Thursday, 30 June 2011
Have you noticed how the unions who are bringing large parts of the country to a standstill today are subtly changing their arguments? Now, in addition to cherry picking statistics in a manner that would have made Gordon Brown proud, they are not just defending their spectacularly generous and ludicrously unaffordable pension packages. Oh no. Now they allege that, if the government has its way, the new pension regime will affect the provision of public services and lead to poorer quality.
How so you might ask. Well you see the unions argue that these pension deals will somehow mean that our public services will suddenly be unable to recruit top talent or retain it. And there was us, the poor sods who actually have to use these services, or send our kids to be taught by the militant morons who need numerous attempts to pass tests which make GCSEs look like Oxbridge entrance exams, there was us thinking that the incompetents who run them are useless jobsworths who could never find work anywhere else or would suffer a nervous breakdown within a week at the demands placed on them away from the cossetting embrace of the public sector.
No, it seems they harbour thoughts of decamping elsewhere, to a world without endless sick pay, ultra generous conditions for parents, flexi time, 13 weeks of holidays a year and 6 hour days, to a world where, if anyone makes a mistake they actually have to apologise and offer redress instead of covering each others backs and promising to learn lessons before immediately continuing just as before. Hell, they say that in the private sector people who are incompetent even lose their jobs from time to time. Let them try that in the public sector. In the public sector the RMT brings everyone out on strike if the bosses sack someone for foul mouthed abuse of a manager.
The unions should be careful about deploying their argument about public service provision because generally speaking the service provided by their public sector members is slow, rude, inaccurate and all too often incompetent. It's rather like when the London Underground is brought to a halt because managers want to stop employing people to sit in ticket offices which nobody uses any more since we entered the 21st century and started using Oyster cards. It's all about safety says the king of the union dinosaurs Bob Crow. It isn't and these strikes today have nothing to do with public service. It is about maintaining an overstaffed, overindulged section of our society that is used to living like the Greeks at the expense of us all. You can see why they might want to fight to maintain all of that. But there's no reason why they should have our sympathy or keep helping themselves to our money based on specious arguments about how vital they are.
Wednesday, 29 June 2011
Forrest is looking a lot more confident in these sessions since he has now scored a number of successes (albeit rather limited ones with caveats) in recent weeks. His tactic of trying to pin Dave down on the detail of policies has worked for him, at least in the limited sense that it discomfits the PM and allows Forrest to use his pre-prepared jokes and soundbites along with a bit of phoney outrage.
The problem with the tactic, quite apart from the fact that it just illustrates what a policy vacuum his party is, is that it is one that only really works to cheer his troops. The resonance is limited entirely to the chamber of the House of Commons and to the Westminster bubble. Forrest's supposed triumphs do not resonate in the country. Few people pay much attention to PMQs at the best of times, but this approach means that the news bulletins ignore it completely. PMQs is supposed to be about questioning our prime minister about the major issues of the day, not seeing whether he is fully cognisant with the line by line detail of his legislation. Forrest is like those oh so clever American interviewers who ask presidential hopefuls if they know the name of the President of Pakistan.
Quite how discomfited Dave is by the tactic is also arguable. He is generally very good at bluffing his way through answers without having to refer to his big book of answers. And today he fired back that Forrest is having to concentrate on the micro because he can't talk about the macro, illustrating the point by focusing on Labour's silence on tomorrow's strikes, the problems in Greece or our own economy.
Yes Cameron was caught out not knowing certain facts about the NHS reorganisation, including how much the government was spending on redundancy, but he did know that this would eventually produce savings which is the overall aim of the policy and within his remit as opposed to the Department of Health. That's why redundancies are made after all. Is Forrest saying that redundancy money shouldn't be paid? Is he saying that this wouldn't have happened under Labour? Or is he just trying, as usual, to score petty points without really having any overriding philosophy behind it?
This week Forrest was at last caught out by his own shallowness and hunger for pyrrhic victories. Dave got the better of him. The tactic backfired because it just drew our attention to how vapid and unprincipled Forrest has become in his desperation to look relevant and capable. In a week when schools will be closed due to strike action and when Europe totters on the edge of a debt crisis that could make Lehman Brothers look like the shut down of Woolworths, Forrest smugly asked questions to make himself feel good and to cheer his backbenchers. He concentrated on arcane detail to the exclusion of issues he can express no opinions about since it might be a bit awkward. The only MP who had a worse day was once again Speaker Bercow who has taken recently to interrupting the Prime Minister. He is in danger of becoming the second speaker in succession to behave like the backbenchers shop steward. The mutterings about him and the Leader of the Opposition will not go away based on this evidence. The recess can't come soon enough.
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
A Russian scientist, Andrei Finkelstein says that we will encounter aliens in the next 20 years. This rather depends upon what he means by encounter. We may well in that time, or even tomorrow, be able to infer the existence of alien life in some far away part of our own or some other galaxy. Actually meeting them however, like in various movies like ET, is another matter entirely.
Even if we were to find evidence of life on a planet or satellite in our own solar system, something that is by no means improbable given recent discoveries, getting there to have a look would be no small feat. We've never been back to the Moon because of how much it cost. Getting to our nearest neighbour Mars is pushing the boundaries of technology not to mention taxpayer patience. Sending probes is hard enough, sending humans to shake ET by the hand or to scrape them into a petri dish is quite another matter.
As for heading off on some kind of Star Trek? Forget it. As far as we know, travelling beyond the speed of light is impossible. Even if it were possible how would we navigate? Travelling at beyond the speed of light means that the onrushing stars made famous in various sci- fi films would be a physical impossibility. Think about it. How could you see light coming towards you if you were travelling faster than light? You would be upon it before it could get to you and would run the risk of crashing into it.
No, the only way we are going to meet ET is by heading off into space in vast space craft on which we grow our food and bring up our children. In a few hundred years times they could get to meet ET. The trouble is it would take them decades to report back to those left on our own planet and by then they would effectively be aliens themselves. Perhaps that is how we meet ET after all. Our great great grandchildren will meet their long lost cousins who have seen the wonders of the universe and grown an extra head while they're at it.
Monday, 27 June 2011
The best thing about Glastonbury this year has not been the music which has been average to dull at best (you have to love Beyonce, even if we would rather she just sang and shook her booty rather than talk that special rock star bollocks you only ever hear at concerts). It's not even the couldn't make it up story about a top Tory being found dead in one of those vile chemical toilets one must use unless one is a rock star or a footballer and able to afford a Winnebago to sleep in for the duration.
No, the best part has been the plangent whining of lefties complaining about how corporate it's all become and how what was once a supposedly radical new age festival of people who think they are progressive and are concerned about the poor and the underprivileged - you know, the sort of people who can't afford to go to the West Country and pitch a tent to watch a rock concert. People just went along to have a good time, the selfish bastards. They didn't care about the environment or tax dodging. They went along, they drank, they took drugs, they shagged and they sang along to the music. What's the world coming to?
It's glorious that Michael Eavis has gone from sandal wearing saint to a corporate sell out who is happy to accept sponsorship by large companies that probably avoid tax where possible and sells the best seats to rich people who demand VIP sections and want properly functioning lavatories and decent beds. It is hilarious that the illusions and fantasies of lefty dreamers have once again been confounded by human nature and reality and that this has taken place on hallowed ground too.
I'm sure that Glastonbury will continue to go from strength to strength because it attracts top acts and has become super fashionable, part of the English summer. As such it has become one of the default options at this time of year, along with Wimbledon, Henley, Royal Ascot and the like. The fact that it offends sanctimonious Champagne Socialists and Green Meanies is just a bonus, like when the sun occasionally emerges and the rain stops falling.
Sunday, 26 June 2011
What is it about politicians and the EU? Why is it that they are so willing to abandon common sense, and their usually finely honed sense of self interest, to argue for, and actually enact, policies that are not in the national interest, and most certainly not in their own?
It's not just the current travails of the Euro with politicians across the continent sending ever more money in the direction of Greece based on forlorn promises that that now near ungovernable country will ever keep its word. This is part of a pattern that they have been following now for years, to the ever increasing hostility of their electorates. And yet on this issue that hostility is always ignored, always regarded with contempt. Worse, they actively conspire to prevent their electorates from having any say on the matter since they no damned well that they won't get the answer they desire and require.
Take our own Labour Party. For all of its faults as a government, it was a formidable PR and election winning machine, especially in those heady early days of the late 90s and early noughties. Yet their concentration on the message and on trying to control and combat the media meant that they all too often were constrained in what they did. A government with a huge majority never had the nerve to be truly reforming and revolutionary, except in safe areas like the constitution. It was government by tabloid headline and focus group.
And yet this same government was perfectly prepared to risk the wrath of the people it was usually so fearful of when it came to Europe. Tony Blair was desperate to take us into the Euro as his great legacy, with the supposed economic benefits a relative afterthought. He was also perfectly prepared to hand over our hard won rebate in one of those grandiloquent gestures he was so fond of on the international stage, as Europe expanded and started exporting our money to eastern Europe whilst at the same time importing its workers to the detriment of our own working class, the very people Labour were supposed to represent. The very last act of Labour in government, one made after they had lost the election but before Gordon Brown was prepared to admit it, was to unnecessarily promise our money to help prop up the Euro, despite our non membership. They had no need to make this commitment and indeed no right to really. Yet they made it anyway.
And that is the European way. The reason people like me object so strongly to it is not because we are little Englanders stuck in the past. It is because it is a flawed and fundamentally undemocratic organisation, which actively works to expand itself based on a dream of a federal Europe that is scarcely acknowledged. It encourages our politicians to act in a way that they wouldn't dream of doing if concerned with domestic issues. It is a club in which they get to meet at summits, decide policy and law amongst themselves and then hand it down to national parliaments as a fait accompli, without the need for all of that tedious consultation and accountability they usually have to go through.
Those prime ministers and presidents at their summit meetings are in a group of political peers and nobody wants to let the side down, nobody wants to be the man to say no and incur the wrath of this small elite gathered for a sumptuous lunch. That is why none of them will admit that the Euro is doomed in its present form, that Greece is effectively already defaulting on its loans and will do so again. To do so would be to admit that the Euro was always a flawed enterprise and the EU is not and never will be the USA. We the people still maintain just enough constraint on our politicians to ensure that this is the case. But what a high price we pay for their arrogance and unwillingness to accept the obvious.
The most perplexing element of all in this is why David Cameron will not tell the club these obvious truths. Sure he has the euro fanatic Lib Dems alongside him, but even they are no longer arguing that we should be in the Euro. Isn't it time he spoke out, told the EU to get real and to stop spending money for which it has no democratic mandate. Labour when in power used to speak of being at the centre of Europe. Yet we remained on the periphery thanks to the insistence of the British people. But for us we would now be in the Euro and in big trouble. When will a politician, a leading politician, point out this truth and argue for fundamental change in this broken, corrupt and unwieldy institution? When will we threaten to leave unless reform happens? It may not be what the EU club wants, but it is what the people want. The people of Europe can see that giving more money to Greece is a nonsense. Can the European elite not see that their intransigence and obstinacy is endangering their club and possibly creating the very nationalistic issues that the EU was set up to eradicate forever?
Friday, 24 June 2011
I'm going to shock you now and agree with Forrest. He is quite right about the need to reform the ridiculous rule that Labour shadow cabinets must be elected by his MPs rather than by the leader himself.
But this is no clause 4 moment - and that has always been grossly overstated as a watershed in Labour history. This is a further attempt to assert his authority on a party which just draws our attention to the fact that he is struggling to do so. And let us also note that he, the new generation, is taking tips from Tony Blair in how to remake the party, or at least give the appearance of doing so.
Will it work? Well it will allow him to select his own shadow cabinet. But then leaders are always constrained in how they go about that because they must keep happy the various wings and factions within their party. David Cameron would not be completely free to choose his cabinet even if he were not in coalition. He can keep people out and he can sack them but that brings its own dangers. Forrest may well win the opportunity to choose his own lieutenants. But in so doing he could just as easily end up with a party rife with resentment and bickering. Unless he is able to stamp his authority on it, which is hard to see given many people's view of him, this could end up being a big mistake and not a clause 4 moment after all.
Thursday, 23 June 2011
The Lib Dems this morning, happily ensconced in their traditional role of speaking truth (or at least their sanctimonious version of it) to power, even though they are supposed to be in it, are letting it be known that, when RBS and Lloyds Banking Group are sold back into the private sector, the shares should be distributed to all of us. This is what they call socialising the banks - or very expensive electoral stunts if you prefer.
This is not to say that I disagree with the principle that the proceeds of the sale of the banks should be spread around. It seems only fair, and might stop once and for all the Labour Party telling us that all would be well if only those evil bankers were paying more.
But we have constantly been told that it was the taxpayer who rode to the rescue of the banks, so distributing the proceeds to all and sundry seems unnecessary and unfair. Socialising the funds is just another way of saying that the Lib Dems favour good old fashioned income redistribution, the sort that pays people not to work, funds them to have children they can't afford and allows them to live for free in homes they couldn't possibly stretch to unless and until they are on a bankers salary. Might it not be best to give the money back exclusively to taxpayers instead? It would be a welcome message too from a government that wants to see welfare reform and a message that working is socially responsible and good for you. Here, they would say, is your money back with interest. Thanks for the loan. You might even call it the Big Working Society.
And there really is no need to go through the fantastically expensive process of sending everyone a few hundred shares. Better to sell them in the same way companies were privatised in the 80s and then use the tax system to distribute this largesse via a cut in the basic rate or by raising the tax thresholds. That, presumably, is George Osborne's plan for near the end of this Parliament. He should stick to it.