Thursday, 31 March 2016


The Government Should Protect our Steel Industry

If you want to know why Donald Trump is resonating with an uncomfortably large part of America it is not hard to find reasons. We don't even have to look across the pond. We only have to look to our own decimated steel industry and the fear in Port Talbot right now.

Its all very well the economists and politicians talking about the unstoppable tide of globalisation. But its not them who are being priced out of their jobs is it. Its not them who are being forced to retrain despite having done nothing wrong, having increased their productivity, having seen their plant pared to the bone. And it's not the fault of Tata either.

It's the fault of an out of touch political class. It's the fault of the faceless and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. It's the fault of idiots who demand action on climate change and then bemoan the consequences on our energy prices, on pricing people out of jobs; they then go on to blame it on heartless capitalism rather than their own sanctimony.

And it's the fault of a global marketplace that is being shamelessly exploited, abused and cheated on by vast swathes of the planet, most notably the Chinese, who have manipulated their currency, created a boom  and then cack handedly managed the inevitable bust. They are now exporting it to our shores, pricing our people out of jobs.

Globalisation is a force for good we are told. And it has been to a large extent. It has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, has beaten inflation to the point that we are now suffering deflation. But it is also the product of a foreign policy experiment that is little talked about or acknowledged. The way to get the Chinese and Russians to play nice and to slowly democratise, goes the theory, is to trade with them, allow them access to our markets, allow them to become prosperous and wealthy.

Well they have certainly achieved wealth and prosperity. Unfortunately for the theory, the Russians spend their wealth on gaudy excess for Putin and his cronies and on vanity projects like the Sochi Olympics and the fraudulently won World Cup. All of this whilst building up their military, taking advantage of the power vacuum left behind by a retreating America and bullying their neighbours. Democracy and freedom of speech are being eviscerated.

The Chinese are also building up their military and muscling in on the South China Sea whilst cheating on everything from intellectual property to currency manipulation. Now they are dumping their cheap steel on world markets and pricing even more people here out of work having already appropriated for themselves millions of manufacturing jobs. China remains a dictatorship that does not tolerate dissent, employs staff in their thousands to monitor the internet and has their own versions of Twitter and other social media rather than allow their people to communicate with the rest of the world. They steal, cheat and corrupt.

Our response? It is always to retreat and to listen to the experts who tell us that we must retrain, educate ourselves, rise up the value chain. What that means in practice is that good, honest jobs in manufacturing - jobs for working class men and women that paid a good wage and created vibrant communities are gone forever. More worryingly, so are the skills that went with them.

Steel is an emblematic and strategic industry. It is something that any and all self respecting industrial nations should have as part of their skill set, not just for emotional reasons but for sound reasons relating to national self determination, defence and independence. It may not be the most efficient response, but life is not always about efficiency and neither should it be.

Government ministers are meeting this morning to discuss what to do. Maybe even Dave will join in from Lanzarote. And I know it is not an easy decision and that there are practical, legal and economic considerations. But the bottom line is this: Britain needs a steel industry. If that means raising tariffs against the Chinese then so be it - this, incidentally, is a policy that the EU has been advocating and that Britain, ever the free traders, have been blocking. If that means doing something about their own ridiculous attempts to cut CO2 emissions while the Chinese burn their coal and laugh at us then so be it. This already ridiculous policy has been made all the more absurd when you consider that we are currently engaged in a fantastically costly deal to get the Chinese to build us a new nuclear power plant. If we have that much money to burn then why not just build it ourselves - with British made steel?

At the very least Port Talbot should be given the assurance that it will be protected while a new buyer and investor is sought. There should also be a provision for protection from the worst excesses of this highly cyclical industry, regardless of what EU competition rules say. The Government should be looking again at our energy provision, ending the ridiculous subsidies to useless green energy and giving free rein to fracking that will provide cheap and plentiful energy.

David Cameron somehow got off scot free after his week of disaster and has been sunning himself in Lanzarote this week. But this is another dangerous moment for him and his government. He should seize the opportunity to show the positive side of his being the arch pragmatist.

Indeed Tories in general should seize that same opportunity. As a general rule we are in favour of free trade and against government action to prop up failing industry. We have to learn the lessons of the past. But this has nothing to do with the past. This is a very modern problem that is afflicting most western nations in our globalised world. Globalisation is creating problems for our cosy elites.

Fortunately, politics is a bit like the dog eat dog world of globalised business and populists are sensing an opportunity, a gap in the market. You have to ask: on the subject of China and the impact it has had on those who are enthused by him, is Trump so very wrong? And isn't it about time our politicians stood up to the softly spoken bullies of China?

Crash Course Chemistry: Energy & Chemistry

Picture of the Day

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


The Fat Leader of North Korea Gets Fatter While His People Starve

In a remarkably thin and insubstantial report last night, Guardian TV Newsnight had as its second story  - and it was only relegated to second story by the emerging news about Tata Steel - an item about North Korea in which they claimed that the regime of the ever fatter leader is closer than we might think to viable weapons that could threaten the world.

Except this was a classic case of there being more to the headline than there was to the substance of the report in classic tabloid, dare I say it: Daily Mail style.

Because what they actually said was that the North has designs for missiles that look viable and that they seem to be pushing hard for the technologies of hydrogen weapons and their miniaturisation, not to mention functioning intercontinental missile technology. But then we already knew that. North Korea has been trying for this for years and is struggling to achieve it. It is struggling for the very good reason that this is a grindingly poor nation that cannot afford the kind of technology to make these processes simple and comparatively easy.

This is a nation whose entire GDP amounts to about half of what the UK pays in state pensions every year. You can do all the research and spying with satellites you like. That is the bottom line. You don't have to be a defence analyst or an ex Guardian and now BBC journalist to understand that.

This is not to say that we should not be paying heed to the aspirations of the DPRK as they insist upon calling themselves. For all of our sanctions and for all of their isolation, the North is still intent on maintaining a huge army and its outdated but still dangerous weaponry. It has atomic weapons even if it could not deliver them. It is also desperate for money and has as its leader a man who may well be unstable and prone to tantrums who has become accustomed to being surrounded by lackeys who never challenge or argue with him and who consequently thinks he is a genius. Think Prince Charles but born in the 16th century. That is a dangerous combination.

Yesterday it was reported that the news outlets in Pyongyang have been telling the North Korean people that they must prepare for an arduous march and that they may once again have to eat plant roots to survive. Farmers are being forced to donate food for the army and for reserves. All of this adds up to a nation that is preparing itself for another famine, the sort that wiped out possibly as many as 3 million people in the early 90s after the Soviet Union fell and North Korea lost its benefactor and protector.

All of this does not lead one to surmise that the North is any kind of threat to any of us any time soon. Nevertheless it is a warning. It is warning that our current policies are not working. It should also sound a warning about the wilful naivety of the Obama administration in its dealings with Iran and Russia that has made the world a much more dangerous place than it was 8 years ago.

Someone some time soon is going to have to address the problems that Obama has created or made worse during his tenure. The worry is that whoever replaces him may not be willing to do so. Hillary Clinton may wish to continue in the same vein and if it is Donald Trump he may take America back to an era of protectionism and isolationism. If either scenario happens there will be many more dangerous problems affecting the world than little North Korea and its increasingly corpulent leader.

The biggest danger that the fat feckless one poses is that he believes the bombast of his propaganda and that the rhetoric becomes self reinforcing. The North has been issuing all kinds of threats in recent days. Could it be that the Fat Leader is intent on starting a mini conflict with the South in order to distract his people from the fact that they are starving while he increasingly resembles humpty dumpty?

Crash Course Chemistry: Effusion, Diffusion and the Velocity of a Gas

Picture of the Day

Tuesday, 29 March 2016


Project Fear is Back and Holding Anna Soubry Hostage

Easter is over and Project Fear is back. Anna Soubry has written a particularly facile piece this morning in the Telegraph. Even the very first sentence contains a lie. It's an important decision, she says, which is of course true. Whether to leave, she goes on, or stay in a reformed Europe.

Now to be fair to Ms Soubry, whom I rather like when she is not spinning about Europe, she is probably sending out this missive on prime ministerial orders. Number 10 and David Cameron are in full bullying mode and, according to reports this morning, have told potentially errant ministers, MPs and MEPs that they are finished if they do not toe the line.

Perhaps this is why Ms Soubry has written her piece in the way she has. Perhaps that blatant piece of misinformation is a kind of wink. I don't believe this but they've made me say it. Its like a hostage made to speak to camera but who deliberately commits an uncharacteristic solecism to let people on the outside know that the words he is speaking are not his. If I am ever a hostage I shall say 'should of' instead of 'should have' and then you will know I am under duress.

We should stay in a reformed Europe Anna Soubry tells us. And there is her equivalent of a solecism because we all know that Europe has not been reformed. It is carrying on blithely and untroubled. David Cameron did not even try to reform Europe. He asked for nothing and got nothing. So Ms Soubry's case for staying is holed beneath the waterline immediately.

She the goes on to detail various myths that we are supposedly being told by those of us who want to leave.

Myth One she tells us is that we pay in more than we get out. But this is a matter of record. Britain is a net contributor to the EU, second only to Germany. So it's not a myth. She tries to cloud the issue by talking about how much it represents as part of our general taxation and that in return for our money we get access to the single market, but the fact remains that what she has called a myth is demonstrably not a myth. Perhaps David Cameron was holding a gun to her head when she wrote this blatant lie.

Myth Two she tells us is that if we remain in Europe we won't be able to control our borders. Again this is not a myth. We have to allow all European citizens in to this country as a matter of right to live and work. Again she tries to cloud the issue with talk of Schengen. Yes we can ask people to show a passport when they come in but then we have to let them in. Latest figures show that there are now nearly 3 million EU citizens living and working in the UK. We can't stop them. This is the bottom line on control of our borders and Ms Soubry knows it. Its not about border checks its about access to the UK. David Cameron as part of his negotiation could not even stop our fellow Europeans from coming to the UK and claiming our benefits and exporting child benefit. That does not equate to control of our borders.

Myth Three says Ms Soubry is that if we stay in the EU we will be forced to join the euro a European superstate and a European army but that it is okay because David Cameron has secured an agreement to ensure that this does not happen. Except of course he has done no such thing. We were already outside the euro even though the sort of people now telling us we must remain in the EU for our economic security were telling us we should join. The European project towards a superstate remains on track and there is nothing that we can do about it. It certainly remains unaffected by David Cameron's pathetic non negotiation in which he claimed an opt out from ever closer union. That has no legal basis and will be cheerfully ignored once the referendum has taken place.

Myth Four and Five says Ms Soubry, is that we could leave the EU and retain access to the single market. 'The evidence' she says is that this would not happen. Except there is no such evidence. The comments of a German minister, which is her idea of what constitutes evidence, are what the rest of us call an opinion. Nobody can possibly know what the outcome would be if Britain voted to leave. What we can confidently predict though is that it would cause panic and consternation across Europe and they would be very keen to keep Britain in a properly reformed Europe after the British people did David Cameron's job for him. We could leave but keep part of our relationship or become semi-detached. There are a range of options. But the truth is that nobody knows. What we do know is that Britain imports more than we export to Europe, that 3 million EU citizens work here and that we have a very strong negotiating hand to get a better deal than little Norway. Iceland, a tiny state that was bankrupt not so long ago, is getting on swimmingly outside the less than tender embrace of the EU. Britain would be just fine. Or considerably better. Opinions vary. But evidence? How can there be any for something that has never happened before?

And finally there is her Myth Six. This is the Canada deal with the EU. It took a long time to negotiate she says. Well so what? Our leaving the EU would take a long time to negotiate. But in the meantime we would remain part of the EU. There would be uncertainty she says. Well there is constant uncertainty in our relationship with the EU thanks to our being constantly outvoted. But being in the EU requires the agreement of those 27 other nations. The EU is not renowned for its speed of action. Look at the enduring crises of the euro. Look at the refugee crisis. Look at how long it takes for cases to get to the ECJ. Remember when Britain had problems with our beef and the French banned it despite being ordered not to by the EU? That took years to resolve and in the meantime our farmers were suffering hardship despite their produce being safe and of high quality.

Yes, there is no doubt about it, given the weakness of her arguments Anna Soubry must have been taken hostage by David Cameron or by Jean Claude Juncker. We should mount a rescue mission immediately.

Crash Course Chemistry: Partial Pressures and Vapour Pressure

Lambert the Lion

Lambert the tame lion has grown accustomed to his creature comforts. He was originally bought as a cub and kept as a pet but became too big for his owners who had to give him up. But by then Lambert was used to some of the finer things in life, including a blanket for added comfort at night.

Monday, 28 March 2016


God Not Only Isn't Great, His Apologists Aren't Very Bright

There seems to be a tradition at this time of year, perhaps understandably, that there must, at the same time as Christians gather together to sing hymns and talk of all things resurrection, be published various articles in various publications in which apologists for the dimwitted make poorly argued apologias for their brainless beliefs.

The Telegraph excelled itself this weekend by publishing two of them. One was by resident god botherer columnist, Tim Stanley that seemed to be going through the motions even for him. Simply by going into a box, asserts Stanley, you are absolved of your sins. What a fantastically facile notion. Why? What leads you to believe this tripe? Where does it come from? I'll tell you where, it comes from Catholic traditions that were created to give power to priests and the church now raised to dogma by silly modern adherents like Tim Stanley.

The crucifixion definitely happened he claims. Great! Proof? Well there's evidence that people were crucified in large numbers its true, and maybe some that someone called Jesus was killed. But the mere suggestive proof that this happened leads Tim Stanley to make a great leap. He died for our sins? Who says? And why would he do that anyway? And what evidence is there that he died willingly rather than because he was a political prisoner?

But from all of this absurdly flimsy reasoning comes Stanley's bland assertions about morality. Essentially Stanley is spending his entire life wondering what a long dead man would want him to do. He believes this man died for our sins but can find no logical reason to suggest why this happened or why a loving god would need it to happen. It is inherently absurd. But it seems to give Tim Stanley and others some weird kind of comfort. Its the moral superiority that is hard to stomach. I worship a dead man who supposedly came back to life after dying for our sins for no good reason and that, thanks to my constant struggles to live up to that fantasy notion, makes me a better man. Yeah, right. Reason and faith, he claims, point to the existence of a god. But that is a meaningless and indeed contradictory sentence. It is like when the Australian prime minister at the weekend called for continuity and change. Stanley is trying a conjuring trick because he is offended that reason denies the existence of his imaginary friend. Believers try this trick constantly, claiming erroneously to have reason on their side. They don't. But their desperation speaks volumes.

Then there was this piece by Christopher Howse, an assistant editor at the Telegraph and former member of Opus Dei for the record, something you could almost guess just by looking at his smug and woolly visage. This was so demonstrably a piece written out of desperation you can only assume they couldn't find anyone else who was able or willing to try. And so Howse cobbled together this set of hackneyed arguments.

Its hard not to read this sententious and ill informed drivel without suspecting that Howse, who actually writes about this stuff for a living, is having a crisis of faith. Surely the faithful should be able to cobble together better arguments than these? You would find better on your average creationist website.

Still, let's have fun with him anyway, just because its a bank holiday and because I'm in a good mood owing to the fact I didn't have to sing praises to my mass murdering imaginary friend this weekend or imagine that Easter is a coherent basis for any kind of religious ceremony, let alone one that is fundamental to a whole religion. I mean, at least Christmas is fun for all the family with alcohol and excess for god botherers to get sanctimonious about. Easter is just an excuse for us to be disappointed by the weather and being irritated by the lack of anything decent on TV.

Howse, like many god botherers, seems to be extraordinarily bothered by cosmology. They've given up trying to convince us that evolution doesn't work because it demonstrably does and explains things a lot better than a god. So now they have turned to cosmology and the big bang. It came from nothing claims Howse and because he cannot understand this dismisses it.

Cosmology, quantum mechanics and the theories associated with both are difficult to understand for the layman. But that doesn't make them untrue. All of these theories are of course a work in progress. But there is actual evidence that the Big Bang happened. We have found the Higgs Boson. This helps to explain how atoms formed. We have found background radiation from the Big Bang that is all around us. Gravitational Waves, as predicted by Einstein have been found. The theories about all of this are compatible with all of the available evidence up to a fraction of a second after the Big Bang occurred.

Yet Howse just makes a god of the gaps argument. Aha! he says triumphantly, you can't explain it all, you can't tell us where it all came from and therefore there must be a god. There are so many problems with this desperate argument it still astonishes when god botherers make it. But let's just advance a couple of them. That will do.

Firstly, asserting a god to explain where creation came from is essentially no different to when the ancients used to create gods of the sun or the moon or the sea. It doesn't explain a damned thing. Where did god come from? If you are complaining that cosmology cannot explain where creation came from before the Big Bang then why are you absolved of explaining where your idiot god came from? That's no different to saying that magic must exist because you cannot understand how a magician did his trick.

And anyway, even if this were evidence of a god, that does not make it the god of the Bible. That does not make all of your facile beliefs about sin and redemption and people being crucified and coming back to life true. They are transparently untrue because there is no evidence for them and they are a creation of man for all kinds of reasons based around power, ignorance and wishful thinking. One could just as easily believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He has as much basis in fact as your imaginary friend.

Tim Stanley airily dismisses a report,  based on actual medical evidence like scans of the brain, that shows that humans suppress the analytical parts of their brain in order to believe. We knew this anyway. It is obviously true because all of human existence and the creation of gods and superstitions to explain things points to it. But Tim Stanley doesn't want to believe that and tries to claim that his stupid beliefs are based on reason. Yet the contradictions of that are again so obvious one can only wonder at anyone advancing them. Why is this particular superstition inherently superior and thus true to all of those other superstitions? Why do different cultures create different gods? Why do these different gods invariably reflect those cultures and support their dogmas and power elites?

God is in charge, says Howse. Really? You have evidence for this I suppose? Oh I forgot, believers don't worry about evidence and dismiss it until such point that it is irrefutable and then find another gap into which to fit their god. The world gives every appearance, to those of us looking at it objectively, of being chaotic and entirely devoid of anyone or thing being in charge. If there is anyone in charge, presumably he is AWOL. Atheists have had this evidence in our pockets for centuries. We're still waiting for a reasoned and convincing response.

The central point though is that the sophistry employed by both of these men actually shows how flimsy their belief truly is. They protest too much. People secure in their belief would feel no need to defend themselves so angrily and stupidly That they are willing to do so with such transparently absurd arguments shows that their faith is in crisis. Still, I expect they will go into the confessional and be absolved of the sin of doubt.

Crash Course Chemistry: Real Gases

It's the Hope that Kills You

Its was glorious wasn't it. It wasn't just that England beat Germany, always something wonderful. It was the way we did it. The style, the hard work, the pressing, the skill, the dexterity, the never say die attitude.

Okay we have had many false dawns in the past and this may well prove to be the same. But with just  a couple of months until the European Championships we dare to dream again. I bet those manufacturers of little England fans are rubbing their hands with glee.

Let's hope that Woy sticks with his youthful policy and dispenses with the old guard. England can do well at this tournament - I'm not saying we'll win it - by playing to our strengths. The Premier League is all about speed and athleticism. This youth focused team can play to that strength. Yet this was no kick and rush performance. This was a win based on hard work, diligence, pressing and some sublime moments of skill and great crossing.

They've made us dream again. But, being England fans, just dreaming of getting out of the group stages would be quite a step up after the misery of 2014.

Sunday, 27 March 2016


The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale - Exodus: Chapter 13 - God Wants to be Thanked Forever and Really Hates Yeast

Now God, having taken the Hebrews out of Egypt and liberated them wanted to be thanked. He was very anxious that they thank him and like him. He's a very needy god is God.

From now on, said God, the festival that he had just invented would be an annual event. Not only did he want their thanks, he wanted the thanks of succeeding generations forever. Oh and their firstborn. God has a thing about firstborns. They belonged to him apparently, all firstborn animals, but firstborn sons could and should be bought back by their fathers. I wonder what they cost.

God also has a weird thing about yeast. There would be no yeast for seven days every year. Only unleavened bread would be eaten and yeast would be banished for the duration. Why?

God now promised to take his people to the land that he had promised their ancestors. Why it had taken him so long is not mentioned. Furthermore he now proposed to take them by a roundabout route to their new land of milk and honey so that they avoided the Philistines. He didn't want them to get into a war with the Philistines, which is a bit odd given how all powerful he was claiming to be. He had just been smiting the Egyptians though. Maybe he was tired and couldn't do any more smiting - he was all smited out.  Or maybe he was feeling a tinge of regret for slaughtering all of those people having created the situation himself by his own account.

God said that he was worried that if his people faced a battle they might return to Egypt, but why would they need to be afraid if they had a big bad god on their side who could smite their enemies?

Anyway, he now led his people, his yeast free people, by day and by night by giving them a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night so that they could see the way. He led them towards the wilderness and to the Red Sea, where they encamped.

Moses had brought with him the bones of Joseph who had let it be known that he wanted his remains to be taken to the land promised to his people by God. Joseph had let it be known that this was what he wanted for his bones. How Moses knew about this and how he had managed to secure the bones of Joseph 400 or so years later is another matter that is not explained.

Minute Physics: What is Quantum Tunnelling?

Picture of the Day

Friday, 25 March 2016


Easter: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Its Easter, a time when, I'm pretty sure, we give thanks for chocolate, or spring lamb, or the clocks going forward or something like that.

It can't be for the reason that some people think it is surely? They say that we celebrate the fact that somebody died a horrible, sadistic death, but that it is okay because he was then brought back to life 3 days later. Perhaps they had to wait until after the junior doctors had finished their strike.

And this is all supposed to have happened 2000 years ago or thereabouts in the middle east, a region which seems to this day to be a place that hasn't got any more sensible or reasonable in the meantime and so why we think it should be the birthplace of 3 major religions that many people subscribe to and think have things to teach us is a mystery.

And the whole premise of Easter is rubbish too. Jesus had to die for our sins? Why? This is a religion whose central tenet is forgiveness and of turning the other cheek. So why did he have to die for our sins? Why didn't God just forgive them? Why did he need a blood sacrifice before he was willing to do this and of his own son? Except he's not really his son he's also, apparently, him. Oh and the holy ghost, but nobody really understands that if we're honest.

Easter is supposed to be the central most important part of the Christian calendar and yet it makes no sense. It is contradictory mumbo jumbo. It is baffling that supposedly intelligent people still subscribe to this without asking basic questions about what it all means. In reality it doesn't really mean anything. This is why Christians mumble and look at their feet when you ask them awkward questions. Or they tell you that you have to have faith and that if you do you will acquire a special understanding of the true meaning of life and become all deep and earnest and acquire that earnest useless expression they always have on their faces - its a bit like smugness but without anything to be smug about. In reality they just wear this expression as a kind of bravado because deep down they know that people think they are a bit dim.

So this is why for many of us Easter is just another excuse to go shopping and to eat chocolate. Its not as much fun as Christmas, but at least they don't do Easter specials of all of the TV shows every year. This means that we don't have to suffer an Easter special of Mrs Brown's Boys. Now there is something to be truly thankful for. Oh, and chocolate.

Crash Course Chemistry: Ideal Gas Problems

Picture of the Day

Thursday, 24 March 2016


Why Aren't Junior Doctors Striking On A Saturday?

Take a look at the placard above. The junior doctors' contract: do you feel that it is your fight too? Or do you wonder if they might be getting a bit above themselves?

Up until now the doctors have enjoyed the public's sympathy, if only because most people don't really understand the ins and outs of what the dispute is all about. In short though it is a simple matter of an employer doing what employers try to do from time to time: manage their business in a way that best suits customers and in an attempt to make it conform to a rapidly changing world while maximising productivity and full service at the lowest cost. On the other hand employees will not unnaturally want to maintain as much or all of their old comfortable working conditions, if only because most of us abhor and are suspicious of change.

And that is what this strike is about. It it not, as the doctors and the BMA are claiming, some existential struggle for the soul of the NHS. The new contract is not dangerous or even mildly risky. The only risky element of this dispute is the disputatious behaviour of the doctors themselves, especially now that they are planning on an all out 48 hour strike with no emergency cover. That will almost certainly lead to people suffering life changing illnesses and possibly even death as a consequence. How does that fit in with the Hippocratic Oath?

And neither is this about patient safety. The doctors want more money to work on Saturdays. If the NHS pays for this then that means it will be able to employ fewer doctors at weekends. That will detract from patient safety, not add to it. The doctors are arguing for a diminution of patient safety so that they will earn more.

One doctors spokesman claimed that it was not an all out strike because there would be cover by consultants and by other staff like nurses. I only hope that I am never treated by that doctor because if he uses the same kind of rigorous logic in determining what is wrong with his patients then he would be better off lying to the public as he is now rather than treating them.

The only real bone of contention of this dispute is now over the supposedly outrageous imposition on doctors of having to work on Saturdays as a normal working day up until 5pm. That's it. In the 21st century, in our increasingly 24/7 world, our medics are calling strike after strike and now proposing to withdraw their labour completely because they are being asked to work on Saturdays without additional pay. Across the country working on Saturdays is seen as perfectly normal and reasonable for many people, including professionals who work in our emergency services like the police or fire service. In recognition of this however doctors have been given a substantial pay rise. There have been other concessions too. The new contract cuts their maximum hours worked, cuts the number of consecutive night shifts they have to work, pays them additional rates for night and weekend work other than Saturdays between 8 and 5. They have also received a 13 percent increase in their basic pay.

Does that make you feel that the junior doctors contract is your fight too? Or do you consider that they are behaving like militants who are using their patients as hostages for their own fortunes? Nobody is saying that doctors are not dedicated and caring professionals who work long hours often in high stress situations. But then they are also doing jobs that are highly satisfying and which are actually pretty well paid considering they are in the hard pressed public sector. Ultimately they are also highly secure jobs blessed with good working conditions and gilt lined pension arrangements.

The facts are that an NHS pressed for cash is having to adjust contracts to try and make the most of the staff it employs and the highly expensive equipment it has invested in. Doctors are claiming that they are striking for the safety of patients. That is the same as when Tube staff strike claiming that they are doing so to protect the safety of passengers. It is a smokescreen for greed. Furthermore, for every concession that NHS managers have had to make to doctors, that is money that is taken out of the NHS, money that could have been spent on treating patients.

So no, junior doctors, we do not feel that your fight is our fight too. We think your union is behaving like the worst trade union militants of the 1970s and abusing your monopoly position. You are not fighting for the NHS, you are fighting for your Saturdays. Its not quite the same thing is it.

Crash Course Chemistry: The Ideal Gas Law

Picture of the Day

Wednesday, 23 March 2016


PMQs Review 23rd March 2016 - The King of Fiscal Rectitude Edition

Last week, if you recall, George Osborne was about to deliver a safety first Budget that was intended not to scare the population too much or indeed to piss them off so that they would be more inclined to vote for Britain to leave the EU so as to anger our masters in Whitehall and across Europe.  Things did not go according to plan, which is odd because we have often been told that George is a kind of political genius, a Svengali figure, a Machiavellian puppet master. Last week the puppets refused to dance to his tune. Indeed one of them flounced out and plunged the government into chaos.

The great economic guru then disappeared for several days. Where could he have gone? Then yesterday he re-emerged, as though reborn or resurrected for Easter. He gave a non apology apology for his Budget, announced that there would be no cuts after all, that it had been a mistake and it could all be absorbed with a wave of his pen. He just has to hope that the economy does better than expected and then the money will appear. Otherwise his much touted surplus may never appear.

Fortunately for George and Dave they have up against them a Labour Party led by Chauncey who is more worried about those behind him and indeed alongside him than he is about opposing the Government. A document has emerged in today's Times in which the Labour leadership group their own MPs into various categories according to their level of support. Many of those on the front bench, let alone those who have retreated to the back benches are termed as hostile by the Labour leadership. Its a spreadsheet of support. There doesn't seem to be much.

Earlier this week Chauncey had contrived to not mention the big story of the weekend, the resignation of IDS. It caused consternation in his own party. Many probably moved from the neutral, not hostile column to hostile as a consequence.

Today he sought to make amends. After the ritual messages of condolence to the people of Belgium and to the family of a murdered prison officer, Chauncey produced one of his letters, this one from Adrian. Adrian, we were told has a disability and had been worried by the potential changes to PIPs and other benefits and remained worried he said. The problem of course is that we are in a country that seems to be suffering an epidemic of disability. By some definitions I have one myself because I have a bit of limp. The welfare system has given huge entitlements to people on spurious grounds. The Government was trying to address this and failed thanks to people complaining. It remains a problem though, even if the likes of Chauncey refuse to see it.

Despite his rambling style, Chauncey's high dudgeon on such matters made him seem a little more coherent today than on other occasions. And for once he was actually addressing the main issue of the day if you ignore the mass murders in Brussels. Unfortunately for him Dave came in combative mode too and was having none of Chauncey's attacks. Labour, the party that was recently advocating printing money to spend on whatever projects took their fancy is now criticising the Government for a black hole in the public finances. Such a black hole of course does exist and Chauncey borrowed a question from one of his backbenchers that hadn't occurred to him on Monday.

But Dave batted him aside with aplomb. He had that Times article with him and he was funny about it. Hands up those who are in core support he asked and half of his party joined him in raising their hands. Labour MPs, probably the ones who are hostile if we are being fair, were less than impressed.

But best of all, when Chauncey tried to talk about that black hole Dave got to his feet and said: 'the king of fiscal rectitude speaks.' It was cutting, it was sarcastic, it was laugh out loud funny. And it chimes with Labour's image in the country. They can complain all they like about Osborne and his dodgy accounting, but they are the party that buggered up the public finances and did much worse with much dodgier accounting. They are now led by a man who is against all cuts and indeed wants to print even more money to throw it at anyone whom his bleeding heart considers deserving.

The Government has had a bad week, probably the worst in six years. But to be fair to him Dave has come out fighting. His initial response to the resignation of IDS was ill judged, intemperate and boorish. Since then he has been considerably more classy. Today he was on the best form we have seen from him in months. Chauncey was better than usual. But as usual he was long winded, boring, humourless and tedious. He was still unable to hit that gaping open goal that Dave and George had carelessly left for him. The prime minister was imperious, funny, cutting and impressive. When he is like this you can almost forgive him his transgressions. Now if only we could get him to vote to leave.

Spare Us the Usual Post Murder Platitudes Please

As we digest yet another bloody outrage perpetrated by scum masquerading as the pious would it be too much to ask that our politicians spare us the usual platitudes about Islam being a religion of peace. Because it demonstrably isn't. Insofar as any religion has ever been a religion of peace unless and until it is forced back into its box and has to use persuasion rather than bullying and violence, Islam is the least peaceful of any of them. People can choose to be peaceful, they can choose the peaceful parts of their religion and to disregard the nasty, vile, violent and bigoted parts. But that doesn't make their religion peaceful. It makes them peaceful. It is a matter of choice. For my part I have never understood why they don't simply choose to be peaceful and cast aside their obscurantist, bronze age faith as being irrelevant.

And while we are asking our politicians to spare us from things, perhaps we will also now be spared the argument that our membership of the EU will somehow, mysteriously make us more secure. The EU cannot even secure its own capital or the capital of its neighbouring country and EU zealot France.

And, thanks to the arrogance of the EU and of the ruling, unelected elite who are currently telling us how much better off and how much safer we are in the EU, we are part of a continent that has waved in a million people without bothering to check if they are terrorists first and which eschews border controls throughout that continent because they prefer to elevate a principle, their principle, above the security of the people of that continent.

Even now they are attempting to seal there porous external border of this continent via a dodgy deal with a corrupt, proto dictatorship offering them visa free access and shedloads of our cash. All to shore themselves up in office, plug the gaps that they themselves created and get the EU to safely negotiate its way through out referendum in June when they will be free to do as they please once again.

The same self serving elite have attempted to shut down talk about these issues in the wake of the events of Brussels as being somehow contemptible or in poor taste. That merely betrays how terrified they are of having their own arrogance and idiocy pointed out in the debate that must now follow. Only if we are very very lucky will this be the last such incident in Europe before June 23rd. It certainly won't be because any of them have been any more honest or any more competent than they have shown to date.

Crash Course Chemistry: How to Speak Chemistrian

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Tuesday, 22 March 2016


Dave Fights Back - But Is It Too Late?

To be fair David Cameron was every good in the Commons yesterday. Forced on to the back foot he fought his way back on to the front foot with a fighting defensive display at which he is often so good. Its just a pity he has so often to find himself being sledged and assailed by bouncers before he starts to respond this way.

Even then the Government managed to stuff things up. This Government of communicators was forced to 'clarify' what the new Work and Pensions Secretary had said. Stephen Crabb used that classic politicians' phrase 'no plans' with regard to welfare and had headline writers saying that he had ruled out any more cuts to benefits. He meant no such thing. He was just saying that they haven't really thought of any new plans to cut benefits yet and so they genuinely don't have any.

But let's be clear. This blog does not agree with the broad thrust of the IDS resignation. In short he is wrong. He has good intentions but his reforms are not working and not doing what they were intended to do. Our welfare system is out of control and in need of reining in. The problem is that this is a Government with a tiny majority and which is unable apparently to convince even its own MPs let alone the country of the need for far reaching reform of the system. Yet at the same time they have the country onside for measures like capping how much households receive. Why not build on this, go on an offensive to persuade the country and even benefit recipients themselves of the reasons for change and reform? Answer: this prime minister can't really be bothered. He just makes a speech and then moves on.

Fortunately for this currently rather hapless administration they have opposite them Chauncey. What a sap the man is. He complained that he hadn't had long to see what the prime minister was going to say and then said absolutely nothing about the biggest political story of the year so far, albeit in a crowded field. What? The Work and Pensions Secretary has resigned? Yes, but Dave didn't give me proper sight of his statement.

This is made all the more bizarre because Diane Abbott, ever the cretin, attempted to claim Iain Duncan Smith's resignation as a scalp for her leader. This is made more difficult to sustain as a position when he couldn't even bring himself to mention it in the Commons. How Labour MPs must be looking back fondly to the days of Wallace this morning.

So is this crisis for Dave and co over? Well, partially. But it depends on if he can manage to be a little more gracious than he was when IDS initially resigned. It depends if he can be a gentleman about it. The trouble is that he is under pressure on several fronts and the EU Referendum is not going his way. He may feel the temptation to lash out again as he did against IDS and against Boris when he came out for Out. This is a prime minister who demands loyalty but feels no great need to show any to his colleagues except a special and undeserved loyalty to those who are closest to him like his egregious chancellor. He can't dum George yet but should do so at the earliest opportunity. Maybe in June when he has lost the referendum. But by then he will be fighting for his own future.

Is This Where Things Started To Go Wrong For George Osborne?

Crash Course Chemistry: Redox Reactions

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Monday, 21 March 2016

IDS of March: The Quiet Man's Explosive Resignation

Like most people, I suspect, I am finding it difficult to tell who is in the right and the wrong in the great IDS vs George and Dave battle that has been waged over the weekend. On the one hand IDS is, despite what the lazy know-nothings of the left say, clearly a man who cares very deeply about welfare and of reforming it to give poorer people a better deal in life. On the other hand, if he objects so much to what has been happening under this Government then why did he stick around so long and why did he write that letter to his backbenchers defending the very policy he has this weekend affected to have resigned over?

But then there is George Osborne. Now one is tempted to just leave it at that really and declare it a hands down win for IDS. George is not a loveable or even particularly likeable man. This blog is not his biggest fan and was struggling to do be any kind of fan even before last week's Budget. Try as I might I have never been able to understand how anyone who knows anything about politics and the British public could possibly see him as a potential leader or prime minister.

It is possible to see what IDS is saying, that there is a need for reform of disability benefits but that this was not the right time nor the right way to go about doing things. Yes, it is easy to see this is a good argument and a demonstrably sensible one from a political standpoint.

But may I humbly suggest that this is part of the problem for this Government and in particular for this prime minister and his unlikeable neighbour. These things should not be seen through the prism of good and sensible politics, of seizing the centre ground, of appeasing the right groups in society. They should be about doing the right thing for the country and for society. And on this narrow ground alone IDS is wrong actually. There is nothing wrong with announcing a tax cut for middle earners at the same time as cutting benefits paid to disabled people because we all know that the sort of people they show on the BBC when they talk about benefit cuts are atypical of the sort of people who are the problem here. The sort of people who are claiming for all kinds of cash on PIPs are many and various, some of whom are entirely deserving but many of whom are taking the piss. Its either that or we are currently suffering a disability epidemic in this country that someone should be looking into.

And what, pray, is wrong with a tax cut for middle earners? This is a Conservative Government for crying out loud. We believe in tax cuts. We know that it is not government giving people money, it is their money in the first place. Its just that this Government seems to have forgotten that in its quest to become a social democratic party and be its own opposition now that Labour have given up on the task.

This was a Government that was elected to cut the deficit and which is still struggling to do so and is reduced to fiddling the figures to achieve it and this despite the fact that it has managed to increase the tax burden for millions. The public finances remain out of control and yet the Labour Party and the BBC are bleating about cuts and austerity still. How did this Government contrive to achieve this new kind of fiscal double whammy? How did this happen when public spending has actually increased every year that David Cameron has been PM? How did they manage to fail to rid us of the deficit and yet still manage somehow to be portrayed as the nasty party wielding the axe?

We're often reminded that David Cameron used to be a PR man during his brief but highly lucrative career outside politics. Well I can only hope assume he got that job and was successful at it through his exemplary connections. Because he can't have been any good at it.

And did Europe have anything to do with the IDS resignation? Well I for one hope so and I doubt that I am alone. Because this prime minister's behaviour on Europe has been mendacious, arrogant, insufferable and contemptible. Across the country, ordinary Tories, the sort of people that David Cameron regards with contempt will have punched the air at IDS's exocet guided resignation. It was a genuinely beautiful moment designed to do the maximum damage to Cameron and his pal. The fact that these gentleman amateurs were so taken aback at this act of what they will have regarded as treachery shows them for what they are. Clearly they didn't expect anyone to take them on. You would think in the month since their 'deal' they might have learned by now.

Dave and George just don't get it. The scales have fallen from our eyes now. This Budget was the final straw not just for IDS but for everyone else, but it started when Dave did his deal, came back from Europe and started trying to tell us that we must stay in on the basis of his pathetic stitch up deal. That he has used every trick in his PR conman bag of deceptions and ruses has disgusted many of us, not least IDS himself.

Make no mistake, Mr Cameron, this is war now. You are a sorry excuse for a prime minister and your friend in Number 11 has delivered his last Budget. Yes there will be headlines for the next few months about Tory divisions and civil war and it might even mean that Labour are ahead in the polls for a while in the meantime. But, once the referendum is out of the way, after Britain votes to leave, then Tories can reunite again. But there is no point doing so for the sake of it and certainly not behind such contemptible, unprincipled men as Messrs Cameron and Osborne. Tories do not, unlike Labour, put party loyalty ahead of doing the right thing for this country. The right thing now is to get Britain out of Europe or fight hard to do so and then to get a new prime minister behind whom we can line up and pledge allegiance to.

Crash Course Chemistry: Precipitation Reactions

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Sunday, 20 March 2016


The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale - Exodus: Chapter 12 - The Passover: The Smiting of the Firstborn

So here we are at last, after a long build up, the story gets to the real blood and guts. The Hebrew tribe had a massive inferiority complex about Egypt and the Egyptians and so they made up this silly story to make themselves feel better. Let us reiterate: there is no evidence whatever that any of the events of Exodus actually happened. The Hebrews were just another middle eastern tribe and Egyptian wannabes.

Anyway, God was ready to do some slaughtering now and so he spoke to Moses and his copy and pasted brother Aaron and told them what they had to do. Its all a big moment in Hebrew folklore.

This month was important, God told them, so important that it was from then on going to be called the first month of the year. This is a big deal.

In the 10th day of this month, God told them, they should go out and select for themselves a male lamb. It had to be a male lamb for some reason. It had to be a male lamb without blemish, which seems a bit odd when you consider what was about to happen to the male lamb. But God likes his sacrifices and offerings to be nothing but the best. This lamb should, for some reason, be kept until the 14th day. Then it should be sacrificed. This wasn't just one lamb of course, this was a lamb per household, although Exodus is confused on this issue.

Then there had of course to be an elaborate ceremony performed before the lamb was consumed. Blood from the lamb was smeared above the doorway of the house and then the rest of the lamb had to be taken in and eaten. God specified, like a particularly testy chef, that it should be roasted and eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. None of it should be eaten raw or sodden with water. Oh no. And it should be eaten by the household with nothing left over the following day. Furthermore God even specified that it had to be eaten with haste and with a staff in hand. For this, he said, as if this was explanation, was the Lord's passover.

For, said God, that night he would pass through Egypt and smite the firstborn. Against all the gods of Egypt, he said - a telling phrase this - he would pass judgement. Against all the gods? For, said God, I am the Lord. He's a much bigger and better god than all of those puny little gods that others worship.

The blood in the doorways, he said, would be a sign for him to passover that house because it was that of Hebrews. Quite why this was necessary is a mystery. He is supposed to be God after all. Why did he need blood to tell him this? What happened to omniscience? And anyway didn't all of the Jews live in one part of Egypt together? One neighbourhood? So why didn't he just passover that whole area?

On this day in future, God said, should be an annual ceremony and a feast held. For seven days Hebrews should eat unleavened bread. Why? Nobody really knows. Indeed God said that not only should they not eat unleavened bread but that they should cast out from their homes all leaven in advance. God really hated yeast.

God then went into long and elaborate detail of how Jews should memorialise his great act of genocide on innocent first borns which can be summed up that God wanted it remembered by casting out leavened bread and killing a lamb. Anyone who ate anything else would be cast out. What a curiously prescriptive God he can be.

This is the great Jewish custom of Passover. How fortunate for all of us that it is all based on a fiction.

Moses then gathered the elders of Israel and gave them their instructions of what they had to do. It goes unrecorded whether any of them wondered out loud why any of this was really necessary and what the hell unleavened bread had to do with anything. Once inside their homes, Moses told them, they should not leave until morning while God passed over them slaughtering first born children and beasts.

Instead of questioning any of this as the ravings of a madman, the people of Israel, perhaps recognising the psychopathic tendencies of their God, did as they were told.

That night God went through Egypt smiting the first born.

There was a great cry around Egypt as the people discovered what had happened and it awoke Pharaoh. He called on Moses in the night, even though we have just been told that Moses and his brother had gone to their homes until the morning as instructed. And Pharaoh at last told them to go from his land and to take all of their people with them.

So Moses and his copy and paste brother went to their people and urged them to gather up their goods and their animals and to steal gold and silver from Egyptians under the pretext of borrowing and to leave Egypt. God, it should be noted, had taken care to soften the hearts of the people of Egypt in preparation for this great collective act of larceny.

There were, we are told, 600 thousands Israelites at this point - a ridiculous number if you consider that there were only 70 of them a few hundred years earlier. It would also have represented a huge percentage of the Earth's entire population at this point. Yet there is no record of such a migration taking place, let alone of it happening so quickly. Nevertheless this mass exodus got underway and managed to leave Egypt without causing the biggest traffic jam in history.

The people of Israel had been in Egypt, we are told, for 430 years.

God now made a few more rules for his Passover. He said that nobody could take part in the ceremony if they were not circumcised. If someone came to join the family for the Passover and they wanted to join in then they would have to be circumcised first. And there we were thinking we should just take a bottle of wine.

Minute Physics: The Uncertainty Principle

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Friday, 18 March 2016


Chauncey's Here To Stay

The news that Labour have surged into a lead of 1 point over a divided and fighting Tory party is fantastic news - for the Tories. Labour have managed to hit 34%. The Tories are on 33%. This is a product of the party of government doing what parties in government do this far out from a general election. 33% isn't bad at this point. 34% for the opposition is pathetic and disastrous.

But it is still a lead. Some experts, who apparently never learn, are saying it might be the beginning of something.

They're right. This is the beginning of the end of any attempts at a move against Chauncey. If he does okay in the May elections then how can they move against him? If he is ahead in the polls how can they move against him? Fantastic news!

For the Conservatives it is just further reinforcement of the need to regroup after the referendum and put it behind us. Of course it would help even more if we could regroup behind a new PM and new Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Omnishambolic Osborne

For someone who is supposed to be clever George Osborne does some really stupid things. His Budget has imploded. If this was his relaunch as he prepares for a leadership bid then he has beached himself.

Osborne is a political Chancellor. Actually strike that. He is a political chancer. He has now delivered 8 Budgets and they have all shifted into the distant future hard decisions. They have all been clever and used various methods to put a gloss on things, but in essence they have been Budgets that have been ephemeral and flimsy. For all the talk this is a Chancellor who has not fixed the roof while the sun is shining and who keeps checking the weather forecast hoping that no storms are coming.

Osborne's measures on disability benefit are unravelling too. Why? Not because they are wrong but because he hasn't made the arguments properly in advance, hasn't prepared the ground.

Reforming benefits is not easy. It is never easy to change things that people have come to rely on. But that is precisely why our benefits system needs reform. It is not doing what it is supposed to be doing: namely protecting those in need who cannot afford the things they need. What it is doing is entrenching welfare dependency. Disability benefits should be going to people who are genuinely disabled and unable to work. They are not. They are going to people who don't want to work and who get the odd twinge now and then. The same goes for tax credits, last year's Osborne failure. They are being paid out as a supplement to people's wages meaning that they turn down work so as not to lose their tax credits. This has been the case since Gordon Brown created this new class of benefit dependent working people. It is a crazy and counterproductive system. Osborne has failed to reform it.

Many have speculated that this could be Osborne's last Budget. After the June referendum David Cameron will either be in a position of strength or fatally weakened. He may be the latter whatever the result. Either way he is going to have to have a reshuffle. Osborne should be the first name on his list to be moved. He is a failed Chancellor who has had more than enough opportunity. It is time to appoint a genuinely reforming Chancellor to the role.

Crash Course Chemistry: Acid Base Reactions in Solution

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Thursday, 17 March 2016


A Spoonful of Sugar Tax Helps the Undigestible Economics Go Down

Nobody would ever accuse George Osborne of not being good at politics and spin. That is part of his problem. Like Gordon Brown before him - a comparison he hates - he is terribly good at the manoeuvres, the positioning, the tactical sidesteps. He is less good at the overall economic strategy. This is not a sin that is unique to him of course. But it does give a counterpoint to his grandstanding about how well he has run the economy and how he has been taking tough decisions to restore the economy to health.

The problem with yesterday's Budget was that it was the corollary of too many previous Budgets in which Osborne avoided taking tough decisions, postponed them or surrendered to pressure and abandoned them altogether. This Blog applauded him last year when he abandoned plans to bring in cuts to Tax Credits. I was wrong. He should have stayed the course, or at least not have abandoned it altogether. But this most political of Chancellors always has his eye on the main prize: the prize for himself.

And that was what this Budget was about. This was a Budget short on cash and so long on rhetoric. This was a Budget that was hostage to the fortune he squandered last year based on a notional £27 billion surplus that seems to have disappeared as quickly as it appeared. It was a Budget long on wishful thinking and short on properly thought through economic planing. There was lots of talk of long term investment in infrastructure but then this is a Government that has talked big on that all too often. Too little has been delivered and what has been delivered has too often been in the wrong places.

That is why Osborne had to make much of so little. This was an exercise in expectation management with some added Euro referendum campaigning on the side, although why Osborne should think we would pay his OBR predictions of uncertainty in the event of a British Leave vote much attention when their guesstimates on the economy and spending going forward are so hit and miss is a mystery.

And a tax on sugar is a fundamentally unConservative thing to do too. It won't work either. It is a nonsense of a policy, one designed to grab headlines in a Budget that has little or nothing good to report. It will hit the poor and is too small scale to properly change behaviour and that is even if there was any evidence to support claims that it would work. Anyway why single out soft drinks? Why ignore chocolate? Cakes? Is it that taxing chocolate has unfortunate resonance with the pasty tax that went so wrong?

To be fair Osborne did at least manage to announce tax cuts for taxpayers and and businesses alike, better incentives for savers and avoided hitting motorists or pension savers as had been wearily expected. Even the modest rises to sin taxes - excluding tobacco of course - could have been a lot worse. But the Chancellor who just last week was trumpeting the additional revenues of cutting the top rate of tax should surely have done so again as a means to raise more money shouldn't he? Wouldn't that have been a sensible way to raise additional money in a properly Conservative way and incentivised Britain's top earners? And hitting big business again is just populism at the expense of sound economic policy.

So this was a steady as she goes kind of Budget, a don't make unwelcome headlines and don't make the Government too unpopular type of Budget prior to local elections but more importantly the referendum in June. It was disappointing if hardly unexpected. What it says for Osborne's long term future remains moot. More worryingly is what it may say in 4 years' time for Britain's finances which should by now, by Osborne's own rhetoric, have been fixed.

The fact is that Osborne is a clever politician but has been a lousy Chancellor. He hopes to move next door in the near future. This Budget will have done little to ensure that comes about. One way or the other though it is to be hoped that this is his last Budget. The country deserves and needs better.

Crash Course Chemistry: Water

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Pick up a penguin?

Wednesday, 16 March 2016


PMQs Review 16th March 2016 - The Hot Air Edition

There were wild celebrations in some parts of the Labour Party this week as it was revealed that one poll had Chauncey's party level pegging with the Tories on 36%. I say that the celebrations were only in some parts of the Labour Party as those who want to dump the doddering old loon don't want him to be doing well. Fortunately the poll turned out to be a rogue poll. We know this because the polling organisation itself said so, which is unusual to say the least. Usually they publish their polls and let others come to that conclusion. This time they simply published it and said don't pay any attention to this it's bollocks. Chauncey and co level pegging with a party currently tearing itself apart over Europe? Dream on.

Speaking of Europe, the Remain side are getting a bit desperate at the moment on account of other (non rogue) polls putting the Leave side too close for comfort or even ahead. If this sort of thing goes on the Remainers will have to have to cancel PMQs and have a mad dash across the entire country and bribe us all to stay with a vow of some sort.

And speaking of vows, the SNP has let it be known that they are going to have another referendum. Or at least that's what the SNP faithful heard. In reality what they have actually been told is that Nicola Sturgeon and co will start 'a new initiative to build support for another referendum.' This is the equivalent of me telling my girlfriend that I have started a process leading to an application for a loan to eventually buy her an engagement ring. No real girlfriends were used in the process of preparing that joke. No, really darling.

It is of course Budget day today. Traditionally this means that Chauncey not only has to ask six questions of the prime minister in his uniquely incompetent way, he then has to respond to the Chancellor's Budget statement straight after he has sat down having had no chance to get a handle on it. For a man who finds getting to grips with the prime minister's mum's sartorial advice getting to grips with the tortuous mathematics and sleight of hand of an Osborne Budget seems unlikely. Nobody really knows why it is the opposition leader rather than the Shadow Chancellor who does this. Its just one of those odd traditions. Not that we are not going to enjoy watching him try, in the same way that we all quite enjoy watching people slip over on ice or when trying to perform intricate manoeuvres on skateboards. When I say we are going to enjoy this I do not of course include Labour MPs who will likely watch Chauncey with gritted teeth fixed in rictus grins. Unless of course they are plotting against him at the moment.

It has been common during these sessions to wonder what the hell Chauncey is doing at these sessions. Clearly we have been underestimating him. We imagined that Chauncey was simply not asking questions on issues like the junior doctors strike or on issues that he finds awkward because he has all of the political nous of the creatures that live in favourite brown jacket. In fact we had been underestimating him. His questions each week are in fact a tactical swerve, what the Americans like to call a curve ball designed to catch the PM off guard. If he were in a western they would say to him: so what are you going to ask him about this week, what is making the front pages of all of the newspapers? No, he would say, taking a drag on a cheroot. That's just what they're expecting us to do. Let's head him off at the pass.

And so today, when the world is talking about Syria, Russia, terrorists in Brussels, the Budget or indeed the latest fall in unemployment Chauncey wanted to talk about air. Yes, air.

What are the latest figures on air he asked Dave. Dave didn't know. For a man who didn't know he gave a good impression of someone who did know. Dave is good at looking as if he does know. It helps that he has that big book of answers in front of him. Unfortunately the big book of answers is not equal to the task of predicting what the meandering mind of the Leader of the Opposition will come up with this week. Pollution? In the week of the Budget? Perhaps this is what happens when you live in smoky Islington.

In the average week Chauncey, who has now asked 108 of these questions without once causing prime ministerial perspiration, gets few proper answers from the PM. This is because he fails to follow up, fails to use his questions forensically and writes them all in advance without deviation. This week he even got an answer from the PM claiming credit for a piece of legislation that is 60 years old.

Dave came out with a load of old hot air owing to the fact that he had no real clue what he was talking about. He didn't need to.

That is all that needs to be said. I'll move on to the Budget.