Friday, June 30, 2006

Great news for Prezza!

From tomorrow the VAT on condoms is reduced from 17.5% to 5%. The Health Minister Carolyn Flint said "sex has never been cheaper". What is it with politicians, sex and money?

Obviously some of us don't have to pay, but I'd imagine if you did go to a hooker they wouldn't be VAT registered - unless that's in another Government press release I missed?

Still, the reduction must have brought a smile to the face of that stud, the Deputy Prime Minister?

Bob Neill wins, but only just.

The Liberal Democrats underhand tactics in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election nearly produced a shock result for the seat. Bob Neill held the seat for the Tories by just 700 votes on an extremely low turnout. In his acceptance speech he didn't hold back in his attacks on the Lib Dems saying, "a minority of candidates, principally the Liberal Democrats, have chosen to fight this campaign with the most vigorous and underhand example of cynical personal abuse that I have encountered in 30 years of politics." He then told Lib Dems, "If you sometimes wonder why it is that people in this country are turned off by politics, get a mirror and look at yourselves."

The most astounding thing is that Ming Campbell is trying to play this as if there is no confidence in Cameron. He should take a look at the latest YouGov polls and see the confidence the country has in him. The Liberal Democrats are certainly effective campaigners, but they only succeed by lying through their teeth and taking spin to another level. At the next General Election, when the Lib Dems won't be able to descend on Bromley from every corner of the country, that 700 vote difference will leap back into the many thousands.

In other news, Labour finished fourth in Bromley and the independent beat then in Blaenau Gwent. I expect the BBC will dwell on Bromley though and totally ignore things like this.

YouGov: Cameron more popular than Blair

It's been a long time coming but today's YouGov poll for the Telegraph shows that Cameron has overtaken Blair in the "Who would make the best Prime Minister" stakes. The party has also managed to get itself level pegging on the question of good economic management.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Is Boris Johnson right?

In his column in today's Telegraph, Boris Johnson has outlined a number of reasons why he thinks Blair will not leave his office anytime soon. The question is, is he right?

Boris argues that first of all it won't happen because it would be an "outrageous insult to the constitution and to the British public" if he just handed over power to Gordon a year or so after being elected to govern for five years. Boris's point out here that it would be like him handing over his job as MP for Henley to his sister and his Association nodding it through.

Boris is of course right, such a move would be outrageous and an insult to the democratic and constitutional process. However, when has the constitution and democratic proccess ever really been an obstacle to Blair doing what Blair wants to do? Outrageous it would be, beyond Blair it isn't. In fairness to Boris he does kind of acknowledge this and gives some more reasons why Blair will not go.

The next reason is because Blair has reached bunker mentality and just can't stand the thought of leaving. Every time he just about manages to reconcile himself to lecture tours of the US, Gordon's men start being smug in public and he thinks "sod you, I'm not going anywhere!". Egoism linked to internal power politics must certainly be a strong driver for Blair. Who would want to lose to Gordon?

The final reason Boris gives is that many of Blair's own MPs know full well that when Gordon comes in they will lose their seats because they rely on Tony's personal vote (as Political Betting pointed out yesterday, Blair does appear to have such a vote, that will probably disappear when Brown takes over). What better reason for Blair to stay than be propped up by the very people who owe him for their income over the past 9 years? Boris is right again I think.

I think Boris may have missed one reason out though. Blair - if reports are to believed - has often been quoted as saying Thatcher's mistake was to go on and on, and, importantly, that he wouldn't repeat it. We all know what Hegel said about history repeating though, perhaps he was right?

Even more so though, perhaps Blair's alleged hero Marx was actually prophesising about the tragedy of Thatcher's downfall and the absurdity of Blair's desire to stay on, when he said, "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

How bizarre... I just used Marx to praise Thatcher and denigrate Blair! That feels awfully weird.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Portillo to interview A-Listers in marginal Open Primary

Apparently, Michael Portillo has agreed to interview the A-listers in London's first ever Open Primary to choose a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC). The constituency of Eltham in South-East London (currently a marginal held by Labour MP, Clive Efford) has announced to the entire electorate of Eltham that it can register and be involved in choosing its next Tory candidate on the 31st July.

Who'd have thought it! Michael Portillo doing something for the Conservative Party!

Margaret Hodge to speak on "rise of the BNP"

Apparently, in a speech to Unison's conference yesterday, the General Secretary, Dave Prentis, attacked the Industry Minister Margaret Hodge for boosting the BNP's standing by “giving them kudos”.

Today, Hodge is going to be speaking at a Progress event on the subject of Labour's response to the rise of the BNP.

I wonder whether she'll be chastising herself for her role in the BNP's success in the local election in May?

An easy job at half the price

The full list of Lords lining themselves up for the £100k PA job of Speaker of the House of Lords has been published. The job is the ridiculously absurd "settlement" to the question about the the role of the Lord Chancellor which has been going on for a couple of years.

The job will involve exactly the same thing the Lord Chancellor had to do, i.e. sit on the Woolsack for 3 hours a day, the only difference is that they'll be paid for it at about £150 per hour (give or take a few quid), plus get some fo the Lord Chancellor's apartments and expenses. The speaker won't have any actual powers like the Speaker in the Commons though. It's basically a lot of money for sitting on one's arse.

One of the contenders, the Liberal Democrat Lord Redesdale, clearly understands the absurdity of the post, as he's pledged in his 75-word pitch that he would "do as little as possible in the chamber, apart from sitting on the Woolsack".

How to legally deal with burglars

Spotted this in Celia Walden's Spy column in todays Telegraph. Apparently David Davies, the MP for Monmouth was recently burgled and suggested that homeowners be allowed to have tasers in their home (perfectly reasonable in my mind, it's non-lethal).

As you'd expect, the idea was rejected by the Government. I'm going to assume it was rejected simply because Davies is a Tory as I imagine such a policy would make great headlines for the Home Secretary (it will probably re-appear next year and the Glaswegian bulldog will claim it as his own). Anyways, Davies found out that is still law in place after 145 years which allows for ingenius and radical ways of dealing with burglars.

"The House of Commons Library has informed me that Section 31 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act is still in force.... It allows for people to 'set or place, from sunset to sunrise, any spring gun, man trap, or other engine which shall be set or placed, in a dwelling-house, for the protection thereof'."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Abolition of Muzak Act

Tomorrow, in the House of Lords, a bill introduced by the Green Party member, Lord Beaumont of Whitley is being read called the "Piped Music and Showing of Television Programmes Bill".

Its purpose is to "prohibit piped music and the showing of television programmes in the public areas of hospitals and on public transport; and to require the wearing of headphones by persons listening to music in the public areas of hospitals and on public transport."

Now, I'm only 30 but I must admit the grumpy old man in me came racing to surface when I read this. There is no doubt that incidental muzak is bloody irritating. Worse are people on buses who choose to listen to music on their mobile phones sans headphones. Those people deserve to be severely punished. Frankly, public flogging is too good for them, especially when I'm trying to read.

Having said this, the waste of public money involved in such a Bill annoys me even more. In fact it annoys me so much that I'm willing to forego public flogging in the interests of good governance in public spending. The weirdest thing is that the bill's already managed to pass it's First Reading back in May.

People who listen to their music without headphones are no doubt annoying. However, instead of introducing pointless laws that won't be enforced, perhaps people should stop being so bloody reserved and act. The next time you're on the bus and someone starts to listen to music without headphones start reading your newspaper out loud. They'll soon get the message.

Another pensioner goes to jail

There is something distinctly sad and simulatneously ironic about the situation of the pensioner in Derby who has been sent to jail for not paying her Council tax.

Josephine Rooney, 69 has been refusing to pay her Council tax to Derby City Council now for some time on the grounds that her street has become a drug haven polluted by crack house and crime. Why pay Council tax if you're clearly not getting anything in return? As part of her campaign she runs a local residents group.

In a bizarre twist of irony the other week she received a "Taking a Stand" award from the government. They basically gave her £1000, which, interestingly, was just over the amount she owed in Council Tax. I know I'm horribly cyncical, but I can't help thinking she was given the award in the hope that she'd use the money to pay off the bill.

Are Labour planning to abolish women prisons?

Apparently the Criminal Justice and Offender Management Minister, Baroness Scotland is going to be giving a speech later on today at the Howard League for Penal Reform. She's going to be speaking at a conference on the "abolition of prison for women".

I wonder what she's going to say? Is even speaking at such an event consistent with Blair's recent doublethink about rebalacning the justice system in favour of the victim?

Charles Clarke: The new spectator sport?

Last night, as most will know, Charles Clarke went on Newsnight and attacked Blair over the prisoner fiasco that surrounded his downfall and also attacked his successor Reid for saying the Home Office was not "fit for purpose". The Tory shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said that it was one of the most "uncoded attacks" he'd seen on a Prime Minister since Geoffrey Howe's infamous Commons speech attacking Thatcher. As it stands right now - and we're told that there is more to come from Clarke - I think that comparison is only partly true.

Geoffrey Howe in his speech in 1990 was blunt and to the point. He called on his colleagues to consider their loyalties to the Prime Minister saying "the time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long". Clarke's comments (so far), certainly attack Blair, but they lack the killer blow that Howe's statement had. Clarke language was also very careful, he attacks Blair for "having lost his sense of purpose and direction" but then hedges it by saying he need to "recover that sense of purpose and direction." The attack was clear, but it's was more a quick left jab than a serious uppercut to Blair. Right now, in my view, Clarke's not Geoffrey Howe, but by the end of the week he might be.

Clarke didn't just leave his criticism for Blair though. He went straight for the new Home Secretary, John Reid too. This was, I guess, to be expected. When John Reid took over in the Home Office he applied the age old Stalinist rule, blame everything on your predecessor (with the added measure in his case of blaming the Tories as well for good measure). Clarke was never likely to ignore that attack on him forever. He made it clear he beleived Reid's comment that the Home Office was not "fit for purpose" was wrong and he reacted angrily to the charges Reid's made about the Home Office lacking leadership under Clarke. Clarke's main thrust after that was to try and rehabilitate his own record at the Home Office. The only problem for Clarke though was he started off his interview by saying that when he took over he told Blair it was a three or four year job. With one swift and easy statement he was able to play up his "achievements" (i.e. failures), by giving himself the "well if I had had the time I needed" get out clause. Ever the politician to the end!

The question I wonder about is what David Davis will do. He began his response on Newsnight, but what he does over the coming week will be quite interesting. Like a great white shark he smells a trace of blood, but the wound is not yet fatal for either Reid or Blair. Davis needs to play it carefully. If he get's himself into the position of being seen to defend the man he called to resign he may find himself with backlash charges of opportunism.

My guess is Davis will circle his prey patiently and watch what Clarke does next. After all, why go in for the kill and expend energy when you prey may well do the job for you first?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Iran and Gazprom seek joint venture

According to the official Russian news agency, Itar-Tass, Gazprom is examining the possibility of a joint gas compnay with the Iranian government. The Gazprom chief Alexei Miller met the Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Nejad Hosseinian in Moscow to discuss a joint venture and "agreed on steps to activate the work in promising directions". Last week the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Russia and Iran "can closely cooperate from the standpoint of setting natural gas prices... in the interests of global stability".

The Government claims that the Energy Review (which they've already pre-empted) is designed to reduce our reliance on Russian gas. In fact there will be evidence to the Trade and Industry Committee tomorrow on the issue. However, the way that Russia is using Gazprom (such as in Ukraine), and the pace at which it is expanding into other markets is starting to get extremely worrying - especially now that it's seeking alliances with Iran.

Charles Clarke to appear on Newsnight

Charles Clarke is going to be on Newsnight tonight to begin his post-sacking rehabilitation. Apparently in his interview he says that the "suggestion that from July 2005 I had personally known about the failure to consider deportation and done nothing about it was wrong... As others have already made clear to the committee, it was only in late March 2006 that ministers, including myself, were made aware of the failure to consider for deportation some foreign national prisoners at the end of their sentence, and when we were aware of this action was then taken."

If it's true that Clarke really didn't know until March, why did he not go to the House and make a statement when he found out?

Downing Streets leaks

Downing Street is leaking four times the amount of water than it's own imposed targets say it should be. At a time when Londoners are subject to a hose-pipe ban and drought orders, Downing Street is using 30.07 cubic metres of water per person every year, the official target is 7.7 cubic meters per person. The cause of the leakages is a failure by Downing Street to fix its pipes.

In the past few weeks we've had Downing Street circumventing the hosepipe ban to water its gardens, Geoffrey Robinson getting his own private borehole to keep his estate green and now we find out this.

What's more annoying is that if I use my hosepipe I can get a fine, yet Downing Street can do this and it just passes quietly by.

Government to take over parenting

According to a report today the Government is planning the single biggest intrusion into the lives of parents. The plans form the Government's response to the Victoria Climbie's case. During that case there was a fundamental failure by the bureaucracy to realise a young girl was being abused.

The Labour government's solution to this is yet another expensive IT system which it claims will be online in two years at a cost of just over 200m. Applying the rule of IT projects that anyone in the industry knows that really means 6 years and at least 600m. The truly worrying thing though is not that the Government is taking on another IT project, but more the information it plans to store and how it will act on it.

The database will contain information on every aspect of a child's life down to whether they eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. There will be interlinks between agencies and if a child receives two flagged incidents an investigation will be triggered.

Seriously, at what point are we going to change the name of this country to Airstrip One? What gives the state the right to coerce me into bringing up my child in line with its view of what is right? How dare they inspect the minutae of my life?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Watching football in an ICF pub?

This afternoon I went to watch the England in the Canning Town area of East London. I won't bother with naming the pub but as you can imagine - given the area - it was West Ham through and through. This I expected as I went with a West Ham fan. The beer flowed and we ate good food. When it was time to go to the loo (for the first time) I wasn't surprised to find football graffiti on the wall.

The common theme of the graffiti was along the lines of "ICF - Come on England 2006". For non-football knwoing readers, the ICF is the Inter-City Firm, West Ham's infamous hooligan organisation. Now to be honest I didn't find such graffiti surprising, go to a toilet in a Bermondsey or Peckham pub and you'll find the equivalent sort of thing in relation to Millwall. However, what was interesting was when we left.

As we walked away from the pub the van above was filming the pub from a distance. Now, aside from the amusment that the company is called "Kovert Security" and they weren't exactly hiding themselves, it's fair to assume the graffiti was probably more than just the random biro fun of a drunk bloke. Having said this, a five year old was wielding a large metal pipe and chasing one of his peers in the beer garden whilst his parents watched the game. When I told the lad to stop it by shouting "OI!" one of the other little five years old said "don't listen to what he say's mate, he's no one". Ahhh inner-city toddlers, don't you just lov'em?

No more Fanny and Dick!

Have just been listening to the newspaper review on Broadcasting House and they mentioned this Sunday Times story. Basically, Enid Blyton's biographer has said the publishers are bowing to political correctness and sanitising Blyton's work. Among other thing that have been changed, the characters Fanny and Dick from the Far Away Tree stories have been renamed Frannie and Rick.

I can't help but wonder if the Daily Mail will pick up on this and scream about "political correctness gone mad" whilst simultaneously moaning about the moral filthiness of Jonathan Ross saying "wank" and "Thatcher" in the same sentence. Or am I just a cynic?

Who will Gordon appoint to the MPC?

A quick look on Google News shows that reports about the death of David Walton - member of the interest rate setting Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) at the Bank of England - passed by mainly in the business pages. There was a small comment piece by George Trefgarne in the Telegraph, but apart from that no one has talked about it much. This is odd given it has a significant political dimension.

As Trefgarne points out, the independence of the Bank of England can be rather questionable, especially when you look at how people are appointed to it. Four of the nine positions are in Gordon Brown's patronage, and he probably controls another three (the Governor, and two deputies) as they're appointed by the Queen, on advice from the Prime Minister. It's safe to assume that Blair takes Gordon's lead on those recommendations. It pretty clear that for all its "independence" the MPC is a bit of a loaded deck in favour of the Treasury.

I wonder what Gordon will do? Either way, I hope we'll be asking the Treasury some questions about the subject. After all, the positions are essentially sinecures, we could end up being lumbered with Gordon's "yes men" for a very long time.

Downing Street U-turn on pensions

The Sunday Times is reporting that Downing Street has ordered a U-turn on Civil Service pensions, opening the potential for mass strikes across the service.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the Civil Service having their pension schemes brought in line with the rest of us poor sods in the private sector. In that respect I support the Government's new position.

The fact that they now face a strike crisis over the issue is however their own fault. They should never have agreed the deal they did and faced down the Unions a little harder in the first place.

Its a real shame we can't just let them strike then fire the lot of them a la Ronald Reagan and 11359 striking air traffic controllers. Surely the employee's right to strike should only exist if the employer has the right to fire?

Note: You should've seen the reaction when I said that in a seminar at Uni with a lecturer who was also an SWP members. It was hilarious, I got called a vicious member of the right wing bourgeoisie. Quite a badge of honour I thought for a student on a grant.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Is there a glitch in the Matrix?

Something very very strange is happening. A cursory glance at the headlines this morning and it's all about how our illustrious Prime Minister yesterday said that there needed to be an "overhaul of criminal justice", that the justice system needs rebalancing so that it is "in favour of the decent law-abiding majority". Is it Groundhog Day or something?

How many time does he have to say these things before people start noticing he's said it all before and has repeatedly failed to deliver anything except a multitude of laws that have achieved bugger all? We've heard about summary justice how many times now? Three or four at least I'm sure.

We seem to be forever told that the justice system needs to be rebalanced, he's being saying it since 1994. For 13 years he's been banging on about the same things in his speeches and how it's all going to change. Does he think we all have memories like goldfish or something? I've had enough, I don't think I can take it anymore. It's all becoming worryingly Orwellian!

"[Doublethink is] the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth." Source

Friday, June 23, 2006

It depends how you define "did"

I've just been watching Jonathan Ross interview David Cameron. It's certainly an interesting interview and I think Cameron has cross across quite well really. I'm going to be a total cynic though and assume that he had a good idea what he was going to be asked in advance, but still he was, in my view at least, quite good. There were a couple of moments where subjects got a bit dicey, like drugs. The following question however has been etched into my brain forever:

"Did you or did you not ever have a wank over Thatcher?"

Court's IT system still in "pilot" after 16 years

Incessant delays to Libra have further set back a more ambitious programme at the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), the £1bn DISC (development, innovation and support contracts) programme. DISC managed to escape the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee last week when they turned their attention on the DCA, though Libra got another bashing for still being in pilot after 16 years.

It has been more than 25 years since the PAC first noted the shocking state of the computer systems used by Britain's courts. That makes Libra, the DCA's hi-tech answer to that jibe, a positively antique IT disaster. A DCA spokesman said contracts for DISC would not be let now until October. The £1bn project was going to be divvied into two contracts that would subsume the ill-fated Libra.

This was going to happen in April, but the department moved the deadline to June while it figured out how the new contracts could swallow Libra. The DCA could not give an explanation for the delay.

Unbelievable! Read the full article on The Register here.

Chris Moyles' "gay" comment

The Liberal Democrat MP and Spokeswoman for Women and Equality, Lorley Burt has tabled an Early Day Motion expressing "concern that the word `gay' has been used by Radio One presenter Chris Moyles to refer to something `lame or rubbish' on air"

Besides the fact that this happened nearly three weeks ago, is the EDM really worth it? When the incident happened I spoke to a gay colleague of mine and his reaction was very much that he didn't particularly care. At the time the BBC argued that the word "gay" had morphed in it's usage and that justified Moyles' usage. I can understand that I think, I've been known at time to say "arrgghh this computer is so gay!" and I didn't do it with the notion that I was being homophobic. Sure, I guess someone could say that there are undertones, but no one complains when I see something strange and call it queer (do they?)

The best letter I saw about this in the papers was - according to the author at least - from a gay man who said the people which appeared to be most outraged by Moyles' comment were people who such a term wasn't aimed at anyway i.e. politically correct straight people. My colleague agreed with that point too.

Who's right and who's wrong on this one? I'll be buggered if I know (please excuse the pun)

Rocket explodes shortly after take off

An unmanned rocket carrying a GPS2R satelite that moments after takeoff explodes dumping 250 tons of burning rocket fuel around the launch pad....ahh Friday's are always busy at work!

See the video here

Greenpeace is right... this time

Just over a month ago I posted about my opposition to new nuclear power stations on the basis that the problem with energy in this country was not that we didn't have enough but that - like water - we leak far to much of it. I'll admit I didn't come to this argument on my own, I happen to work with a Greenpeace activist who I argue with vehemently about a lot of things but on this particular subject he had me convinced.

Today, in The Times, Mary Ann Sieghart , has written a comment piece about precisely such a policy. Her general assertion is that now that Blair and Brown have posted their flags firmly in the nuclear camp (pre-empting their own review), that Cameron should be bold and really stamp out the Party's green credentials by promoting the Greenpeace postion in it's response to the Government review. I couldn't agree more.

More doublethink from Blair in Bristol

Yesterday Blair visited Bristol and was jeered by many victioms of crime and anti-scoial behaviour. From what I've read of the incidents the general feeling was that for all his tough talk things are actually a lot worse.

At the same time, an academic appointed by Blair had a report published on the Downing Street website lambasting Blair for "legislative hyperactivity" and being obsessed with "headline-grabbing legislation". What is it about academics stating the bleeding obvious?

So anyway, yesterday in Bristol, Blair gave a speech about crime. He acknowledged there was a problem, and then proceeded to blame everyone but his government.

Gazprom dips it's foot in Britain

According to reports, the Russian state gas monopoly has got itself into the British market with the purchase of Pennine Natural Gas, a privately owned supplier in Cheshire. Back in April I wrote about my fears of Gazprom entering the UK market. At the time there was talk of them taking over British Gas's parent company Centrica. That reamins a very real possibility.

If you beleive the apologists, Gazprom is a benign force like all the other huge corporations out there in the world. The problem though is that is simply not true. Gazprom is owned by the Russian state and exists thanks a bizaree form of capitalism defined within old school soviet-style political control from the Kremlin. Gazprom is not simply a market player, it's a major political player too. Russia has made it very clear that its not afraid to use Gazprom as a weapon to harm other states that do not bend to it's will (see Ukraine).

Putin is the former head of the KGB, and many people Russia are saying it's as bad as the old days. The FSB, the successor of the KGB, is bugging everywhere and many never know when the knock on the door will come. Just take Channel 4's report on Gazprom TV last night (yes the company has its own tv station).

When a producer on Gazprom TV was asked why the company needed a TV station she said, and I paraphrase, "Gazprom TV has been running for 15 years, no one's ever asked why it exists and there is no need to answer that question as it's obviously fit for purpose". As the woman went on you could replace the word "Gazprom" with "the Party" and it all sounded eerily familiar.

The saddest thing about all this is that thanks to a small group of crazy bastards flying some planes in to some building in 2001, no one seems to worry too much about Russia anymore. Our foreign policy complacency has resulted in Russia being able to leverage more real power than they ever could on Western Europe. We should not be fooled by a bear in sheeps clothing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Labour sets up anti-corruption squad

It's almost comical the way Labour coincidental timings work these days, but it's difficult not to think it quaintly amusing that, on the day Lord Levy and Inspector Knacker saw the Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee over the "Cash for Peerages" scandal, Hilary Benn, International Development Secretary, announces a new police task force to tackle international corruption. Particularly bribery and corruption between businesses and politicians.

The Rooney of the Cabinet

Hat Tip: Hugo Rifkind

Earliest political memories

I just saw this post by Croydonian which commented on how Adam Ricktt's (in an interview with Iain Dale) said his first political memory was the Berlin Wall coming down. I have to confess that the bringing down of the Wall was also one of my first politically conscious memories (so significant in fact I have a piece of it at home).

Of course there are eariler political events which I remember seeing on the news, but they were only events. They weren't connected to a deeper political awareness.

I remember Brezhnev dying in 1982 and I remember Andropov popping his clogs two years later. I'll never forget a Spitting Image gag that showed them wheeling new Soviet leaders in on hospital trollies because of that. Obviously I remember the miners strike and the Falklands war as well.

I think my most vivid politically conscious memory was in 1991 when I was 16. I was in Budapest during the coup against Gorbachev. The sense of awareness, anticpation and genuine fear of the family I was staying with (and their friends) about what hardliners taking power in Moscow might mean for them again left a mark on me.

IT systems to blame for tax credit problem

Dame Barbara Mills, the adjudicator for complaints about HMRC, the Valuation Office Agency, the Public Guardianship Office and the Insolvency Service, has highlighted IT problems in her annual report, which was published yesterday.

According to the report "inflexibility with the IT system constrains the quick delivery of some of the most desired changes." This, she says, is the reason why Tax Credit compliants and problems have continued.

Who'd thought it! A broken government IT system! Funny how it's never the Government that is at fault though. It's always someone or something else. I don't doubt the IT system is crap, but the policy of tax credits is not exactly world-class either.

We probably should review the abortion limits

It's fair to say the Interweb is a pretty americo-centric place. This should hardly be surprising though. ARPAnet, the precursor to the modern day Internet, was a US military network. Even if a Brit did invent http and www, the main backbone is American.

If you've been online for any length of time you'll have probably seen a flame war on the subject of abortion, and I'm willing to bet that it was mostly between americans. The reason for that is because in the US, abortion is a "wedge" issue, and boy does it drive a wedge between people. The Internet is, arguably, a great example of Hobbes' state of nature, and a good abortion flame war shows how man's life is nasty, brutish, and - were it not for the keyboard and screen separating the particpiants - probably very short indeed.

The reason I mention this is because as most will know, the head of the Catholic Chruch in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, called on ministers to review the abortion laws. The Government, via the Health Secretary Patrica Hewitt, has rejected this call.

Now, I'm willing to be corrected on this if I'm wrong, but if I remember rightly, the original settlement that brought about the 24 week limit to abortion was predicated on an acceptance that the line be drawn if the child could not exist independently of the mother. At the time of that review, 24 weeks, was considered to be the earliest that a premature child could be born, and importantly, survive. The problem today is that that no longer appears to be the case. There many examples across the country and the wider world of children born at 23, 22 and 21 weeks that survive. On that basis alone I'm not sure the rejection by the Government to even have a debate on the issue was a wise one.

Personally, I think that Britain has dealt with the issue of abortion over the years in a very calm, and measured manner. The basis of the law was, quite rightly, around the scientific realities of a child's survival chance. It was never, as with Roe vs Wade in the US, about a womans right to privacy and right to choose. Going down that route I think has meant we've avoided mirroring the US wedge nature of abortion that fundamentally divides people. My biggest worry though is that by burying its head in the sand the Government is jeopardising the balanced settlement we currently have on issue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

UKIP campaigns in wrong constituency

This evening, Nigel Farage's campaign for Bromley and Chiselhurst reached the south-east London parliamentary constituency of Eltham.

His pyramind style advert van (with sides like the billboard picture above) was touring around the back streets of Shooters Hill. The back of the van was blazened with a picture of Nigel Farage and urged the voters of Eltham (such as me) that "On 29th June, vote Nigel Farage".

I wonder if the drivers will blame the Sat Nav?

A sustained lead

Decided to take this screenshot from the collection of polling data on UK Polling Report. We've not had such a sustained lead since... well... since before I could vote I think, and I'm 30. It feels weird, so much so that I think many of the moaners are just confused because being ahead in the polls has become alien to them.

Gordon's secret meeting in Europe

What was Gordon Brown's secret meeting with Labour MEPs about? That the question that Hugo Rifkind is asking. It appears he got sent round in circles trying to find out,

“It wasn’t secret,” says the Treasury press office. “Although we can’t tell you what it was about. You should speak to the Labour Party press office.”

“We don’t know anything about it,” says the Labour Party press office. “Try Gordon’s special media adviser.”

“What was it about?” says Gordon’s media adviser’s PA. “I couldn’t say. Maybe you should try the Treasury press office.”

Any takers got a theory?

Why do we play cricket?

About six months ago a friend of mine said to me that the problem we, that is the Conservative Party, have is that we fail to understand how much Labour hates us. To paraphrase, "Our problem is we want to play cricket, and they don't".

It's just occured to me the same rule applies in the England vs Scotland thing. We - that is the English - just don't get why the Scots hate us so much, yet we insist on trying to play cricket on the subject.

The English are bloody weird sometimes.

Renton was almost right

In the Telegraph this morning, a Mr. Stuart Rivens from Glasgow wrote a letter complaining that "not wanting a Scot to become prime minister is simple, unadulterated, racism."

Besides Scotland being a nation rather than a race, what Mr Rivens fails to realise is that many of us English have simply taken the words of that great Scottish junkie Renton in the film Trainspotting and turned them on their head:

"Some people hate the Scottish, but I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. We can't even pick a decent culture to be colonized by. We are ruled by effete arseholes. It's a shite state of affairs and all the fresh air in the world will not make any fucking difference."

Iain Dale has a good piece on the wider subject of an English Parliament here

N.B. Before anyone start accusing me of being anti-scottish, I've got bugger all against Scots. I just think its richly ironic that they should moan about us English so bloody much and then get upset when we moan back.

Politicians and football

As blog readers know there were two football stories doing the rounds yesterday. The first was about Blair's interview on 606 where he claimed that - as a supposedly Newcastle United fan - he would support Sunderland avidly if they got to Europe. He went on to say that he was sure the West Bromich Albion supporting presenter, Chiles, would support Aston Villa if Villa was in Europe. Chiles was simple and to the point, "err no". Genius by our PM. I never beleived he was really a football fan, and he's now proved it for me and many others.

The other blog story from last night was that Cameron and Brown had both gone to the England vs Sweden game last night (how poor was our defence for the last goal? Everyone seemed to move out of the way of the ball, but I digress). Dave's aides said he would be "in the stands" unlike Brown who would be "in a box". Presumably to show Dave in touch with the common man on the terrace. This morning Brown's team have hit back saying Cameron got a ticket from his "corporate friends" and that he was a "Johnny Come Lately" football fan. It may be true that Cameron got a ticket thought friends, but it's interesting that the Treasury doesn't say Cameron was lying about being in the stands.

According to Brown, Cameron is being opportunistic and is not a real football fan. I don't know Cameron so I couldn't tell you if that was true or not. The spinners in the Treasury may indeed be right. The thing is, if it's true about Cameron then it's true about Brown too. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on this, but I'm not aware of Gordon Brown ever talking about his passion for football until two weeks ago.

Cameron may very well be a "Johnny Come Lately" in his race with Gordon to get a match ticket, but I bet if you ask Gordon to extol his opinions on the relative merits of 4-4-2 against a 4-5-1 formation in repsect of the England squad he wouldn't have a clue.

Don't get me wrong here, if a politician is a genuine football fan then there's nothing wrong with them talking about it. David Mellor for example is erm... well known to be a Chelsea fan. John Major was seen at Stamford Bridge more than once, Iain Dale (ok he's not a politician but he stood for Parliament) is fanatical about West Ham (why??!?), and Michael Howard is well known to have a personal mental condition in his support for Liverpool. The real problem comes when you're seen to jump on the bandwagon of a World Cup.

Here's a hint to any would-be football fan politicians that may read this. Start talking vocally about the England team in the qualifiers not just the finals and perhaps - just maybe - you'll have some credibility (but remember, don't say you think the England manager should be sacked whilst on the GMTV sofa even if he does say something really stupid).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What will Brown do?

I know that I've banged on about it a bit on here, but I've always beleived that Gordon Brown being Scottish will - to use an Alastair Campbell phrase - fuck him. Gordon's knows this very well, hence we've had him suggesting we all fly Union flags in our garden; he told us all he was supporting England in the World Cup; and then he announced that new coins next year would celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union. Anything to avoid the West Lothian Question has pretty much been the angle Brown's been driving.

Unfortunately for Brown, it seems his fellow Labour scots have decided that the West Lothian Question simply cannot be ignored. But what should Brown do about it? His biggest concern will no doubt be the recent poll that suggested 55% of England won't accept a Scottish Prime Minister. The most obvious option - whilst not solving the fact that he's Scottish - would be for him to parachute into a really safe and vacant Labour seat in England. At least then he would be a Scot representing English constituents. I hear Sedgefield might be free soon.

The other option - and far more serious than my idiotic suggestion - would be to give lots of power away immediately after ascending to the throne. This is what Rachel Sylvester has suggested might happen in today Telegraph. It would certainly be radical and would grab the headlines so people wouldn't be talking about the Scottish Raj solidifying it's occupation of England once and for all. The question is can it really be enough to convince people to give Labour another four more years? I don't think so.

Bringing back the married tax allowance

Great to see David Cameron talking about bringing back tax relief for married couple and those in civil partnership.

Busy day for me at work today so don't expect much more than this post until this evening.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Blair not opposed to prison ships

During the Downing Street briefing with lobby hacks today the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman stated - as as been done through the media already - that prison capacity was under review by the home office. The PMOS was then asked whether Blair was in favour of re-introducing prison ships. His response suggests that Blair is not against such a move, "in terms of the detail of how prisons operated, [prison ships were] a matter for the Home Office and the Prison Service."

The question is where would we put them? I doubt you could put them east of the Thames barrier. I imagine a return of the prison hulks down that way would cause a horrendous recation. So where? Somewhere off the coast in the North Sea perhaps? If we put them in international waters would we be able to write off their carbon emmissions from our books? Yes, that's a flippant question, but seriously, would the introduction of prison ships sit well with environmental policy?

Did they set up "paedophile hostels"or not?

I just found this story on the BBC from 2004 about how the Government planned to build specialist hostels for released paedophiles. What I don't understand is that the News of the Screws story from yesterday talked about ordinary bail hostels having released paedophiles removed from them.

Does this mean the Government didn't actually set up the "paedophile hostels" or does it just mean that, like the prisons, they're full up too?

Should we reconvene Bichard?

Following on from my previous post about the possibility of "Megan's Law" in the UK, Elle Seymour raised an important point in the comments about the problem of serious sex offenders and information sharing by the police.

As Ellee mentioned, the issue first came to light after the now infamous Soham murders. In that case there was a fundamental disconnect in communication between Police forces which led to a known sex offender getting a job in a school. The fall out from that was the Bichard inquiry which concluded that there should be a police national IT system.

Coincidentally, the Labour MP Eric Illsley, asked the Prime Minister a question about Bichard last week in PMQs. Illsey requested that Bichard be reconvened to assess whether the IT project was on track for its completion date of 2010 and was not being held up by extreme delays (I wonder what he knows?).

Tony Blair's reponse was to say that he didn't think the inquiry needed to be reconvened and to his knoweldge the IT project was on target. Presumably like the NHS IT systems that are on target and on budget.

Why does the Left forget?

I have to say that I really do admire Philip Johnston's way with words. In one single piece today he has managed to sum up my feelings exactly when I turned on the news last night and saw the protests in Forest Gate. It really does seem that there is a trend toward a myopic perception of current affairs.

The assiduous use of 20/20 hindsight by those on the critical Left has become so prevalent in influencing "mainstream" thinking, that we find ourselves being continuously sleepwalked into fallicious historical revisionism.

As Philip Johnston points out, yesterdays protest in Forest Gate about a raid by anti-terrorist police occurs without mention of why we're living in a time where mistakes like this can, might and will happen. The Left never mentions that less than 12 months ago, four young men - who beleived they were fighting for Muslims worldwide - blew themselves up on the London Underground and killed over 50 people. That's why police raids happen in places like Forest Gate.

As The Times reported today, back in 2003 the CIA had a mole inside al-Qaeda who made them aware the group had built a device to release cyanide gas on the New York Subway. However, the attack did not occur at the order of al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri. It is believed this was because he wanted the death toll to eclipse that of 9/11 and the gas would not. That fact was surely something MI5 and the highest echelons of the Metropolitan Police would've been aware of when they received intelligence that a cyanide bomb device was being built in Forest Gate. The contextual reality of the Forest Gate raid is entirely understandable in those circumstances.

What's more, the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, tragic as it was, occured a week after the July 7th attacks and a day after a failed bomb attack on the Tube. That fact is rarely pointed out when the critical Left attacks the Police using hindsight as it's basis. Ask them though what should have been done, and they'll always avoid giving an answer.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

John Reid is missing the point

We all know the Home Secretary and Downing Street are in a total panic over policy these days. The result of which has been knee-jerk headline grabbing ideas which fall apart when examined closely. We had the "all foreign prinsoners will be deported" policy that changed a few hours later; then we had the infamous "stop moaning, take action" idea last week. Today it seems is no exception, and in true Sunday style a policy has been grabbed and has - successfully from what I can tell - dominated the headlines.

The idea? Megan's (Sarah's) Law. For those that don't know, this is a law that exists in America that allows the public access to the sex offender register. Basically you can check if that dodgy bloke who lives at the end of your street is a member of the Gary Glitter fan club. This is an idea which the Government has actually already rejected (quite stringly), but it's Sunday, and they want to seem tough, not soft, on crime.

Many people talk about this law as a panacea because it gives parents information to protect their families and they feel empowered. Yes, that is certainly true, but we shouldn't forget that a few years ago a paediatrician was targeted by a mob who thought paediatrician meant something else. There is a concern that the public may not actually be able to handle the information in a sane way.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm a father and if I lived next door to a serious sex offender I think I probably would want to know about it, but shouldn't we be asking why the hell serious sex offenders are living next door to people instead of being in prison?

The truth is, setting up a public register misses the point entirely. We shouldn't need to search to find out where serious sexual criminals live, we should just know that wherever they are the address begins with "HM Prison". Let's not waste billions on another IT project. Let's build more prisons and start sentencing people properly.

Prisoners on license permitted to go on foreign holidays

The Government has changed the rules about prisoners on license being allowed to leave the country without actually telling anyone at all. The change was approved by the prison's minister, Baroness Scotland and came into effect this year.

But they've not gone soft on crime and nor are they not in disagreement about sentencing. Got that? Is it just me or this all getting tragically comical?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

We must reform the housing market

Why can't Labour do anything right? I know it sounds horrendously naive to say something like but sometimes I find it really difficult to accept that there is a total lack of common sense in the Government. Take the housing market for example. It's always been a complete nightmare buying a home in England, and god forbid you’re selling and buying in a chain, it's positively horrible, especially if you suffer gazzumping or gazzundering.

The Government wanted to make it easier for first time buyers and so thought a really good way to help people out would be to put the obligation to get a survey and searches done on the vendor. In the past, when you bought a house, you agreed a price through an agent with the vendor and then you sent your surveyor round (at a cost to you) to check that the place wasn't falling apart. The Government's idea is to reverse that and make the vendor pay for a "seller's pack" which it then provides to the buyer. The pack contains all the information the buyers needs, like searches and a survey.

This might sound great in principle, but in practice it's actually nonsense. Firstly, the seller's pack is only valid for six months. If you get it done and then fail to find a buyer for your house you lose the cost - estimated to be about £1000. The Government argues that this stops vendors putting their house up for sale to "test the market", but if you're a normal average person you'll be able to figure out what the rough price your house is worth by looking in an agents window locally.

The second practical problem with the pack comes straight down to an issue of trust. If you're a first time buyer, about to make the biggest single investment of your life, are you really likely to trust the person selling to you to be totally honest? More to the point, is your mortgage lender going to? The simple answer is no. Buyers are likely to want their own survey carried out under their own instructions, and the mortgage lender will definitely want it. They don't want to be lumbered with a property that can't pay off it's own debt.

The Sellers Pack is, to be frank, a very expensive bundle of paper. It actually discourages vendors to put their house on the market whilst ironically being created to encourage and help first-time buyers. Joined-up Government at its best!

This leads me nicely on to what I think the Conservative Party should do to genuinely reform the housing market. I'll be perfectly honest; I'm not in the least bit original, because all I’m doing is looking at Scotland. Yes, as much as it pains me to admit it, they've got it right. The time it takes from the decision to sell to completion rarely takes more than six weeks in Scotland. They implement a closed bidding system whereby the vendor puts the house on the market with "From £xxx,xxx". People then submit bids to the vendor before a closing date and the highest bidder wins. There is no gazumping or gazzundering, it’s just straight, clean sales.

Rather than tinkering on the edges with gimmiky "Seller's Pack" we should be adivcating root and bracnh reform to the entire process of buying and selling homes. In my view Scotland's system hold the key.


I really hope the USA beat Italy. Not only because I'm supporting the anglophone nations but because after the Ghana result it will make the group really interesting.

IT cost doubles but remains "on budget"

The National Audit Office released a report yesterday saying that the NHS's National Programme for IT was going to cost £12.4bn instead of the original £6.2bn. The Health Minister Lord Warner said that programme was "on budget" and that the "NAO has confirmed the cost has not overrun".

Lord Warner was also reported to have been walking the corridors of Parliament with his hands on his ears saying "lalalalalalalala I'm not listening!"

Queen's Birthday Honours List

Maverick multi-millionaires Philip Green and Stelios Haji-Ioannou have been given knighthoods in the Queen's Birthday Honours list. This is the first list since Blair removed himself from the nominations process so no obvious cronies this time that I can see. I'm sure though if there are any dodgy people it won't take long for it to be blogged by someone.

See the full list here.

Update: Well that didn't take long. It appears the CBE for Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman has caused a little upset. It's true the timing might seem bad, but the guy probably does deserve an honour for his work and the list was probably drawn up and confirmed long before the Forest Gate raid anyway. The Liberal Democrats appear to have jumped on it with expected opportunism.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Banbury MP calls for Blair to apologise to NHS staff

Tony Baldry MP (Banbury) has tabled an Early Day Motion in response to Tony Blair claim that "so-called job losses" in the NHS are "either posts that are not being filled or agency workers who are not being hired."

The EDM call's on Blair to apologise "to NHS staff for his crass and insensitive comments", and lists a number of very real job losses in Oxfordshire's NHS Primary Care Trust. It's amazing what complete and utter bollocks comes out of Blair's mouth sometimes, it really is.

Livingstone says Brown should have "snap election"

Ken Livingstone has said that Gordon Brown "should hold a snap election" if he becomes Prime Minister. Red Ken said that without an election Brown would be accused of not having a mandate.

From what I've heard, the default assumption from CCHQ for the past six months is that Brown will do this anyway. That's why target seat Associations are so busy selecting A-Listers right now, just in case the snap election comes in October.

More tubthumping Britishness from Brown

According to Gordon Brown yesterday, there's going to be a new £2 coin minted in 2007 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union between England and Scotland. It's almost comical the way Brown is trying to direct people away from the West Lothian Question by banging on about Britishness instead.

Gordon, face it, you're Scottish, it's going to be an issue. You brought it on yourself by supporting devolution.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Brown's non-denial denial

Gordon Brown - in response to his top civil servant saying his extra education spending in this years Budget was an "aspiration" - has issued a strong non-denial denial in the Commons. When challenged by the Opposition he failed to deny that the pedge was not an aspiration and instead rambled on about how it's much better now than it used to be. No surprise really.

Trading blog shares?

Whilst looking through my traffic logs I discovered this referral link. It's a site called "Blog Shares" and is a virtual trading market for blogs. It appears that someone started trading shares in this blog on May 30th and it is now valued at just over $1000, it also appears that 80% of it is owned by somebody called "Spin Trekker". Iain Dale's is valued at just over $24,500.

I'm probably well behind the times finding the site, but I thought it interesting none the less.

Brown's education spending an "aspiration", not committment

Back in April, Grodon Brown made much noise about how he was going to bring public sector spending per pupil in line with private sector levels. He said "investment in schools will rise from 5.6 billion today to reach 8 billions a year - a 50 per cent rise making a total of 34 billion new investment over five year"s."

Aside from the obvious Brownite disingenuity of stating the figures over five years to make them sound bigger, it transpired yesterday that this rise was actually only an "aspiration" - at least that is what the Permanent Sceretary to the DfES, David Bell, told the Education and Skills Committee.

In response to a report by the Committee which said "schools must be told not to expect dramatic increases to their budgets in the future,", David Bell said that ""The chancellor laid out an aspiration. The Treasury, properly, is considering, along with departments, a whole range of issues in advance of the comprehensive spending review. The government will have to weigh up its different pressures and priorities."

That clears that up then.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

That George Galloway EDM

I just wanted to give a quick update about the Early Day Motion that I mentioned George Galloway was going to put down on Monday. The text of the EDM was just one sentence which stated, "That this House has no confidence in Sir Ian Blair as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police."

Uptake to support Galloway has apparfently been massive. From what I've heard MPs have been climbing over each other to sign the EDM. Unfortunately the pen ran out though, so George's signature is a little lonely. Such a shame.

Labour Achievements!

What a great site!

"Over the course of this summer, Labour will be trying to highlight 40 of their achievements since 1997. I thought I'd help them out... Labour Achievements"

Hat tip: Iain Dale

There won't be an amnesty... at least not yet

This afternoon, Downing Street clarified comments by the Home Office minister, Liam Byrne. Byrne had told MPs he had requested information on the logistics of an amnesty and went on to say it was "too early" to rule out the idea. However, in the Wednesday afternoon Downing Street briefing, the Prime Ministers Official Spokesman said there were "no plans for an amnesty".
Anyone fancy a bet?

Johann Hari attacks Niall Ferguson

It appears Johann Hari (right) has decided to attack Niall Ferguson (below). With the usual emotive nonsense that is a constant theme in his inconsistent work he begins by saying Ferguson is a "court historian for the American hard right" (no he isn't, most of them hate him because he keeps telling them the US is an empire), and then proceeds to state that Ferguson is an "apologist for mass death".

The reason he say's this is because Ferguson - quite rightly - has taken the view that the default assumption that everything the British Empire ever did was bad might actually be invalid. He doesn't excuse morally wrong acts by the British, far from it. In fact, if you read Ferguson in his totality (which I doubt Hari has), you find that he's anything but scathing about when the British Empire clearly crossed unacceptable moral lines. An indication that Hari hasn't bothered reading Ferguson comes when talking about Rwanda. Hari says,

"It was not the people of Rwanda who officially divided their country into Hutus and Tutsis, and invented race myths asserting the inherent supremacy of the Tutsis – a process that placed a genocidal time-bomb under that society. No, it was the Belgian imperial masters who wanted to divide and rule."

Had Hari actually read Ferguson he would be aware that the Belgium Empire is very strongly attacked by Ferguson for it's actions in Central Africa. What Ferguson does then do is place it in context with the likes of Livingstone during the same period. The idea that Ferguson is an "apologist for mass death" is absurd if you actually take the time to read him (and more importantly, understand him).

Crime doesn't pay, the taxpayer does!

According to figures obtained by the Conservative MP, Grant Shapps, the Government's Assets Recovery Agency - which was set up to grab back the proceeds of crime - is failing to even pay for it's own running costs withthe money it collects. Paying for itself was one of the arguments made in favour of setting the Agency up.

The interesting thing is that no one from the Government has bothered to stand up and defend the failure. Instead the poor sod in charge of the Agency appears to have been left hanging out to dry. The best she (Jane Earl) could come up with was to say sorry, and blame the legal system for being too slow.

That's all well and good, but the Agency had a budget of just under £20m last year and managed to bring in little over £4m. So who covers the £16m shortfall? Oh yes, that will be us, the taxpayer.

Fingers crossed it won't flood!

John Redwood has taken the Government and Environment Agency by surprise with his suggestion that we build 150,000 homes in the Thames Estuary by reclaiming land like the Dutch do.

I don't know what to make of this idea, I really don't. Instinctively, reclaiming land (which is at premium in the South-East) sounds like a great idea. Then I remember it's a tidal estuary beside which the Government is already building hundreds of thousands of homes. Homes, incidentally, on the floodplains of Essex and Kent. Do we really want to slap 150,000 more on reclaimed land in a floodplain and risk drowning people?

Yes, yes, I know I'm being horrendously alarmist, but the cost of making it genuinely safe would be astronomical, wouldn't it? Can you imagine what the insurance premium would be for living on reclaimed land in the Thames Estuary?

You're a clever man John, but I'm really not so sure this is one of your better ideas.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Turning "convention" into "statute"

The Government wants to make the "Salisbury Convention" (where peers do not vote against a government manifesto commitment) a formal codified agreement. Straw has said that the "case for codification is to pin down what the conventions are"

This is yet another example of the what really winds me up about New Labour. Sometimes I wonder if they really understand the complex nature of the constitutional settlement between the two chambers, but then I remember that were they able, they'd probably scrap bicameralism altogether.

The biggest problem I have with this move is how no one seems to mention that by codifying a convention it becomes statute. What's more worrying though is that by turning the Salisbury Convention into statute it creates far greater imbalance of power between the two chambers than currently exists.

The whole point of conventions is they're predicated on understanding of oughts. This provides flexibility in the balance of power between the two chambers when issues of legislative and constitutional significance occur. It's what Locke called "checks and balance" I think. However, when you codify convention into statute you predicate them on the is, making them matters of certainty. It allows you to consolidate power in a chosen direction.

I think there's a wider practical point though. As with so many New Labour policies, this one is about creating new laws and rules where there already exists a perfectly satsifactory one. The Parliament Act is designed precisely to resolve those issues where the two chambers clash. It can be, and has been, used to enforce the Salisbury Convention (see Fox Hunting).

This begs the question, why are they so obsessed with unnecessary constitutional meddling?

EDM to ban ex-convicts from the Lords

I've just read a report on about an early day motion put down by the Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb.

The EDM has been inspired by the planned return of the arsonist, Lord Watson to his seat. It states that "reform of the Upper House should include consideration of the status of Members of the Upper House who have been convicted in a court of law and that the same rules that apply to hon. Members in such circumstances should apply to Members of the Upper House."

Too bloody right! If criminals are barred from the Commons I don't see why they shouldn't be barred from the Lords as well. Of course, Lords reform isn't fashionable at the moment - headline grabbing Home Office initiatives are more important - so I doubt we'll see change anytime soon.

300 people a day? Are they serious?

According to UKIP they plan to have "300 people a day" helping Nigel Farage's campaign in Bromley and Chislehurst between now and the 29th June, and they have £50,000 to spend on the fun. They've also got a councillor from Hartlepool to run the campaign (I wonder how that accent goes down on the doorstep in Bromley?).

Seriously though, 300 people a day? Do they really have that many activists willing to travel to Bromley?

Recycling Tax - Oh look I was right!

Today The Times says it has "learnt" that Government planning a new tax on household rubbish to encourage recycling as part of proposals to reform council tax. It's only taken them five months to catch up and mention the plan.

Back in February I suggested that the idea would disappear and resurface when Sir Michael Lyons council tax report was imminent, please excuse me if I'm a little smug right now. Back then the idea was floated as a tax relief on Council Tax, I said that wouldn't work because you would need to increase tax to pay to administer such a scheme. Seems I was right.

Looks like we're soon going to have Benji the Binman inspecting our rubbish. Still, if you hate your neighbour you could always just dump your rubbish in their house and give them a higher tax bill!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Choosing anyone but Ken

It's been brewing for a a while but today David Cameron has finally announced how the party will choose it's candidate for London Mayor. As I've just posted over at Anyone But Ken, the selection method will be an Open Primary. What that means is that anyone on the London electoral register will be able to vote for a candidate found in a totally open application process. Anyone will be able to apply for the selection process and there's no requirement to be a Conservative member (although for legal reasons they will have to join before they stand).

David Cameron has said that "too many people are fed up and disillusioned with politics. I hope that doing things differently will fire the public's imagination and get them talking and thinking about politics again. Somewhere in London, there's a Mayor in the making. If its you, please consider applying today.... The Mayor's decisions have a huge impact on the lives of everyone who lives in the city, so it makes sense to give everybody the opportunity to have a say in choosing who they think is best suited to the task."

As many will know I'm a bit of cautious conservative, and my instincts are to avoid radicalism if unknown consequences create to much risk (I'm also a professional IT sysy admin where risk is BAD). However, I think the potential gain of this idea actually offsets the risk quite nicely. Yes, Labour and the Lib Dems could quite easily try to exploit the voting process. However, we're not stupid, we'll make quite sure that all the candidates that make it to the primary are the best and that we would be happy with any of them as the final candidate (plus I don't think either party has significant membership in London to genuinbely impact the vote).

This idea I think is certainly radical, but it could very well be the beginning of much wider change in the way politicians represent themselves to the electorate before a ballot. I think it's worth at least one try to see how it goes.

N.B. Yes, I still have concerns the Open Primary at a constituency level may not produce the balance we want in women at Parliament. That does not however mean that I think the primary system is per se bad.

Labour blames the public for NHS overspend

According to Andy Burnham at the Department of Health, it is possible to make £700m-plus in savings without impacting patient care. Can you imagine what Labour would say if the Conservative Party said something like that?

The press release says that, for example, "a reduction in avoidable emergency admissions for conditions such as asthma, heart problems and angina could save the NHS over £120m a year".

Of course, it's so obvious now! It's our fault the NHS is over-spending. All of us inconsiderate sods who have known heart condition and think they're having a heart attack are to blame! Not to mention those parents who think their child going blue might justify a visit to A&E.

Yesterday it was crime and anti-social behaviour that was our fault. Today it's the NHS overspend. Wonder what it will be tomorrow? The Iraq War?

The need for more women candidates

A number of MPs (including Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey) have written to the Telegraph today saying how important it is that we get more female Tory candidates selected to fight Parliamentary marginals. They say that "choosing women from the outstanding candidates on the approved list will not only convince the electorate that we are ready to represent them, but also provide us with a group of first-rate MPs."

They're absolutely right about the need for more women to be selected, however I can see one possible problem. The new selection procedures for Associations advocates - quite strongly - the use of open primaries. So whilst we may genuinely want more women to get selected we may find that the new process actually stops that from happening.

That's not to say we should go down the route of "all-wimmin" short lists, but we could find that our desire to get the local community involved in candidate selection might produce results opposite to our desired ends. Hopefully it won't, but it might.

Cooler than a very cool thing

This is beyond cool. Live World Cup matches in ASCII-graphics!
telnet 2006
OK, geeking-out over, back to politics I promise.

Quote of the Day

Lord Anderson in response to Sir Alistair Graham's assertion that the Government is sleazy.

"this Government are as pure as the driven snow."

Galloway calls on Ian Blair to resign

George Galloway is planning on putting down a motion in Parliament today calling on Sir Ian Blair to resign. Beside being surprised Galloway actually knows where Parliament is, he's only doing it to jump on the bandwagon and preempt the report about the shooting of an innocent Brazillian by the police.

Personally I don't think that the Met should lose the top man at such a time of heightened tension. The claim that Galloway and others on the Left make about the population's loss of confidence in the police may sound good, but you can bet that next time something happens to do with counter-terrorism the reel off the same arguments. The default position of people like Galloway is that the police are in the wrong anyway.

At least we now know why Galloway chastised his Respect colleague for saying muslims should not cooperate with Police last week. He's obviously been planning this motion for a while and knew that what credibility he might have would be screwed if he agreed with her. Does he really think that "shoot to kill" will not be the policy if Sir Ian Blair goes? Changing the man at the top won't make a difference to the way the police handle potential threats like suicude bombers. You can bet Galloway would be the first to complain about police incompetence if they chose not to shoot someone who consequently blew themselves up.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Dizzy gets a mention in Tribune!

Today, Iain Dale posted his top political blogs lists on his site. He'd been compiling lists of the best political blogs for an article he was invited to write for next week's Tribune. I'm rather humbled to say that Iain ranked this blog at 7th in his Top 20 of the Conservative Blogs.

Thanks for the slashdotting Iain! :-)

We need to give Labour more time?

Matthew Parris has written an article for The Times saying that we need to give Labour more time in power. I'm not really sure if I agree with him but I certainly get the main thrust of his point.

Essentially he's worried that if we win the next general election it may be premature and Labour will be able to bounce back sooner rather than later. That is to say Labour has not failed enough to ensure that they will be out of office for a very long time.

Like I say, I can see the argument and do understand it, but accepting it means I also have to accept the possibility of nearly another decade of Labour rule. I'm not sure I want that even if it did give us the ability to say "18 years of Labour rule".

Iain Dale on Tory Radio

Tory Radio has a two part interview with the blogger, former PPC, and founder of Politicos Books, Iain Dale. Well worth a listen.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Government promotes green policies by scrapping them

On Wednesday in a written Ministerial Statement, Stephen Ladyman (such an unfortunate surname) announced that the Government was committed to green policies then scrapped the grant system available to people who buy low-carbon cars. Not so green then.

Blair: "I am not going for the UN job"

Back in May I commented that Blair's speech to Georgetown university was an obvious job application for the UN General Secretary job, and Iain Dale kindly linked to my post the following day which totally slashdotted my traffic stats. Obviously I wasn't the first or only person to suggest Blair had hidden intentions but yesterday - after mounting press speculation - Blair insisted "I am not going for the UN job". Of course, saying you're not going for it doesn't mean you wouldn't like it.

Let the speculation continue I say!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Demon Eyes poster set for return?

Courtesy of b3ta

The new selection process?

So tonight is the night when I get to see the names of the "A Listers" that have applied in my constituency. Apparently we're near the farther end of the 100 must win seats.

I've been told that the selection process from our list of applicants has changed from last time. To help us out therefore we're going to have a Central Office representative from the Candidate Department to tell us who to pick explain the new procedures.

BREAKING NEWS: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi dead

The BBC is reporting that the Iraqi PM has announced that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the Jordanian born Sunni insurgent figurehead) has been killed in an air raid near Baghdad.

Flip-flop on "intent to supply"

According to reports in the last 12 hours, the government has performed a bizzare and quite dramatic flip-flop on it's "how much is just possession" guidelines. For those that can't remember, when Charles Clarke was Home Secretary there was a floated rumour that the quantity if drugs one could carry without being charged with "intent to supply" were going to be increased. The increases were utterly ludicrous. It was something like 20oz of weed and 20 pills. There is no way someone could carry that quantity and not be planning on supplying others - even if they were off to Glastonbury for the weekend - they're be dead if they did the lot.

This time round the Government has gone to the other extreme and is saying that less that 1/4oz of pot and 5 pills will qualify as "intent to supply". David Davis has apparently said this is a "move in a sensible direction", in my opinion (in relation to pot at least) he's wrong. It's not sensible at all. Firstly it's going to line the pocket of the big dealers even more. If you make it "intent to supply" for people carrying less than £20 worth of pot you're going to drive the price of small quanitities up. Like any market, the more you buy the cheaper it becomes, that's why people like students buy pot by the ounce rather than buy the 1/8oz. The potential risk associated with buying larger quantities will not stop them getting stoned, they'll just buy small amounts more regularly. The result is greater profits for the dealer. As for the question of pills, personally I don't have a problem with it being 5, I always assumed it was less than that anyway. I'm aware of former aquaintances that have been charged for less.

It seems to me that the Government, and political parties in general, whilst quite rightly trying to tackle the drug problem fail to realise the nature of the market underneath. Yes, addiction is hell, it causes crime and ruins lives. But prescritpive gudielines on how much you can and can't have won't solve the problem.

Before anyone asks, I had a normal university experience.

Number crunching Nu Labour press releases

Press releases are great, especially New Labour ones. According to one about they're council home improvement scheme, by 2010 they "will have improved 3.6 million homes" with over £40bn investment which will make them "fit for the 21st century".

Besides the fact that works out to less than £1500 spent per home (which won't buy much even with bulk discounts), the best part of the press release is left to the "Notes for Editors" section. The notes state that "it may make sense to continue beyond 2010 in order to deliver value for money or achieve wider objectives."

Translation: By 2010 we'll have spent very little per home making them fit for the 21st century unless we havn't.