Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brown avoids answering questions about EMI

Back in December, Guido pointed out the interesting links between EMI, the Smith Institute and Gordon Brown. This included the allegation of £29,375 payment to the New Statesman (owned by Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster general) along with other "undisclosed*, but substantial donations to the The Smith Institute".

The reason I bring this up is because Tory MP, Mark Hoban, has been asking question to the Chancellor about his relationship with EMI in Parliament it seems. He asked two questions about how many times either the Chancellor himself, or Treasury officials met with EMI in the past twelve months, and what the purpose of the meetings was. The response from John Healey - on Brown's behalf - was identical for both questions.
"Treasury Ministers and officials have meetings with a wide variety of organisations in the public and private sectors as part of the process of policy development and delivery. As was the case with previous Administrations, it is not the Government's practice to provide details of all such meetings."
In other words, "fuck off and stop asking awkward questions". John Healey is no stranger to the Smith Institute and has apparently written pamphlets for them. At the same time EMI have definitely used the Institute for some sort of policy influence.

So why the need for the Treasury to be so secretive and issue what are essentially non-denial denials about meetings with EMI? Hardly a credible response is it?
Image stolen shamelessly from Guido

Multinational Corporation stops Government answering Parliamentary Question?

I swear to all of you that today is not "anti-Microsoft" day for me honestly. I'm a techie geek so anything about Government and IT is of interest to me.

Now that I have my excuse in, the Tory MP for Braintree, Brooks Newmark, asked the Department of Education how much schools in England had spent on Microsoft products in each of the last three financial years. Jim Knight responded withthe follwoing,
"Information on how much schools in England spent on Microsoft products in each of the last three financial years is not available. It is not collected from schools.

Confidential information has been made available to Becta by Microsoft in respect of Microsoft's licensing sales to schools. This information is the subject of legally binding non-disclosure arrangements and excludes estimates in relation to Original Equipment Manufacturer licences."
In other words, we do know how much of your money we have spent with Microsoft, but Microsoft won't let us tell you. WTF?

Cameron: "Everyone knows the Government is paralysed"

If you upgrade to Vista you can no longer use XP

This morning, I wrote a number of reasons why I thought you shouldn't upgrade to Vista. However, Tom Coyote has a much better one. Basically, if you choose to upgrade from XP your version is automatically inactive. you will not be able to install and use it on another PC or dual boot even though you bougth the license for it separately to Vista.

This is what the Vista EULA found here (PDF) says
13. UPGRADES. To use upgrade software, you must first be licensed for the software that is eligiblefor the upgrade. Upon upgrade, this agreement takes the place of the agreement for the software you upgraded from. After you upgrade, you may no longer use the software you upgraded from.
So there you have it. You've bought a copy of Windows XP, you buy a copy of Vista to upgrade and it automatically makes your XP key inavlid. Interesting take on property rights from Microsoft on that one it seems. If you do it you better hope you don't want to rollback.

Will Blair have a "Lavender List"?

With the re-arrest yesterday of Lord Levy, and talk of further re-arrests int he coming day, it seems increasingly likely that someone will face some sort of charge of the Cash for Peerages affairs. At the same time it is received wisdom that when that does finally happen Blair will have no choice to resign - assuming he has not done so already.

The strange thing of course is whenevr he does resign he will have the power of patronage to appoint Peers in his "resignation honours list" without going to the Lords Appointment Commission if he chooses.

As it stands, this power of patronage does not yet appear to be curtailed in anyway, and on the basis of Blair's own responses to questioning he appears to have every intention of using it, thus leaving his very own "Lavender List" as it were.

Yesterday, Labour backbencher, Gordon Prentice, asked him for the second time whether he would "make it his policy to submit his resignation honours list to the House of Lords Appointments Commission for (a) advice and (b) approval."

Blair referred Prentice back to his first reply last June where he said "[t]he House of Lords Appointments Commission will continue to scrutinise any names put to them as appropriate, in the usual way."

Whilst this might sound like a "yes", even the Select Committee on Public Administration noted how it was "unnecessarily equivocal" and a "vague assurance". Perhaps those millionaires who lent all the money may yet get to the Lords anyway, as Blair flips us all two fingers as he leaves the stage?

Parliament told differing stories on Saudi bribery allegation?

On January 18th the Prime Minister took direct responsibility for the discontinuation of the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into BAE and Saudi Arabia. He said,
"[The British public] can already judge for themselves because we have made it clear the reasons why my advice— certainly —was that the investigation would do enormous damage to our relationship with Saudi Arabia. I said that because I believed then, and believe now, that it would do enormous damage to our co-operation on terrorism, and to issues to do with security and the broader middle east—quite apart from the thousands of jobs that would have been lost as a result of the loss of that contract, although that was not the reason why the decision was taken.

I believe that that was right then, and I believe that it is right now. Sometimes, in government, I have to give such advice and take responsibility for acting in the interests of the country as a whole. The Government have to put those views forward. I put them forward then; I believed them to be right then and I believe them to be right now."
Yesterday, the MP, Norman Baker, asked the Solicitor General, Mike O'Brien who had overrule power between the Director of the Serious Fraud Office and the Attorney General. The response was that the Attorney General had the final say if there was a difference of opinion on a matter.

When asked what the Attorney General's view was on the subject of BAE and Saudi Arabia, Mike O'Brien refused to say and simply stated that,
"The director of the Serious Fraud Office, not the Attorney-General, decided to discontinue the SFO investigation."
This has left me a little perplexed. There are two different stories coming from the Government on this aren't there?

Heffer: The Cromwellian Libertarian

Every now and again Simon Heffer writes something so utterly ridiculous that I feel compelled to pass comment on it.

In today's Telegraph his commentary is all about gambling and casinos in which he says he has an "instinctively Cromwellian attitude to life" and is, at the same time a "committed libertarian" who believes "libertarianism can only go so far".

He then goes on to bemoan the legalisation of gambling and asks why, if we're going to be so morally vacuous, why we don't just legalise drug dealing and prostitution too! Perhaps Heffer plans to set up a new organisation? The Cromwellian Libertarian Alliance does have a certain ring to it doesn't it?

Why you shouldn't buy Vista

It dawned on me this morning that given I have a slight skew in the direction of tech stories I should pontificate on why people shouldn't rush out and buy Microsoft's latest offering Vista. Here's a short list of reasons not to rush out and buy it.
  • During the past seven years, Microsoft have actually written two Operating Systems. Longhorn and Vista. Longhorn was just XP 2005 really. Vista was started from the ground up for "security reasons". It has been shown in the past few months that it is not secure and has serious holes.
  • The Digital Rights Management inherent within Vista will stifle innovation and is designed to make hardware inoperable with any other OS. Thus Vista is, inherently, an anti-competitive, anti-free market OS.
  • It's twice the price in the UK as it is in the US.
  • It requires ever more processing power and memory for limited feature enhancements.
  • The new "features" have been available in Linux and OSX for years. Unix/X Windows based development is light years ahead.
There is though, one other, possibly most important reason not to rush out and buy it. As a golden rule with any Microsoft Operating System release you should NEVER buy it until Service Pack 1 has been released and is being bundled by default with a full copy. The current version on the shelves with being horrendously buggy. If you must buy it, just wait six months and get the "stable" release.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lib Dem MP calls Tessa Jowell "barking mad"

Yesterday in Parliament, during a debate on "Digital Switchover", the Lib Dem MP for Bath, Don Foster, called Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, "barking mad".

During the debate he said that he "worked long and hard to persuade" to persuade Tory MP, Ed Vaizey not to table an amendment to a clause on Digital Switchover which they had, by that time, been discussing for a while. Foster said that he argued privately to Vaizey not to table it "on the grounds that it was barking mad".

Ed Vaizey responded sharply, pointing out that whilst foster was "a man of great chivalry", he wanted to "remind him that the new clause was first proposed by the Secretary of State, so any accusation that it is barking mad is an unchivalrous attack on her". Foster quickly backtracked saying that if he were making an attack on the Secretary of State he would "instantly withdraw [his] remark".

Personally, I think she probably is barking mad. After all, she did manage to sign a mortgage form for hundreds of thousands of pounds and casually "forgot" about it. You have to pretty barking to do something like that don't you?

Lessons in the bleeding obvious

I've just read that the Government, via the Highways Agency, is issuing a Teachers' pack "to help children understand dangers of dropping objects on to roads from bridges". I have to ask, when did we start having lessons in the bleeding obvious at schools? I'm expecting a teachers' pack to help explain the dangers of thowing knives next!

What will they tax next?

The first advert by 18 Doughty Street has now gone live. I have to say it's brilliantly produced and I'm looking forward to seeing the next one. This morning as part of the launch of the ad, a number of people were giving out the "tax credit cards" to commuters in Westmnister like those which appear in the advert.

Watch Brown's World Order here

Oi to the World!

As part of my public duty I want to draw attention to one of my favourite bands, The Vandals - essentially right-wing punk(ish). This is the brilliantly catchy "My Girlfriend's Dead".

Anyone know how much the Watergate costs?

Oh how I laughed when I read this one!
Mr. Gauke: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) how much his Department spent on accommodation at the Watergate Hotel for him and his staff in each year since 1997;

(2) how many nights he has spent at the Washington Embassy on official business since 1997; and how many nights he has spent at the Watergate Hotel in Washington on official business since 1997.

John Healey: The information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
He didn't tape it then?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Who decides if the answer is meaningful?

The ability of the Government to avoid answering questions in Parliament never ceases to amaze me. What esepcially amazes me is the skill with which such avoidances occur. There is of course the classic "disproportionate cost" line, and if in doubt they can just ignore the question completely and asnwer a different one. Today though I have come across what is quite possibly the best response ever.

The Tory MP for South West Hertforshire, David Gauke, asked David Lammy what percentage of the current (and proposed) computer systems in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport use Open Source software. Lammy, (also known as Minister for Nationalising Old Things) said
"It would not be meaningful to provide an answer in percentage terms as my Department uses open source software mainly on backend systems which in themselves only make up a small percentage of total computer systems but which can be potentially accessed by a high percentage of staff.
Surely it is not for the person answering a question to ascertain whether that answer is meanigful or not? Lammy argument is essentially that the percentage would look very low, when the actual usage of the system is quite high. However, why not just give the percentage with that caveat and be done with it if that is the case?

For anyone wondering, Lammy did go on to say that the Open Source software used in DCMS includes Linux, MySql and Firefox. The two former probably being the back office system and the former replacing IE on expensive Microsoft Windows systems. He went on to say aswell that DCMS would continue to use Open Source"where it makes business and economic sense to do so". In other words, where we havn't asked Microsoft for an opinion.

It's kidneys which are at stake!

It seems the Department of Health have just announced the appointment of a new "tsar". He is the "Renal Services Tsar". You'll note that even the even the Government has used inverted commas around the word tsar.

Perhaps they should start using a different name for autocratic dictator-style positions? Shah perhaps? Maybe Fuhrer? How about Caesar for Renal Services?

Who put the wallpaper up John?

This morning, John Reid has been quoted across a number of papers for something he has written in the Guardian about the Home Office. In it he has said,
"If you renovate a house you start by taking the wallpaper off. It is only then that you discover more problems. That's what it is like in the Home Office"
A sweet little analogy with one tiny flaw, over the past ten years you've been cutting corners on the renovation by wallpapering over the wallpaper. Those layers that are being stripped off are of the Government's own making.

Miliband: Only europhiles can protect the environment

This morning's Independent carries one of those "Readers' Questions" interviews with David Miliband. In it there is a question asking him to "legislate that all items must have a "power off" switch", and his response is unbelievable. Miliband says,
"The European Union is leading the way on this - one reason you cannot protect the environment if you are a Eurosceptic."
The mind boggles, it really does. Presumably this argument is predicated on the notion that environmental policy can only be carried out at a supranational level. In which case, following it to its logical conclusion, is Miliband also saying that you cannot protect the environment if you are against one-world government? Didn't think so.

Purely as an aside, you may also notice a question which begins, "I have a 20-month-old son and climate change keeps me awake at night." This made me literally laugh out loud on the bus this morning. I wonder if they've considered that it might be their 20-month-old son that keeps them awake at night?

Why won't you link me?

Oh dear, former Microsoft employee, and A-List tech blogger Rob Scoble has thrown his toys out of the pram because some sites didn't link to him on a story he broke about new Intel chip design features. You'll note that Scoble has made lots of edits to his original post admitting he went "overboard".

The following day he posted this, which, if you ask me, kind of stoked the flames a little more. However he does make an interesting point about how bloggers really ought to link the blog that broke a story rather than a mainstream media outlet that is repeating it without accreditation.

The thing is, whilst the mainstream media does often lift stories, and sometimes credit a blog as a source, do they really have a duty to do so? After all, think about how it works for the competing mainstream press.

If the Times, for example, breaks a story on Tuesday, it's quite likely to be repeated by everyone else on Wednesday (or Tuesday evening in the Standard). When that happens it's rare for those papers repeating the story to refer to the Times as the source (unless the story has been run under an "Exclusive" banner I think).

Should we really be surprised therefore if blogs and/or formal news websites don't always credit the online source of their story? In the case of the Scoble example, the bloggers who linked to the NY Times (which didn't credit Scoble either) may not even have known Scoble broke the story. As far as they were concerned the story came from wherever they read it first.

Will Blair resign this week?

A bold, yet well caveatted prediction from Iain last night. Apparently someone he knows was called by the BBC asking for Charlie Whelan's number so they could make a piece ready fro when Blair resigned. When the person asked when that would be the response was "this week".

There is an interesting point in the comments at Iain's referring to the shock resignation of the PM in the "Thick Of It" Christmas special. Now, whilst the veracity of the prediction is unknown, I've always thought - baring unforeseen events - that when Blair went he would take everyone by surprise when he did.

It was never going to be orderly and stable. We're talking about a Prime Minister who has been, throughout office, obsessed with the news agenda. Is a man like that really going to give advance warning to his actual departure date?

When he goes it will inevitably big news, but pre-announcements nullify it's impact. Blair is the sort of person who will try and go with a bang as it were (remember the Gould memo and about initiative being associated with him personally?).

P.S. I don't think he will go this week, but it would be nice if he did.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How do you market a self-cleaning toilet?


18 Doughty Street - pioneering open-source campaigning

As I expect some will know, 18 Doughty Street recently re-launched its website. The new site is certainly much easier to navigate than the previous incarnation, and there is now a section titled "Campaign HQ". The idea behind Campaign HQ is quite simple really, each week 18DS will highlight an issue which "the establishment" media fails to cover adequately and will produce a professional campaign video/advert on that subject.

The key to this though is that it will be the users of the site, rather than simple 18 Doughty Street itself, that will decide the form this video should take. Each week will essentially see an RFC on a subject, and the best ideas will be pitched into videos concepts and then put to the user community in an online vote, the winner will then be made using the professional production facilities at 18DS's disposal.

The Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome, Sam Coates, has described this, quite appropriately, as "open source campaigning". Empowering a user community to be involved, via the Internet, in political activity which has the ability and scope to reach opinion formers. Through the use of the Internet, the "little guy" as it were, can have an impact on politics that has never before been possible.

The first video, which will be launched on Tuesday, will be about the issue of tax, and the record tax burden we are now facing. The video was created in conjunction with the Taxpayer Alliance. The second video is to be on the rather worrying noises towards state funding of political parties. Three ideas from user contributions have been promoted by Claire Fox, Stephan Shakespeare and Phillip Oppenheim, and the voting as now opened here.

Personally I think this innovative use of the Internet and media to encourage political participation deserves a lot of praise. In recent years politics has become quite a small club, very difficult to enter, the Internet, and 18 Doughty Street in particular, is trying to change that by positively encouraging user communities to be in charge of content. In the coming decade I think the ideas being pioneered in the UK by 18 Doughty Street will become much more commonplace.

Don't forget to vote for the video concept of your choice.

The Virgin Galactic Blog... coming "soon"

Virgin Galactic, the company set up by Richard Branson to start offering space tourism apparently has a blog. Actually, I'm lying slightly, it has a link to a blog which it intends to have. Currently it just says
"Hold tight for the launch of our futuristic Virgin Galactic blog. Soon Virgin Galactic Astronaut Chuck Brown will recall his experiences training for and flying on [sic] onboard VSS10 (VirginSpaceShip 10).
If you're wondering what "soon" is, it's September 28th 2009. I'm not quite sure what the point is of announcing you plan to have a blog in two and half years time, but what do I know? Anyways, the flash version of the site is very, errr flashy.

Paper trail leads to Blair

According to this morning's Daily Telegraph, the Police have discovered a hand written note by Blair in the "cash for honours" investigation which means there is, for the first time, a paper trail leading directly to him. The last line of the article says,
"Last night, No 10 denied the existence of an incriminating document written by the Prime Minister."
In the word, I think, of Sir Humphrey. Never believe anything until its been officially denied.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Labour's poorly configured "secure" email system

Over on Guido's site this morning, he has posted a link to the private email gateway login page that party political communications from Downing Street use. The link is for this is Interestingly, when you visit it for the first time you will be presented with SSL certificate errors.

I have to say, for a system that is supposedly for the secure sending of email, they haven't particularly filled me with confidence. For a start, the ssl certificate expired in 2003. Also the expired secure certificate wasn't even correctly configured in the first place. The Common Name (CN) for the cert should match the web server name for a start, i.e. The fact that it doesn't, suggests that whoever it was in Whale Communications that set it up was a bit of an idiot. Whale Communications is of course a subsidiary of Microsoft which might explain the failure to set up a computer properly.

I am a little confused by the issuer of the certificate as well. You would expect a company like Whale Communications to use someone like Verisign to issue their certs, but instead it was a machine called "" by a company that calls itself FarmJack (odd name). leads to some ROAR holding page today offering piston and hydraulic repairs. Maybe they went bust prior to 2003? If they did I can't seem to find anything about them as an SSL certifcate authority (if someone esle can let me know in the comments).

What does all this mean? Well not a lot really. Other than the Labour Party seem to have shoddily set-up IT systems (no surprise there when you consider, as David Miliband put, their "famed competence" for IT projects. They also seem to be using rather dodgy certificate authority provider for their cert. This is not in itself a bad thing per se (you can after all self-sign certs if you wish), but it's not exactly good practice for such a large organisation that it thoroughly obsessed with issue "best practice" guidelines for everything.

EU wants to share medical records across states

According to an article on ZDNet, the European Commission is to put forward proposals for data sharing across member state healthcare systems.
The data that will be shared will include some kind of emergency care records and patients' medication histories. The aim of the scheme is that if, for example, a UK citizen falls ill while in Spain, doctors there will know what medication the patient cannot take or what existing conditions they already have.
As with all these sorts of proposals for databases and information sharing it is being pitched in isolation of the supposed benefits to be gained from it, however, as Ross Anderson, a Cambridge University security engineering professor points out,
"If you're somebody with information that should be known, at present you will carry either a bracelet or a card in your wallet to say so.... It is foolish to move to a computer for the simple reason that, if you have the information either on an online database or sitting on a smartcard, then the computer could be down. Human-readable information which you can carry is the most appropriate technology."
Furthermore, there is a straight political argument within this proposals. Medical records are ours, they are not the state's, be it the nation state, or a supranational one.

The idea that different health care systems, some public, some private, some mixed, should be allowed to freely share medical data about theoretically potential users of their services is simply wrong.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Paedophile walks.... Royal journalist jailed

Strange times we live in.

Only in Japan!

Buy the USB Humping dog here.

Tree huggers and evil conservatives

Why let good money go to waste?

Have just been sent a link by an acquaintance to a random blog called It has a very simply concept really. Write a question on a bank note, take a picture of it, send it in, then spend the money. If you're wondering "why?" here's what the site says,
de-noted is a blog to see what would happen if you release a question written on a bank note. There is no agenda, no manifesto, just an idea that started last time I went to pay for my breakfast. I handed over a five pound note, and saw a number scrawled across it. I can’t remember the number, it wasn’t important at the time, but it was important to someone else. Of course, it was presumably only important all the while they were counting the days takings in the shop, and tagging every 20th note so they wouldn’t lose count. But that number made me think, and this blog is the result of that. What if it wasn’t a number, but a question?

When you write a question on a note and spend it, you know that it will pass through hundreds of wallets, pockets, purses, ATM’s, banks and tills. The lifespan of your question will continue as long as the note is in circulation. In contrast to this, fly posting, passing notes in the classroom, handing out leaflets have a finite lifespan. When the medium used has an inherent value, the chance of being dropped on a street, or scraped off by a cleaner is almost non-existent.

But a message is a dead end in itself. A full stop marking a fact, a statement that’s not allowed to be argued against. But by inviting the reader to respond, albeit to themselves, a connection can be made and you can make a difference.

What kind of difference? Well that’s up to you. Maybe you’d just like to make someone laugh, make them smile. Maybe you’d like to do more, the choice is yours.

It never ceases to amaze me how truly inspired the Internet can be with its randomness.

Where would Friday be without Tamzin Lightwater?

Whether it's real or just hypothesised mickey taking, whoever Tamzin Lightwater, author of the Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody in the Spectator is, they certainly make my Friday on the Jubilee Line funnier.

This morning there is brilliant bit where, on Monday, Tamzin walks into a morning meeting to see a projected figure on the wall "with the head of Shilpa Shetty and the body of Jade Goody". An exchange with the Director of Strategy ensues where he says,
"This, my fellow change-makers, is today's Conservative Party. Beautiful head - shame about the fat, horrible, reactionary bit underneath"
Made me chuckle anyway.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Microsoft pays blogger to edit Wikipedia

According to a report on CNN, Microsoft has been caught out paying a blogger to "correct" what it believed were inaccurate and slanted Wikipedia entries.

I'm not quite sure why this is considered such a big story given that Wikipedia is an open document format and it would be surprising if companies didn't have people being paid to make sure they were not being portrayed in ways they considered "inaccurate". Remember that I say this is a Linux advocate and a hater of Microsoft as well.

I guess the reason it's causing a storm on the blogosphere is because it was a blogger who was paid. If it was a Microsoft Communications officer no one would probably care.

Bums on seats are important I guess!

When Margaret Beckett took over at the newly formed Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2001, it's spending budget for furniture (British made no less), was £634,715.24p.

When she left the Department to go to Foreign and "oh f*ck" Commonwealth Office, the spend on British made furniture she had managed to triple the budget to £1,800,549.93. In the year that young David Miliband has been there, he's managed to increase it by £63,354.85.

Now I'm not for a minute passing judgement on this you understand. After all, we are facing an obesity crisis in Britian and it's quite possible that this has caused a large increase in broken chairs within DEFRA. What's more I don't know whether this figure covers the cost of mirrors during Margaret Beckett's tenure.

I imagine the farmers waiting for their payments will be pleased to know that DEFRA is doing it's bit to support the British furniture industry though.

Update: I've just been reminded of by an anoymous poster about this incident in Newcastle at the DEFRA office that was meant to do the farm payemtns. Perhaps some of the furniture went there after they trashed it? Shame on me for not remembering this incident!

Horse, cart, arse, face?

Another genius idea from a contributor to Progress Online for the first 100 days of the next Labour leader, this time from John Dixon in Sutton.
"Have a single vote to abolish the house of lords and then a referendum onto how it should be replaced/ if at all."
Let's just clarify. John wants us to have a vote (essentially an either/or referendum) to abolish the House of Lords. Then he wants to have another vote to decide what to do with the House of Lords. John I salute your genius, I really do!

How much of our information flows out of the DVLA?

The other week I posted about Stephen Ladyboy's admission that the DVLA sells public data to third parties when requests for it come in. The implication of his response is that there is a massive potential for information leak from the DVLA database to third parties.

Given the recent news about papers using detective agencies which illegaly extract info from sources including the DVLA, and the Home Secretary's proposal to use the DVLA database as one of the ID card source databases, the revelation that thrid parties can access the ifnromation so easily is distrubing.

At the time, Ladyboy said that the DVLA "does not collate the number of such transactions", however, yesterday he conceded that it does collate how many requests for information from private companies and individuals it receives - but it will cost too much to tell us how how many of these it rejects (convenient as ever).

The answer is staggering. Between November 1st 2006 and Decemebr 31st 2006, the DVLA received 184,483 requests for data from the UK Vehicle register from private companies and private individuals. That is well in excess of 3000 requests every day for info that can be easily used for ID theft purposes. Don't worry though, the ID card scheme will be very secure. They have "safeguards"!

Council Tax cashback. Convenient spin?

When I saw the news this morning that Martin Lewis, the financial journalist, ex-Lib Dem, former LSE Student Union president, former BBC man, and "not a Tory" was saying that we might all be owed rebates on Council Tax due to 1991 valuation mistakes by the Tories, the cynic in me drove to the surface.

Everyone knows that the vaulation of property is about to reviewed, and it as generally considered accurate opinion that revaluation will increase council tax for a vast numebr of people simply because of market price inflation.

How convenient therefore to suggest everyone may be entitled to a rebate of a grand or so (because of the Tories no less!) just before we all experience the yearly Council Tax rise and then revaluation on top?

Government house valuation website slashdotted?

It looks like the Goevrnment's Valuation Office may have been slashdotted by the mainstream media. Across the front page of the London freesheet, Metro, and in most of the other papers was the story that original Council Tax valuations were probably wrong and millions of people are likely to be entitled to rebates as a result. The stories direct everyone to the Valuation office website here.

Sadly the website is running a little bit slow... suggesting that the slashdot effect has struck again and effectively shown how the Government's website infrastructure isn't particularly well scaled to handle massive surges in traffic. Funny that?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lib Dem MP wants more breasts?

How strange... Lib Dem MP, John Hemming has tabled a motion which calls for the Government "to introduce guidelines to ensure that facilities are provided to ensure that newborn babies can be breastfed on demand". So that's guidelines on ensuring there are sufficient breasts available?

Gordon Brown's first 100 days?

The left wing website Progess Online have decided to invite Labour supporters to say what they think the next Labour leader (i.e. Brown) should do in his first 100 days. Unsurprisingly, there are some utterly bizarre and crazy ideas, my favourite of which are two from a LabourHome regular which are essentially linked,
"Scrap all tax breaks, scrap Employees and Employers national Insurance and impose income tax and corporation tax at the same rate (somewhere between 30% and 35%) on all sources of income, regardless of recipient.

Scrap the tax free personal allowance and tax relief for pensions contributions and then replace the entire benefits and state pensions system with a Citizen's Income at current Income Support/Jobseeker's Allowance/Pensions Credit rates for ALL legal residents (depending on age)."
Massive tax hikes and then forcing everyone to be dependent on state handouts. Brilliant. Sheer genius!

Director of Forest in live TV blooper

I know it's puerile, and I know it's childish, but for some reason I just can't resist calling the Transport Minister, Stephen Ladyboy instead of Ladyman. I did this the other day here and here because I'm very funny.

However, it seems a golden rule of media has been learnt as result by the Director of the pro-smoking lobby Forest, Simon Clark. Never print out something from the Internet and read it verbatim, it could errr.... well... just watch.

Sorry Simon. I did laugh too though.

Government admits benefit system is wasting hundreds of millions each year

According to one of its own press releases, the Government is wasting approximately £167 million each year due to error and mistakes in the Benefits system.

It's OK though, they've not had a shock momentary lapse into honesty, as ever with a Government press release it's what isn't said that is most revealing.

The official line is that the Department of Work and Pension is going to launch "drive to reduce money lost to customer and official error in the benefit system which is expected to save £1billion by 2012".

Thus, by implication, witout the drive they concede the system is not fit for purpose and would lose a billion over the next six year without change (roughly £167m per year). Given they've been in power for ten years and been tinkering all the time, I dread to think how much they've lost due to error in that time.

Government engages in class war on child obesity?

It seems the Government is planning on giving away 45,000 pedometers to kids to encourage them all to get fit and do physical activity (like walking which must be tough), thus fighting the next doom and gloom facing us, child obesity. The pedometers will however only be available in poor "deprived areas", presumably because fat kids living in affluent areas deserve coronary attacks, and anyway they've probably got health insurance.

The thing is, pedometers are well known for being a bit dodgy in what they report. If you use one of those cheap ones given away with Special K they tend to over report by anything up to 50%. If you want accuracy then it costs, often four times as much. You're looking at a fiver a pop at the bottom and about £23 at the top end. So how much is the Government spending in their class war driven fight against obesity?

The press release says that the pedometers are part of "£494,000 project to motivate inactive children to become fitter", so they must be using pedometers that are less than a tenner each at the very best. Even at the bottom of the range though it would mean a spend of about £225,000.

Is that money well spent as compared to just forcing physical activity on kids in school and stopping them sitting on their arses all day? I wonder how many of the pedometers will be broken within the first week of handing the toys out?

God I'm in a cynical mood this morning.

Is the House of Cards tumbling?

As Guido reported last night, Downing Street's Director of Political Operations, John McTernan, has been interviewed under caution by Inspector Knacker. This comes a day after reports of Jack McConnell (Scotland's First Minister) also being questioned while in London. I wonder if the interview was around the same time he was canceling long arranged meetings?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Comments lost to the void?

No, the title is not about a particularly good episode of Star Trek Voyager, it's about something I've just spotted in a post on Guido's about this post on The Void. A case of do as I say, not as I do it seems. Go figure!

Can John Reid protect us from terrorism?

Apparently, the Home Office has no knowledge on whether the individuals it has arrested and detained in the six months since August 2006 under the somewhat controversial "detain without charge" 2006 Terrorism Act have been re-arrested after release under that same Act. According to John Reid, "the police do not routinely collate information on re-arrests under terrorism legislation."

Now... I have to admit I'm a little confused by his response. After all, how can we be engaged in a fight against terrorists which requires lots of serious police powers to detain people, and yet not be making a note of when we detain the same person twice under those laws in a matter of just six months?
Image from The Spine

Communcations failure at Department of Health

Remember a couple of weeks ago the Government's fanfare about how it was scrapping 551 websites as part of its "transformational strategy" which would in future see the streamlining of information to be delivered by "supersites" located at DirectGov and Business Link thus saving us poor taxpayer lots of money?

Well the Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt, has just announced a new "Choice" website is going to be built which will "bring together information on all hospitals and treatment centres to empower patients to make more informed choices than ever before on their healthcare."

I guess Patty didn't get the memo. Perhaps they should send another one round saying "we request that staff avoid discussion of the communication problem"?

Tempting fate?

The following is a press release put about by the Health and Safety Executive.
Juggling with fire - A risk worth taking?...

Like all risks it can be a risk worth taking, when given careful consideration and sensible health and safety control measures. This is the driving point behind a novel partnership initiative being announced on Thursday 25 January 2007 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Calderdale MBC, 'Calderdale Safer Working Communities'.

Its key message will be delivered in a most unexpected way - the representatives of organisations and businesses who will be arriving to pledge their support to next month's initiative will be greeted by a health and safety inspector walking on stilts and juggling with fire.
Please God, Allah, Buddha and whoever else let him fall and burn himself so I can watch the HSE sue itself.

Foreign Office fails to tell SOCA about British criminals convicted abroad

Following on from my post yesterday where a response to written questions by David Davis revealed that the Foreign office must have also known about British citizens convicted abroad, another question was put by David Davis asking how many times the Consular services had made referrals to the Serious and Organised Crime Agency of British prisoners released or deported from abroad in the last 12 months, and each of the last five years.

The response from Kim Howells was to refer David Davis to a previous written answer given to the Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman, Nick Clegg on January 15th this year which simply stated,
If we become aware, either through providing consular assistance or notification from the local authorities, that a British national has been convicted of a serious crime overseas, we notify the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which is a non-departmental body of the Home Office.
Not exactly an answer to the "how many" part of David Davis's question is it? It might even lead some to think the Foreign Office has failed to follow it's own procedure? Terribly cynical of me I know, but given the Police caution says "it may harm your defence if you fail to mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court", I don't see why I can't apply the same rules here.

Government/corporate freebies?

Spotted on the District Line yesterday a gentleman with one of those record style satchel bags, with a stamp which said "Efficiency in the Public Services Conference" on it. Free bags? A shining example of efficiency in the public services huh?

Are We Seeing the Emergence of a New Anti-Islamist Intelligentsia?

Last night I attended the New Culture Forum in Portcullis House which posed the question "Are We Seeing the Emergence of a New Anti-Islamist Intelligentsia?". Michael Gove MP, author of the excellent, Celsius 7/7, was the guest speaker.

Personally, I of the mind that rather than just the emergence of a new anti-Islamist intelligentsia - there is rather an merging of thought across the political spectrum which is pro-western Enlightenment, ergo, anti-Islamist by definition.

That said, clearly Islamism is the primary threat that western Enlightenment faces in todays world, and shockingly, the joining forces of some on the Left - such as Livingstone and the SWP - with the msyoginist homophobic Islamists should be seen as a very worrying trend.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Revisiting an old subject

Some time ago I did a post called Understanding Hackers. Seeing as Hackers the film was on yesterday (and some people remain a little confused about what hacking actually is), I thought I'd revisit the topic as at the time of my original post I was actually inspired by a document that I'd read some time before but could not find at the time.

I've now found that document, titled the Hacker FAQ which lists all those question someone may have about employing a hacker and what it actually means. Here are some of my choice favourites from it:
0.0: Won't my hacker break into my computer and steal my trade secrets?
No. Hackers aren't, contrary to media reporting, the people who break into computers. Those are crackers. Hackers are people who enjoy playing with computers. Your hacker may occasionally circumvent security measures, but this is not malicious; he just does it when the security is in his way, or because he's curious.

There are lost of other excellent tips for dealing with engineering people like me in there.

Foreign Office knew about British criminals convicted abroad as well?

Last week I posted about some questions that David Davis had submitted to the Foreign office regarding the British nationals convicted abroad scandal.

David Davis asked whether consulates abroad keep records of the offences, sentences, names, passport numbers, or DNA samples, of British criminals convicted abroad. Crucially he's also asked what procedures exists to transfer this sort of information back into the UK for dissemination into the relevant Home Office agencies.

In response, the Foreign office confirmed that Consular staff do record offences and details (with the exception of DNA and fingerprints). The Foreign Office minister Kim Howells also confirmed that,
"when posts overseas are informed of the arrest of a British national, details of the arrest are entered by consular staff on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office central consular assistance database: “Compass”. Compass allows real time case management by staff overseas and in London, including details of convictions when known, so the separate transfer of records from consular staff overseas to the London Consular Division is not necessary."
The implication of this is that not only did the Home Office fail to act on lists provided to it by ACPO, but that the Foreign Office records the information and then fails to get the information added to British criminal record databases too. On the basis of the above answer, the Foreign office would've known about the British citizens convicted abroad as well.

GNN wastes bandwidth

There is, would you believe, one thing that annoys me just slightly more than the Government. Bandwidth wastage. What do I mean by that? I mean people who "reply all" to huge great long email of jokes and append "tee hee" to the top of it and add a ridiculous legal disclaimer at the bottom.

Imagine my horror therefore when the Government engages in bandwidth wastage. Oh how the blood boils. Over the past hour I have received no less than eight emails with the following subject line "Tough new penalties for illegal mobile phone use from 27 February 2007" from GNN.

The content of these emails is identical with the exception of some statistics about the particular region it is in e.g south-west, south-east, London etc. Now, some may say that I chose to subscribe to alert from all the regions so what do I expect?

What I expect is sanity in sending out information. What I don't expect is for largely the same data to be sent over and over again with only minimal difference. New penalties for mobile phone usage in cars are national in significance, so send it out once and put statistics for each region in the one alert.

The scariest thing is that I chose plain text only email which mean they must do the same thing with HTML email too which are even bigger hogs of bandwidth.
Note: In the time it took me to write this a ninth copy arrived.

Nuclear power to be done under PFI?

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has just announced the appointment of Dr Tim Stone as senior advisor on the "arrangements for the costs associated with potential nuclear new build decommissioning and waste management".

Now, bedsides me personally having problem getting my head around the paradoxical concept of "nuclear new build decommissioning", if you're wondering what the "costs associated" with his remit will end up being it should be noted that he is basically the Government's PFI man.

You can bet you're bottom dollar those new nuclear power stations that we've not yet decided to get will be paid for on the never never through PFI. Dr Stone's seems to get about quite a bit and has his fingers in a lot of Government pies on that matter. According to a biography, amongst other things he's,
led the advisory team for the Department for Transport and H.M. Treasury on the government's review of the rail industry. He is leading KPMG's financial advisory team on the MoD's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft deal, which is estimated to have a value in excess of £13billion and is also a lead advisor on the £20billion Military Flying Training Services deal. He has been heavily involved in many major acute hospital transactions, road and IT PFI deals, including the NHS' £3.2bn national IT program and the Department for Work & Pensions Accord deal which is the largest non-military IT procurement in Western Europe.
They'll probably make Trident a PFI project next!

"Ethical produce" will starve the developing world

As it's such a slow news day I want to pass comment on something that is bugging me in the environmental debate, this so-called issue of "food miles". The argument is as follows. Food that travels from say Africa is hurting the environment, we should therefore buy locally sourced produce so we can save the environment.

I realise this sounds like a wonderful fluffy argument, but isn't this just protectionism by another name? If everyone suddenly stops buying food from the developing world on the basis of the miles it travels who will they sell it too? Should we really be advocating policies that will ensure the developing world remain poors by closing off trade to it?

What Ruth Turner should've done

Apologies in advance for those that have no idea what I am talking about. I simply couldn't resist. Trust me, its funny.

echo -n "What email do you want to destroy today? : "
read destroy
size=`stat $destroy | grep Size | awk '{print $2}'`
count=`echo $(( $size / 512 +1 ))`
for i in $(seq 1 1000)
dd if=/dev/random of=$destroy count=$count
echo "Overwriting $destroy with random data $i times"
for i in $(seq 1 1000)
dd if=/dev/zero of=$destroy count=$count
echo "Overwriting $destroy with zeros $i times"
echo "$destroy has been obliterated properly"
echo "You have now successfully perverted the course of justice"
Note: Probably won't work well on journal based filesystem, RAID5 or NFS. But its still funny.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ruth Turner's "peeraphilia"?

Oh dear, Iain has a piece on his blog about an article in Tribune which points at Ruth Turner as having acted improperly in a the deselection of a sitting MP. Apparently, the deselected MP, Iain Stewart, has made a formal complaints after he was told it had already been decided he was "going to the Lords". The suggestion is is that this decision came from Ruth Turner in some way.

Ms. Turner is starting to look like she might have a bit of a thing about deciding who should get peerages doesn't she? Perhaps we could coin a new term for the fetish, peeraphilia* has a certain ring to it doesn't it?
* All rights reserved to me.

Len Duvall issues apology to Tessa Jowell?

Yesterday, Len Duvall, the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and leader of London Labour, issued a statement attacking Labour politicians, including Tessa Jowell for commenting on the Cash for Peerages investigation and bring into question the Police's integrity. He reminded them that no one is "above the law".

Interestingly, today he's issued another "personal statement" which says,
"on further reflection, and having had the opportunity to re-examine what Tessa Jowell said, I am now quite clear she was not commenting on the way in which police are conducting the inquiry. Also, I was not implying she or her husband were involved in any wrongdoing nor that I had evidence suggesting that was so."
Sounds like someone's had a wrap on the knuckles from someone else doesn't it? Naughty Len! No easy seat for you at the next election now!

A motion for a dead dog?

Well I suppose, if Celebrity Big Brother can make it into Parliament, then why shouldn't a celebrity chef's dead dog?
"That this House expresses its sympathies to Rick Stein and his family on the passing away of their characterful Jack Russell, Chalky, acknowledging the heartache and distress that losing a family pet can cause."
EDM 685
Update: For anyone wondering, this is not a joke. There really is an Early Day Motion about Rick Stein's dead dog. Honestly.

Beds are Burning in Australia!

Did you know that the a member of Australian rock band, Midnight Oil, went on to become a member of the Australian Parliament for the Labour Party?

Here is the Liberal Treasurer, Pete Costello. taking the mickey out of him in Parliament. Could you imagine Brown doing something like this? No.. nor can I! He'd never suggest giving money back for a start!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Home Office to split! Is the Government trying to bury the next arrest?

The Government has just announced that it plans to split the Home Office in two which would be the biggest restructuring of Whitehall in over 100 years. Questions. Why announce such thing late on a Saturday night? What is being buried from the Sunday agenda?

There is also a rumour circulating that John McTernan, the Labour Party's Director of Political Operations in Number 10 has been canceling a number of meetings since the arrest of Ruth Turner and is handling the spin crisis. Are we truly entering Watergate territory here? A Government shot into panic Saturday night re-organisation as the Police close in on the Executive?

Do they hope everyone is talking about the Home Office whilst Knacker nicks someone else?

Update 06:47: The Sunday Telegraph is reporting a new revelation about "cash for honours" including dodgy use of the word "hack" yay! The BBC isn't mentioning it at all, its leading with the Home Office story. Funny that!

Hilary in and the smears begin

So Hilary Clinton announces she "in" for the Democratic nomination race on the same day that her biggest rival faces accusations of having hidden his Muslim connections and being educated in a "madrassa".

Presidential politics! Don't you just love it? We should all hope and pray that Hilary Clinton doesn't win the nomination. If she does, and then goes on to be President, the most powerful nation in the world will have been controlled by just two families* for 23 years (27 if she were to be a two term President).
* technically we've just had one family for the past thousand years of course :)

Labour MP slams "dictatorship" in Labour Party

A backbench rebel MP, Lynne Jones, has given a tv interview to a local Midlands website which slams the Labour leadership and blames Gordon Brown for her decision to stand down as an MP at the next election.

To be fair, I'm not sure such an interview will have much impact. Lynne Jones is one of those people that one would put in with the "usual suspects", anti-war, anti-Trident, and the rest. Her name is usually on EDMs with Bob Marshall-Andrews, Diane Abbott etc.

In the interview she accuses Labour of being led by a "dictatorship", she says Tony Blair is "deluded", and she also checks herself at the moment that she called Gordon Brown "manipulative". The most interesting part of the interview is at the beginning where she explained how she's discussed stepping down and how to release the news with certain colleague since deciding in the autumn.

I say this is interesting because I think this interview, especially the way it so vociferously attacks Blair and Brown, has a viewing target of Labour Party members ergo leadership contest votes. What's the betting that Lynne Jones, as a usual suspect, is one of John McDonnell's nomination signatures?
Hat Tip: PragueTory

Friday, January 19, 2007

Prescott says he can't stand being in the same room as gays?

According to a report in the Evening Standard, John Prescott has recorded interviews for a BBC Radio 4 show called Prescott at you Service about his time in the cruise liner industry. Amazingly in the interview he says
"The thing that struck me most was that when I joined it they didn't sail out the North, they sailed out the South and there were a lot of gay guys on board and I was quite amazed at this.... And I remember saying, spending three months on a voyage and there were ten gay guys in a room and I said 'I'm not staying in a room like this' Anyway I went in another room"
So, southerners are gay, northerners aren't, and he can't stand to be in the same room as gay men (who are southerners too)? Prescott's press people have been reassuring people that he was young, and you have to contextualise his homophobia.

The emerging Blogetiquette Movement - current membership 1

Netiquette has been around for a while, where you are online generally dictates how you behave and what aspect of netiquette you follow. Whilst there are some general rule these often go out of the window in the correct context. For example, cross-posting pr0n is not against the rules on forum that openly advocates the free movement of pixelated filth.

The key to any form of netiquette therefore is actually dictated not by the community as such, but by the place in which they are applied. Hence Jay Stile's 2000 Webby Award winning site, Stile Project (not work safe will offend), has a very different set of netiquette to somewhere such as AOL moderated family chatrooms.

Blogs, like this site, and others, are unique individual spaces online. Effectively they are they're own little bulletin board. Owned by their owners, and run as their owners see fit. They may share a theme or subject with others, but the netiquette which they fall within is that which is held by the owner.

There are of course some authoritarians out there that wish to make all blogs of a certain type, for example political blogs, act in certain way. They would like to see rulebooks that control how one interacts. They site things like the "right to reply" as justification. In my view where they fail is believing that they have a right to reply.

Of course the argument is arse about face, because it claims to be in favour of debate whilst simultaneously dictating the means by which that debate should be framed. It's rather like the fabled "consultation" processes that Government love so much.

But whilst these people are evidently wrong in their Cromwellian puritanism designed to reduce moral poverty on the blogosphere, they certainly should be allowed to let their authoritarian views be heard. Therefore, I suggest to them that they submit an RFC that way they can have "This site is RFC xxx Compliant" on their pages. Apply the so-called "right to reply" to the Internet and see what they think, but don't cry when they plonk you.

Ruth Turner arrested and charged?

There are unconfirmed rumours going around that Ruth Turner has been arrested and charged at Number 10 in the Cash for Peerages scandal. Not much more to add really.

BBC confirms arrest. Not charged though

Livingstone condems Big Brother whilst proving he has not watched it

The Mayor of London appears to have done a Tessa Jowell a la Brasseye Special and issued a statement condemning Big Brother within which lies proof that he has not actually watched the show. In his press release here, he says,
Ms Shetty has been subjected to sustained racism. Contestants have said: “You need elocution lessons."
In fact, it was Ms Shetty who said that to Jade Goody. Arguably she was right, and clearly Livingstone hasn't actually watched the programme he has condemned.

It should also be noted that Livingstone, had he genuinely been watching Big Brother, and genuinely was concerned about racism in all its forms, would be calling for Jermaine Jackson to be evicted after he said to Shetty earlier this week "these people are not like us.... they are not people of colour.. they are white trash".

I wonder if Livingstone wants a hand down of the bandwagon that he has so ably leaped upon?

DVLA does not sell your info except when it does

In response to a query about the DVLA selling driver infromation to third parties, Stephen Ladyboy yesterday said,
"The DVLA does not sell driver information. Where the law requires information on vehicles and their keepers to be released to third parties a fee is levied to cover the costs of the transaction only so that the burden does not fall on the tax payer. The DVLA does not collate the number of such transactions."
So there you have it, the DVLA does not sell your information except when it does and it doesn't know when that it is, but it does know it happens.

Glad that's sorted... competence knows no bounds!

How much does Guardian advertising cost?

The failure of the Government to answer written questions is, as everyone knows, an annoyance of mine. What confuses this situation for me is when an MP is clearly going from department to department asking the same question and yet appears to receive answers from some, and excuses from others. This week I'm thinking of Tory MP, Oliver Heald, who has been trying to find out how much departments spend on advertising in the Guardian.

For example, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport spent just short of £39,000 last year on Guardian advertising, whilst the House of Commons Commmission manage to throw £84,951 in there direction. The Welsh Office even got in on the action, spending just over £3,500. Yet when the question was asked to the Department of Transport the answer back was slightly different (and yet predicatable).
Gillian Merron: : The Department did not use The Guardian in fiscal year 2005-06 for advertising in support of our THINK! road safety or Continuous Registration campaigns.

The Guardian has been used for recruitment advertising. Details, however, are not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Not held centrally? How can you know that you've used the Guardian for recruitment advertising; know that you must have paid for it out of a budget; and yet not know how much you actually spent? What's more, how come other departments answer the question quickly and easily? I dread to think what the figure is, but I have a feeling it's rather high, and that's the real reason it's not been answered.

Who dropped the ball?

Only a quick observation, but as we now know, evidence has been presented at the trial of the failed 21/7 bombings which shows the defendents on a Msulim training camp in the Lake District. The filming was apparently carried out by an undercover police team 14 months prior to the bombing.

What's odd is why no one in the press or media seems to be asking why these guys were allegedly able to make it on to trains with bombs if they had been under surveillance already and were known to the security services? Somebody, somewhere, dropped a ball on this one surely?

Indian Tourist Board writes open letter to Jade

A number of the national papers, and the London free sheet Metro, have an advert in them this morning from the Indian Tourism Board. The adevrt is titled "An Open Letter to Jade Good and friends" and says,
"Dear Jade Goody. Once your current commitments are over, may we invite you to experience the healing nature of India.... Being one of the world’s oldest civilisations, our land is one where the ancient and the modern co-exist and a multitude of religions live in harmony.... As a beauty therapist, you may be especially interested in visiting one of the many spas where you can cleanse your stresses away, enjoy yoga in the land that invented it and experience Ayurvedic healing which promotes positive health and natural beauty."
Something tells me that Jade doesn't really know that much about beauty therapy.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Why you want an iPhone

Admission by ommission

Cabinet Office Press Release
"Minister defends the ambition and vision behind Government IT projects at National Awards"
Ambition and vision is all they've got, they can hardly boast about delivery.

Driving At Work. Because you need to know what to do!

Every now and again you find something that just makes you go "WTF?" and today is one of those days. David Kidney, Labour MP for Stafford, asked the Department of Transport what steps it would be taking "in the next 12 months to champion the issue of driving while at work across Government".

Now I accept I may be naive here, but I was unaware that "driving at work" was an issue, nor that it needed championing, especially by Government. But then I don't lean towards the Lefts' tendency of setting up reviews, commissions, into the minutiae of people's daily live, so maybe that explains my temporary moment of puzzlement.

That doesn't mean the response didn't given me a chuckle though. Transport Minister, Stephen Ladyboy said,
"[p]reliminary work is now complete and I aim to have a full programme in place across Government within 12 months to promote best practice policies in respect of driving at work."
Follow that? He's done some preliminary work (that probably just means he's thought about it), and he promises to have done something within a year. Handy, given he's a Blairite so probably doesn't have a year left in the job anyway!

This got me wondering though, what the hell would go in a booklet of "Best Practice* for Driving at Work"?
  1. Remember to use the steering wheel at all times
  2. Keep all four wheels on the ground
  3. If you have not passed a driving test you're fired for lying at interview.
  4. You will need the key to start the vehicle. Do no forget it.
  5. Do not drink whilst driving at work. You might hit a bump and spill it.
  6. Remember to drive on the left hand side of the road.
  7. Workers from the Indian sub-continent should be aware that excessive horn use in Britian can result in broken bones.
  8. We fully expect you to ignore everything in this list of Best Practice policy booklet.
If anyone can think of any others do submit them in the Comments.
* "Best Practice" is a horrible management phrase that should be purged from existence whever possible.

Lets burn some carbon! And don't forget room service!

You'd think that if you wanted Foreign travel the best place to work would be the Foreign Office, but actually, being in David Miliband's DEFRA isn't too bad.

David "I love the planet" Miliband managed to spend just under £2.6m on foreign air travel last year. He also racked up just over a million on foreign rail travel, and spent just shy of £800K on foreign hotels.

Now perhaps I'm being mean but £2.6m seems an awfully excessive amount of air travel spend for the Secretary of the State for the Environment at a time when he says we're all doomed and must change our environmentally unfriendly ways.

On the other, what is effectively £2000 per day on foreign accommodation must buy a hell of the lot of room service and *cough* movies.

My only Big Brother comment

When Jade, Jo and Danielle get out of that house they should fire their agents. Any agent worth their salt would have spotted the direction the papers were heading in and pulled their clients out rather than give them more rope.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Rubik Cube MP3 Player

Fair enough, once you've turned it on and played around with it for a bit it you might be a little confused as to how to turn the bloody thing off or skip track. But think of the retro-chic feeling you'll have when you show it off on the tube.

Who am I kidding? Cool concept, not particularly practical though.
Hat Tip: Yanko Design

The ideal Government job for a slacker like me

Often, people who are interested in politics also have ambitions in that direction too. Some, like the former MP Oona King have not been afraid to be honest and say they'd like to be Prime minister one day either.

Given this I've pondered on what job, if I could freely pick any, in government I would ever actually be willing to do, and I've finally settled on an answer.

If forced at gunpoint it would have to be the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a post currently held by Mr Hilary Armstrong MP. Why you may wonder would I want that post?

Well, there was a time once when, although it was a sinecure, it did involve work. However now it's considered a role that requires no more than about a days work each week which, given my penchant for slacking, appeals to me.

But what really appeals most is the drinks and party budget. If last year is anything to go by, I'd be able to spend at least £649,000 on hospitality and entertainment!

Who wouldn't want a job like that? One day a week and half a million on booze and nibbles!

When up is down, and down is up?

It never ceases to amaze me how the Government can put out a press release with a headline statement and then bury completely contradictory information in the detail. Here is the headline from the the DWP
"Jim Murphy, Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform, welcomed today's Labour Market figures - which show more people in work, a fall in the claimant count, and a fall in ILO unemployment"
When you read on you discover that, ok, the number of people working has risen 274,000 over the past year, but that can be explained away by massive inward migration from accession states, plus people starting work for the first time in conjunction with people working longer and not retiring. But the real killer comes in the claims that there's a fall in the claimant count and a fall in ILO unemployment. It is, to say the least disingenuous.

A quick look at the notes of the press release shows that
"The number claiming Jobseeker's Allowance fell in December, down 5.5 thousand to 943.1 thousand. It is up 35.2 thousand over the year.

ILO unemployment is down 29 thousand this quarter but up 139 thousand on a year ago."
Basically, the trends are up, but the Government is using a one month snapshot (which just so happens to be the month when lots of people go into seasonal work) to make tub thumping statements. Statistics are fab!

Blair called Brown "psychologically flawed" not Campbell says former Downing Street spin doctor

In an interview with 18 Doughty Street TV's Iain Dale, the former Downing Street spin doctor, and author of the Spin Doctor's Diary, Lance Price, has said that far from it being Alastair Campbell that called Gordon Brown "psychologically flawed" it was actually the Prime Minister himself, Tony Blair.

When asked about why Alastair Campbell spoke of Brown in such terms, Price said to Dale that he wasn't sure it was Campbell. When pushed he went to say,
Well no, I don’t know, I don’t know for a fact it was Alastair Campbell. I’ll tell you what somebody…somebody very close to the Chancellor who was having this discussion, many people had this discussion obviously, said to me; “By the way everyone says it was Alastair, it wasn’t Alastair”. He said it was Tony Blair. It was Tony Blair who said it. It was completely unacceptable for the news to be out there that this was what the Prime Minister said about the Chancellor so therefore Alastair took the rap and Alastair’s been the lightning conductor ever since.
You can see the entire interview here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Introducing The Fisk

A new site linked to 18 Doughty Street has been started today at It's purpose is
"daily rebuttals of comment articles, speeches, government leaflets and blogs. In the internet age no sloppy thinking is free from exposure and analysis."
There will be a number of contributers over the coming weeks, including, yours truly. This does mean though that I may have to buy the Indy and/or Guardian every day. Pity my blood pressure.

German tea research upsets MPs

As people may recall, last week there was some research produced that suggested putting milk into tea ruined the benefits gained from the tea itself. Clearly, as an avid tea drinker, I know that this research is patently false.

After all, the caffeine is still there after you put milk in, and that little chemical compound is what matters right? Anyways, it seems I'm not the only person upset by the research's suggestions as this Early Day Motion by Tory MP, Daniel Kawczynski shows,
That this House is always keen to welcome scientific research into the health benefits of food and drink, but is hostile to a recent German study calling into question the application of milk to tea as reducing any health benefits to be had from tea; recognises other reports that counter such claims; and also wishes to raise awareness of the health benefits of adding milk to tea of raising vitamin B intake by up to 30 per cent., folic acid by five per cent. and calcium intake by 21 per cent. more than if the tea were drunk alone.
Hear, hear! The great British cuppa deserves championing surely?