Saturday, 31 May 2014
Friday, 30 May 2014
Who should be the new chairman of the BBC? Sebastian Coe is being mooted, and in many ways this is an appealing thought. Coe is a decent man, a well-liked man who did a fine job winning and then organising the London Olympics which made the country so proud and united two years ago. He is a Tory, but he is a Tory who is liked across the political spectrum and respected for all kinds of reasons up to and including those Olympics.
But the BBC needs more than someone everyone likes. The BBC needs more than someone who should be given a nice bauble as a prize for a job well done just because we have run out of honours to give him. The BBC is in a mess and in need of someone ready to be radical and innovative. It needs the opposite of fatty Patten, the ultimate fat cat who was only prised out of the job thanks to his weak heart and fondness of the good life. And I don't mean the venerable and much love sitcom.
The next chairman of the BBC is going to be in office as the next charter comes up for review and renewal. This will be happening as the digital revolution continues its remorseless pace and leaves broadcasting behemoths like auntie gasping for breath and trying to wonder where they fit in. The chances are that the old broadcasting model is dying. Where does that leave the BBC? The next chairman is going to have to help figure that out. Do we need a state funded broadcaster to provide so called public service broadcasting? There is considerable doubt that we do. In area after area now the Beeb is being left behind. Its coverage of last week's elections was pretty hopeless. Football? Still stuck in the past and unable to compete for the best rights anyway. People have shown that they are perfectly happy to pay subscriptions for TV if what is on offer is of sufficient quality and is what they desire. We have entered an era when some of the most talked about programmes are only available on subscription services. Even when they are not the old terrestrial services are just as adept at making top quality, water cooler shows as the BBC. Broadchurch was last year's must see event. Where does the BBC fit in?
None of this is to say that the BBC's range isn't still excellent and that it isn't capable of making excellent programming. But then it is in receipt of a guaranteed income stream of £3 billion a year. So it should be. It should be noted however that Sky these days has a turnover in excess of that. Again, where does that leave the BBC?
It is time to start re-evaluating the BBC and deciding what it is for. It's supposed to be about public service broadcasting but its ambition has always been to try and please all of the people some of the time. That is how it justifies the licence fee. But does it anymore? Will it in the not so distant future?
I have worked for the BBC. I started working there at the very beginning of the digital age, when the existing services started being offered digitally for the very first time. Then the Beeb did what it always does. It threw money at it. It invested in the latest state of the art facilities, it employed dozens more people, myself included. It shouldn't have done. It didn't need us. But it did it because it could, because it was awash in cash and didn't care about the waste. I was employed to broadcast to tiny numbers of people. None of the other broadcasters adopted the same approach. But then they couldn't afford to and saw no need to. They just broadcast analogue and digital programming from the same facilities. Eventually, after much expense, the Beeb did the same. Now of course analogue has gone. But the process cost millions for no good reason.
But it is this culture of waste and profligacy, a culture so common across the public sector that brings the BBC into such disrepute. It is unwieldy and bureaucratic. It is poor at making decisions and making them quickly. It makes stupid mistakes and, despite all of the bureaucratic layers, still cannot stop itself broadcasting programmes nobody can hear, or words nobody wants to hear. But at the same time it lacks firm editorial control so that it finds itself editing out the word 'girl' in a news programme lest anyone be offended by it. It is slow, unresponsive and yet at the same time ridiculously sensitive. This is because it is so large and unwieldy. It desperately needs to be slimmed down and made more efficient and cost effective.
Isn't it time for the Beeb to start experimenting with new ways of funding itself? It already has a large and extremely successful wing which sells it wares around the world and contributes to the programming coffers. But why for instance is the iPlayer free? Channel 4 has its 4OD service, similar to the iPlayer, but which allows viewers to watch programmes from the archive funded by advertising. Why shouldn't the BBC mine its vast archives and make some money from them. It already does so by selling DVDs and books so what's wrong with a commercial on demand service?
The BBC is in danger of becoming a service like the NHS, one we revere for what it supposedly stands for and ignore its failings. Worse it could become like a cultural icon paid for out of our taxes and preserved in aspic because the great and the good like Radio 4. A kind of broadcasting version of the Royal Opera House.
And it has many failings, some of them appalling and scandalous as we have seen all too clearly in recent months with the excessive pay packages, the waste and profligacy, the lack of accountability, the criminal negligence, the culture of managers who expect vast salaries and yet are never responsible when anything goes wrong. The chairman is supposed to hold the BBC to account. Chris Patten was useless at it. It's hard to see Seb Coe being any better.
The next chairman needs to be someone who understands broadcasting and the challenges the BBC is going to face. It needs to be someone willing to think the unthinkable and not necessarily prepared to allow the BBC to defend its entrenched position. The licence fee has always been regressive and in the modern era it is becoming increasingly indefensible. The current position of the Beeb is that it will resist all of this. The next chairman will have his or her work cut out. They will need to know of what they speak and they will need to do it often and remorselessly. I'm not at all sure Seb Coe is the man for that job.
Thursday, 29 May 2014
Almost, but not quite entirely unbelievably - for this seems to be the way of things these days - the footballer Joey Barton is to be a panellist on Question Time tonight. No, really.
Barton is famous, in addition to being a reasonably talented if temperamental footballer, for an ego the size of footballer's salary, and so he should fit right in amongst the politicians. Indeed he is certain to do so. When he went to play in France he gave a press conference and, though speaking in English, did so in a faux French accent which made him sound like a character from Allo Allo. I'm sure I even detected a Gallic shrug. It was said that Arsene Wenger nearly signed him for that alone.
But this should mean he fits in perfectly amongst the politicians. This mirroring behaviour will presumably see him become sanctimonious, dishonest, mendacious and patronising. He will tell us he is listening before explaining why he means to continue playing football in exactly the way he has always done. Oh and of course he will adopt a public school accent.
Blimey, I'm going to have to write about the bloody Lib Dems again. I did wonder if I should write about the fact that Wallace, when asked for one word to describe himself and confound the doubters who think he is too wordy and too geeky came up with two: 'One Nation,' and swiftly followed them with a couple of paragraphs that were as meaningless as that phrase. It served to confirm what we already knew about him. I don't think I need spell it out. Oh, okay, I will. He is determined to go into this election and drag the country kicking and screaming to the left with him. The fact that this will lose him that election is immaterial. We damn well should be drifting or even lurching leftwards and he will brook no opposition. And so he will stay there. That's what being intellectually confident means. Or it might be called purblind pig-headedness. Take your pick.
Anyway, the Lib Dems. Hilarious aren't they. There seems to be this view about, not least in this Telegraph leader, that when Nick Clegg and his party hitched themselves to the coalition they did the honourable thing for the good of the country. No they didn't. They did the thing that they had been desperate to do for decades, the thing they had been promising their party they were on the cusp of doing since David Steel kept feeling his surge, since the SDP joined them and brought the likes of Vince Cable with them, since Paddy still had his pants up and went around looking dynamic and pointing at things, and since they played footsie with Tony Blair only to have him do a Granita on them. The Lib Dems raison d'être is to enter into coalition and to show us what they are about. Now they have and we are unimpressed. This is creating some existential doubt. Unfortunately, since they are Lib Dems and politicians, it is not creating anything like enough of it. If it were they would be committing hari kiri, or at least joining the One Nation Labour Party, which amounts to the same thing.
The reason that the Lib Dems are now so spectacularly unpopular is not because they have the wrong leader, it is because they are a party who got above themselves and entered government. In opposition, particularly the opposition with no hope of being in government, they could say what they wanted, promise all manner of goodies and earnest policies content in the knowledge that they would never actually get to test them out. This is how the legend of Vince Cable was born. It's easy to snipe from the sidelines and tell us that it would all be different if you were in charge. Unfortunately they became so good at this, so adept at promising the people what they thought they wanted, and indeed offering different people different things according to socio economic group and geographic location, that they became ever more successful electorally and came to hold the balance of power. This they entered into enthusiastically, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Reality has since intruded.
People more or less know what to expect when they elect a Labour or Conservative government. They did not know what to expect from a Lib Dem one. They got a Conservative government, but one shorn of some of its conservatism. Thus they have contrived to please none of the people all of the time. Thus they are facing oblivion.
And this is all so richly deserved it is very very funny. It is like a Greek tragedy with a happy ending. Parties of protest are no use if they become the party that everyone is protesting about. They have outlived their usefulness and been exposed as even more self serving than the other parties. They at least have some principles. What do the Lib Dems have? They, the party with liberal and democrat in their title, have prevented, in a fit of pique, the constituencies being used at the next election from being made more equal and, well, democratic. They have tried to impose state control on the press. They have spent scarce money on gimmicks that won't work, were uncosted and which will impress nobody anyway.
And so now the infighting has started. They aren't even very good at that. Cable wants the top job and had his lieutenant disseminating poison only to disown him when things got hairy. Clegg won't sack him for fear of the consequences. And so they will remain in government, hating each other, hating the Tories and fearing the worst. With any luck it will take another 90 years before we see them in government again.
Wednesday, 28 May 2014
Ah, the Lib Dems. What would we do without them? How they have added to the gaiety of the nation. It's no great surprise that they have proven to be so uniformly awful at governing, they are just Labour Lite after all. But now it turns out that they can't even run a half competent campaign to remove a leader whose party has just been nearly wiped out so that he is reduced to tears.
The traditional formula for those who are secretly vying for the leadership but part of the leader's team and so cannot actually say so is of course to pledge loyalty whilst briefing furiously in secret. If asked they claim to have no such ambitions but, if the call came from the party or the country, only if a vacancy arose, they would of course be duty bound to consider it. How noble, how self effacing, how dutiful.
Bearing this in mind Vince Cable supporters wanted to ensure that the party and the country chose the right man to call for and so commissioned a poll to steer everyone in the right direction. Given that when these briefings come about they always come from the spectacularly irritating and sententious Matthew Oakeshott, and given that an opinion poll costs a lot of money and he is a wealthy man, it did not require the brains of a Holmes or a Poirot to work out where this had all come from. Vince of course denies all knowledge of this plot. Do we believe him? I'll leave that question hanging and just refer you to his behaviour at last year's Lib Dem conference. Oh and here's a cartoon just to remind you.
I have never really understood why St Vince is so revered. It seems to date back to a time when he actually was the leader of the party, temporarily, having said that he was too old to take the job. At PMQs he delivered rather a good joke at the expense of Gordon Brown. He then became a legend in his own imagination. He burnished this by further imagining that he had foreseen and predicted the economic crisis and would have steered us successfully through it had he been in charge. Cable's politics, it should be pointed out, are Lib Dem in name only. He is a tax and spend socialist lite, a former SDP member and renegade from the Labour Party. How that makes him the great sage of economics is anyone's guess. Still, Lord Oakeshott seems to love him.
Sadly for them both however the great poll plot turned out to be even more cack handed than the various plots Labour tried to unseat Gordon Brown. This has actually performed the remarkable feat of making the serially useless Nick Clegg more secure in his job, ready to take his party into richly deserved oblivion next May - a date that they themselves insisted be set in stone, or at least in statute. And so this coalition will struggle on for a little longer. Nick and Vince and their colleagues will enjoy their red boxes, their chauffeur driven cars and their ongoing spat with Michael Gove for a little longer. Meanwhile the British people will hold them and their puerile, sanctimonious brand of politics in contempt. I wonder why.
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
So we have had a big political earthquake, or at least some pretty violent tremors and now the clear up must begin. For all of the talk of learning lessons that clear up will leave the political landscape looking exactly the same as it was before. It's easier and more comfortable that way.
Labour have suffered a rather ignominious week all told. Their leader made a colossal fool of himself as he went out, tried to look normal, pretended to be talking to normal people, couldn't remember their names and issued various platitudes designed to win their support. Labour are putting a brave face on it all, looking at a few polls that tell them what they want to hear and so will carry on exactly as before. An opposition party failed to win a European election a year ahead of a general election. It only finished a point and one seat ahead of the Tories. Yet will they bow to very clear public demand and offer a referendum? They will not. That would be too far out of their comfort zone. Their whole schtick has been that the electorate and the precious centre ground will move to the left in the wake of the economic crisis. Instead it is defying them and moving to the right. So will they move with it? They will not. Presumably they are planning on relying on their leader's renowned powers of persuasion and charisma to drag the electorate where they damned well ought to be.
Similarly the Lib Dems, close to complete wipe out, will also shift leftwards. Nick Clegg, likely to lose his seat at Westminster according to the latest figures, will carry on as leader, although his party may have other ideas about that. The assurances of Cable and Farron sounded suspiciously like football chairmen's votes of confidence in their manager. But whoever is in charge The Lib Dems will shift left, not because the electorate want that but because that's what they will feel comfortable about. They never wanted to govern with the Tories anyway. Nick made them.
As for the Tories, well to be fair the electorate is actually moving their way. Well, actually it is moving the way of Ukip and some of the backbench awkward squad. It could do without some of the left-liberal nonsense the leadership offers up as a sacrifice to the great god of looking modern and inclusive. Will Dave listen? Not really. Cut back on foreign aid? No chance. He might if we're lucky start banging on about Europe.
And so these elections will have changed nothing. A pact with Ukip? No. A firm date for a referendum? Well we sort of already have that, it's just that people don't necessarily believe it. If the prime minister has any sense his reaction to these elections should be to force through legislation immediately for that referendum, not in 2017, but earlier. This would also aid his case for getting a new deal and of course for getting elected to get it done. The people have spoken, a clear majority voted for parties that want a new deal or indeed to get out of the EU. The party that spoke up for the EU through its leader via those debates has been given a kicking. How much clearer can voters be? So bring forward the legislation. Are Labour and the Lib Dems going to use their shenanigans again to prevent something the British people are demanding?
And maybe, just maybe, this will also inspire the Tories to make a distinctive conservative offer at the next election. The centre ground is shifting right. This is an opportunity to win that election and win it well. Get tough on immigration and benefit tourism, get extra tough on the White Dees of this world, recognise that defence cuts have gone too far in an increasingly dangerous and unstable world, cut and simplify our tax system, crack down on union militants calling their members out on strike when only a minority vote for it, entrench the school reforms so that they can't be reversed by a Labour Party beholden to the teacher's unions. Do Britain and the rest of Europe a favour and demand far reaching reform of the EU or we will be forced to leave. The EU can scarcely claim there is no public appetite for it. Most of all send the Lib Dems back to opposition where they belong and where they can be sanctimonious to their heart's content. If we're very lucky they might even go there before the election.
This is no time for business as usual. This is no time for telling us you will listen whilst putting your fingers in your ears and going la la la. That is what Labour and the Lib Dems propose to do. Conservatives have the opportunity to listen, learn and win the general election outright.
Monday, 26 May 2014
Quite by accident it seems we may have discovered how to deal with Russia and Putin and keep them from invading eastern Europe. All we have to do is get our future king to be rude to him. Russia seems quite upset about the whole thing. It was okay for them to call us just a small island last year, but for someone, a prince no less, to compare him to a bloody Austrian with a silly moustache is unbearable.
It puts me in mind of one of my favourite scenes from Monty Python's Holy Grail and the Frenchman's taunts. So beware Vlad, keep out of Ukraine or we will taunt you a second time. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt like elderberries. Oh and you remind us of that Hitler bloke too. Now be off with you, Russian pig dog!
Sunday, 25 May 2014
Saturday, 24 May 2014
Friday, 23 May 2014
During the voting yesterday, as Labour were trying to get their vote out, they were using the hashtag #forthemany. I kid you not. The party of the Primrose Hill elite, the party that lied and patronised its voters with that poster which purported to tell us what the 'average' family was spending extra thanks to VAT but which, it turned out, didn't know that VAT is not on many food items and has no clue, according to its leader, how much we all spend anyway, was claiming to be 'for the many'.
But the fact is that there isn't a party in Britain that speaks 'for the many.' That is the problem. The many are patronised at election time and then ignored. Conservatives could and should talk for the many because their instincts are about right. Unfortunately they have adopted the mantra of modernisation which is to be 'progressive' and thus start being as patronising and other worldly as Labour leading lights. As for the LibDems, well what can you say about them that hasn't already been said. Never has a party so richly deserved its descent back into obscurity and irrelevance. On every issue, be it Europe to environmentalism, their views are so inimical to those of 'the many' you have to assume they are doing it deliberately. They would no doubt call it principled, in fact it is simply arrogance, the sort of arrogance that makes Labour look so spectacularly out of touch, especially when they claim to be talking 'for the many'.
And that, in a nutshell, is why Ukip is doing so well. Yes it is a party that makes most of its policies, if indeed it has any, on the hoof. Yes it is a party whose policies are frequently contradictory and make no sense. Yes, it is a chaotic, often unpleasant and reactionary party. But that is part of its appeal. Nobody is expecting Ukip to form the next government. But it is a political pressure valve, a chance to kick the other parties and their self congratulatory bombast about speaking 'for the many.'
The British, or at least the English, are angry. They keep being told that they have no choice but to accept the brave new world we are all being handed as a fait accompli because Europe says so, or because it is the right thing to do. I for one don't understand why so many object to gay marriage, but plenty do. If I were to hazard a guess it would be that this is another one of those issues that 'the progressives' have decided is the right thing to do. It has come out of nowhere. Ten years ago gay marriage just wasn't an issue, nobody had thought about it. But then, in our rights obsessed political world, it became a cause celebre, one that our political class can seize upon and drive through so that they can slap each other's backs and cause bewilderment to the general populace.
Like I say I don't know why anyone would object, but this is hardly a kind of British civil rights movement either is it? Once we had a political establishment that fought real injustice, created the NHS, old age pensions. Now we have a political establishment that has created rights meaning that foreign criminals cannot be deported, we have to keep a terrorist's family at public expense in a fantastically expensive part of London and must put up with east European beggars on the streets for fear of being called racist. Now we have a political establishment that erupts in righteous anger if a football executive engages in some blokey humour via private e-mails or if a well known television presenter doesn't say and doesn't have broadcast a mumbled joke that didn't quite work and so was left out of his show.
If Ukip had any sense they would use this moment in politics as the opportunity to up their game. There is plenty for them to get properly righteously angry about and without being accused of racism. What about the tendency of our political elite to reward their own, to reward their failed politicians with well paid jobs in quangos, such as Chris Smith who helped ensure much of the west country was under water not so very many weeks ago and that all because of another political class obsession with the environment? What about the increasing cost of energy bills, not because of the allegedly rapacious energy companies but again because of that environment obsession and a fantasy that this small island can make the slightest bit of difference to the climate by acting alone?
I didn't vote Ukip yesterday because I actually believe that, for all of his faults, David Cameron leads a government that has the right instincts. We have seen that just this week with Theresa May's brilliantly combative approach to the state of our police forces and the disgusting scandals that keep afflicting them. We need more of that. We need Tories to have the courage of their convictions, to stand up for the individual, to cut through the red tape and rights industry, to expose the shallow metropolitan elitism of Labour, to get government off people's backs and hand them back their own money to do with it as they please. We don't need plain packaging for cigarettes or being told we cannot smoke in our own cars, we don't need perpetual nagging about what we eat and drink, we need to be left alone. If Ukip can appeal across the political spectrum, to the sort of people who once voted for Margaret Thatcher, then so can her Conservative successors. Ukip are a symptom of a malaise in our politics. But they are not the cure. The cure is for a party to really start speaking 'for the many,' rather than using it as an oh so clever slogan.
The British people have seen through Wallace and his party. It will deservedly lose the next election. If the Tories have the good sense to learn from Ukip they will be able to speak 'for the many,' not because the many are racist, homophobic, or whatever else they have been accused of this last febrile week, but because they have different priorities and are being ignored by politicians in a democracy. Farage has seen all of this and, for his many faults, has embraced it impressively. Which of the main parties will learn the same lesson?
While we digest the election results, and these are just the locals with the much more Ukip friendly Europeans still to come, here is a picture of lightning hitting the Shard yesterday. It must be how our political establishment is feeling. In particular it ought to be how Labour are feeling. This ought to have been the time when they showed the nation that it is they who will be forming the next government. Instead, like a bolt from the blue, they are realising how hopeless and awful their performance has been and what a liability their dorkish leader is.
Thursday, 22 May 2014
Britain goes to the polls today, well some of us do, possibly a minority of us actually. Partially out of inertia, partially out of complacency, partially out of frustration and anger, many of us will simply not bother. The reasons are many and various of course, but they boil down in the main to the simple feeling that our votes will make no difference, that we will be ignored and that all will carry on as before. Some will toy with the idea of voting Ukip as a protest. Many more will simply choose to abstain, a vote in effect for the none of the above party.
And given the events of the last week you can see their point. Ukip have been exposed as a party full of loons and not so closet racists. Do we really want them representing us in Europe, whatever we think of that flawed and infuriating institution. In fact it is not really an institution is it. It's a vast behemoth, a Japanese knotweed of an organisation that grows remorselessly whatever we do to try and cut it back so that we are forced to contemplate cutting our noses off to spite our faces, and yes I am aware of the mixed metaphors. Europe is so vast and unwieldy, so utterly unresponsive to our wishes, one is obliged to mix ones metaphors to describe it and our predicament.
The Conservatives have a kind of plan when it comes to dealing with Europe. It is to try and pull back, to get them to treat us differently. Who knows if this will work? Once Europe has accrued powers it guards them ferociously and usually uses them as a trojan horse to try and accrue more. It is doubtful at the very least that David Cameron will get any meaningful concessions. But he has promised the referendum we have long been demanding. That actually may help his bargaining hand if the country re-elects him. The Lib Dems, faced with oblivion are making noises that they might not veto a referendum after all.
And what of Labour? Well Wallace has suffered an appalling week. He can't even eat a bacon sandwich without making a tit of himself, although given that he was telling us proudly of his Jewish heritage only a few weeks ago maybe that serves him right. What certainly serves him right is the opprobrium poured on him over his lies and evasions. This is a local and European election but he doesn't want to talk about Europe as it might mean him having to talk about a referendum. When asked about local issues he can't remember the name of the local Labour leader or even which party is in control. He just wants to sloganize with his constant talk of various crises for which he has no solutions. Indeed he isn't even sure about the crises since he doesn't know that there is no VAT on food and how much we are all spending on our groceries. He just expects us to vote for him because he is not a Tory and because he professes to care, although he clearly doesn't care enough to do a bit of basic fact checking.
Given all of the above then why not vote for Ukip? Well because they are not a serious party. Because they are full of loons. But most of all they are a party of chancers. They may loathe Europe and all it stands for but that won't prevent them sending MEPs there to ride the gravy train. People who would have zero chance of being elected for any proper party may well find themselves elected as MEPs this Sunday when the votes are counted and thus entitled to a remuneration package in six figures. When they get there they will do nothing, they won't even make Farage style insulting speeches. They will sit with their arms crossed and refuse to engage. The European Parliament, a ridiculous pointless institution, will be polarised between the federalists and the various right wing protest parties the federalists have given rise to. The federalists will see this, as they always do, as a signal for them to carry on as usual. A vote for Ukip or the Front National in France will not stop the Euro juggernaut. I'm not at all sure anything can. But a vote for Ukip is certainly not it. It is an indulgence, a pointless protest even if an understandable one. But voting for the one party that is promising a referendum and which is at least going to try to get us a better and more acceptable arrangement with Brussels would be a better strategy. Voting for Ukip may feel like a free hit. The only thing it will hit is Britain's chances of getting what we want. Ukip cannot deliver that and won't even try.
There is much that is wrong with our politics at present, as exemplified by the travails of the Labour leader this week. If one of the parties were somehow to end up with a leader who understands this, who is prepared to eschew the oh so sophisticated modern election techniques, the metropolitan language and the centre ground consensus they would probably clean up. Ukip is not wrong about the problems with immigration and Europe. That is clear by the way the other parties have shifted ground. Nigel Farage is not even wrong about the problems with Romanians even if he expressed himself rather poorly, after all we do have problems with large numbers of them camping in Park Lane, London's parks or conducting illegal gaming on Westminster Bridge in the shadow of Parliament. The British people are sick of being ignored, sick of being called racist for expressing legitimate concerns. And so they are turning to Ukip to protest. Unfortunately, as we have seen with the Lib Dems, protest parties are not much use. If they then by accident end up in government they show their true colours. There is not much danger of that with Ukip. The danger however is that a vote for them will not only be a waste, it will allow the European juggernaut to carry on regardless.
This is the Romo Robot, a robot roamer with which your Apple device like an iPad can be docked as it serves as its brain. An app turns it into a roaming and learning electronic pal, which smiles and laughs, sneezes, nods and evolves a personality all of his own. I want one so badly it actually hurts.
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
You won't often find this blog defending Prince Charles but I am going to on this occasion. His comparison of Vlad the Botoxed to Hitler is hardly the first. It is increasingly obvious to anyone that Putin is using the same sort of tactics employed by the Third Reich in the events that led up to the Second World War. Encouraged by the West's reluctance to act on Syria he gambled that his annexation of Crimea would similarly go unpunished. He won his bet. So the Hitler comparisons seem to be bang on the money.
Should the heir to our throne be airing such opinions? Well he probably shouldn't be making them in a speech, but then he didn't. It was a private conversation that has been made public. It seems that these days one cannot do anything in private, be it send an e-mail or mumble something objectionable and then leave it out of a television programme without some busybody trying to make an issue out of it. Charles has been known to push the limits of what royalty should do or say in our system. This is not one of those occasions.
Indeed Charles is actually showing the way to our pusillanimous politicians. Putin is getting away with a de facto expansion of his nasty, kleptocratic, racist, bigoted and corrupt nation and it is high time someone in authority called it what it is. There are some who are even making excuses for Putin and telling us we shouldn't get involved for fear of the consequences. These days there are many people who don't know their history, sad to say, but you would have thought that that period in our history, starting with the war whose anniversary we will shortly be commemorating and which gave rise to the Nazis, would not be something that is easily forgotten. If Charles has given us a salutary reminder then good for him.
Wallace got into a lot of trouble yesterday because he didn't know anything about what Britain spends on groceries. Now I for one am prepared to accept that a man who is as busy as he is would not necessarily know these things. Perhaps he does not regularly go shopping and so doesn't know the price of milk or how much the average family spends on their groceries. But if this is the case would it not have been wiser and more honest to just admit this? But of course he couldn't do that could he? He can't call the Tories toffs and then be found to not be doing his husbandly duty by traipsing around Sainsbury's once a week (surely not Waitrose, although there is a very nice one in Islington).
But wait a minute. If Wallace doesn't do the shopping does that mean he leaves it to Justine? She's very busy too and she actually out-earns him being a leading barrister. Isn't that rather sexist of him? Does Harriet know?
Or does he get a minion to do his shopping for him? That's a bit other worldly and almost Tory isn't it?
And anyway, whoever does the weekly shopping, surely he ought still to know how much it costs? Surely we all know that don't we, even if we don't worry too much about the price of each individual item? Surely we all look out for the BOGOFs and the special offers, surely we all know that on average we spend £120 a week and are seriously considering switching the weekly shop to Aldi? Or is he so wealthy after all that he inherited from his Marxist dad and after all of his various non jobs in the world of politics (he's actually a millionaire), that the weekly grocery bill is a matter of no great consequence to him? It is petty cash, a drop in the ocean, a mere trifle for this gilded socialist representative of the people. No cost of living crisis for Wallace then. He doesn't have to worry about the cost of a pint of milk and probably doesn't ever have to worry about where the shelves with the stuff that's reduced because they are about to go out of date are located. That's one nation Labour for you, the party of Primrose Hill people, who hate the Tories for being elitist but actually have about as much in common with the people of their northern constituencies as do royalty. I doubt Prince Charles knows how much his weekly groceries bill comes to either.
You can hear Wallace make an utter prat of himself here. And it is entirely his own fault. He is the one who is banging on about the cost of living so you might imagine he would find out what the cost of living is. When politicians don't know the price of a pint of milk how hard is it find out? And if you are visiting a local radio station would it not be wise to acquaint yourself with the names of those for whom you are campaigning? Or is he now so accustomed to spouting bullshit and spin that he doesn't feel the need to bother with detail. If you don't know the name of the Labour leader of a council, how can possibly know if he is doing a good job? Or doesn't it count if it is outside London? Do you see what I mean about Labour's leadership and their nice safe constituencies in the north?
Tuesday, 20 May 2014
I suppose we should have expected it during an election period, but David Cameron might have been better advised to use some form of words, when asked about the Richard Scudamore affair, along the lines of 'it's nothing to do with me.' But he is a politician and prime minister. He has to opine on everything. So, in addition to telling an expectant nation that the latest ruling of the ECJ on people's 'right' to remove inconvenient information about themselves from search engines is unworkable, ridiculous and brainless - or words to that effect - Dave allowed himself to be cornered into saying that Richard Scudamore would most likely have had to go if he was a Cabinet minister. This is probably true. But it's also irrelevant.
The People's Committee on Unacceptable Language has sat and has decided that a man, having made a mistake, albeit via private e-mails, should be sacked or forced to resign. Scudamore, the man who runs our brilliant Premier League, a great English institution (this is allowed under these circumstances, although the committee acknowledges that Scots will not be pleased) awash with cash, and which is a peerless advertisement for this country right around the world, inadvisedly got involved in some of those e-mails we have all had from time to time. You know the ones: stuff about sex, stuff which might not necessarily win the admiration of The Guardian, the sort of stuff you used to have to go to the pub during what they called 'early doors' to hear. These days you probably have to go to a Ukip conference to hear it instead, given the state of our pubs.
Happily the Premier League met yesterday, noted that Scudamore has been a bit silly, made a mistake and has apologised, noted that he is generally thought to be bloody good at his job, as shown by the whopping cheques for close to 9 figures Premier League clubs received during this last glorious season, and decided to move on. He had engaged in a bit of blokeish banter, something we have all done from time to time and which we would not necessarily want overheard by our wives, girlfriends or daughters. Even if we are not given to using the word 'gash' in the way it was apparently used by one of Scudamore's correspondents, we will probably know someone who has. It's not big, it's not clever, but, just as America cannot be the world's policeman and just as most people tend to walk on by when they see a crime being committed, we cannot be expected every time we hear such words, to walk out in disgust, remonstrate with the offender or otherwise act in the manner of a Twitter mob before the mob has had time to congregate.
We seem to have crossed a rubicon in recent weeks. Giving offence has not only become an offence worthy of punishment with no law being passed to that effect, it seems to be what lawyers call a strict liability offence. In other words we can be held responsible for it regardless of intent or culpability. Be found to have uttered a word deemed unacceptable by the People's Committee on Unacceptable Language, regardless of the fact it was deliberately mumbled and then cut out of a programme and you will be held accountable. Some will call for you to be sacked. Unknowingly play a record containing the same word and you will be summarily dismissed rather than disciplined for lack of care and attention and for being someone who is not important and lucrative enough to be spared.
And now it seems that the Committee has met and decreed that being involved in a private e-mail conversation seen by a temporary employee who is permanently self righteous, which includes some language deemed offensive means you should consider your position. No time off for good behaviour, no dispensation for this being a private conversation which some bleeding busybody poked their nose into unasked. We must all permanently be on our guard lest we say or write or even merely forward or hear without raising objections something that falls foul of the committee. Oh and expect Labour to announce shortly that the committee will, if they win the election, be turned into a fully fledged quango with investigative powers. It's clearly the way we are going.
Monday, 19 May 2014
There were two big scientific stories last week which ought, if we are being objective as science supposedly is, to make us stop and think. Let us, as they say, compare and contrast the two and draw conclusions.
First there was the story of Professor Lennart Bengtsson, an eminent scientist and expert in the field of climate, who felt compelled to resign from the GWPF, a climate sceptic think tank, after a very short period as an adviser following McCarthy like pressure from amongst his scientific peers. He further added that a paper he had written, casting doubt on some of the more outlandish claims for future temperature increase, was rejected by a journal having been described as 'less than helpful.'
Climate science, we keep being told is settled. This in itself is anti-scientific because no science is or should be settled, least of all one whose predictions keep being falsified and which is not borne out by observations, that is actual real world data - the weather in other words.
Now let's switch to another scientific area of discussion and dispute, one that is definitely not settled and the subject of proper debate. You may remember that back in March, with much fanfare, it was announced that scientists at the South Pole had found evidence of gravity waves. This was the first confirmation of a theory called cosmic inflation - a burst of expansion in the early universe a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang and which helps cosmologists make their sums add up and the universe to make sense.
This big announcement has been met with a great deal of suspicion, scepticism and a range of queries and questions. For the moment the scientific world is unconvinced. If confirmed this would be a big deal, a Nobel Prize winning big deal. But inflation as a theory is one of many. Some are questioning whether this is a gravitational wave at all. It might just be dust that is getting in the way and skewing the data. There are a great many arguments taking place, many demands for more data and further enquiry. Other researchers are pointing their telescopes and instruments at the sky to try and confirm the findings.
In the case of this theory of inflation, Brian Green, a leading theorist, has said that this theory must be tested to destruction, we must: 'hit it with a sledgehammer to see if it survives.' So why is the same not true of global warming or climate change theory? If it is robust and settled why does the scientific world erupt in fury when someone asks questions or seeks to publish a paper that casts doubt on some of its more extreme claims? All other forms of science are pressed through the fine filter of scepticism. The so called sceptics accept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas - that is basic physics - and accept that man is probably influencing our climate to some extent. Where disagreement starts is in more technical issues like feedback and forcing, the alleged drivers of the catastrophic warming that has been alleged. The science of that is not only not settled, it is pure speculation and hyperbole. Yet anyone who says this is called a denier.
So why the two approaches? Why is one science 'settled' and the other being subjected to proper scientific rigour? Well it's because cosmology has no politicians and economic vested interests involved. It has no equivalent of an IPCC bringing all the research together and writing a helpful summary that bears no relation to the actual state of the science. Neither is anyone claiming, in the case of these results, that there is something dodgy or conspiratorial going on. It is just science doing what science is supposed to do. It is dotting Is and crossing Ts. It is making sure that it is right, or as right as it can be given our current level of understanding, the current state of our technology. In a few years time someone may come up with a better theory. That's what happened with gravity. We thought it was all nicely explained by Newton, then along came a chap called Einstein a couple of hundred years later. This is how science is supposed to operate.
Most scientists, if they are being honest, would admit that no theory is ever settled or proven to be true. There is always the possibility of another explanation, one that nobody is clever enough to think of for the time being at least. What science does is theorise, look for evidence, adjust the theories. That is true of all pursuits. When Darwin came up with his sublime theory of evolution he was honest enough to admit where there were gaps. We are still improving on this theory to this day as our understanding develops and technology improves. It is by no means a complete theory because nothing ever is. We have to keep questioning ideas and testing them. It is how we improve our knowledge. It is true in every field of science except climate science in which we have apparently, after only a few years of investigation, arrived at absolute truth which must not be questioned.
And yet, despite this absolute god-like knowledge of our planet's spectacularly complex climate system, we still cannot convincingly explain why temperatures have stopped increasing. If the climate is as sensitive to CO2 as is claimed it should still be increasing. If the climate is as sensitive to CO2 as is claimed then the predictions about our hotter future shouldn't keep being pushed off into the distant future. Yet anyone who points out these inconvenient doubts is howled down, called a denier, hounded out of their jobs, not published in 'respected' scientific journals. There are probably many scientists who will agree with all of this, who worry about this illusory certainty. They will certainly believe, as many sceptics do, that man-made CO2 is probably increasing our temperatures. But they do not necessarily believe, because all of the available evidence suggests otherwise, that we are heading inexorably towards disaster. Unfortunately they are afraid to say so unlike their brother cosmologists. Oh, and for the record, as an interested layman, I am a sceptic about the theory of inflation too. It's altogether too convenient. Does that make me a denier about that too?
Sunday, 18 May 2014
Saturday, 17 May 2014
Friday, 16 May 2014
Ukip seems to be struggling with the spotlight. Even Nigel Farage is struggling with awkward questions about race, immigration and 'good or bad' immigrants.
This is not to say that being concerned about the levels of immigration is something wrong or racist. Indeed Wallace on the BBC today admitted that Labour, being a party of metropolitan, middle class numpties were taken aback by how much of an impact immigration had on the people they represent. The trouble is that Ukip is a party that has grown very rapidly and is consequently full of people who are bona fide racists and bigots who bring it into disrepute. The other problem is that they are so much of a one man band, so reliant on Farage, that he is obliged to appear here there and everywhere and, being fond of the sound of his own voice, often gets carried away and ends up saying things that are now coming back to bite him.
I understand why people are thinking of voting Ukip this Thursday, I really do. I have toyed with the idea myself. But this is not a serious party. This is actually an unpleasant and reactionary party that is enjoying its time in the sun thanks to the failings of the other parties. They need to raise their game. This is a dangerous moment in politics. Nigel Farage is actually a rather harmless symptom of something altogether more dangerous. We should be thankful for that and then vote Conservative this Thursday.
In an interview with Swiss TV Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, has admitted that awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was a mistake. He is standing for yet another term as president by the way.
Everyone makes mistakes says Mr Blatter in his blithe way, and of course this is true. It's just that if you are FIFA others have to pay for your mistakes. FIFA being FIFA, there is no possibility of them doing the decent thing, resigning and abandoning the whole farce of Qatar 2022 as unworkable. Blatter has waited this long, now that the planning for the stadia is well advanced and money has been spent, meaning that he can confess all before adding that all is too far advanced for him to do anything about it. Thus world football must be thrown into chaos thanks to FIFA's mistake.
But this is another opportunity for the world of football to seize back control from this cabal of corrupt, self serving bureaucrats. The Qatar World Cup is much worse than a mistake, it is a catastrophe. There is no way it should go ahead and football should say so now. If necessary we will organise an alternative tournament in the summer of that year rather than shift our seasons to cope with FIFA's mistake. There are plenty of places that could host such a tournament, that have no need of the vast expense of building new facilities because they already have them. It is time to say no to FIFA and Sepp Blatter.
I wonder how many jobs in Scotland are reliant on cross border trade with England and the rest of the UK. A substantial number I shouldn't wonder. Our economies are intertwined after all, that's what happens when two countries combine for 307 years. We are also neighbours, share a language and for the most part a culture. Our economies are symbiotic, they have combined. We are one country.
But have you noticed that nobody is claiming that, if Scotland votes yes to independence, these jobs will disappear? That's because of course they won't. That would be ridiculous. There will be upheaval, of course there will. Many jobs will relocate for various reasons. But the jobs won't actually disappear. It's not as if the customers that create those jobs, the economic drivers of them will disappear when someone makes a dotted line into a solid one on a map.
So why then are we always told that 3 million British jobs depend on our membership of the EU? That's a nonsense too isn't it? Were we to hold a referendum in 2017 and vote to leave we wouldn't stop buying German cars, washing machines, we wouldn't stop buying French goods either. They would still buy ours. It would make no material difference whatsoever to our trading with these nations who actually sell more to us than we do to them. We would simply have a new political relationship with them, much as Scotland may have after it votes this year. Indeed Scotland, if it votes to leave the UK will effectively also be voting to leave the EU, at least temporarily. I doubt it will stop them selling whisky though. It would be nice if the pro European politicians could be honest about that. Remember that when you cast your vote in the European elections next week.
Thursday, 15 May 2014
The Telegraph, Guardian and YouTube have apparently teamed up to call for a debate between the various party leaders online and of course via their websites for next year's general election. This is said to be somehow more inclusive and will involve young voters more.
How exactly? Are the leaders going to mime along to a well known song, or post something amusing about their pet cats?
Of course the newspapers want to be involved in these debates. They will be big news if and when they ever happen. But let's not kid ourselves that this will make for a better debate than those on television. How are they any different? The TV companies could, if they choose, ask questions via e-mail or Twitter. They can, if they choose, use a female chairperson instead of a bloke. No doubt the debates will be available simultaneously online. Watching something online is remarkably similar to watching something on TV. The only advantage of doing it online is that you can minimise the screen or maybe play a game at the same time. Since politics is showbiz for ugly people watching them on a smaller screen has much to recommend it I suppose.
What the papers are essentially saying is, hey we're kind of in the television business too these days with our additional video content, and we often have amusing stuff to appeal to the kids. We want a piece of these debates too.
So, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. As a representative of the blogosphere who has been known to post video content and even has a YouTube channel I want to be a part of these debates too. By then I should have my new iPhone 6. Who knows what wonderful new shots and camera trickery I will be able to use to make the party leaders look inclusive and down with the kids. I can even chair the debate if you like. Okay I am a white male but my name is not Dimbleby and to shake things up I will probably not wear a tie. In fact to really shake things up I might grow a beard and wear a dress as this won so much approval last weekend. You may consider this my formal bid.
Further to my PMQs post yesterday in which I referred to the ongoing spat going on in government between Nick Clegg in particular along with his fellow Lib Dems and the Tories with whom they are nominally in partnership. Do have a read of this entertaining and yet simultaneously infuriating post by Dominic Cummings. Who he? He is a former special adviser to Michael Gove and so knows what he is talking about. This annoys Lib Dems because it exposes a) that they don't b) that they make it up as they go along and c) when they do they plunge the government into chaos and oblige officials to root around and do some dodgy accountancy to pay for their back of a fag packet pledges.
The story goes thus: Clegg needed to announce something at his party's conference last autumn. He came up with the idea of offering free meals to primary school children who have just started school. There was no money for this and Clegg hadn't bothered to get it costed or to see if it was viable. He just announced it and then found out how unworkable it all is. Some schools didn't even have kitchens meaning vast expense for an election gimmick. When told of all of this Clegg's office said it must go ahead because all of the publicity was planned and he would have nothing to talk about if the plug was pulled.
Ah well, you may well be thinking, that's the Lib Dems and Clegg for you. We know they are useless and he is a dick, but we will soon be rid of them. Unfortunately however this is also the way Labour seem to be working. Wallace's various gimmicks these last few months are very similar. He keeps coming up with wizard wheezes like freezing fuel prices, rent controls and giving everyone the right to an appointment with a GP within 48 hours without bothering with detail. He does so, like Clegg, as a way of buying himself popularity, or at least shoring himself up with his own party. It gets them headlines. And this, we must remember, was how Labour governed too. Tony Blair was always looking around for new gimmicks with which he could be associated. Wallace will be the same, it's just that his gimmicks will be more left wing, more nonsensical and will do even more damage.
Wednesday, 14 May 2014
Apparently in the brave and bland new world being created for us by those who call themselves progressive, the use of metaphor is to be banned, or at least licensed. The MP Austin Mitchell today, after PMQs, used a rape analogy with regard to Pfizer's attempted takeover of AstraZeneca. David Cameron, he alleged, would not dare stop Pfizer for fear of offending the U.S. So far, so much lefty bollocks. He then added: 'roll up rapists.'
Cue the outrage.
Why? Since when has using a word metaphorically like this been considered beyond the pale? Mitchell, to his credit, has refused to apologise. No doubt if he worked for the BBC he would have been sacked by now, unless of course he was the presenter of a highly lucrative television programme in which case he would have been given a stern warning. In fact, if they had sacked him, he might have taken them to an industrial tribunal. Sole witness for the defence would be the Oxford English Dictionary.
But this is the world we live in now. An offensive racist term cannot be mumbled and left on the cutting room floor in case someone picks it up off the floor, turns the sound up and uses experts to make it audible. A man cannot innocently play a record on the radio containing the same word without being summarily sacked despite being utterly unaware of its presence. And now another word, a word which describes a vile and unpleasant crime but is also routinely used metaphorically to describe the plundering, ransacking, pillaging of something against its will. He should have just called them mother fuckers and had done with it.
Who are these self appointed guardians of acceptable language? And why the hell are we paying the slightest bit of attention to them? The minister for women, Nicky Morgan, has called for the veteran MP to be suspended and has written to Wallace asking him what action he will take about this totally unacceptable behaviour. Totally unacceptable behaviour? Ed Balls has called the Tweet stupid and offensive. The PM's official spokesman said that the analogy was quite wrong. Has the world gone stark staring mad?
We live in a world now in which people can swear openly and brazenly on television and radio, albeit after the watershed and after an announcer has warned the world of what is coming. We live in a world where you can walk around with all manner of expletives on your T shirt and nobody bats an eyelid. But use a word deemed unacceptable by some of our more strident feminists or lefty protectors of some favoured ethnic group and your career will be over as fast as they can start a Twitter campaign. So, since using the word fuck is apparently fine, let's start a campaign of our own. We'll call it #fuckingfreedomofspeech.
In the year zero world of Labour policy makers, nothing that happened before Wallace became the dear and respected leader of his party ever happened. Well, we must assume this is the case because the badger haired one (his badger's stripe seemed to have moved again this week somehow) keeps re-announcing old policies from the past. He's like a tribute band to the 1960s and 70s - slightly out of tune, a bit nerdy and not exactly modern and with it. It's either that or he genuinely thinks that all of the wizard ideas he keeps announcing are new and original. Probably because he's so clever.
His latest big announcement this week is that he is going to promise people an appointment with their GP within 48 hours. That sounds suspiciously like a target, you know the sort that caused all sorts of problems in the NHS under Labour only a few years ago. But that didn't happen. Blair/Brown have been expunged from the Labour collective memory. It should also be noted Labour said they would pay for this by shuffling some money from elsewhere in the NHS budget - albeit not nearly enough according to those who know about these things. Yet when Michael Gove was accused of doing the same thing with the schools budget Labour erupted in outrage and called him a zealot and an ideologue. They even summoned him to the Commons to explain himself, which he did with knobs on, making his Labour opposite number, Tristram Hunt, look a little foolish and clueless, or at least more than usually foolish and clueless.
Speaking of people looking foolish and clueless, Nick Clegg has been whining this week because people have been leaking information showing how foolish and clueless he is. When he and his fellow Lib Dems do this of course it is because they are battling against Tories out to do something evil. When Tories do it, well you know the rest. Yet the leaks have done the public a service. Apparently it's not a terribly good idea for ministers, even deputy prime ministers with nothing much to do, to rashly make up policies about giving kids free school meals without bothering to check if the schools have the facilities in place to deliver this. The policy has been given a red flag by the civil service, meaning it is probably going to fail. Money well spent then.
PMQs is going to be a rare event in the coming weeks because of parliament being prorogued, various holidays and the fact that MPs have sod all to do because Nick Clegg hasn't managed to come up with any more policies he can push through having made them up on the back of an envelope and is saying no to any new ideas from the hated Tories in a fit of pique and because he imagines it will boost his poll ratings. Labour must be pleased though. They have clearly run out of things to talk about and now the Tories are ahead in some polls.
Wallace today wanted to talk again about Pfizer. It was more in desperation than anything else because unemployment was down, something he grudgingly acknowledged was welcome. It sounded as though it was actually about as welcome as a tax demand, but maybe he just isn't good at sounding pleased about things. Socialists often aren't. They do anger so much better.
Dave was nevertheless pleased that his opposite number was pleased about unemployment and took the opportunity to rub it in. Turning to Pfizer, the PM said that he was seeking assurances from the company that jobs in the UK would be guaranteed. He said he was getting stuck in rather than playing politics on the issue but pointed out that the reason our unemployment levels are falling was because the UK is an open economy.
Wallace wasn't having that. He essentially kept asking the same question over and over again. Dave accordingly gave more or less the same answer, although he did tinker at the edges a little for the sake of variety. Wallace wants state intervention because that is Labour's answer to everything. Labour apparently haven't noticed that the state is actually hopeless at this sort of thing. New databases, new systems, running major infrastructure projects, spending billions on white elephants like Concorde, British Leyland, the Millennium Dome? Leave it to the state to screw it up. Yet it is entirely trustworthy and beyond reproach when it comes to planning the economy and deciding who is fit to run a private company.
There is also something endlessly amusing about any politician, but particularly one that was a minister in the last Labour government, doubting the promises of others. Guarantees? Do you trust anything Labour says? But they still demand the right to get them from a private company seeking to buy another private company. The reason that AstraZeneca is vulnerable to takeover is that it has not been doing very well. It has been cutting jobs, British jobs, anyway. How does anyone know, least of all a politician who has never done a proper job, which company will be the best custodian, the best guarantor of jobs?
Wallace said Dave's approach was worthless, which is odd because it's still happening, still being negotiated. How can he know until it's concluded? Dave said that Wallace's approach was to whinge and whine from the sidelines and then go campaigning instead of actually meeting with the interested parties. He was, said Dave, quite literally putting party before national interest. He then pointed out that Wallace was the one who wrote the very framework he was now saying should be ignored.
Dave probably had a point about this because Wallace's next point was that the last time the PM had given assurances we had the Royal Mail sold off at a knock-down price. Quite what this had to do with anything was anyone's guess. He also managed to shoehorn in the allegation about George Osborne's pal who made money out of it. You can see how that lousy Party Election Broadcast got made. Labour really do seem to believe all of this kind of crap, even in the week when they fell behind in the polls. Their cheap populism isn't even very popular, except amongst the sort of people who probably think that PEB should be given a BAFTA and be erected on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square.
And that was it. No more for five weeks. Wallace must be thrilled. Maybe when they all come back he will have thought of something else to talk about. Maybe in a few weeks he will have made a number of other promises nobody believes and he can ask Dave about those. This was desperate desperate stuff from the poor little chap today. But at least, on this issue alone, he is on the same side as the Daily Mail. You would think that might make even him pause for thought.
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Here's a nice money making scheme for our cash strapped local authorities in the UK. Why not bring in a law against jay walking? Authorities in Victoria in Australia made $44, 000 from ticketing jay walkers over one weekend. That's an awful lot of crossing the road, minding your own business and being importuned by some lousy busy body with nothing better to do. It's all to do with safety? Bollocks. It's astonishing that a country like Australia with its a robust and earthy way of expressing itself puts up with this sort of thing. Waiting for the green man? Life is too short.
Jay walking is one of the most remarkable and absurd examples of officialdom gone mad in the world. Happily it has not yet come to the UK, but it can only be a matter of time. After all we live in a world in which the Tube workers can go on strike because a few ticket office staff are being threatened with redundancy despite the fact that nobody uses ticket offices. Safety say the unions and nobody thinks to slap them about a bit with a railway sleeper.
You can always tell who are the tourists in London because they're usually the ones who don't weave in and out of the traffic like we natives and stand obediently waiting for the green light to tell them when to perambulate. Don't be surprised if Labour try and bring in this kind of law if they are elected next year. Their authoritarian instincts are probably twitching at the thought right now. They would probably use it as an excuse to create a new quango: Ofwalk for the right and wrong way to cross a road. Indeed that's probably why we drive on the left.
Monday, 12 May 2014
It's hard to know which is more pathetic, Labour's offensively awful and widely derided Party Election Broadcast from last week, or little Dougie Alexander's whiny defence of it on TV yesterday.
Wee Dougie, in charge of Labour's electoral 'strategy,' comes up with such humdingers as all of this was justified because of the so called 'bedroom tax,' you know that change to benefit rules which is not actually a tax and which takes the hardly draconian view that people receiving housing benefit don't really need a spare room they don't use paid for by the taxpayer. Other gems from little Dougie's defence were that this was all justified so as not to bore the public, and so presumably that means smears and lies are entirely above board.
Elsewhere he defended that poster of last week, the one with the basket full of shopping which included items that do not attract VAT. This produced the remarkable assertion that the government has cost the average working family £450. How can that possibly be, asked Andrew Neil, the new interviewing champion of the BBC as Paxman bows out, on an average income of £21,000 - the sums don't add up. Ah, said little Dougie, that's over the whole of this parliament, a claim so monstrously ridiculous it's a wonder Neil didn't burst out laughing. Labour quite clearly claimed that this entirely fictitious figure was an annual one. Ed Balls said so. Even if we accept their new revised version however, it still doesn't answer the central point that, if they are including in their poster zero rated items, how can a figure even over a whole parliament be trusted? They appear to have plucked it out of thin air and hoped nobody noticed.
But this is symptomatic of Labour's entire approach. These are European and local elections and they don't want to talk about either. They in particular don't want to talk about Europe as this would raise the vexed subject of a referendum they don't want us to have, but on which the public are very keen. This party, which is broke let's not forget, spent a fortune on that PEB and it has nothing whatever to say. It is a crass, juvenile, policy free, argument free and decency free pitch at the bovine herds of dyed in the wool masses who vote for them and probably think that Tories are posh and don't understand them. Apparently they haven't noticed that Labour these days is run by lots of metropolitan alleged intellectuals like Wallace and little Dougie, many of whom went to independent schools and then Oxbridge before going straight into politics, who are every bit as privileged as the Tories they effect to despise and whose principles and progressive policies are entirely alien to the people they claim to be representing and standing up for.
As we head towards next year's general election this seems to be Labour's approach. Lies and smears, offers of giving people other people's money and some hazy notion that Labour will somehow deliver greater fairness by government diktat. They will do this apparently by punishing anyone who makes a profit, driving up taxes even though they know this will raise less money and by throwing people out of work by bringing an end to the type of labour flexibility that thankfully kept unemployment comparatively low during this recession from which, in terms of national output, we have only just emerged.
Take the example of zero hours contracts. Oh it's not fair say the unions and Labour MPs. Why isn't it fair? There may be some examples of abuses of these contracts, such as when they demand exclusivity in return for nothing, but that can be prevented. It actually ought to be challenged in the courts. How can a contract, which when I studied law needed consideration in return for something, tell someone they cannot work for anyone else? That is surely unenforceable anyway? What would be the penalty? You worked for someone else. We're not going to give you any work. But you weren't anyway, that's why I worked for someone else. Oh!
But consider why these zero hours contracts have come about. They were invented because politicians made using temps too onerous and expensive. Hundreds of employers across the country, employers like the NHS, local authorities, companies large and small, used temps back in the 80s and 90s. I was one myself, a temp that is, not an employer. It enabled employers to take people on for short term jobs without all of the costs and obligations of full time employees. Then the politicians got involved, told the agencies they had to give temps more rights and thus priced them out of work. Result? The zero hours contract meaning that people still get employed. Like temping it is a start. It allows employers to try people out with less risk. It gives flexibility. If people prove themselves it will lead to full time work. But the unions and Labour say it is unfair. Surely it is more unfair to leave people on the dole because they are too expensive to employ?
Labour's pitch for this election is that the money has run out (because they spent it all) and so they now intend to punish the people who have managed to be successful by taxing them even more. This, they claim, is fair. Actually, as Tories should be pointing out, it isn't fair. It is fair that those who earn more pay more but then they already do. They actually pay far more and the country is worryingly dependent on them to pay our way. To tax them more, or to eye up their houses and decide to help yourselves to part of their value is not fair, it is the opposite of fair. Why should one section of society pay ever higher taxes because politicians, particularly those who call themselves progressive, lost control of the public finances and cannot bring themselves to admit that various parts of our bloated state are not working, are living beyond their means?
Labour believe in fairness and equality. In the abstract it is hard to disagree. We all want the world to be fair. We all want equality. But consider what that means. Fairness and equality of opportunity are one thing. Fairness and equality of outcome quite another. We all deserve the same chances in life, albeit according to talent. Even that is hard to create. If Labour are such great believers in equality how come so many of their sons and daughters end up also in politics? How come so many of them get the internships that start that process? Climbing up the greasy pole of politics is undoubtedly a meritocratic process, albeit with a lot of double dealing and backstabbing along the way. But getting that first opportunity? There are gentlemen's clubs in Mayfair that are more open and inclusive.
And if it is so hard, thanks to human nature to impose equality of opportunity, how much harder is it to impose equality of outcome? You cannot legislate, still less tax for equality of outcome. That is unfair and demonstrably disastrous for any society and country trying to pay its way in the world. It's a notion that has been tested to destruction this last century or more. Do we really have to keep repeating the same history over and over because lefties cannot or will not see that they cannot impose fairness?
Apparently we do. The reason Labour issued that PEB and those dishonest posters is because they are utterly convinced of their own moral superiority and rectitude. The reason little Dougie and his boss Wallace defend the lies contained in those films and posters is because they see it as a means to an end. They are the end. It doesn't occur to them that they are wrong. They want fairness, they want equality. That has to be right and they mean to test it to destruction, the destruction of the British economy to prove it.
Their latest obsession is with Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose data suggests, quell surprise, that the gap between the richest and the poorest is growing and that, thanks to some particular circumstances we are currently living through which see lower growth thanks to the great recession, the return on capital is making the rich richer while the poorest struggle by on lower increments. Now, quite apart from the fact that this is a temporary phenomenon brought about by excessive debt, low inflation or even deflation thanks to the policies of governments and central bankers, it is the usual cherry picking by the left. As I have already argued, equality of out come is impossible to deliver in a world in which we are all given different gifts and talents, different work ethics, different aspirations, different priorities. There is no system, other than that in dreamy other worldly science fiction, that makes man work for the benefit of his fellow man all for the same reward. That some regard that world as perfect and fair tells you all you need to know about them.
But the corollary of this inevitable state of affairs is that you will always get rich people and poorer people. When this was something based on class and the ownership of land there was a problem. That was demonstrably unfair and an appalling waste of talent and manpower. Fortunately then along came the industrial revolution and the invention of modern capitalism and opportunities became more widespread. Suddenly one could earn more money by making things, by creating things than by just owning land and living off the manpower of others. Thus the people at the bottom were raised from being penurious peasants into a proud working class who aspired to better things. They became educated, became more prosperous, bought consumer goods, got plumbing, got heating, got cars, went on holidays, started going on foreign holidays. If this is the case, if the people at the bottom are becoming wealthier too, it doesn't actually matter if the gap between them and those at the top is growing. It is a symbiotic relationship.
The Labour Party knows all of this. They know this because they are a party that grew up to represent the working man, a working man who had been empowered by this social revolution and become a fully paid up member of a society from which he had formerly been excluded. Yet the modern Labour Party chooses to ignore it, preferring to indulge itself in petty politics, name calling and juvenile demands for fairness and equality that will never come. It is actually their pitch for the next election. They deserve not just to lose, but to be humiliated as Michael Foot was in 1983.
Sunday, 11 May 2014
So that's it, the end of a pulsating, thrilling and fantastically entertaining season. In the end Liverpool weren't quite good enough, even had we held out against Crystal Palace it would not have been enough thanks to City's superior goal difference. But it was so close.
This was a season in which the lead changed hands 25 times, a season in which Arsenal were actually top for longer than anyone, but faded away after that amazing defeat at Anfield. From that moment on we dared to believe. Our belief lasted all the way until that last week when sadly we were found wanting, albeit not by much. Previously we had spent five weeks uninterrupted at the top of the table at the business end of the season, at one point looking down on the others with a five point gap.
In the end this Liverpool team, which aspired to fourth place, has finished second behind a team full of internationals accumulated at vast expense and ahead of another team which is much the same. Liverpool scored 101 goals and accumulated 84 points, just two fewer than the eventual champions. We have qualified as of right for the Champions League next season. No pre-qualification required.
And take a look at that final league table. Even the fourth placed team, Arsenal, had 79 points at the end. At the start Brendan Rodgers targeted 76 points to get fourth place. It wouldn't have been enough. This was an ultra competitive season and Liverpool only just missed finishing top of the pile. That is something to be immensely proud of.
The promise and riches of the Champions League will bring in new players over the summer and inspire those already at Anfield to new heights. This work in progress has seen fantastic progress. The possibilities are hugely exciting.
Today? Well there was a clear hangover from the fraught emotions of the last couple of weeks, there was clear fatigue. Newcastle got a goal, an own goal actually, and the Reds went in with their heads down. Surely such a fantastic season couldn't finish on such a dispiriting note?
It didn't. Two quick goals from Stevie Gerrard free kicks brought back this team's belief and at the end they were passing it around Newcastle who couldn't get near. It was probably only the memory of Crystal Palace last Monday that stopped them scoring more. But even that is a positive sign. This team will grow and learn. It has already grown and learn. There are no prizes for second place, except there are. The prize is our new status next season - Champions' League participants and title contenders. Liverpool are back.