Saturday, March 31, 2007

He's forever blowing bubbles....

I've always thought that the West Ham song about blowing bubbles would sound better if it went "they fly so high, nearly reach the sky, they're like West Ham, they fade and die", but on the performance I just saw at Upton Park I don't think that would be fair.

However, better than the football was witnessing Iain Dale singing the song in a mockney accent. There was also a wave between him and the Police minister Tony McNulty who was up in the posh seats wearing a suit... football transcends politics after all.

West Ham won 2-0 if you're interested, Middlesborough were absolutely woeful, and Carlos Tevez was all over their defence like a bad rash. Cheers for the ticket Iain.

Brown blames Cameron for his pension deception

Highly amusing I thought but Gordon Brown sent out his lieutenant Ed Balls on to the Today programme this morning to put out the line that the pension story and the billions lost were all as a result of David Cameron's advice to Norman Lamont. The entirely partial Jim Naughtie then happily parroted the line more than once. Watching politicians do desperate things is funny.

Chocolate Jesus exhibition cancelled

How truly bizarre? An Easter art exhibition at a Manhatten hotel which contains a life size, "anatomically correct", chocolate Jesus, has decided to close after complaints from the Catholic Church. The statue is made from 200lbs on chocolate and stands as if Jesus is on an invisible. I'm presuming that the thing that Church disliked is that he has no loin cloth on and is flying commando.

Proof of Brown's pension grab exposed after two year battle by the Times

This morning's Times has published evidence received through the Freedom of Information Act that show that Gordon Brown was repeatedly warned about the impact his £5 billion-a-year raid of pensions would have and still went ahead with it. Brown was told, in no uncertain terms, his plans "would make a big hole in pension scheme finances".

Gordon Brown has consistently denied he has caused the current crisis in the pension system, yet these documents make it clear that he was not only told what would happen, but that he blundered on forward, even when alternatives were offered such as phased introduction of his changes. On the back of his tax grab Budget of the low paid, and the news that only 1 in 4 people actually claim tax credits, the documents show that Brown was told his changes would "lead to a reduction in pension benefits for the lower paid" and he still went ahead with it.

The Treasury denial to the Times is quite amusing as well. They called it a "travesty" of the information they received (which took two years to extract from the Treasury) and claim that "[a]nyone who pretends these decisions have led to the funding problems for pension schemes in recent years, while ignoring the impact of the crash, the pension holidays in the 1980s and 1990s, and the rise in life expectancy is simply distorting the facts."

Friday, March 30, 2007

Pelosi refuses to support British troops seized in Iran?

The US based Power Line blog is reporting that the leader of the House of Representative in the US Congress, Nancy Pelosi, has been allowing a resolution of support for Britain over the seized Navy sailor in Iran to languish all week without bringing it to the floor of the House. It quotes a letter from Congressman Eric Cantor to Pelosi which says,
Dear Madam Speaker:

Fifteen kidnapped British marines and sailors recently became the latest victims of a systematic Iranian campaign of terror and international defiance. The illegal seizure of the British forces is a signal that Iran views us as powerless to prevent it from realizing its aggressive ambitions.

For the sake of our standing in the world, our allies and most importantly the 15 British personnel and their families, I urge you to bring H. Res. 267 to the floor today before we adjourn. The resolution calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the British marines and sailors. It would also call on the U.N. Security Council to not only condemn the seizure, but to explore harsher sanctions to counter the growing Iranian threat.
It also quotes a Republican congressional staffer incredulity at the situation.

Cheers Nancy, thanks for the support.
Hat Tip: Theo Spark

Gregory Campbell MP you are neither big, clever or funny

EDM 1253
That this House notes the recent results of the Northern Ireland football team in the European Championship qualifiers, including the 2-1 win over Sweden; acknowledges the fact that after this latest result Northern Ireland now sits top of their group; salutes the outstanding performance of Lawrie Sanchez, all the team including top scorer David Healy, and their magnificent supporters; and encourages all the other home countries who currently occupy lower positions in their groups to take as their inspiration the country whose unofficial anthem is We're not Brazil, we're Northern Ireland.
Plaid Cymru have anti-English PPBs and now the DUP is having a dig at us and the bloody Scots. When will the madness end?
Note: Steve McClaren sucks

The joy of being a small party like Plaid Cymru

You can come up with stupidly ideas and never worrying about having to implement them. Like grants for first time buyers to get a house, or even better, free laptops for every child when they turn 11. Honestly I'm not joking, it's in the PPB. I particularly enjoyed the anti-English tone of it, it would be difficult to be more blatent.

Who knew the Doctor could do impressions?

The truth behind "renewal"?

Department of Transport not on target to hit target?

We all know about diversity in the workplace, and the joy of all-wimmin shortlists in the Labour Party. Getting more women into things is a big drivers for everyone it seems, except perhaps when driver is the job.

According to the Government, there are less women drivers today in the Government Car and Despatch Agency than there were in 2002, but they also have a target to increase the number by 2011.

Looking at the five year trend though they don't look like they're having much luck. Currently, only 5.63% of the drivers in the GCDA are women, and the previous four years look like this.
  • 2002-03 5.68%
  • 2003-04 4.76%
  • 2004-05 4.04%
  • 2005-06 4.76%
Now I know what people will say, they will say "ahhh but the trend is up", and indeed it is. The actually figure is still lower than it was a few years ago, and I wonder why, when releasing the figures, Stephen Ladyboy didn't say what the 2011 target was and instead said it was in the action plan he had placed in the Commons Library. It couldn't be that they're going to miss it could it?

For the record, I don't see the point in having a target in the first place. Best people for the job should get the job. Period. I enjoy laughing at the failure though.

DCMS fails to make profit at ticket tout conference

Apparently, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport often holds what it calls "summits" for particular industries. They don't actually cost very much but they had one recently on ticket touting which cost, according to the DCMS, £0.00. Surely they should've made a profit?

Karl Rove rapping?

President Bush's close advisor Karl Rove errrr... rapping. It happened at a Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner. He's much better than Keith Hill. The other old people dancing with him are also some sort of Politico types I think.

The computer that evolves.. yes really

A team at a Norwegian University have built the first evolutionary computer hardware. In order for the hardware to increase it's own performance, it uses genetic algorithms to evolve.
What their hardware does is par up “genes” in the hardware to find the hardware design that is the most effective to accomplish the tasks at hand. Just like in the real world it can take 20 to 30 thousand generations before the system finds the perfect design to solve the problem, but this will happen in just a few seconds compared to the 8-900.000 years it took humans to go through the same number of generations.
HAL is coming!
From here via here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

All-party Parliamentary Report on Antisemitism

The Government has just announced that it is to have a new strategy to tackle antisemitism in Britain which should be welcomed. However, the words Livingstone, Galloway, nor Respect do not appear in it which is odd.

There is a rather bemusing sentence in the report which is actually a reference to the original All-Parliamentary Report that the Government is responding too. It says,
We conclude the a minority of Islamic extremists in this country do incite hatred towards Jews. The undoubted prejudice and difficulties that British Muslims feel and their justified sense of increasing Islamophobia cannot be used to justify antisemitic words and violence.
Now is it me or that a self-contradictory little conclusion? On the one hand it saying that antisemitism is wrong and totally unjustified, and then on the other it seems to be saying that Muslims' views of Jews are justified, but that they should all just keep quiet about it. Effectively the statement itself has a sub-text that could quite easily be interpreted as a nod toward antisemitism.

Might this explain why the Government itself refused to acknowledge that aspect of it? See page 8, point 15 which shows the above paragraph and then the Governments response which removes it.

Lib Dems fear zombie crime spree?

We can't even trust the dead now?
Mr. Clegg: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many bodies are registered for Criminal Records Bureau check.
Perhaps he's worried about Ming?
N.B. I am full aware of how appalling poor this joke was. You do not need to tell me so.

Ministry of Justice website is exactly where I said it would be

As I exclusively predicted back in February, the new Ministry of Justice website is going to be located at After just over a month of rewriting the address to a DirectGov website (put in after I broke the story) it now proudly displays the following message:
"Ministry of Justice
On 29 March 2007 the Prime Minister announced that a new Ministry of Justice will be established. The changes will come into effect on 9 May 2007."
They still haven't registered yet though, maybe they will just keep the Home Office website instead.

Government confirms woeful Internet voting security procedure

The idea of Internet voting is not something that fills me with fluffy warm participation feelings as it is well documented. Exposing the voting for local or general elections on the public Internet is, quite simply, universally stupid anyway. However, I've just learnt what the security protocols for getting, and exrecising an Internet vote will be and it's actually quite frightening.

According to the Constitutional Affairs minister, Bridget Prentice, if you want to vote via the Internet or by phone you will have to pre-register the same way you do for postal votes. In other words you fill in a form and either post it, or give it to someone to hand in.

In order to "secure" the Internet voting system there will apparently be a "combination of two codes, one provided by the elector and one by the local elections office" which will be used to "identify electors when they log on to vote".

So let me get this straight. I choose a code which the system has to know in conjunction with one issued to me by the electoral officer? How does my code make it onto a system? Something tells me I won't be entering it myself, something tells me I will have to put it on that form that I hand over to some random town hall person, post, or even worse, hand it over to a party political collector.

I dread to think what format the "code" will take. If its four figures you can guarantee that people will use their PIN number. That will be their PIN on a form with their name and address on it too. If it is six figures, they'll probably use their date of birth.

Call me a cynic, but as we saw with all-postal vote pilots, there are going to be massive appeals and claims about abuse of an Internet system, and the so-called security measures that will apparently protect voting integrity is frankly pathetic.

Earl Day Motions: the placebo for action?

Besides health and safety fascism, one other thing that really gets my back up is the anti-Enlightenment tendency toward mysticism and scientific nonsense. My blood pressure increases even more when I see people try and claim that there is some sort of scientific value in utter nonsense. Homeopathy is one such mystical bollocks that is peddled as being a genuine and actual treatment for illness.

I've mentioned it before on here I think, but homeopathy is based upon the most non-sensical approach to active ingredients in a treatment ever known. The theory goes like this. Take x of active ingredient, dilute x with water by the power of ten, then do it again, and again, and again. The more you dilute the active ingredient, so the homeopathy fans says, the stronger it becomes. The water from the initial dilution you see, has memory.

In homeopathy there are different weaknesses strengths of active solution. The weakest strongest is so diluted the active ingredient is about the equivalent to a couple of grains of salt in the Atlantic. Any impact of homeopathy can be explained anyway by the placebo effect.

This bring me neatly on to a motion tabled by Rudi Vis MP calling on the Government to ensure that homeopathy and other quack alternative snake oils therapies be protected and provided on the NHS because they are "national assets".

There are many people who think the EDM system is a bit of waste of time, and is simply a means for Parliamentarians to be seen to be doing something. In this case they're right, ironically the motion is a placebo for action about placebos.

Blair gives misleading answer to Parliament about ePetitions?

It looks like the the person responsibile for the e-petitions on the Downing Street website who was called a "prat" by an unnamed minister after allowing the road pricing petitions up is off the hook.

When questioned about the cost of administrative support of the ePetition system, Blair answered saying that "it is potentially part of the work of all those involved in e-petitions and handling correspondence in my office" so it would be impossible to quantify the cost.

I have but a one word response to that, which is, characteristically, "bollocks". If everyone is potentially responsible then why is it, when you submit a petition as I did for a joke, you receive confirmation from and the email is signed "-- the ePetitions team"?

Call me old fashioned, but Blair's answer seems to me to be somewhat misleading. If he has an "ePetitions team" then he cannot equally claim that the ePetitions are managed by everyone in his office. Unless of course he's just made-up the "ePetitions team" to make it look like he has staff dedicated to it, but he wouldn't do that would he? That would be dishonest!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No, no, no, no, no!

A star (Eddie Griffin) ruining a not at all reasonably priced car!
So wrong.

Microsoft sends secret dossier on reporter, to reporter

After my personal amusement yesterday of a civil servant sending me an FoI response having used an old senior management internal memo with track changes switched on, Microsoft's PR firm have gone one step better.

Wired journalist and contributing editor Fred Vogelstein has posted on his blog about an email he received from Microsoft’s PR firm, Waggener Edstrom, which contained a thirteen page memo on how the PR company was going to deal with him.

Something tells me the PR company may be losing their contract soon, or more likely the silly sod that sent it will have been fired. Read more here and download the document here.
Found via TechCrunch

You can always rely on YouTube

Iain posted about this on Monday and gave a Windows media link but it's also available on YouTube and deserves airing. Jack McConnell, leader of Scottish Labour, saying that the SNP can win.

No more blogspot address

I have finally pulled my thumb out of the proverbial and registered which I have been promising myself I would do for quite literally months. The old blogspot address will still bring you here so there is no rush to switch links, but you may want to change the link anyway in blogrolls etc.

Macavity scrubs himself clean of spilt porridge

If ever one needed evidence of how much control freakery there is from the Treasury into other departments spending consider this little gem. If the Home Office is found to have totally screwed up (I know, it's rare!) and thus finds itself subject to making a compensation payout, it has to go cap in hand for permission from Brown to pay out anything above £20,000.

The figure, given out in a written response to Mark Francois MP yesterday by the Home Office Minister, Liam Byrne, means that when the news broke last May that prisoners were receiving masses in compensation, it wasn't actually the Home Office that authorised it.

Whilst the prisons minister, Gerry Sutcliffe for it is he, took all the flak in the press and the Home Office found itself engulfed in yet another scandal, it was actually our good friend Macavity who was to blame. As you'd expect though, when everyone looked, Macavity wasn't there.

Guido does segment for Newsnight

What's this? Guido on Newsnight? Michael Crick's replacement perhaps? Guido interviews Nick Robinson, Adam Boutlon and Jeremy Paxman about the fact that the mainstream is forced to worry about its relationship with politicians at the expense of proper reporting.

There's a great quote from Paxman "that's complete bollocks" and he gives Guido his "incredulous" look too. Watch it here.

Disabled people's personal data stolen from Government Agency

According to a very short response from the DWP Minister, Anne McGuire, in the last 12 months, the Independent Living Fund, the agency that provides help to the severly disabled has had one backup tape of personal data stolen.

No further information was given, but assuming it's an industry standrard type tape, such as DLT8, that could, at least theoretically, represent about 40Gigs of personal data about a significant group of extremely vulnerable people.

Hopefully someone will follow up on this, as to lose a backup tape is bad enough, but if your information security procedures are so poor that tapes full of personal data can be lfited, what does that say about the multutde of other central database the Goevrnment has built, is building, or wishes too build?

Is Hilary Benn's campaign finally taking off?

An "unofficial" Hilary Benn supporting website has appeared called Backing Benn, although so far they'v only managed to post a joke video by Gwierdo of Mr Benn.

However, someone kindly linked to the video below in their comments which is much funnier. I have no idea who the guy is, but he really doesn't like Peter Hain, that's for sure! I shall calling him Ranting Billy! It's also labelled as part one, so I imagine there is more to come (warning contains naughty words).

Poll says Gordon Budget was wonderful?

Bucking the trend of every other pollster, the Independent is running a piece on a poll by Communicate Research which apparently shows a slip in the Tory lead and also shows that the population think the Budget was brilliant and Gordon Brown made them all richer.

The headline lead figures are not really of interest to me to be honest, it's this apparent data that shows we're all really chuffed with the Budget that I am confused by. I've yet to speak to anyone who didn't either (a) consider it a con, or (b) get annoyed that it hit the poorest.

The SNP might not just wipe out Labour. UKIP should fear them too

Were I a member of UKIP this morning the news of the Populus poll in the Times about the Scottish election would have me worrying. Instinctively one might wonder why the Scottish elections should worry what is, perceived to be at least a single issue party around the on the matter of our membership of the European Union, but I shall explain.

If, as the poll suggests, and the SNP wipe out Labour in the Scottish elections then one of their key policy platforms is a substantive referendum on full independence from the United Kingdom.

Now, I don't know what the chances of winning such a vote is for a party that is predicted to achieve 50% of the vote in May, but what seems clear is that the possibility of a referendum being won by the SNP seems far more likely today than it has for some time.

Should such a referendum be held and won then it will effectively be Scotland that resolves the West Lothian Question with the nuclear option. The destruction of the Act of Union, and thereby the end of the sovereign existence of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will remove all questions about English votes for English matters.

So where does UKIP fit into all this you may wonder? Well, as most people know, the European Union as it is today is the sum of its treaties. In the case of our membership, it was the UK that negotiated entry and agreed to become a signatory. An SNP referendum win on independence will effectively nullify all those treaties. After all, if the nation state that joined no longer exists, then, as they say, "all bets are off".

Scotland will, if it so chooses (and I can't see her not doing it when the money from England disappears), negotiate its own membership of the EU. Likewise, it will be down to what is left, be it separate nations or a new Union between England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to find a settlement on it’s relationship with the EU.

Consequentially, and party politically, as the United Kingdom will technically not exist it means the playing field on which UKIP places itself is suddenly, and dramatically, altered changed. The simple move of breaking the Act of Union will instantly propel each of the home nations out of the EU and will provide the means for renegotiation on whatever terms we so choose. Be it rejoining; be it EFTA; or be it "sod off".

The question is, what happens to UKIP? Now, I imagine my UKIPer friends will point out to me that their party is undergoing a re-branding strategy and will soon emerge as the Independence Party. This is all well and good, but how many members, and crucially voters will it retain? I’d suggest that many will simply flock back to the Tory Party that they originally left once the EU issue is resolved.

Consider this as well; many of the most active people in UKIP are libertarian free marketeers (which is not a bad thing in itself). However I’d hazard a guess that a large majority of its vote is simply made up of traditional Tories whose only problem is the single issue of Europe.

Arguably, the party that UKIP and Nigel Farage should fear if any is not the traditional three, but actually the SNP. It is the SNP who threaten to end the Union, and along with it the very relationship with Europe that UKIP (and a lot of Tories too) want to see changed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Government launches "visionary" crime strategy

The Home Office has issued a press release about its new "visionary strategy" for tackling crime. The press release is titled:
"Targeting the criminal to stop the crime: Government launches major new vision on security, crime and justice"
I'm impressed, it never occurred to me that if you just stop the criminal you'll stop the crime!?
Image by Theo Spark

The peril that track changes can be to a civil servant!

Why is it that no matter how many times people in offices use Microsoft Word they never check to see if the "track changes" feature is still on on the document they are working on? I ask this because this morning I discovered that the person who provided with information in an FoI which I wrote about here seems to have made that very mistake!

Whilst I did indeed receive answers to my questions, I also received, hidden away in the document, a memo from 2004 sent by the Director of Contact Centres for JobCentrePlus to all the others Field Directors and Deputy Directors of JobCentrePlus, and all did not seem well back then.

Apparently they experienced "painful" internal communication issues when it came to reporting and escalating emerging IT and telephony problems. The memo says that it "has been clear for some weeks now that the current systems for communicating and escalating IT issues which seriously impact CC business, and hence links to local office operations, are not serving us as well as they have in the past."

The memo then went on to detail the "current situation" and blamed communication failures on it having to deal with two contracted channels. The memo said that "not only are there two major contractual routes to deal with, each have different systems for recording incidents but also and to add to the issue each have different service levels agreed as part of legacy contracts - and this is just IT."

I wonder if they still have those dual contracts causing them problems three years on? Clearly they still have issues with IT training where they should be beating into their staff that just because you delete something, especially where Microsoft is involved, it doesn't really mean it's gone! If you forget that people might suggesting that you're not fit for purpose!

Cabinet Office press releases cost around £3000 each?

Apparently the Cabinet Office employs eight press officers at a cost to the taxpayer of £475,000 per year. Now I don't know whether that is excessive or not, the Cabinet Office does quite a lot I imagine, so figuring out if it's excessive the best I can really offer is to look at their output for the last year.

From the beginning of January 2006 to date, assuming their website is correct, those eight press officers have issued a grand total of 150 press releases, with my lowly B grade GCSE maths, I work that out to be approximately 18 press releases each (or about 1.5 a month).

If one assumes that press officers - for the most part at least - do press releases, then that works out to approximately £3166 per press release. Now some people may think I'm being unfair, press officers also answer the phone and field press enquiries for their money.

Perhaps someone can tell me how busy the Cabinet Office press office actually is though, because even if they received a hundred calls a day, that still means the cost of their employment compared to their press release output is rather high no?

Almost £300 million spent on closed IT projects in the DWP

Since 1997, the Department of Work and Pensions and it's predecessor have done exceptionally well in spending money on IT projects which it then cancels. In total it has managed to spend over a quarter of a billion pounds on such projects (£289.4m).

Just over 90% of that expenditure was on just two projects, the Customer Accounting and Payment Strategy, closed in 1999-2000, and Benefits Processing Replacement Programme (BPRP), closed during this current financial year.

Worryingly, the latter project, at £127m expenditure is only the "estimated costs" at the time of closure, so Lord knows what the actual figure might be. The DWP has tried to sweeten the wastage though by stressing that in the case of BPRP just over half of the £135m money spent (around £73m) still provides "future value to the Department" so it's actually an investment!

This does of course mean that they've acknowledged they managed to piss £62 million up the proverbial wall on a project that effectively failed.

Does HIlary Benn know what he's doing?

In May 2002, after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and removal of the Taliban regime, a multilateral fund was set up by the World Bank called the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. As you've probably guessed this fund existed for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

According to the World Bank it has two primary purposes, first to "provide for the recurrent costs of the government, such as the salaries of teachers, health workers, civilian staff in ministries and provinces, operations, and maintenance expenditures; and bulk purchases of essential goods for the government. Second, it would support investment projects, capacity building, feasibility studies, technical assistance, and the return of expatriate Afghans".

By September last year, the 25 nations donating to the fund had pledged $1.7 billion of which $1.4 billion had been received. That's an awful lot of money that can probably help do an awful lot of things in Afghanistan. Given this it's not unreasonable to think the Government would want to let it been known how well the reconstruction projects are going, however, there is a problem, they don't actually know, and it would cost them too much to find out (do they not have Google?).

In response to a question from the shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague yesterday about what large scale reconstruction projects have been completed in Afghanistan since 2002, the International Development Secretary, and Labour Deputy leadership hopeful Hilary Benn said, "[t]his information is not available and to obtain it would incur a disproportionate cost."

Isn't it good to know that the man responsible for dishing out aid in a country we have a military presence in knows what is happening with the cash?

Clarke dares Brown to "steal" Tory democracy proposals

The democracy task force set up by David Cameron and chaired by Kenneth Clarke is apparently set to report that there should be root-and-branch of the ministerial code and the way in which Government operates to take Britain away from the "sofa politics" that has been created under the current President Prime Minister.

In an interview with the Independent he also said that he hoped Gordon Brown would "steal" the idea so that the next election can have all-party agreement on the matter.

However, he went on to describe Brown as "the ultimate autocrat," and that "[i]f you think Blair is a control freak, wait until you see Brown", so his hope is obviously quite thin that Brown will steal the plans.

The plans include an end to the Royal Prerogative on declaring war, along with taking the control of the ministerial code of conduct out of the supervision of the Prime Minister and instead handing it over to a committee of MPs who could publicly criticise the PM if rules were breached.

The Indy has more details about the proposal here most of which seem pretty much common sense. The most significant move is the proposal to halve the number of special advisers in the different department in an attempt to de-politicise the Civil Service.

Clarke decision to effectively dare Brown into accepting the proposals and stealing them is an effective move. After all, if he rejects them all he will be effectively showing his contempt for democratising a broken system and so give even more weight to view that he's a complete control freak.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fraudulent benefit fraud figures?

Following on from my post earlier regarding the prosecution success rate in comparison to calls to the Benefit Fraud Hotline I can exclusively reveal to you further Benefit Fraud Hotline statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the six years preceding the previously mentioned figures, the average number of calls each year to the Benefit Fraud Hotline was 199,191 (rounded up by 0.25). At the same time the average number of prosecutions achieved as a result of these calls for each year was 628. This actually represents an average hit rate of 0.31% so things are looking up from earlier (as an average at least)!

However, in addition to these figures there is also the question of the operating cost of the hotline. On Friday, in response to a question from the Tory MP, David Ruffley on this matter, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, James Plaskitt said
"[t]he operational costs of administering the national benefit fraud hotline include the costs of administering the report-a-benefit thief online service. These costs cannot be separated. The available information is in the following table."
The table then presented to Parliament (at the top of this page) simply detailed the budget allocation, rather than the operating cost for the hotline on the basis of the reasons given in the quote. Now, this may of course seem perfectly reasonable, after all, the hotline costs and another "grass on your neighbour" project have a joint budget that cannot be separated, it makes sense to simply display the budget allocation instead right?.... wrong!

In figures I've received under FoI, the operating costs for NBFH during 2005/06 is not the £986,000 joint budget that Parliament was told and is in fact significantly higher for just the NBFH. The FoI response states clearly that the "actual operating costs for NBFH during 2005/06 was £1,212,901". This represents an overspend of £226,901 on NBFH alone.

The FoI response (drawn up in January) goes on to state that the "forecasted operating costs for 2006/2007 are £1,497,425" which is in marked comparison to the supposed budget allocation of just £597,010 in the Parliamentary response. This forecast represents an overspend of £900,415 on just one project in a budget that, according to the Government, exists for two distinct projects.

This leads to a few important questions. Firstly, who and how is the overspend being paid for? Secondly (and perhaps most importantly), isn't someone somewhere being fraudulent (how ironic) with the benefit fraud hotline figures?

It's just like watching tennis!

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether the next census will include questions on ethnicity and proficiency in languages, including proficiency in English.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The information requested falls within the responsibility of the National Statistician, who has been asked to reply.

Letter from Karen Dunnell, National Statistician, to Lord Greaves, dated 22 March 2007.
"It is not possible to confirm what questions and response categories are to be included in the 2011 census until the consultation and testing programme is complete and formal approval is given by Parliament in 2010."
Please be advised that no frying pans were hurt during the extraction of teflon.

Government scraps two year old quango in favour of super-quango

The Government has announced that it is to create a new super-quango called Animal Health on April 1st (presumably it is not a joke). The super-quango will merge the current State Veterinary Service with the Dairy Hygiene and Egg Marketing Inspectorates and the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service.

They even have a flashy new logo (pictured) which I'm sure was commissioned at an exceptionally cheap price. I imagine the cost of merging the office, the stationary, office moves, job changes etc won't cost alot either.

The State Veterinary Service was formed in 2005 so its managed to exist for a whole two years before being axed. When it was launched, the DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw said,
'[t]he development of the SVS as an agency provides real opportunities for better strategic liaison in public health and animal health and welfare at a national, regional and local level, and for the SVS to develop its capabilities to the full.'
Presumably he's now tacitly saying that wasn't true? After all, the merger is apparently about efficiency, so by implication the previous set-up was inefficient. What better way I ask you is there than spedning money on a merger and creating a bigger bureaucracy to solve a problem you created in the first place? Pass the sellotape someone, they found another crack!

MPs call for sexual orientation question in the UK Census

Thankfully there are pretty much no signatures on this motion which calls on the Government to add a question to the census about what you choose to do with your genitalia. It's bad enough that the Government is trying to add all sorts of question to the census about how much we earn, without having them intruding into our bedrooms too.

The motion was tabled by a Lib Dem, and has been signed by a couple of people from the other two main parties, but I just don't understand why. They claim that it is necessary to know which way each of swing in the name of assessing the equality legislation that has come into place. This is plainly bollocks.

The Government has no right to know what any of us choose to do in consensual sexual acts, and it worries me that a Conservative MP would sign a motion saying it should. Who, and frankly, what you choose to have sexual gratification with is none of the state's business unless it is specifically against the law (and even then in some cases the law can be bollocks anyway).

Benefit Fraud Hotline has a 0.28% prosecution hit rate

Between February 2006 and January 2007 the National Benefit Fraud hotline received 211,355 calls according to a written answer from the DWP. Some of these calls may have been the same person checking up on the status of their snitching, but even so it's quite impressive.

Of course, the National Benefit Fraud hotline is an 0800 freephone service, and knowing what sort of deal the Government blagged from BT or other third party Telco is an unknown quantity. generally speaking though a company wishing to have an 0800 number gets charged around 4p per minute for the calls coming into it.

If we assume that each call probably last at least 2 minutes (holding and then speaking to someone), that makes a rough cost of around £170,000 for calls, which frankly isn't that bad.

However, there is a downside (isn't there always), during the same period there was a massive 608 prosecutions for benefit fraud as a result of evidence provided to the hotline.

That represents about a 0.28% success rate of calls which lead to prosecution. This could suggest that the line is a bit of a waste of money, or it could represent the fact that there are a lot of people out there who really hate their neighbours, or maybe both.

The Big Brother DVLA adverts

We have nothing to fear from a potential Big Brother state. Increased surveillance is nothing to worry about because the Government would never use it for bad. That is the line that we are so often parroted by the Government about any means of surveillance, or any concerns raised about the increasing pervasive intrusion into our lives.

And yet, whilst the Government maintains this line they simultaneously commission television adverts which have a dark and invasive backing tracking, in conjunction with a large server on a road bridge. As a car drives underneath the viewer is told that they must pay their road tax because "you can't escape the computer".

Now, whilst that particularly line is not actually true (there are hundreds of people escaping the computer), why the need for an advert carrying dark and oppressive undertones of the all=seeing state computer when we also get told that any fears about a dark and oppressive all-seeing state are simply paranoid delusions?

Clearly the Independent is just in two minds

Last week I wrote about the Independet's front page list on fifty reasons to love the EU. Number 42 on that list was that the "EU gives more, not less, sovereignty to nation states". This morning's Indy carries a headline "Merkel seeks treaty giving EU more powers by 2009" and its leader article calls this step "bold" and pours scorn on British euroscepticism in all its forms.

An interesting editorial juxtaposition to say the least.

The car that runs on air

This is not a joke. There is now an engine developed that means a car can run on air? Surely this is the Mecca of all engine development? Not only does it keep the climate change rabble happy, but it is ludicrously cheap to run.

OK, so it only goes 68mp so far, and yes, it probably takes four days to reach that speed. But the possibilities are endless are they not? The only downside is that it's French, which means the bits inside will probably fall off in the first week.

The Ministers for Doublethink write in the Times

There is, this morning, a particularly absurd piece in the Times by Jim Murphy and James Purnell (both ministers at the DWP). Besides it being one of those "Blairites for Brown" type pieces it argues that the key battle in the near political future is between conservation and aspiration.

On the one hand they claim we have Cameron who wishes to conserve and maintain the status quo, for he is, they charge, not only a Conservative but a conservative too. And on the other we have, presumably them, who are all about encouraging aspiration and change.

The absurdity occurs in this piece on multiple levels, not only philosophical, but practically. Firstly, the position in which they paint David Cameron and the Tory Party is fundamentally flawed. They claim that all Cameron wishes to do is conserve the state as it is today, to take a "steady as she goes" approach and not improve things.

If we humour that position for a moment, then the implication is that Murphy and Purnell are condemning their own policies and Government. They are essentially arguing that the current situation is bad (which as a matter of fact it is) and that anyone who wants to conserve it, as they claim Cameron does, is on the wrong side of the argument. It is a spectacular display of doublethink.

Meanwhile, whilst they attack their own policies, they also fail to understand what conservatism really is. Small "c "conservatism does not mean "no change at all", it does not mean that you cannot, for want of a better term, progress to a better position. It simply means that you do not believe in change for changes sake on all matters. Nor do you beleive in rapid change without allowing changes you do make to take effect over time.

If you listen, for example, to David Cameron's speech to the Tory Conference last year you find that his conservatism is about taking a cautious approach to change. You do this by avoiding the big narrative theories about how society works. You shed the platonic view that the world is an homogeneous entity to be directed to known outcomes based on grand narratives. Instead you acknowledge the world's complexity, the law of unintended consequence, and thus avoid the trap of compartmentalising your position around a rigid ideology.

The ministers go on to argue that they represent a position which rejects the status quo (and their own policies) and instead concerns itself with aspiration. Interestingly they do not however put forward plans from their own portfolios to, for example, reform the anti-aspirational tax credit system which locks the lower paid into welfare dependency, punishes saving and discourages self-empowerment through the pernicious rate at which credits are reduces when you work more.

The result of their argument is therefore to effectively damn the policies they are responsible for whilst simultaneously supporting them, and then deliberately describe conservatism as a belief that will lock us into the failed policies that they themselves wish to continue. The pinnacle of this intellectual vapidity and doublethink comes when the two minister charge Cameron and the Conservative Party of wishing to maintain the status quo of elitism.

They always say that those in positions of power have a tendency toward myopic views of their own positions, but in this case they seem to be totally blind to what they have just said about themselves.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A monetisation experiment

I'm not 100% sure whether I will actually do it or take it seriously, but I've just registered an account with Blogsvertise who are one these "pay-per-post" type sites. Whether or not I decide to actually do it depends on what Blogsvertise actually request a post about. At the end of the day I'm not going to write about something unless I actually want to.

I've also just registered for a proper Google Adsense account to see how that goes. There may have to be some work done on the template to accommodate adverts without them being to intrusive though. I can't stand sites that are too busy and this one is getting there.

This whole Blogsvertise thing is just an experiment really to see how it goes, one of the requirements is that you post about planning to do it, and when you do write something for an advertiser you have to link to it three times, I'm assuming the same rules applies to the first post informing your readership that you've sold out. Having said this I am a Tory, so trying to make a bit of cash is hardly unsurprising is it?

I hope you all look forward to seeing a post about how I really like some pointless food blender! Like I say, if the things that they want me to write about don't fit in with what I generally do already then it won't be happening. I am interested to know what people think of such schemes, I did actually write about them back in October saying that the key to doing it was being upfront about it in the first place. I have also registered for PayperPost as well to see what they're like.

The Budget you didn't see

Prisons Minister caught in another scandal

The Prisons minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, appears to have been caught out attemtping to politicise the Civil Service. The Sunday Times have an email which shows his office attempting to draw up a lists of probation officers categorised by how positive or negative they are to Government legislation.

In the private sector such lists would be called "shit lists", which exist simply to allow people to know who should or should not be treated fairly, or worst of all, managed out of the door. This comes a week after Sutcliffe became embroiled in a "cash for access" lobby story also revealed by the Sunday Times and comprehensively covered by Iain.

Politicians are not "above the law" and should not get special treatment

If the exclusive in this morning's Sunday Telegraph is correct, then I have to say I have serious concerns about the Metropolitan Police's political independence. They say that Inspector Yates was told, in no uncertain terms, that if he interviewed Blair under caution, thereby treating him as a suspect and not a witness in the "cash for honours" investigation he would resign. Their source said
"Make no mistake, Scotland Yard was informed that Mr Blair would resign as Prime Minister if he was interviewed under caution.... They were placed in a very difficult position indeed."
Difficult position is not the word, the Police should not be placed in a position like that ever, their job is to act according to political consideration, their job is to act according to the nature of a criminal investigation. A caution does not mean, necessarily, that you are a suspect anyway, the caution exists to ensure that the possibility of someone lying is made less likely.

The implication in the Telegraph story is that the investigation is waiting for him to step down voluntarily first before interviewing him under caution. If the story is correct, then the complaints about the length of time the investigation is taking actually reflects on Downing Street rather than the Met, but, simultaneously, undermines the position of the Police as an independent organisation that upholds the rule of law.

Imagine, if a non-political person found themselves a point of interest in an investigation and might have to resign if interviewed under caution. The Police would simply ignore a request to only be seen as a witness to avoid the embarrassment of having to quit. What is the point of the rule of law if its prosecution is constrained by political considerations? It completely undermines the notion that people are equal before the law.

Have the Brownites moved against Miliband?

There is a very strange story doing the rounds this morning regarding Miliband. First up we have the Mail on Sunday citing "sources close to Miliband" saying "[w]e have received a clear signal that the PM wants David to have a shot at it".

Then we have the Observer citing a senior Blairite "who has been close to the Prime Minister since the Nineties" that has said "[Blair] thinks that if David runs with conviction and mounts the right argument, he'll win. He'll win, because by the end of a leadership contest, the ground will move."

What is strange? Well firstly, the two sources cited that are essentially saying the same thing are being presented as one from each camp, Miliband and Blair, but then David Miliband himself suits the description in both cases. However, why play his hand now? What purpose does it really serve Miliband in terms of winning a leadership challenge if he did run? He could easily muster 44 signatures anyway so it would come down to the hustings.

Given this, I really can't see what Miliband or the Blairites have to gain from this sudden flury of anonymous briefings which seek to portray Blair's mind. However, I can see what the Brownites have to gain from briefing in this way. Tactically it puts Blair into an awkward position where he will find himself having to publicly deny any possible support for Miliband.

As the Observer article points out as well, Brown was apparently fuming last week about what he saw as Blairite orchestrated moves against him. Interestingly the Observer mentions the Lord Turnbull incident as well, which I personally thought had far more to it than meets the eye. What;s for certain is that over the next few months the anonymous briefings are going to continue thick and fast, and they'll need to be viewed with the "Labour leadership campaign" filter switched on.

It's a bit like watching toddlers squabbling without the biting and spitting.

Update: It will be interesting to see the choice of words used by the PMOS when asked about this apparent endorsement.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Free trade is the only fair trade

I don't like fair trade. I realise that might be an unfashionable thing to say these days, but the way I see it the only fair trade is free trade. The only reason so-called fair trade products even exist is simply because we restrict trade and impose tariffs. The result of tariffs is that producers need to charge more for their products to cover the tariff but buyers refuse to purchase at the increased prices.

Of course, in this "ethical" world, we're all led to believe that its the buyers who are at fault for not paying people enough for their products, but the truth is the buyers find themselves in that position as a direct result of the tariffs.

Thus, a buyer in Britain wanting to import goods from Africa finds the purchase subject to import tariffs. The cost of the tariffs means they have to drive down the cost of their source purchase price to satisfy their business objectives. Its true they have the advantage of knowing that the people they are buying off of have no choice, but it is still the market that dictates where they purchase.

So to fill the gap and make us think that people like Tesco and Sainsbury are the bogeymen, we have the growth of fair trade. But fair trade schemes are run by middle men. True, the far end vendor gets a better price - fair is not the right term as its totally subjective - but the middle men running the schemes are making a profit on the top.

What you actually have with fair trade is a scheme that helps the guilt-ridden soft Left middle classes think they've been ethical, when in fact they're engaging in a con driven by middle men that are exploiting their guilt to create a new marketplace. The true irony of fair trade is that its driven by a capitalist-suspicious political wing, but relies entirely on capitalism for its existence and continuance.

Perhaps, just maybe, it would make more sense to break down the barriers of tariffs and make global trade truly free again? Mind you, in the case of the EU and USA this would mean their farmers would have to deal with competition, and that means its a vote loser.

Hence we have the fair trade market instead which patronises growers whilst simultaneously taking the piss out of middle class Guardian readers without them even realising it. I guess the latter point could be seen as quite a good thing though.

There is an alternative....

Novell gets in on the act!

Cherie: "Don't you know who I am?"

What is it with this woman? Seriously. Putting aside the sleaziness of New Labour in terms of sheer politics, the way in which Cherie Blair acts is constantly baffling. When she's not flogging signed copies of the Hutton Report, she's reportedly at airports demanding the rules be changed for her because she's the wife of the Prime Minister.

Downing Street has denied that this incident happened as the super-soaraway Sun described. Amusingly Downing Street says there was no argument that took place, but agrees that "an 'extended talk' with staff beyond normal safety questions" did take place. So...errr.... I guess that clears that up then!

Friday, March 23, 2007

It could be your last plane trip!

Remember kids, if you fly you kill the planet and you might not come back either! How long before a politician tries that as the line?

Mental note: Avoid Air France

Macavity Brown

The Burning Debate in the Commons

WARNING: This video is of Parliament in the style of the Devil's Kitchen. If you find bad words offensive don't press play. It is certainly the most important debate of today though!

As ever, Friday brings with it amusement and YouTube surfing! And never let it be said that I'm not childish!

Iranian forces capture Royal Navy personnel at gunpoint?

The BBC is reporting that Iranian forces have captured 15 Royal Navy personnel at gunpoint. The sailors and marines are apparently from HMS Cornwall.

DWP gives a red light to its traffic light system

The Department of Work and Pensions has said that it is no longer operating its spin traffic light system which flags up written Parliamentary question that could provide embarrassing answers.

In response to a question from Theresa May, the DWP has said that having run the trial "to identify questions of which press office should be made aware, and for which Ministers wish separate media briefing to be developed" it has "subsequently decided to discontinue" it.

What I think they mean is that they got caught. The question is, how many other departments are still running the "informal" spinning operation?

DfT spends £1.6 million on its website

The other week I posted and gently took the mickey out of Depart of Transport for its "Act on CO2" website. At the time I wondered how much much it cost to produce, and I've just learned that it came to a cool £110,270.

However, the geeky web nerds amongst us might also have noticed that the whole Department of Transport website went through a bit of a rebranding and redesign at the beginning of January, and no expense was spared! The total cost for the redesign was £1.5 million quid. Something tells me the hit to cost ratio might be poor!

Nixon had Watergate, Brown has a picket gate!

Picket, pick it, get it? I can do tabloid see?!

Good work on the part of Guido for the video. Although his corrupting influence in my house this morning was of concern. I was reading Order Order and my two year old walked up to the screen, pointed, and said "Guiiiiiiii do"

Ben Macintyre you're wrong

Well he's only part wrong to be fair. If you wondering Ben Macintyre is, he's a comment writer in the Times and this morning in he opened his article like this.
"We know what was written in the first telegram, sent by Samuel F. B. Morse in 1844: "What hath God wrought?" We know the words spoken by Alexander Graham Bell when he made the first telephone call in 1876, to his assistant, Thomas Watson: "Mr Watson - come here - I want to see you." (The "polite telephone manner" had not yet been invented.) But we have absolutely no idea what was said in the first e-mail, just 35 years ago.
Actually we do have an idea what was written in the first email and depending on how you define first we even know it exactly. Email was first proposed on July 20th 1971 in RFC 196 and was then developed by Ray Tomlinson for use on the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) - this is the network which paved way for we now call the Internet.

During his development he sent test messages which said "QUERTYIOP" and "ASDFGHJK", so if we consider those the "first emails" then we know what was being said. However, if we consider the first email to be one sent to other people whilst we don't have the text we do have an "idea what was written" in it.

The first email announced email to the world. It essentially said, "this is an email you can send messages of ARPANET with it, you have to use the @ character to send to someone such as geeknerd1@station2". It was sent betweent he two machines pictured on the right.

Of course Ben was trying to make a point about digital media not being constant and not actually making paper dead. His argument is that we delete so much these days that digital media was a false promise. Persoanlly, I'd disagree. Only things that people want to delete get deleted, the same as books are disposed of when people choose to dispose of them. There are many archivists out there, some personal, some organisational, you just have to know where to look.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Will Edwards drop out of the Democratic race for White House?

Apparently Senator John edwards has called a news conference for an important announcment. At the end of the 2004 VP run his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and he has always maintained that he would not run for the Whiote House again until she had a clean bill of health.

The Edwards campaign team has announced that his wife is having a follow-up appointment to a rountine test she had on Monday. Apparently the campaign advisors are not playing down the seriousness of the announcement expect today.

Are we about to see the first big name pull out of the race even before the primary begins?

Update: Looks as if he has announced that his wife's cancer has returned by the "campaign goes on"

Lord Falconer announces the Restriction of Information Act

Yesterday, the Lord Chancellor put forward his arguments at Lord Williams of Mostyn memorial lecture for why the rules governing the Freedom of Information need reviewing and tightening.
"The Government approaches openness on the basis of improving how government operates, for the benefit of the public. Many sections of the press do not approach it in that way. Instead, many approach it on the basis of what gives them most information exclusive to their journalistic outlet.... The job of the Government is not to provide page leads for the papers, but information for the citizen. Freedom of information was never considered to be, and for our part will never be considered to be, a research arm for the media."
The phrase, "they don't like it up'em" springs to mind doesn't it?

A British Olympics football team in 2012?

There is an interesting motion tabled in Parliament calling on the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Football Associations to pull their fingers out about an official British football team at the 2012 Olympics.

The EDM notes that the FIFA President Sepp Blatter the voting rights and standing of the home nation sides would not be affected at the FIFA table should we form a British side.

Personally I think it would be great to have a British team made up of the best from across the Home nations. However, someone in my office pointed out that perhaps we should have a mini-home nations tournament play-off and whichever home nation wins becomes the British side?

How Sony killed its brand

Have decided to bump this video up to the top again (originally posted in February) as tonight Sony finally release the PS3.

Until the HD format war is over it's not worth buying a PS3 IMHO.

The tax that Gordon Brown didn't mention

With all the Budget talk you'd think there was no other news, but yesterday the Lyons Report was buried published in local government finance. The Government "welcomed" the report as well which essentially means it's highly likely to become policy.

What was in it? Well lots of things, but the most important was "rubbish tax". A "pay as you throw" proposal as it were. The more rubbish you produce the more you pay for it's disposal (as well as paying your increasing Council tax which will go up even further when revaluation happens).

Not to worry though. All those low earning families hit by the budget and likely to be hit by a rubbish tax need to make one simple investment of about £50. An incinerator bin (pictured).... don't worry about the pollution, it's called the law of unintended consequences, something this Government specialises in.

The papers don't buy it Gordon

Yesterday afternoon I mused that this was all about the headline of "Gordon the taxcutter" and wondered if the line would hold. It's fair to say I think that it hasn't, although the most interesting point out of most commentary is the likelihood of an election next year when the 2p cut comes into effect, no doubt the plan being to triangulate the Conservative position. Anyway, this is what the papers say.

  • The Independent asked "2p or not 2p?" as its economic commentator Hamish McRae put it "despite the cut in the headline rate, the total tax take rises both absolutely and proportionately."
  • The Daily Mail and its sister freesheet Metro led with "Gord giveth and Gord taketh away" and it's website leads with The TRUTH about Gordon's 2p tax cut. Let's not forget too that the Mail has a tendency to be nice to Gordon because of its editor's friendship with him.
  • The Daily Telegraph is saying that "Brown's tax cut trick stuns Conservatives". I wasn't stunned, I actually laughed my head off when he did it in the office and got funny looks. Needless to say though, the Telegraph is right to call it a trick.
  • The Times leads with a neutral headline about a "Two Penny Budget" and made it clear within the first paragraph that this was a "give with one hand, take with the other" budget.
  • The unofficial Labour paper, The Guardian predictably leads with "Brown cuts income tax by 2p" and follows up with "It's a tax con not tax cut say Tories.". As I pointed out yesterday, it's not just Tories that are saying that. Channel 4 news are not exactly Tory and they were scornful last night of the sleight of hand.
  • The Daily Express leads on Diana... only joking.. they simple say " TAX CUT: IT'S JUST A BIG CON". No one reads it anyway so it doesn't matter.
  • The super-soaraway Sun heaps praise on Gordon for cutting income tax by 2p with a pun headline that I saw but cannot now remember. They also praised him in "The Sun Says" column. There is coverage of reality of the budget but it plays second fiddle to the headline rate cut. Gordon will undoubtedly be happy with it.
  • The Daily Mirror thinks Gordon Brown is wonderful, and bizarrely says thousands of poor families will be better off - quaintly ignoring the millions who won't. No sup rises there then.
  • The Daily Star leads on Danielle Lloyd being cheated on by Teddy Sheringham, it also has tits.
  • The Financial Timescomment section says it's a "Budget worthy of the Kremlin"
So that's ten papers, one that doesn't care, and only 3 not playing up the great Svengali nature of the budget. So what's the overall verdict from Fleet Street? Well 30% think Gordon is great, 60% think he's pulled a fast one, and the last 10% don't think he has big enough tits.

You have to love today's Peter Brooks cartoon in The Times though. It sums it all up so perfectly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It was all about the headline really

It's been well commented on across the blogosphere that today's Budget effectively increased tax for almost everyone except those within a tiny sliver of earnings somewhere between £18K and £25K. This has been caused by the scrapping of the 10% rate at the bottom and the planned re-alignment changes to NI at the upper rate. The argument about those at the bottom then finds itself depending entirely on the tax credit system.

According to many Labour supporters it is not accurate to say people at the bottom will be hit because tax credits have been increased. However, whilst tax credits themselves have been increased they continue to exist in a system which means the marginal rate of tax for people on credits zooms in to the upper percentiles above 50 because of the impact of a pay rise or god forbid someone wanting to do overtime.

So what we effectively have from the budget is a tax hit on the relatively well-paid (I refuse to say rich because I'm not rich and I'm in this group) through NI increases, whilst simultaneously locking the lowest income groups into a credit system that maintains their reliance on the state for subsistence and discourages social mobility through overtime (let alone savings). This is of course assuming that all these people claim, and based on figures that I've read in Hansard there are many who do not (for whatever reason).

For anyone wondering who the people hit at the bottom are earning the £10 to £13K mark, they are, according to the Office of National Statistics.
  • Playgroup leaders/assistants £12,466
  • Kitchen and catering assistants £12,343
  • Hairdressers, barbers £12,226
  • Launderers, dry cleaners, pressers £12,077
  • Bar staff £11,799
  • Retail cashiers and check-out operators £11,766
  • Floral arrangers, florists £11,651
  • Elementary personal services occupations £11,617
  • Waiters, waitresses £11,428
  • Leisure and theme park attendants £10,698
Having said all this though, you have to ask yourself, what was the purpose of this Budget given it has hit so many people across the spectrum with tax rises? Take a look at the front page of the Evening Standard (and tomorrow's papers) for your answer. This Budget was about getting "Gordon Brown cuts your income tax by 2p" as the splash. Thus far that seems to be the headline, whether it will hold across the press until tomorrow when the full analysis is published remains to be seen.*

If Brown had been really brave he would've left the basic rate the same and scrapped the 10% rate by increasing the tax free threshold by that extra couple of grand instead. That would have a real impact on enabling people at the bottom to move up the ladder by keeping more of their own money in their pockets, but then that doesn't create an easy "Brown cuts income tax" headline does it?

* It's worth noting that even Labour bloggers have been discussing the "this is really a tax rise" line. It's not just Tories.

Update: Have just noticed Ed Vaizey making the same point about the headline on Comment is Free.

Best of the Brit Blog Awards 2007 Nominee

I've just received an email saying this blog has been nominated for London Metro's Best of the Brit Blog Awards in the politics section. The section is being judged by Tory MP and blogger, Ed Vaizey. I don't expect I shall win as I am in illustrious company with the Devil himself, and probably Guido and Iain too.

Should anyone else wish to nominate me they can do so here if they like! *hint hint* ;-)

The 326 page Budget

Gordon Brown's (probably) last Budget speech lasted approximately 50 minutes. You can read all about the headline stuff on the BBC. You can also download the entire Budget document here. It's 326 pages long, which, if he was telling us everything it would mean he covered 7 pages a minute, something tells me the devil will be in the detail (and hell) of reading.

Brown raises Income Tax

OK, Iain says I should be live blogging so here goes. I cannot deny that I have started sticking knives in my arm because of boredom, but some interesting observations.
  • Prescott is definitely eyeing up Gordon Brown's arse and occasionally licking his lips. (Iain stole my joke!).
  • Most of the Cabinet hasn't managed to get a seat and are all standing at the back. This is good so they now know what it's like to stand up for over an hour and be bored like we commuters do.
  • Every time Brown announces something about department X it cuts to the relevant minister who is on tenterhooks wondering whether they are about to be screwed. But he's not a control freak honest.
  • Brown has decided to keep the zero rate for road tax on the cars that either don't get made anymore or cannot be bought here.
  • As expected he is increasing tax credits. At the same time he claims he wants to "reward saving". So he's a liar.
  • He's re-packaged and re-announced the YTS/New Deal. Basically he's done a "partnership" deal with Sainsbury, Tesco etc who have agreed to "maybe" take the people in the scheme on. So no change to the way the New Deal worked at all.
  • Apparently, we married people just need transferable allowances on Capital Gains Tax. What normal family person ever has to consider capital gains tax?
  • Oh look, here's the big one. A 2p cut in the basic rate of income tax to 20%. But given he's just scrapped the 10% tax rate altogether he's just off-set it and dragged a ton of people into the 20% tax rate. He's basically just increased income tax whilst making it look like he's cut it.
Ok, made a mistake earlier with some allowances. Have recalculated. Basically if you're poor you're income tax has gone up, if you'r not poor (but not rich) you're income tax has gone down. Coupled with the realignment of NI, it's a tax raising budget. Incidentally, should anyone mention tax credit increases they are a misnomer because they assume that everyone takes them, and not everyone does.

We should also note that he didn't mention the tax free allowances remaining pretty much static and certainly not in line withe the retail price index inflation rate which is the one that we ordinary people experience at the coal face. With a 0% inflation rate he is increasing income tax, add in the 4+% RPI and you have an even harder pinch on the lowest earners, thereby increasing their reliance on the state for handouts. Further encouraging the culture of dependency.

Tory Councillor convicted of pimping?

I am finding it difficult to believe that this guy is actually still a member of the Conservative Party, let alone an elected councillor.

Apparently, Alan Burkitt, a Sandwell Tory Councillor for Charlemont with Grove Vale ward, (who I imagine Bob Piper knows) pimped his girlfriend with learning difficulties on eBay for £50 a time making £1,300 in the process. He pleaded guilty to pimping and managed to escape a prison sentence.

Two questions, has the whip been withdrawn? And if not, why not?

Update: Apparently because he has received a suspended sentence he loses his seat. Good.

Wiretapping service opens in the US, Is there a gap in the market here?

Interesting report over on Techcrunch about a company called 2Recall who are providing an 800 number service in the US to allow people to record their telephone conversation. As the article points out the whole notion of tapping calls in the US federal system is a bit of a legal minefield, but it got me wondering if such a service could provided here.

The law governing recording phone calls in the UK generally falls under four pieces of legislation. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 ("RIPA"), Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice)(Interception of Communications) Regulations 2000 ("LBP Regulations"), Data Protection Act 1998, Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999 and the Human Rights Act 1998. The thing is, what is clearly defined is recording in the workplace but recording calls at home is not.

Under these pieces of legislation, depending on who you have interpreting it, it is perfectly legal for anyone to record their home telephone calls without informing the other person so long as they have no intention of making the content of the communication available to a third party.

The question therefore arises, would a secure recording facility that had measures in place to ensure content of communications was not accessible (encryption would solve that) to anyone but the person recording it be legal? If it is, is there a gap in the market for such a venture? Guess we'll have to watch, wait and see.

99 tax rises under Brown - let the balloons fly

The pre-budget response with balloons.
I do like that tune.

Just for the kids!

Another Government website has been launched, this times it's Direct Gov for Kids. I particularly liked the fact that you can't click on the hospital and get an explanation of it.

Presumably this is because they'd have to say, "This is a hospital, it has more managers than beds and is actually £15m in debt. The company that run the car park made nearly the same amount last year though."

N.B: Before anyone says it, yes, that is Internet Explorer. The flash player in Firefox has a tendency to make VNC control go screwy.

The Green Car Cabinet?

Whatever your personal opinion on climate change, CO2 and man's role in it all, the Government has made its position abundantly clear. The evidence is unambiguous, we must all be as green as possible. Now you'd expect, given that traditional concept of collective Cabinet responsibility everyone would act the same in official terms, especially on the matter of the cars they use.

Cabinet members have a choice of two possible cars, the ugly and very uncool hybrid Toyota Prius, with its 104g/km carbon emission rate, or the much nicer, although still uncool because it's a diesel, Jaguar XJ with 176g/km carbon emission rate.

The choice for Cabinet members should be clear you'd think? The Government has a stated position, we must all reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible. There is no option but the Prius (poor sods). So all 11 Cabinet members who have cars are using the Toyota? Errrrr... no.

Six of them are using the Jaguar Xj and only five are in the Prius. I'm not sure who is in what though, perhaps someone can email me and let me know? Either way, Cabinet collective responsibility clearly doesn't extend to the whole carbon footprint thing. I bet they (and what's looks like my party too) would love to tax us into reducing ours though. Do we say not as we do... as ever!