Sunday, 29 May 2011

Paul Owen Is Away

I'm having a week or so off from blogging. I'll be back some time around mid June, refreshed, revivified and more trenchant than ever. Oh and with a new computer, as this one is pissing me off.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Sharon Shoesmith: A Convenient Scapegoat for Political Cowardice

The judges have been getting a bit of a kicking in the last couple of weeks - albeit deservedly, and this story in the Mail will do them no favours either - but I have to leap to their defence in the case of Sharon Shoesmith.

Ms Shoesmith was quite clearly used as a very useful scapegoat, a human shield if you will, by Ed Balls who found himself in a difficult position and reacted as politicians, and in particular the likes of Balls and his mentor Brown, are wont to do. He sought to deflect blame. The rather hard faced (has she deliberately softened her looks since on PR advice?) former boss of Haringey Social Services was the perfect fall guy for the appalling case of Baby Peter because she looked and sounded so unsympathetic. In another era but in the same city she could have been a Dickensian villain.

But the fact is that Balls did not follow the well established rules, the sort of rules that Labour and its union allies champion, about sacking employees. There are procedures to follow and legal niceties to be observed. People, as we are reminded constantly, have rights. They were ignored for reasons of political expediency and the media was used to turn Ms Shoesmith into a modern day Fagin.

And the most unfortunate part of this story is that social services all over the country, but particularly in places like Haringey, are doomed to repeat the case of Baby P or the equally heartbreaking Victoria Climbie, not just because they are overstretched and will never have adequate resources, not because they are overburdened with bureaucracy and prescriptive central government imposed forms, but because politicians like Balls have, with the best of intentions, created a welfare dependent underclass who have children without a care in the world, let alone the money to raise them and are encouraged to do so. Our social services regard taking children from these feckless social parasites as anathema. Now, according to that Daily Mail story, the judiciary even regard having children as a get out of jail free card. Until politicians across the political spectrum, but particularly on the 'progressive left' realise what their policies are creating, we will see these tragedies repeated along with increasing poverty, crime and low social mobility. The rest of us can see it. Why can't they? Even Dickens would have struggled to come up with a story like that.

FIFA: Football's Banana Republic

The uprisings and general tumult in the Middle East and North Africa have been called the Arab Spring. How FIFA, football's banana republic could do with that kind of injection of people power.

FIFA is well named because it actually acts like a self perpetuating fiefdom. It chooses its leaders in the same opaque way it chooses the venues for its tournaments; it gives power to men of dubious morality who come from parts of the world that aren't even particularly interested in football and certainly do not have the traditions, power and wealth of the likes of Europe where the major clubs reside attracting worldwide interest. We see the kind of block votes we once used to see so ludicrously deployed by Britain's trade unions. It is a recipe for corruption, and boy can Sepp and his minions cook.

There is a suspicion that Blatter actively resents the big European nations where the best football is played by the world's best players. Yet that doesn't stop him forcing them to deliver unto him those players for endless international games in far flung tournaments whilst maximising his income from the TV rights sold in Europe. He talks the talk of spreading the gospel of football. But it is Mammon that is of greater interest.

Like those tin pot dictators across the Middle East, Blatter is adept at saying all the right things whilst at the same time ensuring that the various allegations about him and his organisation are buried or kicked into the long grass while he gets yet another term ratified. Like all presidents who know where the bodies are buried, he knows that the best way of ensuring that the fetid stench of decay stays underground is by ensuring that he and his superannuated cronies stay in control of the burial mound and are never disinterred.

What is happening now is what always happens with corrupt organisations, the participants start turning on themselves. I said last year when FIFA announced their bizarre and indefensible decisions on the hosts of 2018 and particularly 2022, that they might come to regret it. So it is proving. The media are gunning for them and the national associations are finally starting to see that toeing the line and keeping quiet are no longer tenable options.

Blatter will do his utmost to ensure that next week's vote for the presidency goes ahead. If it does it will be further proof that FIFA is broken beyond repair. England are already set to abstain if that vote goes ahead. They should be encouraging others to do the same and to go further by starting to talk seriously of breaking away unless fundamental reform takes place under new management.

Tonight the beautiful game will stage what is set to be a match that lives up to that epithet. It's a European affair, an occasion that the whole world wants to see, in the land where the game was invented and on a continent where the world's best come to play. Our national association is called the Football Association because it was the first and set out the first rules of the game. It's time now for us to lead the footballing world again and blow the whistle on FIFA.

Born This Way (Special Edition)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 121

Friday, 27 May 2011

Justine and Forrest: A Match Made in Focus Groups

So, presumably after several focus groups, polls, consultations and with funding from the trade unions, Forrest has finally wed Justine. It's either that or he saw all of the fuss surrounding the royal wedding and decided to hop on yet another bandwagon.

Romance? Love? Don't be silly. I'm not saying that he doesn't love the woman. I'm sure he does. But he never thought about marrying the mother of his children or indeed registering himself as the father of one of them, until he became Labour leader. Altogether Ahhhhh!

Forrest you see is the sort of person who most likely regards the institution of marriage as being rather bourgeois. He probably used to tell his university pals (such as they were) that it was just a piece of paper. His type do.

Not that this has stopped him delivering himself of some suitable soundbites. Today he has told the world that he is 'the luckiest man alive.' Ahhh. Yet not so long ago he was telling the same world that he would get married 'because we want to get married and love each other very much, no other reason.' Now, 9 months into his leadership and still regarded by the electorate as an unprincipled weirdo he has got hitched. Doesn't it bring a tear to the eye? It is not recorded if Justine considers herself the luckiest woman alive now that she gets to legally share half of the million pound house she bought with soundbite man.

Born This Way (Special Edition)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 121The King's Speech

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Adele's Tax Gripe

Hurrah! The wonderfully talented and very British Adele has dared to express the opinion that our top punitive  rate of tax is grossly unfair and unreasonable, set as it is at 50%. Cue much anger amongst the Guardianistas who think wealthy people represent a problem rather than people to admire for working hard, maximising their talent and then paying the higher percentage of taxes despite the fact that they represent a tiny minority of taxpayers. The figures show that higher taxes lead to lower tax takes. It's simple human nature. But the Guardianistas prefer to ignore facts that are inconvenient.

That's why Labour are now 87% funded by trade unions who exist almost entirely in the public sector. That's why they see nothing wrong with our public sector unions like the RMT holding the country to ransom and extorting high wage rises and even bonuses out of hard pressed tax and train fare payers just for agreeing to continue doing their jobs, but actually resent the success of those who earn a living in the private sector and bring much needed wealth into the country.

What they are actually arguing for is for successful people to have half of their income confiscated by those who claim how to know better how to spend their money because they are successful. Is that how Britain became rich and powerful? Or did we used to admire and reward the enterprising and visionary amongst us?

There was an excellent programme on BBC4 last night about the Wilson/ Heath years and this country's fractious industrial relations at the time. Then the unions successfully fought off any ideas of making them democratic and subject to the law. They demanded and got huge pay rises with their class warfare tactics which brought the country to its knees. The difference then was that they also represented millions in private or nationalized industry, industries which to a large extent no longer exist. It's no accident that they now exist almost exclusively in the public sector with its deep pockets paid for by the rest of us.

In other news today by the way the NHS is revealed to be doing very badly in many cases at caring for the elderly who represent the majority of its consumers. How are these two items linked? Because the very same people who want to tax the Adele's of this world, do so to hand over their cash to our hopeless and unreformed public services staffed by intransigent unions who resist all change and cry foul at the possibility of private profit making provision of services whilst constantly demanding above inflation pay rises despite falling productivity and appalling clinical outcomes. We have had 13 years of higher taxes and huge public spending and yet still our hospitals cannot supervise elderly frail patients drinking and eating enough. One might imagine this would lead sensible people to question if we need to do things differently. Instead they just want to keep spending and taxing until this country is cleared of anyone with a bit of drive and ambition.

Water for ElephantsBorn This Way (Special Edition)21

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Essential Relations

The visit of Barack Obama to these shores is making for lots of wonderful photo opportunities for politicians from both sides of the Atlantic, but it is almost completely a PR exercise. Sure there are disagreements that might be ironed out but they are hardly fundamental. No, this is much more a chance for our leaders to look good on the TV and in newspapers and in this glorious English spring and, at most, to take the opportunity to look one another in the eye for once. That in itself can often be worthwhile. If at the same time they manage to consign the phrase special relationship to the history books then they will have achieved something for which we can all be grateful. Essential relationship sounds better, is more pragmatic and is a practical recognition of our two nation's closeness politically, culturally, historically, militarily and in terms of security and intelligence. If we no longer have to squirm in future as presidents pat us on the head and assure us that of course we are special it will not come a moment too soon.

Perhaps though we can amuse ourselves with the thought of how this is all going down in the Gordon Brown household. The man who once chased Barack Obama through kitchens desperate for a chat was at the Palace last night, resplendent in the tails he once used to so demonstratively and pathetically eschew. But a part of him is almost certainly inwardly seething about the Tory boy who replaced him and who is able so effortlessly to look gracious and relaxed in the company of Obama.

Can you imagine Gordon playing that game of table tennis? By now his spin doctors would be telling us that of course he hadn't lost the game to a teenager. Or they would be apologising for him having accidentally swiped one of the kids around the head with a paddle. And today Dave and Barack will be serving the meat at a barbecue for servicemen and women from both nations. Would Gordon have done that? Would he still have insisted on wearing one of his hundreds of blue suits for the occasion? Has he ever cooked anything that doesn't come in a packet? Would he have set fire to himself and the president or thrown something at anyone criticizing his culinary skills?

Brown has been doing his usual trick of pretending that he wasn't interested in the job of MD of the IMF now that he realises he won't get it. Yet he never asked for it. He just felt it his due, much as he felt the leadership of the country ought to be his without having to be elected.

But it is precisely this attitude, more even than his famous economic incompetence which means he absolutely shouldn't be given the job. Brown does not do charm. Brown does not do glad handing and socializing. He is the most impolitic politician it is possible to imagine working in a democracy. The man who bullied and sulked his way to the top and then sidelined anyone who disagreed with him now imagines that he ought to be given a high profile international job which is essentially the role of diplomat and banker rolled into one. He has none of the skills for the role.

It's quite possible that David Cameron and George Osborne are denying him the job he craves out of spite. Who could blame them? Brown's graceless behaviour when he was in power deserves nothing less. But they can also quite easily argue that our former prime minister spent thirteen years demonstrating why he is not cut out for such a role. We all saw it with our own eyes in the same way we are now seeing how easy international relations can be in the right hands and indeed did when Gordon's friend Tony was in charge. But Gordon will never admit that. Still, at least it will give him something new to sulk about.

Water for Elephants21Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1The Pastor's Wife

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Rule of Law

It's all very well politicians and judges arguing that we must respect the rule of law as a fundamental tenet of our society and as a constitutional theory. But what happens when judge made law, as we are seeing at the moment, is bad law: illogical, confused, arrogant, out of touch or conflicting with the wishes of people and Parliament? Are we simply to put up with it?

When governments make law they have to go through a long and at times tortuous process before it reaches the Statute Book - although even this has been undermined when it comes to European law, which is why people like me object to our membership. The parliamentary process does however usually enable debate, analysis and revision, sometimes substantial revision and it is a process that frequently leads to rethinks, pauses or the complete abandonment of laws or policies as we have seen with the present government.

But the process of judge made law is very much more hit and miss by its very nature. It isn't as if they get together and agree a collective approach, and it would be worrying if they did. But the process is inevitably ad hoc and thus potentially chaotic and nebulous. There are many examples of them getting in to a mess in all areas, from criminal law to contract and tort. This present situation is not about interpretation of the law. This is about judges creating a law out of a vacuum, a law that nobody proposed except in the very broadest of terms and which nobody debated or ever weighed the pros and cons.

It isn't as if this is an isolated example of judges creating a body of law that is out of step with political and popular opinion. In some cases, as with privacy injunctions, this has come about thanks to human rights law. But in other areas it is just a consequence of the liberal leaning prejudices of this stratified, self selecting, self perpetuating elite. That is why our libel laws have become so dysfunctional and inimical to a free and democratic society; it is why we have become the jurisdiction of choice for those, particularly women, wishing to divorce; it's why hundreds camp in France trying desperately to get into the UK on the back of lorries; it's why we can't deport convicted foreign criminals, terrorists or even plane hijackers. And the issue of injunctions is not restricted to this area either. Parent have found themselves subject to secret hearings, denying them access to their children and injunctions preventing them talking about it.

The difference with these celebrity privacy cases is that the public have been afforded a means to express their disapproval of judicial priorities. It is not the case that the public have a burning desire to read about the sordid love lives of millionaire footballers - although some clearly do. It is that we resent being told what we can and cannot discuss by a wealthy scumbag who poses as a clean-cut family man whilst shagging a lingerie model on the side before complaining about invasion of privacy when he dumped her. It is he who compromised that privacy and family life and not the newspapers or legions of Tweeters. A sensible judge would have told him so and made him pay costs.

This is not the rule of the mob we are seeing, it is is our judiciary getting a much needed dose of reality and democracy, the sort that judges in other countries have to accept to keep their jobs. Perhaps eventually, if they can be made to see sense, they will show some humility.

They are currently confusing the right to privacy with the right to behave badly and then use wealth, shyster lawyers and a vague and developing area of law to cover it up. They are similarly confused about the rights of criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants. The balance is actually extraordinarily easy to strike. It is not difficult at all. We can all see what should and should not be a matter that is private. We can all see that the threat of heavy fines for newspapers that cross the line would be sufficient without denying people the right of free speech. Twitter and the internet is just a convenient and conveniently embarrassing way of teaching our judges some common sense.

Water for Elephants21Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1The Pastor's Wife