, at least I know my audience.

I'm afraid that, as before, this is all the reference you are going to get to Miss Spears and free porn. No pictures, no lurid exposes, no graphic sexual content. But hell, if you all keep clicking I might have to start considering it.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Who & Who?

So, the first EU president is to be Herman Van Rompuy and the first High Representative for Foreign Affairs is to be Baroness Ashton of Upholland. How very Europe. You can't help but snigger.

Van Rompuy, a man who has given up being an actual Prime Minister of an actual country to take on this role (if we had known that this was a possibility we could have nominated Gordon) tells us that "Even though our unity is our strength, our diversity remains our wealth". Eh? We'll be looking forward to lots more of that in the months to come I'm sure.

As for Baroness Ashton, well what can we say? Had she been proposed as a Foreign Secretary of this country there would have been incredulity. Yet in Europe these two nonentities are regarded as perfectly normal and indeed acceptable. It's Tony's cronies gone continent wide.

No doubt our own government will try to present this as a diplomatic coup for them. It's nothing of the sort. Europe seemed quite keen to appoint a Brit to one of these jobs, presumably because they think such gestures will quiet our fury over the referendum we were denied. And perhaps the appointment of these unknowns is their attempt to prove that this really was just a tidying up exercise after all.

Both jobs are a nonsense of course because they have no democratic legitimacy and they will inevitably tread on the toes of proper politicians creating division and tension. Where are the dividing lines? Who defines their remit and powers? That's the dogs dinner we now have presiding over us. It is the EU in microcosm - a system that could only be created by politicians and especially ones who speak different languages. This is no George Washington moment. This could only happen in the modern Tower of Babel and babble that is Brussels.












The Slow Death Of A Government

By and large the media has given a resounding thumbs down to the Queen's Speech yesterday. Most have seen it for what it is: a desperate last gamble by a cynical and hapless Prime Minister who is out of ideas and nearly out of time.

And its getting worse for Brown. Labour's own peers are savaging one of the key policies on care home provision. Watch while the government slowly and not very imperceptibly backtracks on this.

Oh and today the latest government borrowing figures are out. They are horrifying. It will be fascinating to see how Alistair Darling presents these next month. No wonder they don't want a spending review before an election. Everyone is demanding a credible plan to reduce our debt. What do we get from Brown and his cronies? A law which guarantees it without telling us how.

Will the man never learn? It would seem not. He is still fighting this election the same way that he has tried to fight the last three. His opponents have changed and yet he is stuck in the past. He has nothing new to offer. More of the same is supposed to rescue him and his party from electoral oblivion.

Even if Brown had put forward a selection of policies which would have brought about genuine reform so that he was governing for the good of the country it might have improved people's opinion of him. But he can't or won't even do that. The biggest issue these last 12 months has been MPs expenses and the need for reform of Parliament. Yet yesterday's speech made no mention of it. That glaring omission tells us all we need to know about this Prime Minister.

So now Brown must wait and watch the clock tick down. He'll no doubt be hoping for something to turn up as always. We still have the Pre Budget Report and its fantasy figures to look forward to. Then the Budget itself which will take cynicism to new depths. Brown is desperately trying to find a way to come up with some kind of foreign policy triumph to talk about either at Copenhagen next month or in some hastily arranged summit on Afghanistan. But he has no clout. His colleagues across the world know that he is on his way out. His moment has passed.

The Prince of Darkness and minister for everything, Peter Mandelson, has been trying to spin the speech yesterday as something that has got the Tories on the run. He knows its nonsense but delights in saying it anyway. But he's just going through the motions. Even the best spin doctors need something to work with and Mandelson has nothing. Barring some kind of miraculous transformation or one of those fabled events, dear boy, events which nobody sees coming and which allow Brown to don his SuperGord cape again, this is a government just going through the motions. We are watching their death throes. There will be few mourners.

Christian Views

Did you know that Pat Robertson the American firebrand preacher, broadcaster, contributor to the Republicans and alleged Christian once said that: "Scotland is a dark land overrun by homosexuals".

I just thought you would like to know and that it might give you a few moments of amusement on this autumnal day. That's all. What else needs to be said?

Beginning Of The End

Today, in Brussels, the leaders of Europe will get together and no doubt congratulate each other that the Lisbon Treaty is no longer just a treaty but firmly entrenched as law in every member country. That they have done so thanks to a process that was fraudulent, disingenuous and spectacularly unconstitutional will be glossed over. Deep down they know it however. They just think that, as ever, they know best and that, for this reason, the views of the people who are now being ruled by this democratic travesty must be steamrollered.

Also today, in a fitting symbol of this lack of democratic legitimacy, a deal will be done which will see a new president of Europe and a high representative of foreign affairs will not so much be elected as emerge. These new offices are the creation of our rulers and they jealously guard the process of this emergence. Few if any have been prepared to talk much about their choices let alone give reasons for those choices.

Perhaps Brussels should implement a system of smoke signals to let us know what is happening such as that employed by another institution which ruled over Europe and was similarly cloaked in secrecy and mired in corruption.

I firmly believe that the arrogance of those who now presume to make these decisions behind closed doors will eventually prove to be their undoing. The beauty, so far as they are concerned, of the European process is that they can govern without accountability. Decisions are made collectively meaning that no individual government or minister can be blamed for unpopular policies. Europe used to be blamed for silly pettifogging bureaucracy. It is now presiding over things which are a great deal more important. Those things can and will go wrong and we will have nobody to blame. This will unravel. It will create anger and resentment. Already people are starting to wonder if our membership is worth it. That is a feeling that will grow and grow and not just here in Euro sceptic Britain.

The Europe they are celebrating and creating and which they will almost certainly attempt to give greater power to cannot survive in its present form. It may take a while but today we are seeing the beginning of the end not some glorious new dawn. The politicians gathering smugly in Brussels today will only have themselves to blame.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Bloody Boots

I bought some new boots today. Something sturdy for the foul wet weather we have been having I thought. As I strolled around Birmingham today, enjoying the Frankfurt Christmas Fair currently taking up many of the city centre streets, I did think to myself once or twice - these boots are really excellent. Very comfortable.

What I forgot of course is that since last year and my back problems which resulted in surgery, I have a permanently numb left foot. When I took off my lovely new boots my left sock was soaked in blood and it had pooled in the bottom of the left boot too. I couldn't and still can't feel a thing. I'm sure it's very sore. It certainly looks sore.

So if you need some boots or shoes wearing in I'm your man. Sometimes disabilities can have their uses.