Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Paul Owen Is Away

I am taking a few days off to rest and recuperate and hopefully avoid the Golden Jubilee. I am aware that this blog has been a little lacking of late. I apologise, but believe me this is beyond my power and very much to my regret. I've had a hellish month. I'm almost certainly going to write a book about it one day.

My life and this blog will be having a radical overhaul and relaunch in the next few weeks and we will both come back better and stronger. I shall return with some blue sky thinking, some policies this useless and weak government ought to be considering and wondering out loud if it is time for David Cameron to be despatched before his resemblance to Ted Heath becomes ever more striking (pun intended). Back soon.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Oh, Sayeeda!

First of all let's get this straight: I like Sayeeda Warsi. Quite apart from anything else I rather fancy her. She has a tendency to talk rubbish at times such as when she started lecturing us about the need for faith and some of her outbursts over the last year or two have been embarrassingly inept or plain wrong. But she is a likeable and reasonably honest politician. She even smiles in a slightly embarrassed way when she is trotting out the party line.

But she can't stay after this. With David Cameron there is the perception that he is tough on those who are not part of the inner core and considerably less so with those who are. Oh and if you are a woman, and in particular a Muslim woman you are nearly as much of a protected species as a Vince Cable.

But her position looks untenable. The allegations look real and viable and, if Cameron is being even handed, she has to go to defend herself, although that will be hard as she has already admitted to the classic oversight. One only has to compare her case to that of Lord Hanningfield or David Laws to see that she has to go and ought to have gone already.

And anyway the fact of the matter is that she is and always has been out of her depth as party chairman. She looks good, she has the right accent and the right gender but a white middle class bloke called Michael Fallon is much better than her.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Diamond Jubilee: A Time of Great Suffering for Republicans

This week is going to be a miserable time to be a republican. The Telegraph reports today that support for the Monarchy is at its highest for more than a decade, although I would point out that much of this seems to be down to the huge popularity of Kate, who isn't actually royal.

Kate actually rather proves our point. Here is a normal middle class girl (a bit too middle class for the snob's liking - too new money) who has taken to her role with aplomb and charms everyone she meets. So much for the idea that you need breeding and a lifetime of training to go around making dull speeches, smiling, waving and, where possible (inbreeding notwithstanding) looking pretty.

And the Diamond Jubilee is now just around the corner. The newspapers and media will be full of pictures of the royals, there will be concerts and grand pageants, London is looking rather magnificent, with the world's coolest flag flying almost everywhere. Even the weather has improved.

Republic a couple of weeks ago made fools of themselves by complaining about the BBC's lack of objectivity with regard to the celebrations. Oh come off it. This is just a time when those of us who can see how ridiculous the whole notion of monarchy is just have to grin and bear it. I was on Westminster Bridge the other day looking down at some crowns atop poles and listening to an American mother explain to her child that the British have great respect for and revere our Queen. Well, that might be stretching it a little. But it is hard not to admire her steadfastness and sense of duty. To be there for 60 years as the world has changed and still be meeting uncomplainingly the latest presidents and murderous dictators is quite a feat, even if it is ridiculous that she got the job because of who her dad was.

No the best philosophy during the coming week is to take the attitude of atheists during Christmas or Easter - enjoy the festivities, eat the chocolate and switch channels if it all becomes too unbearable or Nicholas Witchell's fawning obsequiousness provokes you to violence. I found the best approach during the royal wedding last year was to leave the country. If at all possible I intend to do the same this year too.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Employment Rights Cost Jobs

Back in the darkest days of the recession there was much speculation about how high unemployment would go. Would this be a 1980s rivalling disaster? Would this lead to unrest and riots like in those times?

In the event unemployment didn't come close to rivalling those dark days. In part this is because the statistics are more nuanced than under Margaret Thatcher. But a large contributary factor was the willingness of workers to adapt to the circumstances, accept shorter hours, lay offs and changes in working practices to make redundancies less necessary.

Fast forward to today though and the perfectly sensible recommendations from Adrian Beecroft are attacked from the left and Vince Cable as though he was recommending the return of workhouses and children being shoved up chimneys. Employment rights that make it so hard to sack the inefficient, permanently sick and workshy are yet another example of why we in the west lack competitiveness. Indeed it would be even worse if we didn't have the civil service and in particular Jobcentre Plus to hoover up so many of the useless, charmless, incompetent layabouts that might otherwise sit forever in the job queues.

The response of the left to these ideas has been instructive. They haven't attacked the idea and the theory behind it itself, they have merely called them absurd and dismissed them out of hand. When they have tried to concoct an argument against it is the usual extreme example of a boss being vengeful against an employee for personal reasons. That is not an argument at all.

Those who work hard, turn up on time every day and have a pleasant and constructive attitude to their jobs would have nothing to fear in a world where hiring and firing was much easier. It might even help to recreate that halcyon period our parents told us about in the 50s and 60s when one could quit a job in the morning and have another in the evening. Back then industrial tribunals were unheard of. Job security existed because there were plenty of jobs to go around. That is a healthier and more sustainable way to run an economy. It is even a better way of getting a payrise.

Perhaps this is what the left fears. An employment market that works by supply and demand? An employment market that offers to train people to satisfy demand? An employment market that does not need state interference to make it fair and equitable? Perish the thought.

As so often with rights, what seemed like a good idea has had a negative effect on the very people it was meant to help. We have seen  the steady grown of short term contract employment and temping over the last 30 years precisely because employers need flexibility. They do not want to take the risk of employing  someone if that employee will add potential additional costs in addition to their wages. That is just sound and rational management. That's why the left cannot and will not understand it.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

No PMQs Review Again

I have reluctantly concluded that my PMQs reviews must stay on hold for the time being, owing to lack of time to watch. I could of course watch it later online and review it then but this would feel like cheating. It's live or nothing.

However, here is a taster of today's quite tasty sounding session.

And, having watched yesterday's session, what is this bizarre new meme we are getting about Dave being angry? Last weekend he was too chilled. Make up your minds. 

It must be tremendously irritating having to even look at Ed Balls let alone have to listen to his dishonest chuntering across the dispatch box. The man is like a school bully and wind up merchant who has never grown up. I also find it irritating that he somehow managed to charm the lovely Yvette in to marrying him but that is another story.

But a prime minister who gets angry and passionate about things is a good thing surely. Or is that this is another thing that Tories are not allowed to do but lefties can, with the possible exception of Churchill. So for instance Michael Foot, Denis Healey, Robin Cook to name a few off the top of my head were famed for their brutal put downs of members opposite. It made their reputations. That Cameron dispenses a few insults from time to time ought to be part of the rough and tumble of Commons life.

One thing is for certain, this will merely embolden Balls to keep his sledging. Dave should get some better lines to throw at him, preferably ones that the Speaker won't rule out of order. I favour focusing on Balls's remarkable resemblance, especially when nodding in agreement with his leader, to Churchill the insurance dog. Take a look, it's the pudgy face and that never ending smugness. 'Oh Yes!'

Chelsea or Aston Villa, Dave?

Apparently this picture of Dave, arms aloft, celebrating an English team (albeit with lots of foreigners in it) actually beating a German team at penalties has gone viral across the net. Indeed the game itself was rather like the opening credits of Dads' Army in which the Nazis pushed the plucky Brits back to their own half where they defended stoutly for the rest of the game.

I don't think Dave has too much to worry about this picture going around the world. We used to hear about Gordon's love of football but you never saw him get out of his jacket to watch it let alone punch the air and make rude gestures in the direction of any nearby Germans. This was just Dave looking quite normal again, as per those weekends stories about him spending quality time with Sam and DVD box sets. We all like to do that.

But for all that it was great to see a PM enjoying himself and enjoying the victory of what is probably his local team, I find myself puzzled by another fact that has emerged. Apparently Dave, like many Old Etonians, including Wills and Harry, supports Aston Villa, a club from my own home town Birmingham. Would anyone care to explain this? What with this and the onnishambles, is he deliberately trying to lose votes? 

Just Say No

The decision of the ECHR to tell Britain to give its prisoners the vote is simply unacceptable. British public opinion and parliamentary opinion (with the possible exception of the Lib Dems) is four square against this unwarranted intrusion in our affairs. We should simply say no by holding a vote in parliament, the body that sets our laws.

Usually at this point British governments of whatever colour shrug their shoulders and talk about the rule of law. But this is not the rule of law. It is the rule of a foreign court that keeps getting things hopelessly wrong and refuses to accept that their interpretation of human rights is out of kilter with reality and the original intentions of a body that was supposed to protect citizens from state terror, not to prevent foreign terrorists from being deported or give the vote to people legally imprisoned for crimes.

Here is a totemic issue for David Cameron to get passionate about. If the Lib Dems object then so much the better. Let's see how much lower in people's estimations they can go.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Deliver Us From Wonga

Sometimes you have to wonder about the political nous of this government. Have they any idea what they are doing?

The Spectator reports that there are growing calls and near cross party unanimity on the backbenches for something to be done about pay day loan companies, which charge exorbitant interest rates for loans based on the notion that they are only short term and meant to be paid off within days.

The fact of the matter is however that these loans are generally taken up by people struggling to make their money last until the end of the month more or less every month. These are not the middle class people portrayed in those irritating and patronising TV adverts (reason enough to ban them all, let alone what they do to the poor - am I alone in wanting to punch the fat wanker in the picture above in the face every time he appears on screen?) they can usually access less costly means of borrowing a few quid to pay off unexpected bills. These are those on low wages who struggle to feed the kids. What happens is that they borrow, pay them off and then borrow again. This eats into their available funds on a monthly basis meaning that they never catch up and exacerbates an already difficult situation.

This is the unacceptable face of capitalism. They are loan sharks hiding behind a snazzy corporate image instead of a couple of thugs. I don't know of anyone who would defend this kind of cynical, rapacious behaviour. Indeed someone ought to challenge one of these companies in the courts rather than repay them to test whether their rates are usurious.

And there are plenty of these companies springing up all over the place. I get text messages and e-mails from them all the time. Some even try to charge an upfront fee to arrange a pay-day loan.

Yet the government is curiously reticent about doing anything about this clearly abusive situation. Why? Here is an opportunity for them to act as white knights riding to the rescue of poor consumers and proving that we are all in this together. If it is okay to bash bankers then why not lambast loan sharks and reel them in?

Rihanna - Have You Lost My Phone Number?

As I noted recently, we good looking people (like Samantha Brick) are not without our problems. It seems that Rihanna made one of her many trips to London at the weekend, had to settle for going clubbing with footballers (conversations with whom must be rather like watching Chelsea grind out results against better teams) and bemoaned the fact that she does not have a boyfriend.

And yet, bafflingly, she has still not called me. Clearly all of that confidence is a mere front. Good looks intimidate her.

Rihanna, Ri-Ri, Miss Fenty, let me assure you, I am not out of your league.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Gaia Rights - The 21st Century Demands of the Green Meanies

The Spectator is currently running an essay competition challenging readers to pick an area of Green folly and expose it. It's called the Matt Ridley Prize for Environmental Heresy. It should be made an annual event.

I was going to enter, but where do you start? There are so many areas of green concern and campaigning and so many of them turn out to be hysterical hype and scientific nonsense - like homeopathy but on a global scale and costing trillions.

There's the whole, slowly unravelling, global warming climate change farrago, the polar bear scare stories, the annual sea ice panic, organic farming, GM foods, bio fuels and of course wind farms.

I just can't decide. Instead, I decided to take a simultaneously less and more ambitious approach. I'm going to attempt to peel the skin of the environmental movement, or the Green Meanies as I like to call them because they do so enjoy disapproving of things, usually things that are fun and modern and the product of a consumerist society. They are the new puritans, a sect with an absolute belief in their own righteousness and a fantastic ability to continue believing regardless of the evidence.

What makes them tick? Why do they get so angry? Why are they so tendentious and dishonest? And how on Mother Gaia are we ever going to reconcile their ever more strident demands for 'being green' with the not unreasonable demands of normal working people for the finer things in life?

It is this last point that is the central one of my Green Meany thesis. I am by no means the first to have noticed that the GMs are essentially socialists in a new quasi religious wrapping. They are like water melons as some, including James Delingpole, have pointed out. Why has this happened? Because the lumpen masses have disappointed those who sought to take them to the socialist promised land. They failed to rise up. Instead they enthusiastically seized on the hated consumer society created by industrialised capitalism. The workers united and bought iPhones. Traitors!

I was startled recently when I read this quote in the Evening Standard from one of north London's finest, the author and loony lefty, Adam Foulds at a British themed event in a book store. Britain, Foulds lamented, "had invented terrible things - colonialism, capitalism and the industrial revolution. We lead the world in failure and disappointment...America will soon catch up with our self disgust."

Does that not sum up the deluded mindset of the lefty/greeny set? Quite apart from the absurd generalities and poor historical grasp that, I'm fairly sure, would probably see them fail a History GCSE (Britain invented colonialism and capitalism?), although you never can be sure - perhaps he would get credit for spelling his quite difficult name correctly - it encapsulates beautifully their determined, Eeyorish, Marvin the Paranoid Android self loathing. If you want explanations for so many of the failed policies of Labour down the years, most notably uncontrolled immigration, you have it right there. The left feel guilty and so, whatever the consequences for the wretched poor and no matter the flaws in their analyses and arguments, their consciences must be appeased. 

In essence then, those who seek to tell us what to do found a new cause to believe in and attempt to bully us with. They do so enjoy telling people what to do and prescribing their lives for them for their own good. Social justice had not done it and so now it was going to be environmental justice. Not only does capitalism, you see, create huge disparities in wealth distribution, it rapes and plunders our planet in doing so. We must unite and overthrow the system before it is too late, although what happens then is left unsaid. Logically the GMs would then need millions to commit hari kiri to save the planet. It is one of their most sacred beliefs that there are just too many of us. We're going to have to sacrifice ourselves for the good of the future.

Because at the fundamental core of the Green Meany belief system is Gaia, James Lovelock's simple but actually rather simplistic and nonsensical notion of the Earth as a single living and self regulating system, a system, needless to say, that humanity is throwing into imbalance and danger according to the GMs.

But let's take a look at this thesis critically. The reason it has caught on is because of its pleasing simplicity and appeal to the emotions. It's rather like the notion that we all have of atoms being like mini solar systems with the nucleus at the centre and electrons whizzing around like planets. The trouble is, as anyone who knows anything about quantum mechanics knows, this is a travesty of the much more complex and fascinating truth.

The same is true of Lovelock's notion of the Earth as a beautifully balanced and self adjusting mechanism for life. It just ain't true. GMs, environmentalists and, I think, humanity in general like to imagine that nature is this benign force - why else is it called mother nature after all? - when in fact we know that it is savage, brutal, utterly unforgiving and ruthless. Most wild animals live in a state of perpetual fear and hunger. The only sort of animals that die of simple old age are those kept domestically and the humans who own them.

And this is only true of a certain percentage of humans alive today. In parts of the world hunger and fear is still known, and not just because of corruption and bad leadership. Humanity's history is full of epidemics, disasters, terrible weather leading to lost harvests. Only recently has medical science and our knowledge about hygiene and nutrition conquered the sort of diseases that once caused plagues of various types. Gaia tries to kill its inhabitants all the time.

Animals compete for food, for the right to procreate, for territory. It is these factors which have driven evolution and created the diversity we see all around us. But they don't do it to enhance the beauty of our planet. They do it to survive. The irony is that the natural world that the ecomentalists so adore is actually rather like capitalism in its purest and unregulated form. It's the survival of the fittest. Animals that are weak will die. If their species is overtaken by events that species will either adapt or will die out.

And this has been true throughout the history of our planet, indeed it is the driving force behind what it is and what it has been. When the first life emerged from the slime billions of years ago as bacteria, did they set out to create our beautiful world? Of course not. They set out to survive. The by product of their survival was oxygen which would eventually lead to an explosion of life. Life finds a way. It exploits gaps in the market if you will. But it's not a gentle or balanced programme.

Not that the GMs will have any of this. Like the most fervent of religious believers they refuse to see the true nature of our planet and the solar system which is a hostile place in which life has been created very much against the odds.

The GMs look upon humanity as a kind of cancer on the living organism that is Planet Earth. But if a form of life is cancer then where do we draw the line? Is all life cancer or just human life? Life has made the planet what it is. Our beautiful blue and green world would not be the way it is had not life been created and prospered.

Humans are not the only animals or the first to change and adapt the world around us according to need, we are just the best at it. Happily we have achieved consciousness and have now started taking care of our environment. But we are alone in doing that. Animals don't care if a plague of them wipes out crops or causes famine and death for other species. They just move on. They do what they need to prosper and survive.

The fact is that, for all of its beauty, Planet Earth and the surrounding cosmos tries to kill its occupants on a daily basis. Happily we have a magnetic field thanks to all of the iron in our core, which sank early on when   all was still molten. This protects us from the sun's most lethal rays as does our atmosphere created over billions of years by bacteria breathing waste products into the air.

Happily our early planet, according to current theory, clashed with another smaller planet giving it its characteristic tilt which gives us the seasons. Happily this collision also created the moon which acts as a giant stabiliser on Earth, making life possible and creating the life giving tides and a night light to see by.

But none of this happened through some benign process. Evolution is anything but benign. Humanity has just got lucky. We arrived at a time when, unusually, our planet has two ice caps. We adapted and changed according to a changing climate and now have the ability to influence it too. We have become adept at protecting ourselves from its worst ravages. We alone have the potential to be able to deflect any big rocks that our solar system sends our way in the future to try and wipe us out. Such an impact or a supervolcano would be many times more devastating to us and our fragile Earth than anything we can do short of all out nuclear war, something we have thus far had the good sense to avoid.

None of this is to suggest that we should not care for and protect our beautiful home. But we are the first species to be able to do so. We are the first species to be able to take a holistic view and understand what drives the planet and makes it what it is. Surely that should be a cause for celebration? Far from a cancer we are more like a wonderdrug.

If you have any doubt about this just take a look at the panda, that emblem of wildlife and the preservation of Earth's greatest wonders. Yet the panda only survives because of us. It wasn't us that made it start eating the spectacularly un-nutritious bamboo. Pandas did this because they could. It was easy. In doing so they wandered into an evolutionary dead end which means they seldom can be bothered to breed and need to eat this form of grass almost constantly to survive. It is only the intervention of humans that has saved the panda from its own folly because it is cute and cuddly, if a little stupid.

But it is a folly far from unique in evolutionary history. 99% of species that have ever existed are extinct without any human intervention whatsoever. They are part of the story of our planet of which we are just a part, possibly of short duration. We really should just start enjoying our time here and congratulate ourselves on evolving the ability to worry about things, and indeed to argue amongst ourselves about how awful or not we have been to this blue marble in a black and inhospitable void.

DVD Dave

The latest meme running through the media concerning David Cameron and his government is this notion that the PM is altogether too relaxed about the job. According to a new biography being serialised in The Times, Dave finds it easy to relax, plays video games all the time, takes the Missus out or spends an evening in with her watching DVD box sets and loves his time at Chequers where he plays tennis frequently.

This is all of course being linked to the government's recent omnishambles. Is their lack of rigour due to Dave's being too laid back, too keen to play angry birds rather than angry boss demanding answers?

The answer of course is almost certainly not. After all, lest we forget, Dave's predecessor was an obsessive, angry workaholic and that turned out well for us all didn't it. But that won't stop them writing the story.

When you see nonsense like this being reported as if it means something you have to worry about the government though. Why has the media turned on them so suddenly? Or perhaps it is just what goes with the territory. They used to pass comment on Blair's holidays in other people's villas and his display of man boobs every summer. They used to pass comment on Gordon's inability to relax on holiday and his insistence on still wearing a suit.

Ultimately, if you are PM, you can't really win. But Dave's fondness for normal things we all take for granted at least shows that he has yet to retreat into the Downing Street bunker. And surely his keenness on working hard on his marriage ought to have female columnists waxing rhapsodic?

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Chelsea Champions

Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, last month I wrote this post about the new European champions. Congratulations to Chelsea. The delicious irony is that Abramovich finally won what he has so long coveted with a stop gap manager for whom he had to pay nothing. The other managers he has tried have cost him cumulatively in excess of £60 million in various compensation payments. Of course whether Di Matteo is the man to now rebuild the squad and team is another matter. The fact remains however, he constitutes one of the cheaper parts of this billionaire's plaything. And the most successful.

Heads in the Sand: The Economic Policy of the West

On the face of it, the current travails of the western democracies and in particular of the Eurozone seem to be a crisis of democracy itself. After all, as we have seen in France and Greece and here in Britain at the local elections earlier this month, the people seem to be rejecting the politics of austerity, the advice of their governments. In the case of Greece this could lead to disaster. Democracy is failing.

Yet it is not democracy that is failing, it is politics and politicians that are failing. In short, this is what happens when, in an age of spin and PR and news management, we allow the message and the soundbites to dominate the process of government at the expense of rational policy making.

Across much of the western world, especially in America and Britain since the end of the war and in particular since television became the most popular news outlet, a political class has emerged. Politics has been professionalised to make it look polished and competent, at least on television. There isn't quite a degree course to prepare you for the role, but reading PPE is pretty much the de facto best option followed by the de rigeur media training.

The problem with this professionalisation however is that it means we are now ruled by those who are very good at staying on message, supreme at avoiding answering awkward questions, gifted at media relations and excellent at gaining maximum publicity for their latest gimmicks. The science of politics has advanced enormously, so much so that parties concentrate their resources on a handful of marginal constituencies and target specific demographic groups labelling them Mondeo man or Worcester woman.

In short we are ruled by people who are very adept at saying all of the right things to us in order to get elected. The problem is that they have no real idea what to do once they are in place, especially when the economy is sluggish and problems seem intractable. The greater problem is that, if their political dogmas and entrenched positions do not create the halcyon world they were supposed to, or if they produce perverse consequences, the professional politican just falls back on his or her obfuscation and avoidance techniques rather than face facts and change position.

This latter problem is the cause of a great deal of the problems currently afflicting Britain. We have an NHS which, though fine in principle, does not work in practice. We have a vast welfare system which has trapped people into dependency and is now even attracting migrants to these shores to join our underclass. Few can believe that Britain, scrupulously fair minded, naive Britain, will obey the spirit of European law and treat all claimants the same, regardless of how long they have spent in this land and what they have paid in.

The EU is one of the greatest bugbears of course. We have continually been strung along with arguments about our need to be members because of how much trade we do with the continent. They tried their best to use similar arguments to railroad us into joining the Euro. Yet the same institution or institutions meant to enhance our trade instead actively strangles it with regulations and bureaucracy,  which again we are alone in obeying to the letter.

But take a look too at this government and its commitment to tackle the deficit. When it came to power we heard lots of gloomy talk about how hard it was going to be, of the sacrifices we would all have to make, of the swingeing cuts heading our way. Yet where are they? We are still borrowing £120 billion a year. Yes there have been cuts but only of the modest variety, whatever Labour and the unions say. We were softened up for them and polls showed the electorate accepted the need for them. And yet they didn't happen. Instead our debt pile is growing as we keep pouring money into services politicians are afraid to admit we cannot afford anymore and which, especially in the case of welfare, are actively doing harm to the economy and society.

Why is Britain struggling to grow? It's not because of austerity, it's because we haven't had any, or at least the state hasn't. Consumers are being forced to be austere because they are being squeezed by higher taxes, higher fuel prices, higher prices overall and wages that are not keeping pace. This inflation, it should be added, is also being fuelled by the half baked policy of Quantitative Easing, which means that interest rates are kept low for everyone. Good news if you are the government still allowed to borrow as if there is no tomorrow, devastating if you are doing the right thing and trying to save.

But the bottom line is that, with the public squeezed by higher taxes, higher fuel costs and higher costs overall, something has to give. That is why the economy is bumping along the bottom. They've squeezed us. Labour under Gordon Brown started the process of squeezing the middle they now claim to champion, but we didn't notice back then because the economy was booming on credit. Now the credit is gone, the boom has gone and the consumer is left with the bills.

The way for the government to help ease this pressure is not to try and create illusory growth by spending even more than they are doing already as advocated by Labour and the unions. That would just be false growth again. It is to cut taxes. The only way to do that is to be really austere and stop spending so much money. If a government spends less it means they take less of our money leaving more for us to spend. It's really that simple. That generates proper growth and jobs.

But we won't hear this from our professional politicians because they know that the truth is something unlikely to win you an election. Instead Labour pretend that there is a yawning chasm between their policies and those of the government. The government pretends that it is cutting ruthlessly instead of just not spending quite so much as would have been the case had Gordon Brown won in 2010. And the economy, saddled with a government eating up nearly half of the national economic pie, continues to stagnate. Indeed it is now stagflating as the Bank of England didn't quite say this week when it admitted that inflation would yet again confound its predictions.

The EU and Euro is the most famous example of the folly of politicians and their wishful thinking. But we have plenty of our own examples on these shores too. Our addiction to our big government, high spending, high taxing lifestyle is costing us our future prosperity. The boom we enjoyed under Labour was fueled by excessive borrowing rather than by earning our living through hard work. William Hague made a similar point in a speech this week. But he didn't tell the full truth. Nobody will.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Geeks and Greeks

There's a certain irony about the fact that, as Europe's leaders grapple with their latest crisis and the Greek people try to have their cake and continue to have someone else buy it for them, Facebook made its debut as a public company. It's a public company in which shareholders are allowed to pay a fortune for a stake but in which the founders keep something akin to full control, but it is a public company nevertheless.

And this company, we are told, is worth $104 billion. It is worth this because it has nearly a billion users and they tell it what they like and dislike and this allows it to target advertising at them. All well and good, I'm sure, but $104 billion?  Now, isn't it awful about those impecunious and ungrateful Greeks?

Now we are where we are in this never ending financial crisis and nobody really knows what happens next, although we fear it and should be seriously considering putting our money in gold and tinned goods let alone IPOs. But we are here because of hubris, greed, folly and the human herd instinct. How can a company only a decade old possibly be worth $100 billion? Never mind, get on board or you'll miss the boat.

I use Facebook, albeit not particularly enthusiastically - unlike many, I only call people friends if I actually know and like them. But before that I was a member of Friends Reunited, another faddish company with a decent idea bought for a gigantic price, which got its strategy wrong and is now forgotten about. Why do those buying FB, as it is known in investment circles, imagine that this cannot quickly go the same way? This is not Google or Microsoft with diversified product lines and a real and enduring presence in an industry that didn't exist until 25 years ago. This is a fashion, a fad. It is ephemeral. If and when people move on or something better comes along it could easily fade back into obscurity.

Technology and the internet is capitalism at its rawest and most terrifying. There are vast rewards out there for clever people with good ideas. But it is unpredictable to a startling extent. For every Facebook there is a MySpace. If a company fails to spot trends and go with the zeitgeist, like Nokia for instance, it can quickly find itself falling behind.

Facebook has been very good for those who created it and those who initially invested in it, like Bono. Whether or not it will be as good for its new legion of investors is or ought to be doubtful. But it proves, as Europe and the world sit on the brink of financial armageddon, that  we really do never learn. We will always look for the easy and fast buck and then wonder why every once in a while, we find ourselves in a unholy mess.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Liverpool's Regicide Was Right

And so regicide has taken place. The king has gone. It was not to be.

 I had been having my doubts about the second rein of King Kenny and have expressed them on this blog. Clearly I was not alone because the post in question has been by far it's most popular in recent weeks.

It was an appalling season. Liverpool started the season reasonably well but then the draws started piling up as they failed to beat teams that had come to defend in depth. As the season wore on those same teams grew bolder. They started beating Kenny's men. The cup runs were a consolation but nothing more. The money had been spent and we had precious little to show for investments in several high profile attacking players. The goals were simply not coming. The best that could be said for Liverpool vintage 2011/12 was that they were well organised defensively.

This was not how it was supposed to be. But it happened. The owners were right to thank Kenny for his efforts but to look elsewhere for the man who will rebuild the team and make Liverpool challengers again.

So who should it be? I would like to see Rafa given another go. He left under a cloud but then that was a cloud created by the Hicks and Gillette regime. The man who took us to two Champions League finals and one close second in the Premier League had the rug pulled from under him. He is the right age and has the credentials to do a fine job again given the full backing of the owners.

There are of course other candidates out there. But many would be a gamble. Assuming that someone of the calibre of Mourinho is not available (he has expressed an admiration for Liverpool, the club, the ethos and the supporters) then it is hard to see that anyone has a better claim to take over from Kenny than Rafa, a manager still loved by the supporters and who may well feel he has unfinished business and a point to prove.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

No PMQs Review This Week

Sorry, no PMQs review this week. I didn't get to see it and may not for the next few weeks either since my recent housing problems, problems being exacerbated by the legion of bureaucrats and pen pushers one meets from both the charitable and public sectors who are supposed to be there to help but seem to do little other than stick to pettifogging rules whilst gazing at you in what is probably supposed to be a sympathetic and caring way but actually makes them look patronising and smug.

Still, perhaps it is appropriate that I stick to the more efficient and less cumbersome private sector.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Heading for the EU Exit

The chances are that Greece leaving the Euro is now a when rather than an if. Democracy will have its day, however much the EU tries to prevent it.

What the EU and the ever more desperate Euro fanatics have been trying to do these last few months is reconcile the irreconcilable. They cannot impose on their people's the austerity needed to allow the Euro to survive in its present form and are unwilling to adopt the other alternative which is full monetary union meaning that Germany would have to keep sending the Greeks and other outlying struggling states an annual cheque. For the Euro to survive, one of these options must be adopted. This was clear from the single currency's inception. Some of us pointed it out as we fought to keep Britain out. Now that choice has to be made. Oh, unless of course they wish to adopt the other which is of course for country after country, starting with Greece, to bow to the inevitable and leave.

Having said this of course the Greek people are still kidding themselves if they think simply refusing to accept any more austerity will be an end to their problems. Where do they imagine the extra money is going to come from? Who will lend it to them? Please don't say us, Chancellor.

This is the point now where the EU bandwagon starts to implode. Isn't it time our prime minister started airing his sceptical credentials. He might find it would do wonders for his poll ratings and will make him look prescient in the months to come. He should, as a friend to our foolish neighbours, point out the folly of their ways and refuse point blank to lend them any money unless and until they take the choice they have been so keen to avoid and which their electorates are demanding they refuse to accept.

Perhaps he should concentrate their minds by offering the British people the chance to exit the whole ruinous and ridiculous enterprise completely via a referendum. It's time to show some real leadership, Dave, time to grasp the nettle. The days of the current EU system are numbered thanks to their own arrogance and dogma. Britain has the opportunity to force change or at least to get out while we still can. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Football's Next Chapter Begins

So, the football season is over (and what a humdinger it was) perhaps that last minute Man City win will now replace in people's affections the most traumatic night of my life, when Arsenal's Michael Thomas snatched the title from Liverpool's grasp with the last kick of the ball. The laughter in the pub afterwards was hard to bear. We were at the beginning of a new era, or at least near to the end of the old one. We just didn't realise it then.

Is this a similar watershed moment? Possibly. Alex Ferguson somehow contrived to win his team last year's championship, without ever being particularly convincing. The same would have been true this season had that final 5 minutes not gone the way they did. The miracle worker may be running out of miracles and he may be incapable, thanks to the club's owners, of bringing in a new generation of players capable of it. He nearly did it, but it says everything that he did so by deploying Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, the last representatives of those wonder teams he could always rely on in these high stakes games.

Yet the cudmudgeonly old campaigner nearly pulled it off. United, faced by teams with resources they can now only dream of, lost by the narrowest of margins. As Arsene Wenger, Harry Redknapp, Martin O Neill, Brendan Rodgers, David Moyes, Sam Allardyce, Chris Hughton, Roy Hodgson and latterly even Roberto Di Matteo not to mention of course the astonishing Jose Mourinho have also shown this season, there really is no substitute for managerial nous and that priceless ability to spot and nurture talent and create a team regardless of wealth and resources.

Sad to say I cannot include Kenny Dalglish in that list on present evidence - and let us not forget that it was his team selection and tactics which gave us that other great end of season cliff hanger all of those years ago which still haunts my nightmares and inspired a feature film. Yes Liverpool only lost once in the cup competitions this season and that at Wembley. But the performances in the league were not good enough. Should he be given more time? Probably. That is the Liverpool way. But if the sort of manager who is or should be on that list were to be available I would gladly say thankyou and adieu to the king.

One day Manchester United will have to do that with Ferguson. It will be a fast impending moment filling them with dread and foreboding, especially now that their neighbours are riding high. Football is the ultimate meritocracy and results over a season do not lie. Some managers and their players will know they fell short. They will know because the fans and people like me have told them so loudly at the end of 90 minutes each week and now after the completion of another fascinating and frustrating season.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Plan C for Conservative

Take a look at the numbers and graphs in this piece from The Spectator and you will see that the omnishambles has had a devastating effect on the electoral chances of both coalition parties, as should be expected. The government has looked divided, which of course it is thanks to the presence of two parties. But it has all too often looked chaotic and incompetent too. In part this has been unfair. The press suddenly decided, as is its wont, to turn on David Cameron's team. But there is a very real sense of drift and lack of direction. What is the overall strategy, what is the guiding purpose? Other than tackling the deficit, and even that slower than originally envisaged, we are all left guessing.

But can we surmise from those same graphs what the cure is, what the country expects of a Conservative government? Are they disappointed because Cameron, the heir to Blair, has learnt the wrong lessons from history and is being insufficiently Conservative as his critics are suggesting?

The Tories are currently retaining about 65% of their 2010 vote. Labour on the other hand are retaining 82% of their vote. This is hardly surprising because their appalling 2010 result meant that they were almost down to their core vote. But the upside for them is that the only way is up, the greater upside for them is that the Lib Dems are now a party of government and much less likely to attract the votes of ex Labour voters disappointed with their own party or party leader's performance. On the face of it this means that Labour should be a shoo in.

What then can the Tories do? Simple, behave like Tories in a newly simplified dual party fight.

Let me explain: that is not be evil, baby eating and banker loving monsters as depicted by some on the left. Instead they should trust their instincts and do what they think is right for the country, instead of this constant modern nonsense about appealing to the middle ground, trying to woo Worcester Man. It is this kind of cynicism, of politics by focus group and opinion poll that is turning people off politics.

There are many stories doing the rounds now about backbench Tory MPs  demanding some proper Tory policies. Plenty of voters clearly feel the same, hence the rise in fortunes of UKIP. But why are MPs and voters so frustrated? Is it because we want our vested interests defended, our taxes cut? Actually, no. We believe that cutting the size of the state and cutting taxes would be better for the country. It's what being a Conservative means. 

Instead, admittedly not helped by the presence of the Lib Dems, we have these diluted policies. Yes welfare  is being reformed as is education. But all too often this is a Tory government that looks like it is being led by Liberals.

Ultimately this government came to power determined to do something about our borrowing and to cut waste. This, they insisted, would be all that was needed to get the economy moving. All things being equal, as we saw under Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, this hasn't quite worked out. It hasn't quite worked out like that, although the Euro and its troubles have had a devastating dragging effect on our economy. But instead of a Plan B we need a Plan A+. Plan A, they should be saying, is fine, it just needs heavier ammunition. So the cuts should be cut harder, the resultant money saved used to cut taxes.

I have never understood the point of going into government and then not following your intincts and enacting them. If you believe in something then follow it through. This is a government that should be taking on Europe, the ECHR, cutting taxes and tackling our benefit dependency culture of rights but no responsibilities. It would be popular. More than that however, much more, it would be right for the country. For proof we need only have a look at the last time David Cameron was ahead in the polls. It was the end of last year after he exercised his veto in Europe. It was the last time he behaved like a real Tory.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

One Thinks It Might Rain, But Who Knows When I Will Rein?

No doubt Charles will soon have added this spell as a weather presenter to his alleged qualifications for lecturing us about climate change. But he's not great at predictions. He told us that we only had two years to save the planet. That was three years ago.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Let's Call Racism Racism

Since the columnists and leader writers of our national newspapers have tip-toed away from commenting on the issue of the appalling case of the Rochdale paedophile rapists - a crime on white, teenaged girls by Muslim men, perhaps it falls to the blogosphere to react 

Let's call it what it is: Racism. You might even call it institutionalised since it is a common attitude in a major and growing religion in this country.

Racism, it ought not to be necessary to have to point out, is not something unique to whites. It is an irrational prejudice against anyone according to the colour of their skin. The heightened sensitivity here is that it also involved Islam, hence the pusillanimous reaction, or lack of one.

Yet why is this surprising? Most religions preach their own superiority and superior morals above those of others. It's part of their raison d'etre. Islam is particularly trenchant in doing so. These men are not alone in their faith in regarding white women as being morally inferior. Think of those terrorist wannabes who wanted to blow up nightclubs, slaughtering 'those slags dancing around their handbags,' think of those campaigns in east London daubing paint over posters deemed offensively revealing. It is not so much of a leap from these attitudes to regarding white girls as easy prey, sex that god doesn't mind too much because it is with the kaffir. God can be very flexible about these things if you read him the right way.

Religious attitudes about sexual morality have always been hyocritical, but they become much more so the more fundamentalist in your mindset you become, the purer you claim to be. Indeed the tendency of the more repressive religious regimes to produce more sexual deviancy is well known. To misquote that Stonewall campaign: sex is something humans do and enjoy doing: get over it.

The sexual power that women possess has long been something that all of the world's religions have tried to control and repress. It has created misogyny down the years. You only have to look at the Old Testament to see the attitudes to women to see where this medieval mindset can come from or maybe it was merely trying to codify and entrench them. And the Old Testament in particular has nothing good to say of the women of other tribes and faiths who could often be murdered and raped or treated as slaves with the blessing of god. The Quran is just a transparently obvious attempt to create a similar code for a different people but one not so massively different from its Jewish forebear.

The fact is that we have amongst us some who regard our modern bawdiness and licentiousness as monstrous. They think we, and in particular women, are dirty. It is a commoner attitude than many are prepared to admit, whatever the colour of their skin. As has been revealed in recent Sunday Times stories about female genital mutilation, such medievalism must be stamped on and hard. But let's first have the guts to call this what it is. It is religious based racism.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A New Wave Heading Our Way?

The government, we are told on the nod, is making contingency plans for it; banks, pressed by the government are making contingency plans for it; airlines, travel firms and companies in general are being advised to make plans. What is it? The collapse of the Euro of course.

But amidst all of this planning going on, is anyone considering the effects this country vis a vis our image as a land of milk and honey with an open door policy?

What happens when and if Greece or one of the other financially challenged either walks or is kicked out of the Euro? Well, much of it is unpredictable. People will want their money. They won't be able to have their money. And, once they have it, they will want to move said money. But they will also want to move themselves and their families.

Are we prepared for this? Looking at the last time lots of east Europeans were allowed in, the answer has to be no. The numbers of those who came here were grossly underestimated. Their contribution to the economy has yet to be properly quantified.

But for all of the stories about hard working and reliable Poles. What about the other side? What about those who are not working and are living on our streets? Some, if they have worked in the UK, will be claiming from our benefits system. But many have arrived here, bedded down for the night and found that life as a homeless person in London can be pretty easy within a given definition of easy. They have found that there are ready facilities for showers and cheap or free food. Sometimes they can get free medical care, free replacement clothing is often available. And we nice accommodating Brits even give them their own dedicated days to come and seek advice. Sometimes we give them money to go home. At this point we are inclined to be a bit miffed if they still seek out help and free stuff. But we'll probably give it to them anyway. Has anyone checked how many of this category there are?

It's always embarrassing for politicians when their cities have so many people sleeping in their streets. So they do something about it by sending out legions of so called outreach workers to find and help this hard core. But the scale of it is vast - not all of the homeless, in fact only a minority are visibly homeless and sleeping in sleeping bags. Are we about to see a further foreign invasion? And at what point this time do we ask questions about why the contingency planning did not seek to prevent this?

The fact is that Britain is generous to a fault with the NHS and benefits system. We have successfully created an underclass of our own who are addicted to benefits. Are we about to start importing the whole continent's? We've made a pretty good start already. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A New Labour Line On Cuts?

I haven't the time or energy to write much today (God, I'm exhausted) except to wonder out loud whether Labour will be silly enough to believe that what happened in France at the weekend means that they too should change their already conditional adherence to cuts. The unions would love that too. But then so should Tories.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Experiments in Economics

Ed Balls was on TV again at the weekend as part of his determined campaign to persuade us that more borrowing equals less in the long term. It's counter intuitive. This is because it is wrong.

But it's also a pointless argument to be making. It's not going to happen in this country as Osborne has set out his path of cutting the deficit and means to stick to it, the one thing he has got right. And anyway France has now elected the socialists and Hollande will now conduct the experiment Balls wants to see just across the channel.

Meantime Greece just restarted the problems of the Euro. Is the first exit about to take place? That is the great experiment we should all want to see taking place. It is the only viable way to save Greece and maybe cause the scales to fall from the eyes of Europe's leaders about the true cause of this enduring recession/depression which, according to where you are and how old you are, means you will be feeling very differently about the need for austerity. A Europe divided along national, age and demographic lines? That is the great achievement of the leaders of the Euro.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Inclusive Society

Given the kicking the government were given this week by an angry electorate, it can only be a matter of time before we have a relaunch of sorts to try and drag them out of the mess of their own making, the omnishambles and Lib Dem mischief making to make themselves look assertive.

This week is the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech in which she reads a government prepared list of what they will be hoping to pass in the next session. It will be a mixed list. Therein lies the problem. There is no grand strategy, no overall vision for what they are trying to do. This cannot just be a government of austerity. It needs to set out a new approach for the country.

May I suggest that we take another look at the Big Society? Before you groan and change the page, just stop and think again. This was actually a good idea. It was a very Conservative idea. It was the name that was the problem.

Why not the Inclusive Society? It's a better description of what they were trying so clumsily to say. Indeed perhaps this clumsiness should have forewarned us of what was to come. The idea, as I wrote at the time, was sound.

But it should be used to describe government actions and facilitation of services across the board. It should be a description of a state that believes in responsibilities as well as rights. Why should Abu Qatada be deported from this country? Because we are an inclusive society that he wants to be selectively part of only for his own ends. Why should prisoners work and help pay for themselves as Ken Clarke has suggested? Because they have responsibilities to the rest of us as we have responsibilities to them to ensure they are given every chance to reform and make something of themselves. The same is true across most services provided by the public purse. Instead of Labour's centralist approach however, the inclusiveness model uses discretion and localism and a desire for people to be fully involved rather than as mute consumers as a guiding principle.

If policies were run through this kind of prism you might not have all of those backbenchers demanding red meat and that David Cameron proves he is a Tory. The best policies of the government, from education to welfare reform all pass the inclusiveness test and their logical next steps do too. It might give them the intellectual framework to build on and show to a public contemptuous of political double speak and broken promises.

Boris Mayor Again

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Electorate's Cynicism Over Political Cynicism

I have a confession to make, I didn't vote yesterday. This is only the second time in my voting career that I have failed to do so. Does it make me a hypocrite given what I wrote yesterday? Well, maybe a little bit. But I have a pretty good excuse to do with my move this week and the various problems I have had. It's all being resolved slowly, but it meant that taking the time and energy to go and vote on my old manor was too difficult and time consuming. I'm a long way away now on the other side of London, which is mostly a good thing. Except yesterday.

Turnout at these elections has been ultra low, depressingly low. But it is far from unprecedented, in local elections in particular and the unloved European elections. It will be interesting to see what the turnout has been in London in response to the Ken and Boris show. Has the politics of personality made people get off the sofas  and vote? You would hope so, although since we seem to have mostly voted against mayors around the rest of the country, this may well turn out to be of purely academic interest.

But mostly this kind of turnout is about an electorate that is turned off by our identikit politicians with their parroted lines, dishonest policies and overzealous media management. This is a continuing reaction about professional politicians who know nothing else. When people criticise Dave for being an arrogant posh boy who is out of touch, they could just as easily level the same accusation at his opposite number. How representative is Forrest of the people he expects to vote for him? It's why canny but cynical politicians like George Galloway and Ken Livingstone have started using identity politics instead with all of the dangers inherent in that approach.

It's the oldest complaint about politicians that we just wish they would be honest. The trouble is that we then tend to punish them for that honesty. That is why out economy is still looking so lacklustre, because our ruling class cannot tell us the truth about how little money there is now and projecting into the future and that we have been living beyond our means for decades. The cuts we are currently enduring are nothing like enough but who is going to tell us? On so many issues, from Europe to taxation, from the NHS to the welfare state, they prefer to use comforting platitudes rather than paint a real picture of the state that we are in. It's doubtful that anyone from the present ruling class will have the courage to do anything different and so we will be perpetually disappointed, our economy will remain anaemic and disillusionment will grow.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Auntie's Guilty Secret

In a new BBC4 programme coming up later this month, there are going to be saucy and scandalous tales of goings on at BBC Television Centre in the 1970s. Playschool presenters would go on air (the show was live) stoned. Staff smoked spliffs openly in corridors. And behind the doors of those corridors - it's a circular building and so they are curved corridors which probably used to freak them out or at least make them giggle uncontrollably if they were smoking decent stuff - there was apparently sex going on all over the place.

I went to work for the BBC in 1997. I can honestly say that I never once saw anyone strolling down the bending corridors spliff in hand. And the sex? Well I did hear tales of a couple of gay blokes being caught at it in a stationery cupboard but then isn't that or similar tales true of most companies?

But frankly I feel very upset and disappointed by this, especially at the revelation that the gorgeous subject of one of my schoolboy crushes, Janet Fielding, who played the Doctor's sidekick Tegan, claims that nobody cared if you had sex in your dressing room. It's bad enough that I was born too late to appreciate the 60s. Now it seems I went to work for the Beeb too late to give my sex life a much needed boost. The closest I got to sex was on-air flirting with the CBBC presenters and playing footsie with one of my colleagues at the announcer's Christmas party. And in my day Top of the Pops was being made at Elstree and so we didn't get to see sex, drugs or rock and roll or see how well they combined.

We tend to look back on the 70s as a terrible decade, a time of strikes and power cuts, nylon based bad fashion, trite pop music and slow and inexorable decline. It seems however that, not only was it a seminal moment for turning this country into what it is now, we also never had it so good. At the Beeb they were having it all over the place.

Vote Boris and Vote for Mayors

So, the day has finally arrived - note there is still no sign of Ken Livingstone's full accounts a month since they were promised, just the abridged version which leaves out some inconvenient truths. Today is the day we get to re-elect Boris and finally end the career of Newt man. What a pity he didn't become obsessed with weasels, it would have been so much neater.

But don't let the polls, or the fact that some bookies are already paying out on a Boris victory lull you into a false sense of security. Get out and vote. It's only real votes that will make what seems inevitable a reality. 

The fact is that Labour picked the wrong man as their candidate. It would never have been easy to beat Boris in any event, but choosing the old liar and fraud Livingstone practically sealed the deal. The only reason he has come as close as he has is because he has the remarkable ability to keep the lying and hypocrisy going without compunction, keep making claim after claim of the goodies he will dispense, whether or not he has the power or the money to do so. It is old cynical Labour up to its old tricks. Anyone who has been watching the BBC's excellent history of the 1970s will recognise that. They never learn, they just desire power, whatever the cost.

But voting for Boris is not just an anti Ken vote, although it is notable how many Labour stalwarts have said that they will be unable to vote for Ken with some expressing their disgust by jumping straight to the opposition. Boris, in his uniquely flashy but strangely unflashy way has done some good things: ending the bendy buses, freezing council tax, stopping the congestion zone extension, sacking Ian Blair, resisting the EU's encroachment on the City of London. He has been a good mayor and a politician who is willing to say what he believes, which surely is a refreshing change.

And most of all this election has proven what a good idea these mayoral contests are. Like it or not, personalities matter in politics, both national and local. If we want greater localism at work, a greater focus on the needs of individual cities across the land, mayors are the way forward, they enthuse the public about politics and that is all too rare these days.

The Boris and Ken show is of course a one off. But you can't argue that it has been boring. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


As is so often the case, Dave has arranged the prorogation of parliament ahead of next week's Queen's Speech so that he does not have to go through PMQs. This however is fortunate, I wouldn't have been able to review it and I haven't missed one yet this year.

Things are proceeding with my moving. There have been unforeseen hitches and setbacks  thanks to the intrusion, hypocrisy and malevolence of certain people, but I have bounced back. This blog and its author will return better and stronger in the next few days.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Paul Owen is Moving

I'm going to be a bit busy today moving house, along with other related issues. In the long term however this will only add to the quality of this blog, giving me a better environment more conducive for writing and research. Expect great things of this blog in the coming weeks. In the meantime however posts may be rather thin on the ground until computers are set up, broadband is connected and until I have a chair to sit on and a television to watch. Back soon.

In the meantime, for more examples of why Ken Livingstone is a liar, see Andrew Gilligan.