Wednesday, 31 August 2011
The panel that will investigate our recent riots has been announced today. It is full of the usual worthies, people who earn their livings almost exclusively in the public sector, not least on panels and inquiries and heading local authorities or quangos. There will be nobody who knows what they are talking about, nobody who works at the frontline, just lots of professionals and management types who think they do because they read The Guardian.
Heading the panel is one Darra Singh, a man who ticks all of those sort of boxes. He is the classic appointment to such a panel - an ethnic minority done good, a man with all the right liberal opinions and little or no experience of the world he has been tasked to investigate because he managed to escape it by getting an education and then having friends in high places.
But the most perplexing thing about his appointment is that Mr Singh is now, after various senior jobs across the public sector despite his comparative youth, the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus. So apparently this is now a part time job, despite our rising unemployment and high levels of youth unemployment.
And how much faith should we have in Mr Singh's ability to lead this panel when he is in charge of the disaster zone that is Jobcentre Plus? Does he think that is all going well?
This is an organisation replete with people like Mr Singh, those who have only ever worked in the public sector, but in their case it is because the private sector would never put up with their laziness, incompetence and institutionalized indolence. Go into one of these hellholes if you dare and you will see a high percentage of staff doing what they do badly, slowly and sparingly. Most seem to be sitting around doing nothing at all, or maybe they are busy writing those job adverts full of spelling mistakes, grammatical and factual errors. Or perhaps they are making basic administrative errors, dispensing advice that turns out to be wrong necessitating numerous phone calls or replying to complaints about their stupidity by covering each others backs and promising that lessons will be learnt. Speak to one of the managers and you find that the general incompetence comes from the top.
Clearly Jobcentre Plus is not so much a scheme to help people back into work and dispense, not very efficiently, benefits for the workless. It is in fact a make work scheme for people who could never find work elsewhere and would be shocked at what they had to do if they ever tried. After all, if the man in charge of this farcical organisation, one of Britain's few growth industries, can be spared to do a second job, it's no wonder his staff feel free to do so little so badly.
Monday, 29 August 2011
Well, what a terrible disappointment! The world's media took to the streets and sea fronts of one of its greatest cities and exhorted Hurricane Irene to do its worst. And it flunked it. It became a damned storm. A storm for god's sake. Lightweight.
I ask you, how is a reporter supposed to win prizes and fawning admiration in a tropical storm? Whilst some have been riding with rebels in Libya and telling us breathlessly how they so narrowly escaped death thanks to kevlar - always remember who the story is really about - others had hoped for another Katrina style disaster, but in a place where there were even more cameras to report it. They went out with the crews and their waterproofs, they went out to brave the storm and the bloody thing failed them. Worse, they tended to look rather silly as they talked up how ferocious it all was while people goofed around in the background and failed to look terrified and windswept. Bastards!
The bravest of the brave of them all however was Tucker Barnes of Fox 5 above. He went out to report on this not very extraordinary sight and told us all about it, stoically making the best of what he had been dealt by this meteorological disappointment. It later turned out that it was raw sewage. Those foreign correspondents have it easy don't they.
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
As I have remarked before this year, there is far too much news around - although it should be noted that the BBC is doing a remarkably poor job covering it compared to its less well funded rivals. We have had revolutions, earthquakes, tsunamis, the killing of public enemy number one, financial implosions, riots and England have even become good at cricket. Something strange is going on. Perhaps the rapture is coming after all. If so I'll be watching it on Sky.
Anyway, for a little light relief, I recommend the short piece above from Tim Vine. I saw it last night and literally cried with laughter. The only thing that rivals it for humour is listening to Gaddafi talking about tactical retreat.
Thursday, 18 August 2011
A week on from the riots and we are settling back down again into business as usual. We can't. The courts, uncharacteristically, have been remarkably robust, have seen what happened and its potential consequences for us all, and have reacted accordingly. As Alex Massie points out, judges have given their reasons and they stand up to scrutiny well. It is our system doing what it is supposed to do and reacting to changing events and a new criminal paradigm which must be nipped in the bud.
The riots were a game changer, they were an eruption of nihilism and anarchy, a raised finger to civilised values. That is why punishments need to be heavy. The usual suspects are complaining about this heavy handedness and an affront to justice, whilst the majority would see business as usual, community sentences and slaps on the wrist as the affront to justice. Yes some of the sentences are tough and take your breath away. But that is a wholly good thing. If, and it is a big if, the politicians make good on their tough talking and do something about the society that spawned this cynicism and lawlessness, we may at last get to see an end to the disastrous policies of the last 40 years which have spawned benefit dependency, an underclass trapped in ignorance, fecklessness, worklessness, perpetual poverty and social immobility. There are reasons for what happened last week. They should just not be used as excuses or else we are all doomed.
And perhaps it is time to apply these kinds of lessons to the international stage. Are our good intentions being exploited by dysfunctional countries around the world? We are sending aid perpetually to the same parts of the world and see the same crises happening for the same reasons year after year. We have opened up our markets to countries that have nothing like our infrastucture costs in the naive hope that in return for importing their cheap goods we will export some of our values and sense of fair play. It has worked in some cases but others have realised that they can cynically exploit our naivety and build themselves up into powerhouses without the costly need for our checks and balances.
Democracy, as America, Europe and Britain have been proving of late, is a flawed system which can deliver perverse and damaging policies for our long term interests. China in particular can see this and is exploiting it for all its worth.
Perhaps the time has come to make access to our markets more conditional. Perhaps the time has come to get a better price for that access. Democratic countries have exported many of their industries to the likes of China and our politicians are suffering the consequences in debt, higher taxes and social breakdown. We are not competing on a level playing field and so are suffering high unemployment or millions on low, subsistence wages.
The economists tell us that open markets produce greater efficiency and enrich us all. But this is only the case if everyone plays by the same rules. Certain countries have realised that they don't have to; they are the looters of world markets, helping themselves to our jobs, our technology and keeping their currency artificially low in to the bargain. By allowing them to break these rules we are allowing them to take a short cut to where we are now at our expense, a cost which is being counted in broken lives and communities as well as hard currency. Furthermore we are spending money we don't have to fund the social breakdown this has caused, meaning higher costs, higher taxes and thus ever increasing costs making us less competitive. Many of the people who were rioting last week would once have found work in the kinds of jobs that have more or less disappeared. They were the sorts of jobs that gave us a working class that was vibrant and had self respect. Too much of that has disappeared thanks to globalisation with us getting nothing in return. When employers in this country argue that they must have more immigrants to access skills not available in the indigneous workforce why do our politicians buy that argument? Why do we allow them to export offshore that which could and should be done here? Don't employers have a responsibility to this country? Is everything just about cost and efficiency? Are we just a market to be exploited or are we a community, a big society if you will?
We have the power to change this. The likes of China need our markets to sell their goods into. Access should be made conditional on their playing by the rules. The picture above is of protests in China, not the UK, an increasingly common occurrence in that country which is hushed up by the authorities unlike here. And we in this part of the world can do our bit for the put upon people of the world's most populous state. By standing up for ourselves we would also be standing up for the poor and ignored in China who risk a great deal more than a few months in prison if they dare to protest. Free markets should be for free countries, not those who pick and choose the rules that suit them and ignore the rest. It is time for a new deal, a deal that levels the playing field for all and empowers those who are currently losing out. That means the poor and bullied people of China. It also means the workless looters of the UK.
Sunday, 14 August 2011
Now, where was I? Assuming that the country is now saved from the marauding hordes and that we are not about to suffer another economic implosion - I imagine that will happen some time in the autumn - I am now going away for a week or two as was the plan previously. See you in September.
Saturday, 13 August 2011
It's been a dispiriting week if you are English, seeing the country brought into disrepute and chaos by less than 1000 morons and opportunists who have no idea about right or wrong since it doesn't have a Nike or Sony label on it. This was only made worse by the various apologists for this behaviour who sought any and all excuses whilst claiming that there was no excuse for it. Eventually such whining was replicated by the rioters themselves who claimed to be hard done by, although few had mentioned this when exhorting each other via the internet to go out and get free stuff and break windows.
Yet in the sporting arena England is now on top of the world - literally. Furthermore we have achieved this in one of the games we gave to the world. Our cricketers are now officially top of the world rankings and they have achieved it in style. They went down under over the winter and gave the Aussies a dose of the medicine they regularly used to dish out to us. They are now doing the same to India. What better way of announcing your arrival at the top than by taking an insurmountable 3 - 0 lead in the series and winning this latest match by an innings and 242 runs.
It's been a long time coming, since before the days of that narrow Ashes win in 2005. Our cricketers have been awarded central contracts, have become ultra professional and have now become as ruthless as the Aussies once were. The result is stunning to those of us who for so long endured batting collapses and gutless bowling. Now we are dishing out the punishment to others and in a game we invented. Now let's see if we can improve, enhance or at least make competent that other great innovation we gave to the world - the police.
Notwithstanding the recent conflagrations in various English cities (not British as the touchy Scots have been pointing out, although not Welsh either it should perhaps also be mentioned) the Premier League gets under way again this weekend. The one good thing to come out of the appalling week we have just lived through was that it forced the abandonment of the now traditional, utterly fatuous and pointless pre season international game, at least for England. Most of the players were calling in sick or injured anyway, and who can blame them. A long hard season lies ahead with an international tournament at the end of it. Why start it with two games in a week when there is no need to?
Anyway, as is also now traditional I shall now predict that Liverpool will this season emerge from their recent travails and sweep all before them. Every year I find perfectly logical reasons for arguing this and this year is no different. Except this time even I don't have to cross my fingers as I write it. I genuinely believe that Kenny and his new look team (whose form was second to none in the latter half of last season) will be contenders.
This is not to say that it won't be tough. But Chelsea have a new manager who may well be sacked by Christmas if he doesn't immediately work the miracle of finding a place in his team for the incredible £50 million sulk that is Fernando Torres. Manchester City may still struggle with all of the egos to whom they are paying their millions (and having to invent dodgy sponsorships to make it all look affordable). Arsenal will struggle this season thanks to the obstinacy of Arsene Wenger and the fact that they will have sold their best players a day before their first game.
Manchester United will once again, as last weekend showed, be the team to beat. But they only really won it last season because nobody else provided a consistent challenge and thanks to the enduring remarkable ability of Alex Ferguson to galvanise his team and make them, if not quite world beaters (or at least Barcelona beaters) at least a team that grinds out results in a relentless Michael Schumacher fashion.
But this season will be a lot more competitive and Kenny, shorn of European commitments, could once again lead that challenge.
You read it here first. But then you do every season.
Thursday, 11 August 2011
If you ever wonder how it is that conspiracy theories and even religions become such commonly accepted currency, notwithstanding common sense and logic, you need only look at the developing narrative and rewriting of history that is currently taking place with regard to the riots and looting of the last few days. We all watched horrified thanks to the modern phenomenon of 24 hour news as feral youths and scum took to the streets, smashed windows, torched shops and homes and stole at will and wondered if this was the country we all know.
Yet even now, while the ashes still smoulder, we are seeing the excuses start, the moral relativism, the insistence that we should not be judgmental. Yet what is wrong with a bit of judgement? What is wrong with being critical of the debauched standards of chavs and the underclasses? The public and media has been appalled and disgusted by what happened, so much so that the offenders are hiding their faces as they emerge from the courts. That is an encouraging development. Shame is a powerful deterrent, one that has been missing all too often in these caring, non judgmental times and which has been a major contributor to offenders feeling that they are untouchable.
We are seeing remarkable levels of cognitive dissonance as the usual apologists come out and blame everyone but the actual rioters for their actions, inventing motives which never crossed the minds of these looters and arsonists engaged in their orgy of destruction and ill gotten gains. The various news programmes have brought in the middle class commentariat to opine and explain along with certain supposedly street smart but still middle class outreach style workers and apologists complete with their ludicrous Ali G style accents and half mast trousers. But they have supplemented them with surly representatives of the criminal classes (reformed) whose remarkable inability to express or explain themselves tells us all we need to know about the problems with large parts of the British education system. If anything explains what has happened (other than criminality) it is the fact that we are raising a group of youths who are utterly unemployable and speak worse English than the legions of immigrants who take 'their' jobs.
Given this remarkable tendency to see what we want to see and ignore the inconvenient, perhaps it would be as well to go back to the beginning and to tell this story again while it is still fresh in our memory. Last Thursday, Mark Duggan, a well known member of his community in Tottenham was shot by police. The details of this episode remain the matter of an investigation, claim and counter claim. It remains to be seen exactly what happened.
His family and friends allege that they were left in the dark about what had happened and were angry, although this looks to be a matter of cock-up rather than conspiracy on the part of the police, who these days are nothing if not scrupulous when it comes to shootings, particularly in racially sensitive areas. It was probably simply the police following lengthy and bureaucratic procedure and that this took too long. There then followed a protest. It was angry and resentful, whether rightly or wrongly remains to be seen since Mr Duggan almost certainly was in possession of a gun, but it was peaceful.
What happened then was what happened earlier this year, lest we forget. A peaceful protest was hijacked by a criminal element who took the opportunity to attack the police and then property. The police treated this as a straightforward civil disturbance and so, given the criticisms levelled at them earlier this year and after G20, stood back and watched. Thus, when the disturbances spread and the criminals saw their opportunity for thievery on a previously unimagined scale, the police found they were outnumbered and could not cope. Thanks to modern communications and the remarkable cynicism and opportunism of the criminal classes - if only their ingenuity could be harnessed for legitimate ends - this quickly spread to the shock and horror of the nation and the watching world, some of whom were here on our streets as tourists.
That is the story. Nothing more. This had nothing to do with the shooting of Mark Duggan. This had nothing to do with poverty, nothing to do with these poor youths tantalised by material goods they cannot afford. It had nothing to do with government cuts, reform or withdrawal of EMAs or tuition fees. One of the nasty little gits even claimed it was because of higher taxes - yeah, right.
People are already starting to see these events through the prism of their own prejudices and are rewriting history and concocting excuses to suit. And the people who do this, who seek to excuse the inexcusable, are themselves part of the problem. Their excuses exacerbate it as they tell crooks with plasma screens under their arms that it's really not their fault. David Cameron is ridiculed for having once talked of hugging hoodies but he did that because, to his shame, he sought favour with the Guardian reading, tofu munching classes whose default response is to seek always to explain and excuse rather than simply acknowledging that if you give some people an inch they will take a mile. It's human nature. The fact that you wish it wasn't won't change that simple fact.
And perhaps they should also consider the fact that their arguments don't even make sense in their own terms. We have only recently had a Labour government that doubled spending during its tenure. It boasted of the additional money it was spending on the very sort of people who were rioting this week, the supposedly dispossessed and deprived. It has built new schools and colleges full of state of the art equipment, provided local services to help provide access to training and jobs. So surely, if money is the problem, we should by now have been looking at an improvement, remember the cuts being introduced by the Coalition will still only take spending back to the levels of 3 years ago. If these toe rags are now rioting why is that? Could it be that funding is not the problem after all? Could it be that there is something more fundamental wrong with this minority, that they need some stick since the carrots have plainly not worked?
There will be calls for inquiries and for debates about this. There is no need. All we need is for the people who did this to be caught and made an example of, for the withdrawal of benefits and social housing from families who won't play by the rules, won't discipline and properly raise their children and for greater discipline and intervention in schools and elsewhere for those who ignore those rules. Why is it that sections of our society eschew hard work and higher expectations for their children? It's not poverty or deprivation, otherwise the same would be true of immigrants to this country who work hard in often awful, dirty, degrading jobs, expect their children to study hard and to better themselves and even expect those same children to look after them in old age rather than the state.
Forrest has argued that the reasons for this are complex and multi-facetted. Actually they aren't. We have seen a rise of indiscipline and a lack of respect, the rise of rights without responsibilities encouraged by politicians and middle class liberals whose excuses for this are actually spectacularly patronising of the poor who do not rise up and riot at the drop of a hat. The left are showing how out of touch they are as they comment from their ivory towers and imagine that the world fits into their neat, prescriptive view of it. This appalling, embarrassing episode in our history may be the shock we need to change things. That's as long as we don't allow them to rewrite it and let the crooks off the hook.
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
With the kind of shameless hypocrisy for which they are becoming increasingly renowned - in the same way that they were once renowned for spin - Labour are telling us that there is no excuse for the riots and lawlessness we have been seeing, before then making excuses for it. Forrest hasn't yet, he has just tried out his usual bland lines (his voice actually sounds more adenoidal than ever following his surgery) but Ken Livingstone has tried it and last night so did Harriet Harman. Happily she was up against a plainly furious Michael Gove who let loose with the kind of firepower that we wish the police would deploy.
But this is the kind of argument that we are now going to have. Is the removal of ludicrous and unnecessary EMAs making young people angry? Of course it is, although it is certainly not forcing the poor little loves to burn down buildings and steal phones and sports equipment. It is certainly not making them behave like latterday football hooligans and nihilists to whom society's rules, the rules that make life bearable, do not apply.
Once you give people things it is very difficult to take them away. But then we shouldn't give them entitlements we cannot afford and which, until five years ago, generations of teenagers had somehow managed to do without. That is the record of the last Labour government, spending money we didn't have as electoral bribes rather than a serious attempt to get young people into education. Now we are faced with cutting back and there will be anger, there will be sob stories about the terrible deprivation of Blackberry carrying teenagers who want to be paid to turn up to college for a few hours a week and would be astonished at the suggestion that they might want to work in a bar or a burger joint instead.
This is precisely the kind of benefit that has created the kind of dependency and reluctance to work that is blighting this country and creating the divisions we have seen this week. Labour decided to start that process even earlier in life by handing benefits to people who haven't even had chance to start work yet. It is another example of the culture of entitlement they created and fostered which is now proving so difficult to unwind. Remember that the next time they tell us how unacceptable the violence and damage is to people who work 14 hour days in their shops and this week saw it all ripped apart by thugs complaining that they are not being paid £30 to sit in a classroom for 8 hours a week.Labour and the Islington dwelling Left, are in grave danger of becoming altogether too 'progressive' for their own good. They are misjudging the public mood.
Tuesday, 9 August 2011
What we are seeing on the streets of London is a natural evolution taking place before our very eyes, with most people, and in particular the authorities, struggling to understand it, let alone to cope and deal with it. What we are seeing is the consequence of 40 years of policy by all parties which has created dysfunctional families, feral youth with no respect for the police, authority or the decent standards that any society needs to hold in common if it is to stay intact. When you have whole families who exist on benefits, lone parents actively encouraged to remain so by a broken system that rewards fecklessness, you get these aimless youths whose families exist on street corners outside off licences and in gangs. What we are seeing is these new hoody families organising night trips and bringing London and now other cities into chaos and disrepute.
The lawlessness of the last few days is just what many blighted communities suffer on a daily basis but taken to its logical conclusion in these days of gangs and kids whose parents have no idea and often don't care where they are until the small hours every night. What they have discovered this weekend is that the casual disdain they feel for the police and the law can actually be harnessed for material gain. They know that they usually get away with their antisocial activities with barely a slap on the wrist. The worst they can expect is an Asbo. Now they find that they can misbehave on an industrial scale, attack whole communities indiscriminately and steal and wreck with impunity while the police, concerned about being abusing their rights or being accused of heavy handedness, will just stand by helplessly and in an agony of frustration.
Of course the usual suspects on the left are coming out and blaming the cuts, youth unemployment and poverty. But this tends to ignore the fact that many of the youths are of school age and seem perfectly capable of affording Blackberries and expensive trainers (even before they stole new ones). If and when the prosecutions start, we will no doubt see that many of the perpetrators do indeed come from council estates and from single parent families. No doubt many will be already known to the police with Asbos to their names. This will no doubt be used by their lawyers as an excuse for their behaviour. But this has nothing to do with poverty, boredom caused by lack of facilities or the alleged hopelessness they all feel at the prospect of long term unemployment. These are people who have been raised with no respect for anyone or anything other than their mates on the street who win it with rather more robust methods than the rest of us would regard as seemly, respectable or sensible.
What then should be the response of the authorities? Well first of all we need to redefine what robust policing means. Robust policing means stopping them from wreaking havoc and destruction and endangering lives at the earliest opportunity not the traditional British softly softly approach which is demonstrably failing. It means giving them fair warning that unless they desist and go home they may end up bloodied and battered. It means the police fighting fire with fire and fire with water cannon if necessary. It means threatening and ultimately using force and the full paraphernalia that is routinely deployed by police forces around the world such as water cannon tear gas, plastic bullets and truncheons wielded by six foot coppers fed up of being on the back foot and in constant retreat. It means the police having sufficient numbers to react wherever they are needed. That means supplementing them by calling in other forces, all specials and yes even the army. This has to stop and stop now. It has to be done with force and for the consequences to be harsh. Parents need to be prosecuted and marauding youths deprived of their liberty. The last time we had riots like this the Home Secretary of the time called for a short sharp shock. Nowadays this would no doubt be seen as an affront to human rights.Well just for once let's consider the rights of the law abiding majority, of the shops forced to close early, of the people whose homes have been burnt to the ground, of the elderly and young who last night spent hours on end in fear that they would soon have a bottle or brick thrown through their windows followed by a mob of cowardly kids helping themselves to their property.
That is the central problem here. People invoke their rights and eschew all ideas of responsibility. They need to be rapidly disabused of this philosophy. The best way to bring them into line, once they have been punished, is to tell them and their parents that their behaviour has cost them the right to claim benefits for a set period and put them to the back of the queue for things like social housing. This is not to say they should be left destitute as this will just push them further into the hands of the criminals who have been encouraging them to go looting. No, why not force them to take some of those jobs it is always said that the British won't take? Why not make them get up at 6 in the morning, commute to work for an hour and a half and then spend their days cleaning toilets, tossing burgers or picking vegetables or fruit in fields for the minimum wage? This should be presented not as a choice but a consequence of the bad choices they made this week. It would also benefit the British economy and help to pay for the damage they have caused to buildings, people and the national psyche.