Thursday, 31 October 2013
There's a new poll out today which says that 66% of countryside voters, who would in the past have voted Tory, will not now do so. They will vote for UKIP or not at all. They are angry with the Tories over all kinds of issues, from HS2 to wind turbines, from gay marriage to the retention of the ban on fox hunting.
Unfortunately for people who hold these sort of views, the traditional type who find the modern world bewildering and are still struggling to come to terms with the fact that beer is not warm, theirs is not a viewpoint that holds much sway with the metropolitan types who run the Conservative Party. Old fashioned Toryism is seen as being precisely that - old fashioned.
Of course the same is true of those who claim to represent urban working class people in the Labour Party too. Their particular issues are ignored or actively regarded as antediluvian by the alleged sophisticates who speak on their behalf. Indeed the ideologies of the Left run counter to the views of the people who vote for them a great deal more than do the policies of David Cameron's Conservative Party. Cameron does actually believe in marriage, although he clearly thinks, as I do, that this should include gay marriage. He probably would, if he could, get rid of the fox hunting ban. He is sceptical of Europe, albeit not sceptical enough.
But Labour's ideologies are much more deep set than Cameron's pragmatic modern conservatism which saw him go green to disastrous effect and ring fence spending on international aid. Lefties genuinely believe that being against uncontrolled immigration is racist. They genuinely believe that equality and fairness means educating all children in state run and regulated schools with teachers who are 'qualified' whatever that means, and that, despite the evidence of the last 40 years, grammar schools do immense damage rather than educate the brightest to the same standards as those who can afford to do so privately. Of course they don't feel the need to be constrained by this for their own children. Oh no. But it will do for the rest of us. Take a look at this video courtesy of Guido. This is the calibre of people who aspire to rule us.
And here should be the Conservative's opportunity. There is no reason why Conservative policies on education, immigration, sound public finances et al should not appeal to the type of voters who once voted for Margaret Thatcher. We just have to stop apologising for being Tories. There really isn't anything to apologise for.
Conservatives should start telling people that free markets deliver top service and products when they work correctly. Our energy markets are not working because they have been not been regulated properly and have been allowed to consolidate into too few companies. But this week we saw competition asserting itself as one energy company, keen for new customers, availed itself of the opportunity to publicise the fact that it can offer lower prices than its competitors. It can be done.
In education how many more years of letting down students thanks to the failed experiment that is comprehensive education must we endure before we set aside lefty ideology? Bring back grammar schools and our top universities and top jobs, including political jobs, will not be monopolised by ex public school boys and girls. And at a lower level, as Cameron explained this week, we would not need to import foreigners to do jobs in this country if our children were properly educated and were not incentivised to spend their lives on welfare. Labour even created the Education Maintenance Allowance, a way of giving people welfare before they have even had chance to start work. They would like to bring it back now whilst talking tough on welfare reform.
Most working people, or hard working people as politicians insist on calling them, are very well aware of the facts of life, of economic reality. They understand the notion that we are living on borrowed money, that our welfare system is out of control and actively creating poverty and dependency. They can see that schools are not doing their job properly, that teachers have been stymied by political correctness and the rights industry. They can see that the EU is holding us back, preventing us from dealing with the world on our own terms and actively strangling enterprise whilst legislating on issues that need not be legislated for.
All of these issues are good solid Conservative issues, common sense pragmatism which appeals to the majority rather than the supposedly centrist, ideologically driven claptrap politicians cut off from us all believe is necessary. Thanks to this supposedly centrist approach of career politicians who go from university to work as special advisers to being MPs and then ministers, we have everything from comprehensive education to uncontrolled immigration, from wind turbines and the closure of cheap coal fired electricity stations to an NHS that kills people and covers it up.
And we have the EU. The EU is a product of the political consensus, an entity created by politicians for politicians from which we are actively excluded as it makes it all so much easier for them.
And this week we have the grotesque spectacle of the parties, none of whom were able to win a majority at the last election, using the Privy Council, a medieval throwback to the divine right of kings, to impose controls on the press. How dare they?
It's no wonder amidst all of this that people react in disgust and turn to minority parties, or don't vote at all. Then, amidst the turmoil and chaos this creates, we have the spectacle of the Lib Dems in power, reneging on promises, and claiming the right of veto. We have the Labour Party arrogantly pursuing power with a core vote strategy they will claim is a mandate and which will see a party now utterly dominated by the unions and the state sector to further bankrupt us all and turn Britain back into the sick man of Europe.
Instead of honesty about what is possible, we get bland promises, bribes and lies. We get the continual blame game, of passing the buck when in reality most of the problems that afflict us day to day, from poor educational standards to the cost of living are the consequence of poor ideologically based decision making in government. The country is broke, we still have high unemployment and yet we are obliged, thanks to the political consensus to have an open door policy to the whole of Europe. And we have a Conservative Party whose instincts ought to be to proclaim all of this loudly and to fix it but which cannot because it has been blinded by received opinion about occupying the middle ground, of being green, being PC, of spending money we don't have. There has been radicalism but not nearly enough.
Our politics is sick and it may be about to get worse. Democracy has been seized by a political class only really comfortable talking to themselves and claiming some kind of centrist consensus without bothering to ask us about it. We used to accept that our parties were broad churches, that we had to accept some things we didn't like as the price you pay for democracy. Now we are treated as fools by those who rule us, offered price freezes that are nothing of the sort, baubles handed out from on high by panjandrums and fantasists who imagine that they are doing the will of the people because they only speak to the right kind of people.
Wednesday, 30 October 2013
It's been a good month for Wallace, it would be churlish not to admit this. But of course it has been a good month because he proposed a policy that is probably undeliverable, may make matters worse, may already be making matters worse, which is opportunist, mendacious and which ignores his own responsibility for the problem he now claims to be solving. But hey that's politics. That in particular is Labour. They are terribly good at offering goodies to voters or generally good at spending other people's money. That was what they did while in power. Wallace did it with all of those lovely green taxes. Then he bemoans the cost of living crisis.
Of course we have also been reminded this week of just how two faced Labour can be when it suits. HS2 was their idea. Now they are in the process of performing a U turn on it (never easy on trains) except now Wallace is under pressure from his own party's local authorities up north (the place the likes of Wallace like to go to so as to get into parliament) because they like the idea of HS2. So Labour are in the process of performing a U turn on their U turn. Wallace now tells us that he is not going to play games with the national interest. Which is odd because that is exactly what he has been doing. He also doing it on energy bills and did it on Syria.
And then of course there is Unite and scary Uncle Len. Earlier this year Wallace talked tough on the subject before backing down. Now it turns out that this was because Unite put together a campaign of bullying, intimidation and organised chicanery to ensure this. At the same time Unite nearly cost thousands of good, skilled, highly paid working class jobs at Grangemouth last week. So will Wallace talk tough again? Not if he can avoid it. He prefers making meaningless interventions on energy bills to make him sound tough. Much easier that way.
Not surprisingly Wallace wanted to talk about energy once again, replaying his greatest hits. Unfortunately for him he's a bit of a one hit wonder. Is this going to be all he talks of between now and the election? If Dave will let him.
Dave hit back this week since it was revealed that Wallace himself has switched supplier to cut his energy bills, a Government approved approach. Wallace called him the official spokesman for the energy companies. But Dave was better prepared this week, after last week's poor show. He was armed with information about Wallace's energy company and brought up Labour's fondness for green taxes and decarbonisation as shown in the House of Lords this week when they tried to impose more on us whilst bleating on about the cost of living. Why, asked the PM, was he saying one thing and voting the other way?
And then Wallace objected to an inquiry. The man who calls for inquiries as his default option (so much easier than having to have a policy) thinks one into our obviously malfunctioning energy market is a bad idea. Perhaps he's worried it might reveal his own culpability for the prices he now proclaims outrageous.
The PM was on surer footing this week. He was better prepared and it showed. Wallace, he argued, is hiding behind the cost of living because he was so hopelessly wrong on the economy and unemployment. Now he is hiding behind his shadow chancellor because he can't make a decision on HS2. This would have been an even better session for Dave had he not been interrupted once again by the Speaker who always seems to make his speech about us all wanting to hear what is being said when it is the PM speaking rather than his opponent.
Labour have made good hay out of their silly and regressive policy but now Dave has at last got his act together and is giving as good as he has got. At some point they will have to change the subject. Unfortunately for them there isn't a lot they can say about anything else. The one hit wonder is looking around desperately for a new song to sing.
Tuesday, 29 October 2013
I see that the Government is having another go at trying to persuade us that HS2 is a good idea today. So far they have tried to sell this dubious scheme on the grounds of speed, capacity and now their line seems to be that we should build a new line because adding capacity to the existing line would mean years of work on them and weekend closures. By that argument every time one of our motorways needs repairing we should build a new one to save all of the delays.
The argument for HS2 doesn't stack up. The additional speed is not enough on our small island to justify the cost. Sure it would be big and shiny and politicians would point to it as a great achievement, but they would be the politicians of 20 years hence in a world that has moved on. Our successors will not thank us for this great act of folly.
As usual Labour are dithering on this issue instead of making up their minds, and despite the fact this was all their idea in the first place. But the history of this project tells us all we need to know. Labour came up with it mostly as a some big shiny new 'investment' that actually was an investment rather than spending labelled as investment which was Labour's preferred option. Gordon Brown needed something to talk about and appear modern and optimistic and so they came up with a train set for him to play with. Now, Labour being Labour, they are eyeing up the money HS2 will cost which they want to shift elsewhere and spend on something more immediate and flashy.
And this all speaks to Labour's chronic inability or unwillingness to make any major decisions about anything resembling policy unless it delivers unto them short term tactical gains and embarrassment for the Government. They are edging towards a U turn on HS2 and yet are not yet willing to say so. It won't go through without their votes. They should make up their minds without delay. It's really not a complicated decision. Many of us made up our minds months ago. Saying that HS2 is a bad scheme that is too expensive is a perfectly reasonable approach. What is indefensible is the delay and Labour's usual chicanery dressed up as principle. Just as when in government, this is all that they are really good at.
What is most perplexing about HS2 is that this Government, who inherited it, are pushing forward with it when people are at best lukewarm about it and the rationale for it keeps changing meaning that a rationale doesn't really exist. Yet at the same time they have dithered and put off a decision on new airport capacity for London and the south east for which there is a real and urgent need and rock solid economic case. The money set aside for a new train set we don't need would build a wonderful new airport in the Thames estuary along the lines of Boris island and without needing a penny of foreign investment. Anyway, if Royal Mail is anything to go by they could sell shares in such a scheme with ease. Yet airport capacity has been pushed off into the long grass and sent off for yet another inquiry to tell us what we already know but after a electorally convenient delay.
It seems that Labour are preparing to pull the plug on HS2 and that David Cameron will signal that this is the end of the scheme if they do. So why not get ahead of the game first for a change and admit defeat? Too many question marks, too many doubts, too little convincing evidence that building a vastly expensive new train line will deliver the benefits we are being promised. We have a perfectly serviceable train line that goes from London to Scotland now. Improve it. Invest in it. Maybe make travelling on it less eye wateringly expensive. And in the meantime why not actually make a decision about something we urgently need and which would generate real jobs, real growth, real value and attract additional investment? This really ought to be a no brainer.
Monday, 28 October 2013
Last week we came perilously close to losing a huge and important part of the national economy. If you are Scottish in particular this was a perilous moment. Grangemouth, astonishingly, represents 10% of that country's economy. Yet for a day and a bit last week it was on the brink of losing it. It would have been like the mother of all recessions in one fell swoop.
Now, with disaster averted, the commentariat are getting to grips with what happened, what nearly happened, and drawing their predetermined conclusions about what this all means.
Little Owen Jones had his say over the weekend. Predictably Little Owen, who is not a teenager but cannot help looking, thinking and talking like one, is outraged that so much power should reside in so few. And no he's not talking about the unions who so nearly created this disaster. He calls them democratic, and no I don't think he's joking.
No he is outraged that this plant resides in the private sector. He says that they held Grangemouth's workers, its local community and indeed the nation to ransom. Now as far as I could see Ineos were doing nothing of the sort. They were annoyed that a union rep was using their facilities and time to work for the Labour Party, something that is deemed perfectly acceptable in the public sector. They also didn't see why they should continue subsidising Grangemouth out of their own pockets, a hardly unreasonable attitude one might have thought.
But for Little Owen this is beyone the pale. Who runs Britain? he asks. Well it's not Ineos is it Little Owen. They own a large industrial plant, make a gigantic contribution to the local and national economy and do so in the hope of making a profit. Little Owen though has been through their books and finds fault with the way they do this. He demands that they be more transparent with their money and investments so that people's champions like Len McCluskey, Red Ed and Little Owen himself can pronounce on them and tell them where they are going wrong and what is or is not acceptable morally speaking.
And where they are going wrong, according to these lefty tribunes, is by their 'endless drive to the bottom.' It should be noted at this point that Grangemouth workers earn double the national average wage and enjoy that rarity these days a final salary pension. Ineos, a company battling high wages and other high costs thanks to the likes of Little Owen, wished to alter these a little to make the plant more competitive and thus suitable for further investment. Little Owen of course doesn't believe them. He seems to think that this company would seriously consider closing down a vast plant losing millions in the process purely to boost profits rather than as a way of cutting losses.
Because this is the point the likes of Little Owen, McCluskey, Red Ed and indeed Alex Salmond cannot seem to get into their heads; companies have plenty of choice about where to site their factories. They are not charities. Capitalism works and lifts millions out of poverty and gives them the western lifestyles we all enjoy because workers sell their labour, their creativity, their skills, their nous for a prevailing market rate and the employers take it and sell it on to reinvest, create new products and make a profit for themselves. As has been demonstrated time and time again, the state does not do that. It is lousy at it because profit and loss incentives are removed. It's unfortunate but it is a consequence of basic human nature.
And the whole Grangemouth saga demonstrated this once again. This vitally important plant was being used as a pawn in a game by Unite as they played Russian roulette with the jobs of the very people they claim to be working for and representing. They were dangerously close to pricing their members out of jobs, not because Ineos wanted to drive them to the bottom but because it wanted to renegotiate thanks to different circumstances and a different market. To read Little Owen you would think these were heartless Victorian mill owners working their staff to the bone and forcing children to scrabble about on the floor next to moving machinery.
Labour and the left think that Britain can somehow be insulated from the world markets we rely on, that competition is irrelevant and an excuse. We can pay ourselves what we want, ramp up wages, hold down prices, promise freebies and the likes of Ineos can be forced to keep their factories and wallets open and taxed until they squeak. If they don't Little Owen would nationalise them as though this is some magic solution to everything, that nationalised industries are somehow able to ignore basic economics and create fairness and equality for all. It's always worked so well in the past hasn't it.
What the likes of Little Owen and Len McCluskey are saying is that they think Britain should become an autarky. The last people who thought that were the Nazis.
Capitalism is not perfect, nobody ever said it was. But it works because it harnesses human ingenuity, a human desire for progression and improvement for the common good. Over the last 300 years it has transformed our lives, created the societies which are more equal and fair than they have ever been in history. This of course is a statement of the obvious. Yet a national newspaper this weekend published an article by a well educated, juvenile minded cretin who actually argued that a private company should be nationalised for wanting to renegotiate contracts with its employees and that this was an outrageous affront to workers rights and democracy. Perhaps, like political soundbites, the lessons of history should be repeated ad nauseum until the delusional left finally understand. It is their childish adherence to the notion of wholly unattainable equality, their petty resentment of success that would ensure that the likes of Ineos would depart these shores and the well paid workers of Grangemouth would be unemployed right now.
Sunday, 27 October 2013
We're going to have a storm this weekend and tomorrow in Britain, or at least the southern half is. It's going to be a humdinger according to the forecasts. Remember that. In 1987 people complained that we were given no warning of a similar big storm that wasn't quite a hurricane, and poor Michael Fish has never lived it down. Quite what we are supposed to do with the information that the weather is going to be bad is something of a mystery. We should batten down the hatches apparently. But what if you don't have any hatches to batten? Let's see how much difference all of this advanced warning makes.
The British economy grew by 0.8% in the third quarter of this year in a performance that was the match of that seen last year but without the Olympics factor. It is true to say of course that there is still a long way to go and we need to see a lot more of this kind of growth to make up for the viciousness of the recession we have lived through. But we have lived through it and are now recovering.
Labour, who told us this wouldn't happen, that unemployment would rise and that we should spend our way out of trouble are now trying to change the subject to living standards. It's true that they have fallen. But that's what happens in recessions, a recession they helped to create. Belt tightening is what has helped us emerge from it. Now, with growth resuming, we can start to rebuild earnings. Their prescription would have led to even more debt, more postponement of the day of reckoning. They cannot even admit that they spent too much even as we continue to tackle their structural deficit, a large contributory factor in the fall in living standards they now bemoan.
The Grangemouth petrochemicals plant in Scotland, responsible for 10% of that nation's GDP, was closed down this week because of union intransigence and petty politicking over one of their brethren who prefers to play at being a Labour bigwig rather than representing his members. Unite, the union in question, perhaps thinking that it was dealing with one of those nice compliant public sector employers awash in limitless taxpayer largesse, played hardball. The company, which needed them to recognise economic reality and agree to new terms and conditions, consequently announced the closure of the plant.
At which point the union, faced with economic disaster for an entire area and its members who are highly skilled and extremely well paid, saw sense and agreed exactly the deal which the company, Ineos, had been demanding all along. The plant will now stay open, further investment will be poured in and the employees will remain in still highly remunerative work. If they want to recoup their losses perhaps they should stop paying their union subs since membership didn't do them many favours this time.
As you might expect, since its paymasters were involved, Labour backed Unite despite the fact they were behaving recklessly with their members jobs. Companies are not charities. If they are losing money they are under no obligation to continue doing so. In a sane world this would be a salutary lesson in economic reality for the unions and Labour. But it won't be. This is the party that thinks it's a good idea to tell private companies what they can and cannot charge, and so presumably Wallace would pass a law telling Ineos that it must continue throwing money away to keep Uncle Len happy. Beware Britain, this is the way we could be heading if they get their way. They never learn.
It still seems to be coming as a genuine revelation to people that government's spy on one another. I mean, who knew? The documents stolen by Edward Snowden, it seems, have shown that America has been spying and listening in on the calls of the French and Germans, who summoned the U.S ambassador. Their suspicions were only heightened when he turned up only five minutes after the call.
Of course the French would never stoop to such perfidy and expressed themselves shocked, shocked I tell you, that a treasured ally should engage in such duplicitous behaviour. The Americans did say that they are not now listening in to Angela Merkel's mobile phone but did not deny that they have done so in the past. It emerged that they have been listening in to the calls of up to 35 world leaders. I think they missed a trick here. They should have just claimed that they were experimenting with setting up a very big conference call so as to avoid having those pointless international summits that achieve nothing. It could be a measure to combat climate change. They did however deny that they have ever listened to the calls of our own prime minister. Presumably they have no need to, we do their bidding anyway.
The British Government announced a new nuclear power station to be built alongside an existing one in Somerset, the first new nuclear station in a generation. The new facility, costing £16 billion, is part of what the Government hopes will be a new wave of nuclear stations as part of its new energy policy as they try to cut carbon emissions whilst keeping the lights on. These new reactors at Hinkley will provide as much electricity as 6000 wind turbines and, crucially, will do so all of the time and not just when the wind is blowing.
Nevertheless it is a controversial decision, not because of the dangers of nuclear, which are negligible, but because of the subsidies we must pay to foreign investors. As politicians criticise energy companies for putting up bills, we should remember that it is in large part their policies which force up those bills. They could be cheaper, but when you phase out coal and dither over shale gas, expensive nuclear and ridiculous wind turbines become your only viable choice. They require subsidy. The announcement came on the same day that the latest energy company, NPower, announced a price hike for the winter.
And the big row over energy bills continued this week with former PM Sir John Major making a contribution. Gordon Brown would liked to have his say but he is too busy saving the world in various exotic locations - this week Acapulco - and of course Tony Blair stopped worrying about such trivial domestic concerns some time ago. Frankly we can't afford his hourly rate anymore. Sir John however said that we should levy a windfall tax on the energy companies, an economically illiterate plan that immediately excited Labour and stemmed Ed Balls stammer at least momentarily. Number 10 opined that the intervention was interesting, and so did Barack Obama who was listening in at the time.
In an extraordinary spectacle which you might have thought impossible in these PC times, the world, or at least Europe, has been obsessing about the likelihood of the Roma having blonde or indeed blond offspring. A 4 year old girl named Maria was seized from a Roma couple living in a campsite in Greece last week. Their explanation for how they had come to be bringing up the girl was deemed unsatisfactory, DNA tests having proven that she is not related to them. It later emerged, after more tests, that the child is of Bulgarian extraction and her parents have reclaimed her, a result that may not work to her advantage except when they sell the rights of their story to a tabloid.
All kinds of theories have been proposed for this state of affairs, from abduction and white slavery to forced marriage. The general prejudice against the Roma, which is not entirely undeserved it has to be said, meant that this created a kind of continental moral panic and saw the authorities marching into sites searching for blonde and blue eyed children. There was also, inevitably, talk of Madeleine McCann. One child with blond hair was found in Ireland, seized, and then returned as she was found to be the offspring of the parents she had been taken from. It is, say geneticists, perfectly possible for two parents with dark hair to produce blond children provided there are blond genes in the family from previous generations.
And speaking of Madeleine McCann, following last week's Crimewatch, when the story was retold and police revealed new lines of inquiry, a different timeline to that previously thought and thus new suspects, the Portuguese police have reopened the inquiry too. Witnesses are said to have seen a man carrying a child answering Madeleine's description at the time of her disappearance, but the sightings were dismissed because of the previous, now discredited, theory over timing.
Last week Saudi Arabia was offered a seat on the UN Security Council but turned it down. It blamed, without apparent irony and with no sign of having its tongue in its cheek, this on the Council's poor record on human rights. This coming from the country that forces women to only go out with a male relative, doesn't allow them to drive and makes them wear an outfit that looks like it was designed for an evil lord of a galactic empire who breathes heavily. The Saudis are also engaged in a prolonged fit of pique with America. This is down to the fact that America did not bomb Syria and because they are talking to Iran, the Saudi's sworn enemies and the challengers for the role of Islamic leaders as the two argue over which version of their made up religion is the genuine one. This weekend Saudi women are staging a protest over the continued ban on them driving. The authorities have issued threats. I expect its all mentioned somewhere in the Quran - and lo, children of Adam shall drive if their genitals dangle, but the women shall be protected from this chore. They cannot see anyway because we make them dress modestly and see the road through a letterbox.
Samantha Lewthwaite, the so called white widow and jihadist cretin, was revealed to have written a poem about Osama Bin Laden in the wake of his being despatched to meet his 72 virgins by the forces of the infidel. Quite why she has become such a figure of renown and fear is a mystery. It seems to be based purely on the fact that she is one of the herd of bovine morons who follow the jihadist creed, is a white convert (they're usually the worst) and was married to one of the bombers of 7/7, Germaine Lindsay. Yet, as her unintentionally funny poem reveals, Lewthwaite is quite spectacularly dim and ill educated. The notion that she is capable of orchestrating terrorism attacks is bizarre, although I do accept that it does not require brains to shoot or bomb people indiscriminately whilst shouting that your God is great. The poem of this chav gone bad reads like the teenage scribbling of a pop fan writing lustily of her hero.
Sadly this week saw the passing of Giant George, the world's official biggest dog aged just 7, which is testimony to the fact that, in the dog world at least, size isn't everything. Giant George was the runt of his litter and yet grew to be a fine if short lived specimen of his breed. Standing upright on his hind legs, George measured 7 foot 3 and weighed 17.5 stones, which is 111 kilos for those of you persisting with metric.
A well known family who live in a very posh part of London and spend their lives travelling, smiling, waving and offering ill thought out opinions on architecture and the climate, or freeloading off the rest of us, had a christening. It was a private affair but the media nevertheless reported it and published pictures. In some pictures, they reported breathlessly, there were four generations of the same family all together. Who would have thought? Actually it's quite common. Chavs often have four generations all under the same roof and often at public expense. I'm just saying.
5 months on from his retirement (he is still being paid £2 million a year by Manchester Utd as an ambassador) Sir Alex Ferguson released his new autobiography in which he set a few records straight, laid into a few old enemies and glossed over certain inconvenient facts which meant that his beloved club was taken over by the Glazers who loaded it with debt and ensured that United could not compete properly in the transfer market in the way that their size and wealth suggests that they should. But most of all this showed that his era of dominance is well and truly over. The ruddy faced Sir Alex can no longer bully journalists, he can no longer have them barred from press conferences, he can no longer ignore the national broadcaster for having the temerity to ask awkward questions. Consequently he was given a bit of a rough ride by journalists this week, especially from Channel 4's Jon Snow. You could see the look of shock on his face. Still, the 2 million quid must be consolation.
And introspection is not his strong suit either. David Beckham is still criticised for the sin of furthering the career of David Beckham and not slavishly obeying the diktats of his manager. It was loyalty to the cult of the manager that counted and failure to give due obeisance meant players were despatched. After a regime like that it is no wonder David Moyes is finding this season a struggle.
On the football pitch this week it was a mixed week for British clubs in Europe. And, since one of our teams was playing in Russia, we had the traditional racist chants directed at black players. The referee refused to act despite his attention being drawn to the chants by Manchester City's Yaya Toure. Happily, City prevailed over CSKA Moscow by 2 goals to 1. Elsewhere, the United half of Manchester, at least in name, beat Real Sociedad. Chelsea went to Schalke where they prevailed by 3 goals to nil. Celtic beat Ajax, but Arsenal's chances of progression look forlorn as they went down to a home defeat to last year's finalists Borussia Dortmund.
In the Premier League this weekend, another abject performance by Man Utd even saw them being booed off the pitch at half time. But in the end this may have been the most encouraging game of the season so far. Awful though they were they somehow managed to scrape a win with a Ferguson era style last gasp winner against a Stoke side who had led twice.
Elsewhere a Luis Suarez hat trick kept Liverpool in second place in the table as their excellent start to the season continued. Daniel Sturridge notched up the fourth in a 4 - 1 victory against West Brom. But Arsenal's start has been even better, despite that midweek disappointment, as they notched up another impressive win against managerless Crystal Palace after Ian Holloway quit. Arsenal were down to 10 men for the last 25 minutes as Mikel Arteta was sent off for a professional foul and denial of a goalscoring opportunity, even though Chamakh, the offended against party was 40 yards from goal and couldn't hit a barn door with a laser guided missile. Everton continued their impressive run with a 2 nil away victory against Aston Villa.
And in Spain, the first El Clasico game featuring two 80 million plus footballers ended with them on the losing side and one of them substituted. It was not a happy game for Gareth Bale in a Real side that still does not know where best to play their embarrassment of riches. Real did make the game interesting with a late goal, but Barca prevailed in the end 2 - 1 and go six points clear of their oldest foes and 4 points clear at the top from Atletico Madrid.
Regular readers of this blog will be well aware that I am no fan of religion. I don't discriminate, I think they're all superstitious claptrap and tendentious, sanctimonious drivel. But you have to say that, though the idiocies believed in by all of the religions are absurd and moronic, they are mostly harmless. The same cannot be said of Islam. Islam actively does harm: to women, children and those unfortunate to live in those countries which are slavishly devoted to it. This facile creation of an illiterate warlord ought to be thought as ridiculous as the craziest of cults. Instead it is revered.
For proof I need only point to this week's pictures of Rihanna. One of the world's most beautiful women had to cover up for a photo shoot because she was outside a mosque in Abu Dhabi. If ever you need proof of how utterly ridiculous are the supposed entrenched beliefs of this made up religion, Rihanna covering up is all you need to see.
The villagers of Brattlebury in Lincolnshire, and indeed the media who once descended on the village in an attempt to solve the mystery, were finally put out of their misery this week. The phantom gnome dispenser of old Brattlebury town was revealed - from beyond the grave. Peter Leighton and his son David thought it would be a laugh to go out in the dead of night and deposit gnomes in the homes around the village. It became a subject of much debate, but the gnome man remained unknown. And no, they didn't call in the Gnome Office. But when Peter found out that he had terminal prostate cancer he decided that he would own up via his eulogy. David, his son, revealed all at the village church to much hilarity. Mr Leighton, I pay tribute to you too.
Saturday, 26 October 2013
Friday, 25 October 2013
The British economy grew by 0.8% in the last quarter, a very decent performance which, though not signalling the end of austerity, does at least signal that the austerity has not caused the havoc and depression that some, including Labour and the Little Owen Jones tendency told us it would.
Labour of course are attempting to change the subject. What about living standards they say. Well that's the thing with recessions, they tend to cause us to have to tighten our belts, to live more frugally. It was Labour's spending binge and vast debt pile that made that all the more inevitable. Had they not borrowed during the years of plenty (illusory plenty based on debt) we might not have had to tighten our belts so much. Indeed, for all of the talk, the cuts and austerity have been nothing like as draconian as they are sometimes painted. And, as that BBC survey revealed, many people feel it has made little or no difference to public services anyway. You can get more for less as people up and down the country are proving by shopping at Aldi instead of Sainsburys or Tesco.
Meanwhile, as Wallace tries to convince us of how much he cares and how he feels your economic pain by proposing economic illiteracy on top of his green taxes and wind turbines, the burning issue for him is whether or not he should go jacket less. Last week he was exultant that Number 10 was advising people to wear jumpers to keep warm, a perfectly sensible piece of advice one might have thought. You would think he would be glad of it because it seems he needs a focus group to tell him whether or not he should wear his Savile Row tailored jacket. The answer, among those who could be bothered, was that he looks more prime ministerial with the jacket on. Compared to what or whom though? Let's commission a survey. Personally I think a tank top would suit him best.
Thursday, 24 October 2013
I think it is time we acknowledged an uncomfortable truth: we owe a debt of thanks to Ed Miliband. No, really. His idiotic idea of an energy price freeze has meant that the issue has been top of the political agenda for the past month. It has meant a proper debate about what is happening with our energy prices and, more importantly, why. It has meant the proposal of more idiocy by the likes of John Major, only not regarded as Britain's worst post war prime minister because he had the good fortune to be followed a few years later by Gordon Brown. Major, like Wallace, correctly identified a problem but posited a solution that is nothing of the sort except in the sense that it captures easy headlines and sticks it to the energy companies. They were political solutions from politicians, although why the now retired Major felt the need to stoop to this level is a genuine mystery. I mean seriously, how would a windfall tax help other than as an act of petty revenge, especially when it is by no means certain that the energy companies are profiteering at all?
Nevertheless this debate and the panic it has induced in the Government has done us all a service. There is a problem with our energy policy and with resultant fuel poverty. As this blog has pointed out repeatedly over the last few days, the problem has been created by politicians. It was they who let the sector consolidate to only six companies; it was they who signed up to absurd emissions limits; it was they who consequently signed off on the closure of old coal generating capacity before replacements are available; it was they who committed to subsidising green energy and green measures by loading extra taxes on to energy bills. This was a classic political con. A stealth tax is loaded on in the hope that we don't notice and they then blame those who send the bills.
But all of this has come at a most propitious time. Around the same time as Wallace's idiotic, dog whistle speech, the IPCC, that's the one that assesses climate science rather than the one that fails to hold our corrupt police forces to account, was releasing its latest propaganda dressed up as science. Now if you are someone with only a passing interest in this field, or perhaps a busy and slightly lazy politician, you could be forgiven for thinking that the so called climate crisis is still in full swing. That was certainly the gist of the headlines and of the handy summary. In fact the report, if you bothered to read it properly, was actually full of grudging acknowledgements that the science has changed, the alarm of recent years has been overcooked, there is still a lot of uncertainty, they don't know why the temperature has paused, and that much of the hyperbole about collapsing ice sheets, melting permafrost and so on is now regarded as 'exceptionally unlikely.'
Now this, if you are a scientist, should not come as a surprise. There is no such thing as a fact in science. If you happened to watch the latest edition of QI last week you should know this. This news comes from no less an authority than Stephen Fry himself. Appropriately since he once tweeted me and called me an idiot for being a climate sceptic, the sitcom writer Graham Linehan was a guest on the show.
QI in its K series programme about knowledge, showed that, since the programme started about 10 series ago, many of the facts they have told us have now been shown to be wrong. For the oldest series many of the things we have been told, up to 70% of them in fact, are now regarded as incorrect.
Can you see where I am going with this? Knowledge evolves. Science is a constant quest to improve that knowledge according to the latest research, improving technology, better methodology, new approaches, greater expertise. The same is true of the extremely new and evolving science of climatology. Yet the politicians don't want you to know this. They want to talk about consensus instead. They want to set in stone ruinously expensive energy policies based on outdated information. The climate has stopped warming. The scientists don't know why. In a sane world, a world in which people are struggling to heat their homes, that might prompt a rethink. Sadly politicians do not inhabit that world. They inhabit a world that is based on fake certainty and convictions.
It was always a hostage to fortune for the Tories to say that you should vote blue to go green. Nobody believed them anyway. Now they have a perfect opportunity to ditch a pointless piece of spin and rebranding, to get past hugging huskies, and to embrace people who are suffering in silent poverty behind their lace curtains to use John Major's apposite phrase. His diagnosis of the problem was spot on as was Wallace's, their solutions are a nonsense.
To be fair some Tories, like George Osborne, Peter Lilley, Nigel Lawson and John Redwood have voiced scepticism over the politics and economics of climate change. Now is the opportunity to take that scepticism into the mainstream. The BBC won't like it, the Guardian won't like it, the Independent which once told us that children would never see snow again, will not like it. But they probably don't struggle to heat their homes. This is a wonderful opportunity for David Cameron to do something popular, but which is also brave. This is a wonderful opportunity for him to ditch the green agenda, side with poor people, spark a row with the EU and take an international lead all at the same time. When the facts change we should change our minds. Even politicians.
Wednesday, 23 October 2013
There was fevered speculation today ahead of PMQs that Nick Clegg will seek to differentiate himself from David Cameron and the Tories by bringing in a deck chair so that he doesn't have to sit alongside them on the green benches. Okay, the fevered speculation was entirely of my making and resided entirely in my house but it makes about as much sense as No Nick's own attempts this week.
Last week David Laws, who is Minister of State for schools, gave a speech defending Free Schools, a signature Tory policy which, but for a couple of minor hiccups, seems to be popular and delivering results in our malfunctioning and underperforming system. But now Nick is deploying his favourite word. No! says Nick. He doesn't think unqualified teachers are a good idea, despite his having been educated by dozens of such teachers. And he thinks that Free Schools should follow the National Curriculum too. Perhaps he would like their name changed. Not Very Free Schools. Slightly Less State Controlled Schools. Or, since Lib Dems seem to be in the process of redefining the word liberal to mean that we can have a state controlled press, perhaps we could call them Liberal Schools in a kind of ironic tribute to No Nick's ignominious time in government.
Incidentally, did you know that it is possible to get qualified teacher status in just 18 days? So, in other words the issue that No Nick is making a fuss about is similar to the amount of on-the-job training you might get if you went to work in a call centre, or as a croupier, selecting a couple of my former jobs at random. There is no magical course that creates teachers. QTS is a union backed sham and a modern form of the closed shop. Liberals do seem very confused about what liberalism means.
The row about energy bills is rumbling on and on since Wallace gave his conference speech. It has done so in a way that is not necessarily to his advantage except that it has set the agenda. The public, by and large, are unconvinced that his price freeze is the genius solution he thinks it is. But it's garnered him headlines and shored him up with his party. Oh and Little Owen Jones is keen too. That's what counts, if you are The Leader, as a successful few weeks.
This is especially the case since it has clearly discomfited the Tories, who have panicked and are running around searching in vain for a coherent response. Yesterday Sir John Major swooped back on to the public scene and was regarded as a wise elder statesman, which is odd considering how he used to be depicted by the same people who were yesterday singing his praises. Sir John thinks we should levy a windfall tax on those evil, profiteering energy companies, even though the evidence for their alleged profiteering is thin and green taxes and charges along with the cost of gas explains most of the rise. Quite how a windfall tax would help is a mystery, except in the same short term way that Wallace's price freeze would. In other words it would garner headlines and discomfit the opposition. That's why it will probably happen and why the energy market and investment in it will be further damaged. Why not simply impose standard tariffs across the industry so that we can all see what we are paying, in the same way we do when we buy petrol, diesel or baked beans? Oh and get rid of the green taxes subsidising those useless wind turbines. Ignore EU regulations on carbon emissions. Burn coal and start fracking. There, problem solved. Let's give Nick something meaty to say No to.
It should also be noted by the way that Ed Balls, who is out of hand gestures to torment Dave and George with now that the economy is growing, was having a whinge yesterday about those awful Tories being mean to him when he has a speech impediment. The great caterwauling bully boy of the Labour front bench doesn't like it up him. If you were of a cynical frame of mind you might think that he was using his speech impediment as cover for the fact that his economic assessment has been shown to be woeful.
The PM started today with a tribute to the latest casualty of the Afghanistan war and celebrated the christening of Prince George.
Characteristically Wallace eschewed the opportunity to apologise to Andrew Mitchell regarding Plebgate. He did feel the need to join the congratulations on the royal baby. You have to wonder how Daddy Miliband would have felt about that.
But then it was on to energy bills again. If we could find a way to capture the hot air and frenetic positioning going on amongst politicians on this issue it would cut 10% off energy bills. And surely there must be a way to harness Wallace's smug self righteousness as he lectures Tories on the real worries of working people.
But Wallace was in confident form today as well he might be. His policy is a nonsense and is unworkable but it has set the agenda for a month now and the government is flailing about, not helped by the presence of the illiberal Liberals and No Nick who looked throughout like he had swallowed a wasp.
John Major, a former Tory prime minister who lives in a splendid London property near Lords, has another in the country and is only poor if you compare him to Tony Blair, was nevertheless invoked as the voice of reason and the working man by Wallace. But, he argued, he now seemed to be advocating an approach that Dave had called Marxist not so long ago. Dave said that he believed in intervening in markets and that was what the Government was doing with its measures on tariffs. He said that he wants to roll back taxes (probably in the teeth of No Nick's objections). He also pointed out that Major had won an election (the last Tory to do so) against a weak and incredible Labour leader.
And Dave was actually being quite informative so long as you could hear him above the Labour cat calling. He pointed out the four elements that make up energy bills: wholesale prices; transmission; green taxes and profits and said that Government action was only possible on two of those.
Wallace was enjoying himself now. His position is phoney and absurd but the Government is having trouble with it nevertheless because it is populist and simple. The Government, said Wallace, is changing its policies every week, although quite why this is a bad thing is a mystery. Isn't that what they should do when prices are going up, people are concerned and Parliament is demanding answers? Dave, who had got hold of a Labour briefing paper sought, amidst much shouting from both sides, to expose Labour's hypocrisy. Wallace pointed out that Dave used to say we should vote blue to go green. Some of us said this was a mistake at the time. How right we are being proved.
Amidst all of this the PM did announce that the Government is reviewing green levies. Two cheers at least for that. There will also be a look at competition in the sector, although this is very much policy being made on the hoof. Ah, say the critics, but you voted for the levies. This is true. Parliament did so, almost unanimously at the behest of the Guardian and Independent reading classes who told us, ludicrously, that we were heading for climate armageddon. This is the great scandal of our age. An out of touch political class paying for their obsession with climate change by impoverishing people and causing misery. The Tories, who after all believe in cutting taxes, should hold up their hands and admit they were wrong. Let Labour and the Lib Dems be the parties to vote for if you want to go green. The rest of us want to be warm and have jobs to go to.
I'll even give you a slogan: Vote For Green To Go Blue With Cold. You can have that one on me, Dave.
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
I wholeheartedly accept the case for nuclear power in Britain as part of our energy mix over the long term. Nuclear is safe - at least here in Britain - reliable and clean - if you are worried about CO2. Of course this doesn't stop the Green Meanies from being against nuclear power, but then they are against more or less everything which isn't horse drawn and organic.
But from a strictly commercial or capitalist perspective of course the case for nuclear is non existent. There was a time, at the dawn of the nuclear age, when they told us that power from nuclear stations would be so cheap that they wouldn't be able to meter it. The reality turned out to be the opposite. Nuclear is expensive because of the waste products it produces. It also requires a huge infrastructure around it so that disaster does not happen. The chances of a Fukushima style disaster here in the UK are remote, but we still have to guard against human error or of course terrorism.
Yet even this new reality is as nothing compared to the sky high prices of wind power. Think about that for a moment. We have supposedly free energy from wind that actually costs more than nuclear. More than half of the profits that the new giant offshore wind farms will generate will be from subsidies because that is the only way to make them pay. That's money loaded on to our bills over the next 20 years.
Yet our politicians queue up to denounce the energy firms for their latest price hikes. As they are very well aware this simply does not stack up.
Indeed Labour's hypocrisy is worse than merely trying for now to make capital out of rising prices which they in part helped to create. They know that price rises are built into the system. So even if they were to freeze prices upon taking power in 2015, they know that this would be temporary respite and the upward climb would continue because their policy of 'green' energy makes it the law of the land. It should also be noted that by merely mentioning the possibility of frozen prices a politician makes higher prices in the interim more likely. So Miliband has created a situation in which prices in the short term are going to rise thanks to his promises and in the long term thanks to his policies in government. That is either so cynical he should be drummed out of public life or means he is too stupid to stay in it anyway.
Those arguing that this is an example of capitalism gone wrong, of corporate greed and the profit motive are being either deliberately dishonest or remarkably obtuse. We are where we are, not because of market failure, although certainly the functioning of it could be improved, but as a direct consequence of political interference. Companies are being prevented from generating power in the cheapest and most efficient way because of a middle class, chattering class obsession with climate change. They then shed crocodile tears for those struggling to pay their bills.
There is a choice to be made here. Do we want to cut our CO2 emissions, hand over vast subsidies to mostly foreign owned companies for our energy whilst also loading extra costs on British companies that have to use that energy? If we do that is a political choice. Energy prices around the world are rising because the world is globalising, the world economy is growing, millions are being lifted out of poverty and thus start to use more energy. Rising demand inevitably leads to rising prices. But at the same time we are indulging ourselves in the luxury of combating climate change even though we are doing nothing of the sort. It is a special kind of lunacy and it is the lunacy of politicians and green campaigners living in an alternate reality.
The announcement yesterday of new investment in nuclear energy is sensible if only because it is never a good idea to put all of our eggs in one basket. When nuclear sat alongside gas and coal to provide energy that was a perfectly rational and sensible approach. But alongside wind and other unreliable sources? And worst of all we are handing out vast subsidies to foreign owned companies meaning that the money being generated around our shores will then leave our shores. Why is it that Government can spend £50 billion on a new superfast railway we don't need, but cannot spend money on new nuclear stations we do need and we are going to end up paying for five times over with subsidies? If the only way of getting new nuclear capacity is by insuring foreign owned private companies against making a loss and paying them vastly inflated costs to make it worth their while then we might as well cut out the middle man and publicly own these new nuclear stations. This is like the PFI scandals of the last Labour government but ten times worse. It may still not keep the lights on and will likely lead to more people dying because they fear their next heating bill.
Sir John Major has said today that we should impose a windfall tax to help pay for this winter's fuel bills and save those who are having to choose between food and heating. There's another bloody stupid idea every bit as bad as the one prize hypocrite Miliband is proposing. Major's only excuse is that he has been out of power for 20 years and has no responsibility for our present predicament.
Energy prices are going to be a struggle until our economy recovers. That is a sad fact. This is a situation that is being exacerbated by politicians who won't admit where the blame lies. Imposing a windfall tax probably would make a small difference to this year's bills but what then? Are we going to do it every year? What happens when this stifles investment in future capacity? It's precisely this kind of woolly, short term, populist claptrap our politicians engage in that has helped to create this predicament.
Monday, 21 October 2013
At the weekend, in a thoroughly enjoyable game, Steven Gerrard joined an exclusive club as he scored his 100th Premier League goal.
It's an achievement made all the more remarkable because he is that rarity in the modern game: a player who has plied his trade for one club, his hometown club, the club of his dreams, the club he would be supporting from the stands if he were not covering the hallowed turf of Anfield.
Last week he led England magnificently and added a couple of goals to his impressive international tally. He will lead them again in Brazil next summer in what may well be his international swansong. Liverpool supporters will be hoping he continues to lead our team out for many years to come. Here is the pick of his best goals including that scorcher in the FA Cup Final.
What is the point of the Lib Dems? Seriously, what are they for? According to Nick Clegg at his party's conference last month it seems to be as a kind of moderating influence on the other parties. He has transformed himself from the man who makes promises he knows he will not be able to keep to a man who prevents the other parties from keeping the promises they made. That's their idea of liberal democracy.
And the Lib Dems seem to struggle to understand what liberal means. In addition to backing Labour's self serving attempts to shackle our free press for the first time in 300 years, despite having absolutely no electoral mandate for such a sweeping change to our constitution, the party is now apparently having second thoughts about the free school policy that until recently they were signed up to. David Laws gave a speech about it last week. Such schools must follow the diktats of the national curriculum, says Nick. They must also have no truck with unqualified teachers despite his having benefited from attendance at an institution that used such teachers.
What is a qualified teacher anyway? It's someone who has a piece of paper approved by the unions and the education establishment which says that they will give lessons in an approved manner. That's the same manner that has Britain languishing at the bottom of the international pile of literacy, numeracy and other core skills.
Free schools are a small L liberal policy. They enable parents and teachers to set up institutions of learning that are free of the dead hand of local authority control. They can set their own curriculum according to the needs of the community they mean to serve. Teachers, both 'qualified' and 'unqualified,' can be employed at salaries set by the school according to talent, skills and expertise. Such schools are not completely free to do as they wish. They are still inspected, and can be found wanting as the Al Madinah school in Derby was last week. But most of all they will live and die by whether or not they can attract sufficient pupils because of the quality of education they provide. This is what makes them such a force for good. Whereas at present there can be little or no choice of schools, this add that choice. It makes all schools raise their game instead of merely taking pupils allocated to it and providing whatever quality of education they can be bothered to provide. It provides a proper choice according to the needs of pupils and their parents. Clegg, who calls himself a liberal, is demonstrating that he is suspicious of such choice and freedom. He is showing that he is a classic lefty who believes in the beneficent power of the state to deliver what we need. Choice is wasteful.
And the corollary of this is that we as a nation are being offered less choice too. The Lib Dems paint themselves as the reasonable alternative, the party at the centre ameliorating the worst excesses of the others. Except they are not. As this shows, the Lib Dems, when push comes to shove, side with the leftist view of the world. In education they seem to be siding with the bog standard comprehensive, because bog standard is fair and equal for all unless you are privileged like Nick Clegg and can buy the right to a choice. Melissa Kite in The Guardian actually made that argument and meant it.
So what is the point of Lib Dems? A party that defines itself by saying no to the other two parties is showing that its instincts are to say yes to the old failed ways. At the next election we will have a clear choice between this old Labour approach that bankrupts us and leaves our children inadequately educated in the name of fairness. Or we have the Conservative approach that empowers us as consumers and tries to improve things including education through choice and competition.
We already have a party led by a cheap opportunist who will say anything to get elected, who has a privileged upbringing, is wealthy but poses as the friend of the people. He leads Labour. What is Nick Clegg and his yellow party for?
Sunday, 20 October 2013
Once again the brinksmanship over America's debt ceiling kept the world on the edge of their seats this week. We couldn't even decide if the deadline was a real deadline or not. The country would be down to its last $30 billion or so (we all know that feeling) by Thursday. But who would blink first and how would they spin that it had not been them?
In the end it was the Republicans who caved. They were widely seen as the bad guys anyway and that's because they were for the most part. Yes there are arguments to be had about spending but this is not the way to conduct it. They were demanding a roll back on Obamacare, the big and possibly the only great legacy of the main man. They didn't get it. The president himself was careful to be magnanimous while first the Senate and then the House passed the bill. Obama promised that the government would be back to work immediately. And he was as good as his word. The same day it was all back to normal the U.S Government used its new credit facility to borrow $328 billion, taking the total federal debt to $17.075 trillion.
The IPCC, thats the one that investigates the British police not the one that comes up with fiction about climate change dressed up as science, issued a new report into the GateGate affair, otherwise known as Plebgate which led to the resignation last year of the Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell. It transpires that the account of three Police Federation representatives of a meeting they had with Mr Mitchell was dishonest and self serving. They had claimed that Mitchell had refused to elaborate about the contretemps. Unfortunately for them he then produced a recording which clearly demonstrated that this was untrue.
We have had a lot of fuss in recent weeks and months about various parts of the British establishment, about the press, about unions, about the security services and all have been under pressure. Yet only our malfunctioning police seem able to investigate and exonerate themselves with impunity. After Hillsborough, the Jean Charles De Menezes affair, Ian Tomlinson at the G20 and now the hounding from office of a Cabinet minister, is not time the heat was put on the boys in blue? Just how well are we being served by our self serving police forces?
In a news story that literally took my breath away when reading it, it emerged that a girl smuggled into Britain recently was brought here to have her organs harvested. The girl was brought here from Somalia with the intention of selling her piece by piece to those desperate for a transplant. What animals, barbarians and savages are we living alongside? This week the Government announced that it will increase sentencing powers for those engaging in the modern slave trade to life imprisonment. But who could imagine that there are people capable of this? Then again when you treat people as commodities, when you enslave them and force them to have sex for money, when you beat them, imprison them, deny them liberty and even sell them perhaps this is just the cynical next step.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this might finally persuade people that our current tendency to indulge the barbarism of other cultures, the sort of cultures which treat women as second class citizens and which wrings its hands when they are forced to wear the veil or marry old men for honour because of medieval traditions might see what it is they are indulging. British standards of fair play, law and order and decency are part of what makes this country great. They are the reason this country is such a magnet for people. Isn't it time we insisted that everyone subscribes to them and throw the book at those who do not and who bleat about their sensibilities and traditions being respected?
Police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from Praia da Luz six years ago released a videofit of a man they would like to speak to. He was seen around the time carrying a child. The police, who were asked by David Cameron to undertake a fresh investigation of the infamous abduction, say that they have a fuller understanding of the timeline surrounding Madeleine's mysterious disappearance and are pursuing a number of leads and individuals of interest as a consequence of a new theory that she was abducted 45 minutes later than previously thought. The case was featured on the BBC's Crimewatch programme on Monday and the police received hundreds of calls, some naming the same man. But resolution remains a tall order. It is true that the initial investigation by the local police was woefully inadequate but can anything now be achieved after so much time? Nevertheless, it is unfair to criticise the McCanns. They had a daughter snatched from them when she was in bed. They have since moved heaven and earth to try to find her. They are articulate, educated and determined to find out what happened to their beloved little girl whose face has haunted our screens and newspapers ever since. Would any of us placed in their appalling situation react any differently? Let us hope this investigation brings them answers.
It's been a while since we heard from the Fat Leader of North Korea but we did so again last week on cue as America staged some military exercises with its Japanese and South Korean allies. The DPRK issued its usual threats about all out war, nuking America and showing the world the superiority of their economic model.
It also emerged this week that in one area of the economy however the Fat Leader's regime has shown some growth. His impoverished nation, which relies on food aid, has nevertheless increased its spending on luxury goods so that he can curry favour with the upper echelons of his regime and ensure their continued support. Spending on such items rose from $300 million under his father to $645 million. This in a nation whose GDP is only $40 billion. The regime spent its money on pets and pet food, high-end alcohol,bathroom fittings and saunas. There was also a huge increase in the purchase of expensive watches, electronic goods and cars. The Fat Leader, who looks more and more like Puyi, the last emperor of China made famous in Bernardo Bertolucci's film, has had the army build him a ski resort and has a $7 million yacht.
Last week, in an echo of the great shares sales of the 1980s, Royal Mail was privatised. Investors snapped up the shares and they quickly got themselves a nice little profit when they were able to sell them this week. The price bobbed about a bit but decent timing could have got you a little under a fiver for each share for which you had paid £3.30.
And then, sitting on even bigger profits because they had been given free shares, Royal Mail workers voted to go on strike. Quite what this is meant to achieve is a mystery since the privatisation has gone ahead and they are chief among the beneficiaries. Perhaps they just want a day off so that they can go Christmas shopping with their lovely lolly. They have all been given 725 shares, worth around £3,500.
There was an example of Government woolly thinking this week as a new Number 10 spokesman fell into a media trap. Asked by a lobby journalist whether people should wear a jumper to keep warm he responded in the affirmative. Now in the real world this would be an uncontroversial statement but not in a political world manned by prize hypocrites and opportunists like the Labour leader. This somehow turned into a gaffe. Wear a jumper? In a northern European country in autumn or winter? Outrageous. God they're out of touch. It should be noted that Wallace was wearing just such an item when he proclaimed himself a socialist a few weeks ago.
It seems that the yeti, mythological beast that roams around the Himalayas may actually be real. Cryptozoologists, who sound made up themselves, have found evidence taken from 'yeti hair' that the beast could be an ancient species of polar bear. And it is this kind of investigation which frankly brings science into disrepute. Is the world a better place for this explanation? Or is it a little poorer? Do we want them to find the Loch Ness Monster or should it remain a nice fantasy? And if anyone says anything about unicorns, fairies or Santa Claus in the comments I shall delete them. Some things are better left unsaid.
First it was the Wombles returning to television, now the Clangers are coming back. People of my generation, and a couple of generations after that so often were they repeated, have fond memories of the Clangers. Dreamt up at the time when the world was obsessed with space travel thanks to the Apollo program, the Clangers were cuddly and very loveable alien creatures who lived on a small moon like planet. They were so cool they even had a rock band, the Soup Dragons, named after one of their most loved characters. Now they are to return to our screens. The original series was made by the genius who was Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. Firmin will be involved with the new series along with Postgate's son, Daniel. What is next? Mr Benn? Mary, Mungo and Midge? Bagpuss? Bring them all back I say.
In another excellent if occasionally nervy performance, England qualified for next year's World Cup in Brazil by beating Poland 2 - 0. Goals by Wayne Rooney and the modern captain marvellous, Steven Gerrard, just when England fans nails were in danger of bleeding cemented an historic and impressive win. England were generally in charge of the game but Poland, inspired by a huge following from their countrymen resident in the UK, were a constant danger. This was more like a Premier League derby game and just as exciting. And this blog is not afraid to admit that it was wrong about Roy Hodgson. His selections for these last two games have been brave and forward looking. His team played some excellent and controlled football. They won't win the World Cup next year but they should give us some entertaining nights and provide hope for the future too.
Unfortunately, this great result was subsequently overshadowed by the leak to a newspaper, a Scottish newspaper no less, about a joke Roy Hodgson told involving a space monkey. No racism was intended. It was just a joke. But someone took offence as people are wont to do these days but didn't have the guts to say anything then or there, or even have his name attached to the leak. He, or an associate told the press and remained anonymous and ruined the short lived good news and positive spirit surrounding the England team.
This weekend's football was equally fascinating. Arsenal stayed top with an emphatic win against Norwich. Man United dropped home points once again as they were held to a draw by Southampton. Liverpool could only get a draw away at Newcastle in another one of those pulsating games so often played out between these two. United had a player sent off but still managed to lead twice before Liverpool came back and nearly grabbed it at the end. Chelsea beat Cardiff 4 - 1 and Manchester City triumphed 3 - 1 at West Ham.
Last week I was unable to come up with a single picture of Ri Ri to grace this review with. Happily normal service has been restored this week. Miss Fenty is in South Africa as her tour continues and, as if sensing our deprivation, went and posed in a some long boots and a oversized t shirt, not to mention some photogenic animals. Life is good again.
Saturday, 19 October 2013
Friday, 18 October 2013
There have been a couple of incidents, three actually, this week, but then there are most weeks, which tell you a great deal about the hyper-sensitised, politically correct, egg-shell-treading society we have become. A world in which someone only has to hear a word, a single solitary word and their back is put up. They are offended. They don't have to explain why. Maybe they should.
Roy Hodgson made a joke about space monkeys. The joke has no racial connotations whatsoever. It is an old joke, a joke dating back to the days when NASA was sending monkeys into space before humans. It's not a particularly good joke and, though perhaps hilarious when people were obsessed with space in the 60s, probably left the players scratching their heads and wondering what 'the boss' was on about.
The joke, if you're wondering, goes as follows:
NASA, during its earlier missions had been sending up monkeys, exclusively monkeys in its rockets. One day they decided to send a man, the first astronaut along with the monkey. The rocket takes off and soon they are in orbit. Houston calls out over the radio: 'Monkey, fire the retros.' Later: 'Monkey, check the fuel supplies.' And again: 'Monkey, check the gimbals.' The man becomes annoyed. 'Why are you getting the monkey to do everything? Don't I have anything to do?' 'Yes,' says Houston, in 45 minutes, feed the monkey.'
Like I say, it's a crap joke. It doesn't even make sense. If the monkey can do all of the other stuff why does it need to be fed? Quite what point Hodgson was trying to make is unclear, although maybe it was clear in the dressing room. He seems to have been saying, in a roundabout way, that one player (Andros Townsend) was in charge, having a great game and that the rest of them should feed the monkey and let him get on with it.
But one of them heard the word monkey, saw that Townsend is of mixed race and leapt to a conclusion. Have we now reached a point in this world where the use of a word will automatically be assumed to have racist overtones? Or has a point been reached when we will say that actually this says more about the offence taker than it does about he who was just making a joke, albeit one that was 50 years beyond its sell by date? Perhaps the FA should employ a joke writer. After his latest sitcom Ben Elton probably needs the work and you could definitely trust him to be PC.
Also this week Adrian Chiles, probably the worst television presenter in the world, made a joke about Polish people. Twitter erupted in outrage at this 'racism'. Yet why was it racist? He was making the point, albeit a hackneyed one, that a lot of Poles do our plumbing and building work these days. How this is anything but a positive recognition of Polish skill and work ethics I cannot imagine. Yet people complained and so Chiles had to apologise.
And then this week, in a packed House of Commons, it was noticed that the heavily pregnant Jo Swinson was left standing when lots of men were seated. None offered her their seat. They probably felt they should but assumed that if they did they would be accused of being sexist. Yet how is offering a pregnant woman a seat being anything other than thoughtful and polite? But Swinson confirmed them in their belief by saying she would have thought it sexist had the seat been offered. Still, such brainless idiocy confirms that she is in the right party.
When will this madness stop? When will we realise that something is being done to us which is turning us into an amorphous mess of incoherence and moral cowardice? It's like when councils used to ban Christmas to save offending those who followed other religions. Those who were doing these things and thinking themselves more tolerant as a consequence were themselves guilty of racism or at least moral relativism. Would they be offended by signs proclaiming the joys of Eid or Diwali? Surely not. Then why do they imagine that others would be offended by Christmas?
Perhaps this latest example of the offence police will be the straw that breaks the camel's back and we will get some proportion back into our lives. Perhaps the next time a TV presenter makes a joke and someone on Twitter moans about it the broadcaster will tell them to get a life. Perhaps a comment about monkeys will be seen as just a comment about monkeys. And perhaps men might be permitted to show a bit of humanity and empathy and offer a pregnant woman a seat. Or maybe they could just get one of their female colleagues to give up her seat. Presumably that would be okay would it?