Monday, April 30, 2007

Labour connected PR company receives over £1.5m of taxpayer money?

Apparently, the parent company of Geronimo Communications, Tribal Group, has received £1,588,122 of public money from the Department of Communities and Local Government in the past three years, and a further £289,430 from the Treasury. Geronimo has a former Labour insider as a director.

Same old, same old I guess! I wonder whether the tender process was open, or whether it was just a case of a phone call to a mate?

Shocking waste of Police resources in Gloucestershire.... not

Last week the Labour MP for Stroud, David Drew, asked the Home Secretary "what policing costs associated with the wedding of Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar were met by (a) Gloucestershire police and (b) the organisers of the event". He was told in response it was a matter for the Gloucestershire Constabulary.

Should anyone really be interested in the answer, the Police didn't actually provide, nor were they asked to provide policing at the wedding in the private grounds of Sudeley Castle. They did put a few extra coppers in Winchombe on the day of the wedding though because they expected an increased number of people, and a mini media circus.

The extra coppers amounted to a Police Sergeant and eight Police Constables. None of them were paid overtime and the resources cost the budget of the Cheltenham & Tewkesbury Division a whopping £1,122.

I've been trying to figure out exactly why David Drew may have asked such a trivial question, then I discovered he only has a majority 350 and was probably hoping the answer would be a significant figure that he could use in a leaflet (or perhaps a local election leaflet?).

Personally, I think he should concentrate on fixing his horrific looking website.

DVLA spent £1.2bn on advertising?

Actually, to be accurate it's £1,226,000,000* on adverts in the national and motoring press to promote awareness of the changes it has made to the Road Tax forms from the old V5 to the V5C. Somehow this is going to be paid for out of a forecasted total budget of £12,900,000.

If you're wondering where I got the figures from have a look at this release under the Freedom of Information Act. It's very clear, in the table at the top of page 3. Spend in £K is to be £1,226,000.
* Dangerous things typos, imagine if it happened in the Budget!

Yet more commentary masquerading as news in the Indy

The traditional and standard format of a newspaper is well known I'd say. It goes like this. News pages, Commentary and Editorial, Letters, then Sport. At least generally that is how it goes. One of my bug-bears is, as most will know, the Independent, which regularly blurs the line between reporting news and reporting opinion masquerading as news.

A good example of this happening can be found in this morning's paper in the "European News" section with the headline " Sarkozy: I am no fascist (even if I sound like one)". It is the part in brackets which is nothing more than pure opinion in the news section. What's more if you read on the "news report" says,
This was the language of the extreme, populist right, in the name - M. Sarkozy insisted - of consensual, pragmatic, liberalising reform. M. Sarkozy may not be a fascist but he is not afraid of sounding like one.
Whether one likes Sarkozy or not, is of the right or left, it is undeniable that paragraph is nothing but opinion in the news section of a paper. Now before anyone points out that this is the Indy so it's par for the course, I know that. It doesn't stop me being bloody annoyed by it. I don't have a problem with opinion, after all that's all my blog is for the large part, but I don't try to pretend it isn't.

I nearly agreed with Johann Hari this morning

Sometimes I wonder whether there will ever be a day that Johann Hari writes something I wholly agree with. I know that such a circumstance is unlikely barring a sudden shift in his thinking away from ideological grand narratives but it might happen. This morning it nearly did. In his commentary piece in the Independent he has written a stinging critique of multiculturalism which by and large I agree with, but, and isn't there always a but? The piece is not free of error and valid criticism.

Starting with what I agree with, Hari writes about the situation in Germany where rampant belief in multiculturalism has led to men quite literally getting away with rape and murder. He cites a number of cases where Judges have been exceptionally lenient on men through the use of cultural relativism. The argument of "well his culture let's him beat his wife" appears to be occurring as part of judgements. In one case, says Hari, a Muslim woman even found herself being a given a lesson by a Judge in the Koran. The woman was told that the Koran gave Muslim husbands the "right to use corporal punishment", therefore she had little case to argue.

Clearly this sort of thing is plainly absurd, wrong, and frankly outrageous, and Hari is absolutely right to say so, as too are others on the Left who question the direction that rampant belief inmulticulturalism is leading us. However, where I think Hari fails is that his entire article is framed around the question of whether you support women or multiculturalism. It ought really be framed around the question of whether you support the rule of law or multiculturalism. The second problem is a purely political one. Hari argues that,
The right loves mashing "mass immigration and multiculturalism" into one sound-bite. Well, I think Britain should take more immigrants and refugees, not fewer - but multiculturalism is a disastrous way to greet them.
This is a misdirected view of the right. If he had said "some on the right" it would've been accurate. Much the same as "some on the left" loves mashing criticism of multiculturalism with racism into one sound-bite. To be honest, up until that point of his article I was actually nodding in agreement throughout.

Now to be fair one might say, what do you expect? After all Hari is of the Left, and whether I like it or not, a sly dig at the Right is to be expected. The same is true in reverse for me. However, on the issue that Hari raises, which as I said, I think is more about multicultural versus the rule of law, rather than the support of women per se, is it correct to frame it within the traditional political dichotomy?

There is clearly a growing movement, certainly in Britain, that is pro-Enlightenment and anti-relativist which transcends the traditional positioning which has been defined by economic theory. The debate that Hari, and some others on the Left are engaging in is one that has been going on on the Right for some time - although until the likes of Hari et al intervened those on the Right were subjected to charges of racism which says more about the intellectual times in which we live than many other things.

KInnock calls Blair a "bastard"

You can;t beat a bit of out of context headline grabbing (see above). In an interview about Blair in this morning's Guardian with Neil Kinnock, he says, on the question of whether Blair is "of the Labour Party" that "[Blair's] a bastard but he's our bastard". Apparently, the Labour Party has a sort of deferential affection for Blair, hating him but loving him too.

The Guardian also has some of other pre-resignation rehabilitation interviews from the nomenklatura as well, David Blunkett and Charlie Falconer today. My guess is they'll have a few more during the coming weeks, even before he is gone. It must be kind of weird really, to have political obituaries being made by your former colleagues whilst you're still in the job.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Palace gets involved in "cash for peerages"?

According to this morning's Observer the "Palace" told Downing Street to beware Yates and his investigative methods after he turned the Palace household "inside out". What this article actually says is that a former diplomat who knows Jonathan Powell and now works in the Royal Household spoke to Downing Street. The Palace and Downing Street are not denying the conversation took place though, and are simply saying that they cannot comment on the communications between the two seats of the Establishment.

What I think is more interesting is that "friends of the PM" are quoted as saying that the way Ruth Turner was arrested was outrageous because the Police "treated her like a common criminal." There is a subtle truth inside that last comment which is exactly the reason we have such cynicism of politics. The view that Turner was treated like a "common criminal" essentially elevates her to a position that says she should, because of her job, be treated differently before the law.

I have but one word. Bollocks. If you are suspected of breaking the law, the Police will arrest you. How they choose to do that is entirely up to them, and the idea that some criminals deserve worse or better treatment than others (usually because of the type of crime) is nonsense. Just because you're not running a crack factory from you home doesn't mean that you shouldn't be visited by the Police at 6am and arrested on suspicion of committing an offence.

We are equal before the law, when politicians and their advisers start thinking that they should be treated differently somehow it sends out a clear message to people that actually, we're not equal before the law at all. The "friend" of Tony Blair personifies the contempt for society which the power elite actually have.

Welsh Guido gazumps Welsh Assembly website design

How amusing. Arsembly, also known as the "Welsh Guido" has gazumped the Welsh Assembly's new website design by mimicking it before it even goes live. He's posted about how he has come into possession of the design for the new Welsh Assembly site. I've also managed to get a screenshot of the site, which some say cost well in excess of £750,000 to design. Can you spot the difference?

Arsembly blog

Welsh Assembly website

Sticking a plaster on society will not fix it

Sometimes I find myself looking at the sky and exclaiming "why?" when I read the news. This is especially the case when I read some story about a new Government initiative to tackle, say, the lack of respect amongst the youth of today. The latest eye-catching initiative, which the Independent on Sunday have picked up on (although something tells me they only did it so they could do postmodern irony and have a skinhead flipping a V sign on the cover), is a plan to add "emotional intelligence" lessons to the National Curriculum so that children learn manners.

According to the Sindy, this is in response to recent high profile debates about civility, which was, of course contained within David Cameron's speech last week. Besides the fact that Cameron clearly hit a nerve on the subject, it seems the Government didn't listen to the rest of that speech which cited the way as the state takes more responsibility to solve problems over personal responsibility it adversely creates more of the problems it thinks it is trying to reduce.

It's probably a Cameron cliche now, but there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state. However, as the state grows and continues to see itself as the only thing capable of solving social problems it actually diminishes the personal responsibility of individuals to the point that they say "it's the Government's job init!"

It seems clear that the the parties are agreed that there is a problem with "civility", "respect" or what you will. However, if you want to solve it you have to ask yourself the question, how did it happen? Something must have changed, and the solution to the problem is to find out which change[s] caused it in the first place, and to change them. Simply saying "we'll have manners lessons in schools" is a sticking plaster solution, you;re not actually solving the problem you're masking it.

It's not an answer that can easily be covered in a blog post, but we should be looking at a number of social changes that have been introduced over the past 25 years to find the answer. The introduction of the "rights society" (especially "human rights" which by definition of being human cover children) certainly hasn't helped. It has led to a Police force that has to tiptoe around children for fear of being accused of all sorts of things.

The slow decay of organisations like the Scouts, the Boys Brigade, Cadet Forces have played a role too. As mentioned by the Manifesto Club this has been helped along by the introduction of masses of "child protection" legislation. In the end, the broken society which we find today is of our own making by the law of unintended consequence.

Just as we are seeing with the "surveillance society" where ever greater encroachments on our liberty are pitched to us separately whilst the whole is generally ignored. So too is it true with almost all legislation, especially social policy. We find ourselves in the situation we do today because of the failure of ideology to consider the whole when it approaches change.

Unfortunately we cannot just reinstall the operating system and start again. Instead we have to look back and analyse what the consequence of past choices have actually been and consider either a rollback or an incremental fix. What we shouldn't do is just create some more laws, rules and legislation and layer even more complexity on to the broken system and cause ourselves even more headaches in the future.

Labour try to rig ballot in Leeds?

This morning's Sunday Times is carrying allegations about electoral postal fraud on scale which is befitting the BNP last year. According to the Sunday Times, the leader of Leeds City Council, Keith Wakefield, has been advising his canvassers and student activists to help people fill out their postal ballots, take them for people, and only post them if they have voted Labour.

A former parliamentary aide and Labour whip, Graham Hyde, was also secretly filmed telling people not to "get caught with [postal ballots] on you. We are not supposed to collect them." West Yorkshire Police are now investigating the allegations.

It's certainly telling of the desperation that now exists amongst the wider Labour Party as they face a routing next Thursday. To openly flout the rules by taking postal ballots is one thing, to advise people to remove the votes for other parties is outrageous.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lib Dem candidate says "vote Labour"

Apparently a Lib Dem candidate in the Salisbury district council election has decided to stand down as a candidate and has effectively urged the voters to vote for Labour. The ward has two Tory councillors currently, and there were two Lib Dems and one Labour fighting it against them.

Frances Condliffe, one of the Lib Dem candidates, decided to step down on the grounds that an anti-Tory vote would be split, so it's better for people to just have two candidates, one Lib Dem and one Labour.

The amusing thing is that this Lib Dem doesn't even live in the ward, and nor does the Labour candidate. So we have the odd scenario where a Lib Dem who lives in one ward is telling the voters of another ward to vote for a Labour candidate who lives in another ward.

Calling all Jack Russell owners.....!

And other dog owners too of course. Is your pet looking down? Does he or she need something to pep them up? How about getting them a date? What better gift could a dog owner give his pet?

Ahhhh the 1950s!

Imagine if you could go back in time and tell them about how their product would look in years to comes? Wonder what they'd think?

Friday, April 27, 2007

They didn't deliver what we paid for. So why should we pay to fix it?

I realise web standards, accessibility and the like are quite esoteric but hear me out on this one before you click away. Between 2003 and 2006 the Department of Trade Industry went through a web development phase with their site. The job of designing their site was contracted out to a company called Fresh 01 (with Fujisu supplying the Content Management System infrastructure).

Fresh 01 were then given a scope and specifications requirement along with the relevant accessibility requirements as issued by the Cabinet Office for all government websites in order that they comply with Single A Wc3 standards and endeavour to comply with AA if they can.

The site was built at a cost of £170,000 (under budget by £25,000) and went live, proudly boasting that it was AA compliant. Then, in May last year they discovered that actually the site wasn't AA compliant at all. In fact they discovered it wasn't even Single A compliant. The logos were removed and the a "plan" was put in place to fix it.

At the time, the DTI made clear that whilst Fresh 01 had been given compliance as a requirement for the design, the DTI would instead cover the cost for fixing the site. It was under budget by £25,000 after all, a little bit of cash spare should cover it right?

Well, here we are, almost a year later and the site remains exactly the same as it did when the compliance logos were removed. So what's going on? Well, they do indeed have a plan, and they have a "technical work stream" beavering away on it, with a completion date of sometime near the end of the 2007.

So 18 months isn't very efficient, but hey, they're fixing it right so that the website is in line with the Government's own requirement. That's a good thing? Well maybe not. In order to fix the website that was broken from the start by a design company which failed to perform it's brief, it's costing us, the taxpayer, an extra £105,503. That's 60% of the original broken website cost.

Excuse me for a moment for being confused? But why should the taxpayer fund the fixing of something that they've already paid for but that wasn't what was requested? In the private sector there is no way a company would just shrug and say "ah well, we'll have to pay to fix it ourselves". OK, so it's not anything like the scale of the MTAS scandal, but at it's core the issue of non-delivered deliverable remains. The precedent doesn't bode well for the cost of fixing MTAS that's for sure.

On the bright side there are rumours that one of the first things Gordon Brown will do is scrap the DTI and split its briefs into other departments. In which case Brown would actually be saving the taxpayer money. Now there's a funny thing!

Flame resistant pyjamas?

Utterly bizarre
That this House applauds the Northern Echo for its Protect our Children campaign which aims to close a loophole in the law that allows children's pyjamas to be exempt from the flame-resistant regulations that apply to dressing gowns and girls' nightdresses; calls on all responsible retailers to remove immediately stocks of non-flame-resistant pyjamas from their stores; and asks the Government as a matter of urgency to take appropriate steps to close the loophole in the law by making it illegal to import, manufacture or sell pyjamas that are not flame-resistant.
Can't we just ban non-flame resistant children instead?

New Labour's "gonna change the world"

He's right about one thing you don't have to stick with the government you've got!

Ten years of legislative diarrhoea

It is no secret that the current Labour Government has legislative diarrhoea. With every new story that breaks the Government, in its obsession to control perception and be seen to be doing something, another piece of legislation of statutory requirement is written down in haste.

When history comes to judge this period by comparing the laws passed to how often they are actually used, we will undoubtedly find reams of laws, regulations and the like that are pointless words on paper.

We already have many hangovers from history where laws exist that have never been repealed even though they are no longer relevant (taxis requiring roof racks for hay springs to mind), and the Labour Party is adding to these as it spews out Act upon Act that is ill-thought, poorly worded, and often utterly wasteful.

In the last time years we have seen the addition of 29,848 pages of legislation and 74,748 pages of statutory instruments added to the ever growing state. How many of these will be looked back on with amusement by our descendants God only knows!

Is Blears using taxpayers money to fund her election campaign?

On April 11th, the chipmunk, Hazel Blears, Minister without Portfolio, visited the European Parliament. Should you be wondering why she did so it was apparently to "undertake meetings on the Agency Workers Directive". The visit was not she says, made in her "ministerial capacity".

So what capacity was it made under then? Could it perhaps have been made under her deputy leadership campaign capacity instead? After all, in her letter she sent out to Labour researchers in Parliament she said that she had visited Brussels to accelerate the progress of a European Directive to give protection to vulnerable workers.

I wonder who paid for the visit and the flights?

Did you know....?

Did you know there is a "National Bee Unit" run by the Government? Nope, neither did I but there is. They even have a website.

Why did no one say "that's not going live"?

The news (also post below) that the NHS MTAS system for doctors applications appears to have had merely the veneer of authentication and security is clearly something with massive and far reaching ramifications. Currently, MTAS and the NHS's line has been that this is a security breach rather and information has been available globally for only a brief period of time. However, this line is highly a suspect one given what was discovered yesterday. A system which can allow simple URL changes to access other user accounts is not the sort of thing that can "just happen briefly", systems don't work like that, they follow the logic and rules in their code. As such the implication is that this is far more likely to be a fundamental code design flaw.

There are so many questions that need to be asked of the NHS on this matter now. Firstly how did this webapp get from development to an Internet facing production system? What processes were in place to test and ensure it was secure, and assuming there were processes, why did they fail? Did the Department of Health provide the development company with security policies, principles, and practices? What are the Department of Health - and for that matter Government's - security policies, principles and practices in software design? At the very least the principle of "least privilege" should be applied to all application, yet in this case we seem to principle of "all privilege". Why?

Clearly security was a project deliverable, we know this because there is a "login" facility (which seems to just be a form). So, why wasn't it delivered? Why did the Project Manager and everyone think it had been delivered? How do we get our money back? That last point is important. Clearly the Government contracted out this job, who got the contract, how much was spent on it, and how do the Government recover the taxpayers money for a product that was not delivered as per scope? In fact, not being in scope is understatement given the failures.

One final question for the Government relates to the age of problem of development teams driving projects into production because of poorly defined demarcations of responsibility with systems. When this happens you often see so-called non-functional requirements, like proper session management, sane permission systems, and security, get overlooked. To protect against this requires a strong willed BOFH-style Operations team (and the odd hacker if possible) to carry out penetration tests, along with a hard-nosed Information Security officer to simple say "that's not going live". Where were they?

It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of what has happened here. If this online system is so fundamentally lacking in security to the point of allowing read/write access to other peoples' records, what does it say about the rest of the NHS IT programme? What does it say for the Government inter-departmental information sharing proposals? What does it say for the ID Card Register? More importantly, why did the Secretary of State do nothing when she knew about the problems weeks ago?

It is all well and good to implement IT, but it seems that what the Government should do right now is stop, freeze all their IT projects delivery dates, and start a full security audit of everything it has delivered or will deliver, along with a route and branch review of policy, procedure, process and practice.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Doctors email accounts exposed to the world?

The problems withthe MTAS application system continue it seems. It appears that not only are applications available online for the world to see, but the message services that MTAS provide are so poorly designed that simply changing a URL will take you into other's peoples mailboxes, but it gets worse. There appears to be virtually zero authentication process, meaning that literally anyone on the Internet can read the personal mailboxes of doctors applying for jobs.

I don't know where to begin I really don't. The implications of this are truly astounding. If mailboxes are also exposed then it sounds like this service has been like it for some time. This doesn't seem like a brief lapse of security, this is a total and complete breakdown in design, quality assurance, acceptance testing, and basic security operating procedures. Frankly, a monkey could probably have done better. It would appear that MTAS have taken the site down completely now, and a good job too - they have even named their image "apology" but that probably isn't enough now.

At what point will Patricia Hewitt take the responsibility, get herself in to the House and do the honourable thing?

Maps on Taps?

Have just discovered an interesting Government website called Maps on tap which is about errrr.... maps... I think. The blurb says,
Maps on Tap is a DCLG-led initiative undertaken on behalf of UK government with the support of Office for National Statistics, Cabinet Office e-Government Unit and Ordnance Survey. The service is designed to bring together a large amount of location-based information produced by government - to make it easy to access and analyse through a web interface.
If you're wondering how much it cost it was £3.03 million. You'd think they'd pay to hundred or so quid to renew their SSL certificate though.

What's all this about a leak?

After losing two hours of my life in a server room with a Sun engineer I've just read the post over at Iain's blog about how this leaker - according to the Guardian at least - is some sort of advisor/official to the Home Secretary, John Reid? Whoever it turns out to be, they sound like a bit of a psycho that probably dresses up in their dead mother's clothes whilst slashing people to death in hotel showers. Then again... maybe not?

Labour MP calls for chewing gum tax

As if the amount of money raised through Council Tax wasn't enough already, the Labour MP, David Crausby has tabled a motion calling on the Government to introduce a tax on chewing gum. The motion states,
That this House notes the disgusting mess that discarded chewing gum makes of streets in the UK; further notes the financial burden this blight has on local authorities; and calls on the Government to introduce a levy on every pack of chewing gum sold with the revenue being given to local authorities in order to cover the cost of cleaning up this unsightly mess.
He's only got two signatures so far, no Tories in there. Next they will calling for public warnings taking up two thirds of the chewing gum packet saying how nasty it is! Unfortunately for Crausby even cleaning up the chewing gum probably wouldn't make Bolton (his constituency) look any nicer.. after all it's north of Watford which makes it a borderline developing nation right?*

* "Top Tory slates northern town" would be my preferred headline on Lib Dem and Labour blogs please. Along with how I'm out of touch and probably torture small animals.

Rural Payments Agency pays out 1/4 million in bonuses to staff?

The problems at the Rural Payments Agency have been well documented over the past year or so. Magaret Beckett's, and her successor David Miliband at DEFRA have presided over a complete mess which is no secret, and has had a devastating effect on many parts of the farming community.

Still, even though the agency's utter incompetence has been known about for ages, and the talk of the farming industry, it is interesting the levels of bonuses that it paid to it's staff during the past few years.

In 2004-05 the total bonuses paid out to staff at the Agency were £323,567, the following year it was £249,025 and last year it was £243,072. The highest bonuses in two of those years were pushing up to £20,000 and last year the highest bonus was £10,000.

To be fair the bonuses are coming down, which, one could argue is precisely because of the problems. However, given the sheer scale of the mess in payments from the Agency (and remember it's primary purpose is payments) should there even be bonuses being paid out at all? I imagine those who found themselves on their needs because of the Agency's incompetence will think not.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wiki this, wiki that!

The "who can find the most bizarre wikis" competition continues with Comment Central. So I guess, seeing as I upped the anty last time I should do it again. I don't think anyone could possibly find anything more geekier than the Perl Date Time wiki. A wiki dedicated to the DateTime module in Larry Walls dynamic programming language, Perl.

Of course, the only wiki that anyone really needs is the content-free delight that is Uncyclopedia. Guaranteed to teach you absolutely nothing about the mad world in which we live other than that the Internet is the only place for truly warped humour.

NHS doctors application website exposes completed application forms

Channel 4 News has just run an exclusive story about the NHS Doctor Application system has been exposing every application form completed by trainee doctors. Victoria McDonald and Ben Cohen discovered this morning what appear to be files containing all the details from the application including name, address, age, religion, sexuality, criminal records (if they had and), and they're references etc on an Internet facing address.

Thus far there is little being said about how it happened, and by that I mean whether it was the system or a person misusing the system. Theoretically speaking, it could be the system itself which creates an extractions from a database of applications, puts them in a file for later delievry to an HR team maybe? The implication being that the system is writing those files to an insecure place, which is poor if it's the case.

The other possibility is that an administrator, for some reason, ran an ad hoc extraction of data, dumped the file somewhere and wasn't thinking. In which case they should probably be disciplined for being a prat, a bit like what happened last year when AOL managed to publish its customer's searches on the Net for everyone to see.

What bothers me most is how - if it was the system - the application managed to get through operational acceptance procedures. Any sysadmin worth his salt would spot a security flaw like that and stop it going live. Having said that, this is a Government IT project in the NHS, so what do I know? I work in the private sector.

Update: Ben Cohen's report here seems to suggest that it was a person that decided to store the information on an external Internet facing server (did they want to do work at home?). The mind boggles at what sort of idiot would do such a thing if that is the case. Didi they hope no one would find it thereby going for the "security by obscurity" principle?

The Taxman

Great tune

The Downing Street Kidz

Contains naughty words

DWP IT spending revealed - consultants are the winners

Quick and dirty numbers for you, but the Department of Work and Pension has, in the past five years, spent a staggering £2,141,410,000 on all IT projects (failed, binned, or successful). That figure doesn't however include "some projects" as it would "not be reasonable" to get the information apparently.

That's what the DWP minister Anne McGuire said anyway. The good news is that 24% of the known money was spent on consultant fees - sorry not fees, it's called "investment spending on consultants" these days.

Government changes line on Big Brother Project

"Now the jobless get manicures, massages and facials...all thanks to the taxpayer" is certainly a headline worthy of the Daily Mail, but even though they wrote about it last month question;s still remain about how much money the Government is pumping in to the so-called "Big brother Project" which is supported by the DWP.

To save you reading the Mail article, the project is essentially about helping the unemployed single parents to boost their confidence and is run by a company called Inspire2Independence.

According to their website, the two week course provides provides a free makeover, free shopping trip, free lunch, free childcare and they reimburse travel costs. All of this is funded by the DWP through Jobcentre Plus in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, along with the European Social Fund. How that funding is split is a mystery though.

When the DWP was asked back in July how much taxpayers money it was giving the project it claimed that the information was "commercially sensitive". Since then questions have been asked in Parliament and yesterday the line changed.

When David Davies MP asked the DWP very specifically, "how much the Department has spent on the Big Brother project for single unemployed parents since the project’s inception" the response was no longer to hide behind the "commercially sensitive" argument.

Instead, my old favourite turned up again, apparently the information was "not held centrally" and could "obtained only at disproportionate cost". Sounds dodgy, probably is dodgy, FoI is a calling!

What's the point of the Government Office for London?

Since devolution occurred and the Government restored the GLC under a different name, virtually all London policy has been directed out of the GLA through the Mayor. The centralisation of power away from the Boroughs has, as is well documented, been slowly eroded, in conjunction with the Council tax precept* that the Mayor demands from each Borough.

Even though power in London resides in the GLA and the Mayor's Office, there remains, for some bizarre reason, a Government Office for London which apparently "represents central government across the capital, delivering policies and programmes for ten central government departments in a joined up way, and making London’s case in Whitehall."

If you take a look at their website they apparently play a significant role in areas which are actually either in the control of the Mayor, the GLA and in some cases the Boroughs. I guess this is what "double devolution" means in practice? Multiple offices and authorities with remits in the same area. And how much does all this doubling up of power and roles cost the taxpayer as a whole? Well, running the Government Office for London costs on average £15.8m a year, and it employs 268 civil servants.

You may notice that on the front page of the website it says that there is an efficiency drive to save costs and reduce staff, and it's true that it has reduced staff numbers since 2004. However, in 1999 it had 122 more staff with a headcount of 390, and cost half million pounds less to run than it does this year, this could be explained away by inflation probably, but for 2002. In that year it had just eight less staff than it has today and cost £2.3m less to run.

Personally, if we're going to keep the GLA and the Mayor in London, I don't see what the point of the Government Office for London is when all it appears to be doing is replicating work at a unnecessary cost to the national taxpayer. Unless of course devolution is really a sham?
* The precept is why Council tax is so high in London these days. The Councils' know what they need, but then Livingstone demands a slice. This results in the Council adding his share on top of it's requirement.

Osbourne to meet Bush by invite?

Apparently George Osbourne is going to the White House to meet George Bush on the subject of aid for Africa to wipe outt malaria. Unlike Gordon Brown - who only met Bush by chance when the President "popped in" on a different meeting with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley - Osbourne has actually been invited it seems.

Update: Seems the Times got this one wrong and misinterpetted a press release. C'est la vie.

Official: Brown is rubbish is maths

Not only does Gordon Brown tuck his trousers into his socks as Guido pointed out, but he's also admitted he's rubbish at maths. Whilst talking to school kids yesterday he said,
"I did maths at school and for one year at university but I don't think I was ever very good at it - and some people would say it shows."
I don't know though, he's been very nifty and moving things of his balance sheets to make them look healthier than are. Having said that, the PFI deals that he's pushed through show he's either pretty poor at maths or just crap at negotiation. Neither bodes well.

As an aside, I imagine the OverLords of Blogosphere quality will be moaning about the tittle-tattle nature of Guido's "SockGate" post. You can bet you're bottom dollar they never complained about the "John Major tucks his shirt in his underpants" story though. C'est la vie!

Man United for the Treble!

I never thought I'd be saying this, but I really want Manchester United to win the treble. I've not jumped ship to from everton you understand, the thing is, if they do, Everton get paid £1.65m. It's part of the Rooney deal you see, only problem is we've still got to play them and we need to secure a UEFA spot.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Security and safety auditing? What's that then?

Signing in when you visit a company of some sort is a pretty standard security and safety procedure these days. However, it isn't one for Gordon brown or the Treasury it seems. Apparently, Gordon Brown keeps absolutely no records of who visits him at Number 11. There is no visitors book, and no log whatsoever. That's what the Treasury Minister John Healey told Parliament yesterday.

Now, I can understand not keeping records of personal visits, but having no easily available log of official visits to Number 11 by external guests? Can Gordon Brown really claim to care about the security of the nation if he doesn't even implement management of the security through the door of the offices he is overseer of?

I guess not keeping records help for the whole plausible denial on matters like the Smith Institute though. What's more it will probably help with the continuation of the "sofa government" we've grown so used too. Aren't we the lucky ones?

Just because I'm a cynic, it doesn't mean they're not hiding something

Following on from Iain's post about the way Labour Party activists and/or Trade Unionists miraculously find themselves appointed to all number of positions on quangos and the like, it's interesting that when the Government is questioned on this in parliament it more often than not does it's best to avoid answering.

Usual practice is to say that whoever may have been appointed to body X was done so in accordance with the rules and their backgrounds were published at the time. It's true that background biographies are published, but they rarely point out Party membership as was the case with Postwatch appointments and the BIG Lottery Fund board.

However, that usual practice of responding with disingenuity at best and deceitfulness at worst didn't happen yesterday in Parliament. When the Lib Dem MP, Julia Goldsworthy asked Patricia Hewitt what former MPs that left Parliament in 2005 "have since been appointed to public bodies by her Department" the answer from the Health Minister Rosie Winterton was simply "[t]his information is not available."

Now I'll be the first to admit that I can be rather cynical. But when you start to read through Hansard on a daily basis you begin to notice trends and formulas used for answering specific types of questions, including ones like Julia Goldsworthy's. This response is totally out of ordinary and smacks of outright avoidance leaving a sour taste in the mouth.

I'll see your geeky wiki and raise you an even geekier one

There's an interesting post over on Comment Central today about the bizarre geekyness and nerdery that sometimes goes on at Wikipedia. Specifcally the post is about how Star Wars gets much more detailed coverage on the site than some more serious topics.

It's true that Wikipedia have a goldmine of information on the obscure and cult-status type things. However, if you're looking for truly geek/nerd cult status of obscure information then you really need you're own dedicated Wiki. I give you, Lostpedia* which ensures that you will be even more confused by Lost after you've read it.
* Contains spoilers.

Would it make you stop buying it if you knew it was kosher?

Have just spotted an interesting question from Tory MP, Bob Walter to Ben Bradshaw. He asked about the level of meat products in the market that had been slaughtered in line with religious practices which had not been labelled as such, and asked if DEFRA "will consider introducing mandatory labelling of all meat prepared according to halal and kosher rules."

I say it's interesting because frankly I don't understand it. For a start, either a Muslim or a Jew who is observant is likely to go to a halal/kosher butcher anyway, and there are already labelling schemes out there so why even consider legislating? Secondly, let's assume that some meat on the shelves in the supermarket is halal or kosher meat, what exactly does it matter? The argument about humane killing is a complete oxymoron anyway.

Joined-up Government 101

You have to love the amusing way in which "green" considerations impact on decisions of Government and the Parliamentary apparatus. When the House of Commons Commission was asked by Norman Baker MP if it would consider a flat fee for car parking on the Parliamentary Estate of £10 the answer was no.

There were no plans to introduce a punitive tax to discourage car usage for people who have to go to Parliament to work - those sort of taxes are just for the proles you see. Meanwhile, the seven year old escalator system in Portcullis House is having an estimated £327,000 spent on it this summer. When the work is complete it will have fancy motion sensors so that it operates in an energy efficienct way!

There is a difference between Cameron and Blair

It is very easy, in fact it's flippantly easy to dismiss David Cameron's speech yesterday about personal responsibility and civil society as either "indistinguishable from what Mr Blair was saying at the same stage in his career" as Dominic Lawson did in this morning's Independent, or as "soft-soap rhetoric" and a lack of policy as the Lib Dem MP, Nick Clegg did. However, the latter point - especially about policy - is fundamentally linked to the crux of the philosophical position that Cameron was putting forward which is (and this brings in the former) clearly distinguishable from what Blair was saying 12 or so years ago.

Beginning with Clegg, if we look at Cameron's speech, it is clear that by expressing a need for individuals to start being more personally responsible and changing the perception that "it's the Government's job init?" to every problem, policy becomes something not that politicians prescribe, but something that individuals make themselves in their own communities. The lack of policy is, paradoxically, actually a policy because it states that a Conservative Government would allow the local people to decide on how best to deal with the issues that impact them.

Clearly this is a very distinct position from the Blairite one even at face value in just a short paragraph. However, and moving on to Dominic Lawson's point, there is a more technical difference between what Cameron is saying now and what Blair said all those years ago. For Blair, as many will recall (and I do because he was the subject matter of my dissertation sadly), the key was a coupling of two concepts; rights and responsibilities. That is to say that the state gives you rights and in return you have an obligation of responsibility to it. This places the state as an external entity separate of the individual.

Cameron however is not saying that at all. His call for personal responsibility (and social responsibility) is fundamentally different because it does not make it a conditional response to the state's power. He is, essentially, arguing for a state that exists because of its individuals, rather than despite of. Thus personal and social responsibility should be framed in cultural terms rather than through the application of legal positivist principles to social policy (or what some might call social engineering).

The image above shows this structural difference between Cameron and Blair. Arguably the former believes that individuals make the state, and the response to social problems must lie with individuals (whom wihtout which the state is nothing and cease to be anyway). Meanwhile the structure of the latter places the state on a pedestal. The state in Blair's world exists external of the individuals that make it up.

Cameron's philosophical structure therefore results in the position, quite rightly, that the state overriding policy is that it should not, does not and cannot have a policy for everything. The responsibility of individuals who make up the civil society which creates the governmental structure of the state are the key to social problems, not the state itself. It's classic bottom-up politics, versus the top-down approach of the Left.
N.B. The above image is a representation of conceptual structure. The size of the circles are arbitrary.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lib Dems Council leader aims to be boring and dull

According to the Lib Dem leader of Hull City Council, Carl Minns, "the Council should be boring, it should be dull, that's the aim". I always thought it was dull in Hull anyway, so it's nice to have it confirmed by the Lib Dem council leader there.

On a more serious note, when political leaders say things like this, should they really be surprised when turnout is low, and no one wants to become involved in politics or stand for election.

Government to use satellite tracking for the elderly?

It is truly amazing the sort of silly ideas that come out of this Government sometimes. The latest, from the Science and Technology Minister, Malcolm Wicks, is to use tagging with satellite tracking for elderly people with dementia and Alzheimer's. Wicks told the Commons Science and Technology Committee,
"we've got an ageing population, with many people frail and many suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer's. How can we get the balance right so that these people have the freedom to live their lives, to go out into the community and go shopping, but also that some might benefit from being monitored so that their families know they are safe and secure."
Not only are there the obvious privacy considerations of using satellite tracking of individuals but what happens when the person walks into somewhere like a supermarket where signaling is notoriously ropey? Someone who has early Alzheimer's is unlikely to want to be tagged, and someone with dementia in the later stages is probably not someone who is likely to be safe if let to wander the streets.

Labour deputy contenders get Donne over

The Labour researcher for Colin BurgonMp called Mark Donne appears to have caused a little bit of stir by posting an open letter to Hazel Blears on LabourHome and Compass effectively calling her an opportunist, and then slagging off Harriet Harman and Peter Hain as well.

Of Blears he chastises her for saying she will support greater rights for "vulnerable workers" when she was opposed to a Private Members Bill from Paul Farrelly MP on the same subject. He bemoaned the fact that "the government employed the archaic parliamentary device of 'talking out"'" the Bill.

Peter Hain comes under attack for "dangerous, myopic talk" over comments he apparently made about Labour's aims and values, followed swiftly by a kick at Harriet Harman for being inconsistent on womens issues.
"Contenders such as Harriet Harman by way of example, purport profound dedication to women's issues. Yet when a Conservative MP attempted a truncation of existing abortion rights, Harriet could not quite make it to the division lobby for a potentially knife edge vote, despite being seen lunching in the Commons 20 minutes earlier."
What's interesting of course is that Donne's boss was the co-sponsor of the "talked out" Bill, and Jon Cruddass just happened to table a motion on the same subject too. Not that I'm suggesting for one minute that the letter is part of the deputy leadership campaign that is so bitterly being fought at the moment. I'm sure it's pure coincidence that he slagged off three of the high profile contenders for that job.
Hat Tip: Croydonian for his subbing prowess

It's the taxpayers' round isn't it?

I've always wondered how much booze the House of Commons manges to consume in a year and what the cost of it, and thanks to Norman Baker MP I now know. In the past 11 months the Refreshment Department of the House of Commons have purchased 103,000 litres of booze at a cost of £520,400. Wine is clearly the drink of choice accounting for 73% of that spending.

Bloody pissheads.

Wouldn't it be good if a Government was just honest for once?

Last week, the Liberal Democrat MP, Bob Russell tabled a motion about the increasing frequency with which questions get transferred to other departments to answer. Being a nerd who reads Hansard I have to say I agree that it does seem to happen an awful lot, and usually the question is not answered on transfer at all. Take for example this question from Tory MP Andrew Tyrie to the Home Secretary which was transferred and "answered" by Ed Balls at the Treasury on Friday.
Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many terrorist investigations have been assisted following the introduction of the money laundering regulations 2003.

Ed Balls: I have been asked to reply.

Financial investigation is a fundamental part of all counter-terrorist investigations. The Money Laundering Regulations 2003 place a number of requirements on the regulated sector, such as to identify their customers and hold customer records, and to have in place other procedures which in turn support the reporting of suspicious activity, which have proved valuable in the wider terrorist effort.
That is a total non-answer to the "how many" and what's more, it simply states that there are money laundering regulations which clearly Andrew Tyrie already knew as he mentioned them in his question.

What is the point of having a questioning system where questions are routinely, and quite clearly, deliberately not answered? The only conclusion that one can draw from the above response is that the money laundering regulations haven't had an impact on terrorist investigations.

Saying so though might lead the Government into having to admit that an initiative has failed, and that would create a bad headline. But let's be honest, wouldn't people prefer a Government that said "you know what, we thought this would help, but actually it hasn't" compared to one that obsfucates reality?

No wonder so many volunteer for redundancy

Taking redundancy, or being made compulsory redundant in the Department of Health is a winner. In the past two years there have been 72 redundancies (56 of which were voluntary), and of those 49% of the people going took with them a payment of £100,000 or more, and presumably a whopping great pension as well. Luck bastards.

One World Government proposals at the UN?

A truly remarkable development in the world of global politics has been reported in this morning's Independent. Apparently, there are moves to try and create an elected UN Parliament in order to address what is called the "democratic deficit" in global affairs.

The conspiracy theorists who fear One World Government will obviously be rather pleased with themselves at this news, however if it did come to fruition it would be a very worrying trend towards the end of the nation state. An Israeli peace campaigner called Shimri Zameret is quoted saying,
"On Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, it is time to hear the voice of the people in global affairs and not just the national governments."
Do you think, just maybe, he's a left wing anti-war campaigner who dislikes George Bush? Apparently Anita Roddick is also involved in the move so it's pretty obvious what the angle is. The group of politicians and celebrity campaigners have drawn up a document for their proposal which argues that,
"To ensure international co-operation, secure the acceptance and to enhance the legitimacy of the United Nations ... people must be more effectively and directly included into the activities of the United Nations and its international organisations."
Let's get this straight? they think that to make people be more included in the affairs of the planet there should be a remote body made up of elected non-entities who will no doubt get paid a huge salaries to stand around talking and moralising their views on the world that will mostly consist of anti-Western, anti-Enlightenment claptrap? No thanks.

The only way any sort of global government could ever work would be is (a) the human race discovered that it really was not alone in the Universe, and (b) we could actually perform inter-planetary travel at speeds great enough to make it worthwhile. Something tells me that ain't gonna happen anytime soon... if ever.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

England deserves an anthem

It has always confused and bemused me that when Scotland, Wale or Northern Ireland play in sports competitions as individual nations they have their own national anthem. Meanwhile when England plays we use the British National Anthem of God Save the Queen. It's a bizarre and strange anomaly in the many other anomalies that exist in England's relationship with its neighbours who.

In fact, if you only listened to the stereotypical things that many in the other home nations of the UK say you'd think England was a historical force of imperial domination. It's probably the most successful spin in history that a nation can be taken over by the King of its neighbour (James VI of Scotland) and yet be vilified for doing the opposite simply because the said King preferred to live in London. England is the evil oppressor of her neighbours, the reverse takeover is often ignored for some reason.

I bring this up not because I'm bitter but because the first and most obvious argument that will be used to justify the anomaly of national anthem will be one about self-determination and national identity. The problem is is that England has been restricted from that privilege. It is assumed that God Save the Queen is England's national anthem simply because of the assumed position of England historically in her relationship with the other home nations.

England took everyone else over you see, therefore the Monarch is theirs, ergo they will sing to save her. The point of course is that England has her self-determination restricted by enforcing the British anthem on her. The British anthem actually profligates the myth that England is the dominating imperialist and bogey nation of the UK.

Where is this leading me? Well, it seems that the Lib Dem MP Gregg Mulholland has issues with the anthem anomaly as well. He has tabled a motion calling on England to adopt a national anthem distinct from God Save the Queen at sporting events where it competes individually.

I couldn't agree more with this sentiment, the question is, what should the anthem be? I've always like Pomp and Circumstance personally. Any other ideas?

Where's the outrage gone?

A month or so ago, a Tory councillor (pictured) found himself accused of racism when he "blacked up" for a fancy dress party as Nelson Mandela. Bloggers on the Left, like Gweirdo, didn't pull their punches, it was the Tories and racism for every one to see. Since then, even Nelson Mandela himself said that it wasn't racist but that news wasn't carried by any of the lefty blogs that I recall (I accept I might be wrong though).

The reason I bring this up though is because I'm a bit concerned that there's not been similar outrage at the BBC's "Ruddy Hell - It's Harry and Paul". For that don't know, that's the new Harry Enfield series. In it, Enfield blacks up as Nelson Mandela and has him doing adverts for his personalised products. The other night he was selling Mandela Ecstasy tablets.

Now personally I don't think there is need for outrage over it. Frankly, Harry Enfield's new series is rubbish in my opinion, and the gags are weak. Even so though, no one has said a thing about his blacking up. There have been no cries of racism, or about pretending to be Mandela selling drugs (you'd think there would be people claiming that it was pandering to stereotypes right?).

Such is the way of politics I guess. If a Tory blacks up as Mandela at a fancy dress party it's secretly racist. If a comedian does it and pretends to be a drug dealer it's OK. It's a mad, mad world!

If climate change doesn't get you wif-fi will

Good lord, if it isn't one thing that going to cause our impending doom it's another. This morning's Independent on Sunday says that our children are at risk from wi-fi radiation poisoning. A quick bit of searching online will show you however that wi-fi mircowave and radiation is so weak compared, to say a, mobile phone, that the idea that it's dangerous is almost laughable.

Most of the arguments against wi-fi tend to be framed around little more than anecdotal evidence - I got wi-fi and started having headaches - or even better, that "vested interests" are suppressing the results of research. Yet, even when research is carried out which shows the radiation output of a wi-fi access point is 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation, the cry comes out, as ever, "think of the children!".

The one thing we can take from the story is the hilarity that the kind of people who enjoy reading the Indy and its Sunday version also hate the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, yet fail to see the similarities between their reading choice and the other when it comes to the baseless scare story.

Macavity smears the Young Pretender?

Interesting article on this morning's Mail on Sunday. Apparently, David Miliband has been exploiting loopholes in the tax system to avoid inheritance tax on the estate of the his late father, the Marxist sociologist Ralph Miliband.

Now, he's (and his brother Ed) have not done anything illegal, in fact, fair play to them in my view, if you can reduce a large tax bill then you should, nothing wrong with that, but then I'm not on the Left. That last observation is the crucial point, there is no story other than the political dimension. A left winger, from an historically Marxist family, are playing the bourgeois game of tax avoidance.

A useful thing for Lefties planning to vote in a leadership election to know I'd say. And there's no sign of Macavity around it of course, but it's certainly a useful insurance policy. A shot across Miliband's bow of what will happen if he stands perhaps? Horse's head in the best next I reckon!

Update: Apparently Miliband has told the Observer he will vote for Brown. I wonder if he said that before or after he knew this story was running in the MoS? Note, that "friends close to" Miliband were quoted in the Times last week saying they expected "horribleness" if he ran i.e. smears.

How "cash for access" went all the way up to Downing Street?

Whilst this morning's Sunday Times concentrates on the details of "cash for peerages" the Sunday Telegraph has a far more interesting angle on it all.* They've obtained an internal Labour Party document which details a "cash for access" strategy from 1997 onwards that was to revolve around Tony Blair, Lord Levy and Jonathan Powell. Until now, only snippets of the document had been leaked.

The official line on the document from Number 10 is that it was "naively written", along with assurances that people cannot buy themselves access to Downing Street and that "no one who gives money to the party is given preferential treatment". The latter point is patently absurd and totally disingenuous. You get a level of preferential treatment just for donating a grand to the Labour Party. So the idea that if you donate a few millions you won't find yourself treated differently is incredulous.
* I imagine both of these stories will be cited in the "trial by media" argument that is gradually being put forward already.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tory blogger in local media storm

Tory blogger, Islington Newmania has found himself in a bit of media storm in Islington. Newmania made what was clearly a joke comment about his party colleagues in a local ward being rubbish on Iain's site, and the comment was seized upon by the Lib Dems on Lib Dem Voice as proof of the Tory Party being "nasty" because Newmania, as a deputy chairman of Islington Conservative association, is a "top Tory".

More BNP nomination form problems?

After the furore that surrounded the Lib Dem councillor in Darlington who signed a BNP nomination form, more news around the country has suggested that some rather dodgy practices are going on when it comes to BNP forms. Apparently, a Lib Dem councillor has discovered that a nomination form for the BNP's Zane Patchell (candidate for the Lozells and East Handsworth ward in Birmingham) has a signature on it belonging to a Jamaican women who says it's fraudulent.

It was also FOUND, by the same Lib Dem councillor, that other signatures from ethnic minority voters had been put on BNP forms. It's interesting that a Lib Dem should be investigating these issues after the Darlington Incident. We're one to be horribly party political one might think the Lib Dems were trying to find evidence that could show by implication that their man in Darlington was innocently duped.

Duped? Maybe. Stupid? Definitely.

Harman faces angry workers on campaign trail

Apparently, Harriet Harman, the Constitutional Affairs minister found herself in the middle of local pay row yesterday. She was visiting Cumbria on the local election campaign trial and was faced with local court ushers who were complaining about a regional pay bandings. The "working to rule" angry ushers foisted a letter of complaint on her which, in true Teflon shoulder style, she passed on to someone else whilst saying she was sympathetic to their concerns.

Clone yourself with a cyber twin

I don't know whether people have played very much with Artificial Intelligence bots (AI). Alice Bot is the classic of these, but I've just stumbled across another site - which I think may be a variation on Alice to be honest. I'm not sure if the concept will work, but, imagine you were someone that received done of emails every day with requests or questions. Imagine if you could have a virtual artificial intelligence bot, a, shall we say, cybertwin, that people could speak to on your behalf?

That's exactly what is offering people. The project is very much in Beta at the moment, and remains free. As I say I;m not sure if it will work, I had a conversation with one of the companies founders earlier, Liesl Capper, it wasn;t exactly perfect and I managed to confuse her quite quickly, so there's no pass of the Turing Test quite yet.

Still, AI bots can be amusing, and if you keep your sentence structure simple and not to convoluted you can actually hold a conversation with them which flows. Just don't ask about the nature of being, use slang, and try to avoid synonyms.

For a few more details read here.

Goldsmith should now step aside

I suppose, given the presentation of a file to the CPS from Inspector Yates on the matter of "cash for peerages" I should make a comment. Apparently if all the papers are right, the Police have said they want to bring three charges. What is odd is the "Police want charges" line is being presented as news, but that was actually obvious anyway when they presented a case file to the CPS. When have you ever heard of the police presenting a case file to the CPS and saying "we don't want to bring charges"? It doesn't happen.

Having had an experience of the courts recently, as a character witness for a friend who was, quite rightly, found not guilty, I can't imagine the CPS would not let the cash for peerages case go to court. After all, they let my friend's case go to court and the judge even chastised the Police for being crap when they were on the stand. Of course, he was just a prole and no one cared about his case in high profile terms, funny how that works ain't it?

In the case of "cash for peerages" I imagine it helps that the Attorney-General is a personal friend who owes you for his position as well. Even if the CPS want to bring a case, Lord Goldsmith can block it. If he does though, rightly or wrongly, it will be viewed by most people and distinctly iffy. This is precisely why he should stand aside now.

A number of months ago he indicated that he wouldn't stand aside. However, at that time, it was also said, if I recall correctly, that as there was not yet a file presented to the CPS it was all academic. It's no longer academic, and it stretches the realm of credibility that Goldsmith can ever be considered to impartially make a judgment on this matter.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sunday Telegraph hack caught out infiltrating UKIP

It looks like the Sunday Telegraph have been caught out at playing at spooks. Apparently, one of their journalists, Tom Harper, used his middle name to try to con UKIP into thinking he was one of their supporters.

One minor mistake though is that he apparently left his real name on his voicemail and used his real email address. Apparently UKIP are considering reporting the incident to the Press Complaints Commission.

Whoops! First rule of espionage, build yourself a decent legend!

Dizzy the Stalker(ish)

Last night I mentioned that I sat next Nigel Lawson on the tube. What I didn't mention was that I gave up my seat which meant I could take a picture of him, in stalker-esque style, reading the SubStandard-Lite. Here's the proof that top Tories do in fact use public transport.

Update: Faces blurred to protect the innocent and appease the pedant in the comments.

Cruddas campaign says Tories hate ducks

I couldn't help but chuckle a little when I saw that Jon Cruddas had posted on LabourHome about a new feature on his website called Tell us your Tory Story. The idea is for people to submit their tales of how we're all evil to remind them of the vicious enemy that we are.

It turns out though that we're not the enemy of the people, but the enemy of ducks according to the top post from the "best stories collected so far". Stuart Watkins from Tooting writes,
"There was a duck pond round the corner from me on Tooting Common where the ducks lived quite happily splashing about and small children would go along with their parents. When I passed by the duck pond the other day it had been drained. Tory Wandsworth are obsessed with having low council tax – maybe this is how they cut costs?"
Evil tories, drained the pond on Tooting Common? And to think Labour say we're unfit to govern?

Never mind the bollocks... here's Tim Montgomerie

Well I have to say I'm shocked, the last person in the world that I thought would be a Pistols fan was Tim Montgomerie. Personally I prefer the Clash and the Specials. Should you wonder how I know this, then watch this interview with Tim and Sam Coates from ConservativeHome.

Health and Safety Executive diversifies into fear and intimidation?

It's no secret I hate the Health and Safety Executive. They interfere in all sorts of daily business practices and dictate on common sense. I like to call them fascists which some people might think a little harsh, but their latest press release simple confirms my belief even more.
A director from a small construction company will be getting a taste of what happens when safety standards are allowed to slip, when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carries out a mock interview next week.

Construction is one of the most hazardous industries to work in, and the exercise will see the director being questioned on a fictitious workplace accident. The interview under caution will be held before a group of spectators, also from the construction industry.
The use of fear and intimidation by the state in order to control the actions of individuals? Nice!

Brown's low carbon building programme is a scam

In April 2006, Gordon Brown, trying to show off and flex his "green credentials" introduced business grants through the Department of Trade and Industry called the Low Carbon Building Programme. Our ever so green Chancellor allocated £18 million for the programme which sounds quite impressive.

However, since its introduction, of the 97 busines grant applications submitted none have been awarded grants. That's zero, nada, zilch. There isn't really much more to say about it really. The figures speak for themselves. Another Brown green policy behind which lies quite literally nothing but words.

UPDATE: When it comes household domestic grants, they've managed to dish out just £1.6m of the money that has been allocated up to 2008. Something tells me the supposed £18m allocation from Brown is actually a pie in the sky figure.

Do you think he's got sweat problem?

Important matters are always up for debate in the Commons, and Hansard reveals that of importance to the MP for Hartlepool, Iain Wright, is the temperature in the Palce of Westminster. He's asked the House of Commons Commission if they'll turn the heating down from the 21°C they have it set to.

Now personally, I'd have thought the obvious thing to do is take your jacket. But then it occurred to me, perhaps he can't for fear of embarrassment. Is he stuck in a vicious chicken and egg circle? Show off the pits, or not show them off! That is the question.

Think local act global?

I want to work in the Department for Communities and Local Government. Honestly, I do. They get to go on trips around the world including the Far East and America and no one at the Department actually keeps any record of why they went. What a life! Even better they let you spends thousands of pounds doing it too. Yay for missing financial audit trails!

Since last July, the DCLG has sent departmental staff on a total of 519 foreign junkets, across Europe and the wider world. Including three visits to the USA and eight visits to the Far East. The total cost of this travel? £197,992. Now that might not sound too bad, after all, divided equally that's only about £300 a trip, but, as ever, the devil in the detail of the breakdown.

Thanks to Caroline Spelman we now, sort of, know what that detail is. As mentioned already, there were merely a handful of trips across the wider continents, 11 in fact. This represents approximately 2% of the foreign trips by DCLG staff since July 2006. However, that 2% of trips accounted for approximately 34% of the total spend on travel (£23,664 for the US and £43,544 for the Far East).

It gets better though, when Caroline Spelman tried to find out what the purpose of these trips was the DCLG said that it "does not hold central records about the purpose of individual overseas trips." It might as well be shopping for all they now! Can they really, seriously, say they have no idea why they spend money on foreign junkets? Imagine if a business was so cavalier with its finances?

I'm not quite sure what is more worrying. That the DCLG lacks any audit trial of the purpose of it spending nearly a quarter of a million on foreign travel over 10 months; or the fact that the department for "local" government and essentially domestic affairs is jaunting around the world at the taxpayers expense.

There is a phrase these days that we should think global and act local (especially on the matter of the enviornment), the DCLG seems to be doing it the other way round. All very odd.

"Foxy will get the chop" says Tamzin

According to the ever enigmatic Tamzin Lightwater in the Spectaor's "Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody" there's going to be a reshuffle in the shadow cabinet and "Foxy will get the chop". That's so yesterday's news!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lording it up with the proles?

As someone that travel by Tube everyday, on both the lines that the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone claims to travel on with the proles can I say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I've never ever seen him.
However, I have seen other politicians on the tube in my time this evening being the notable occasion of sitting next Lord Lawson on the Jubilee Line. I considered, for about a nanosecond of speaking to him, but that would;ve broken every cardinal rule of Tube etiquette so didn't.

I've also sat next to Alex Salmond on the Jubilee Line. He was still on the train when I got off so he either went to Canning Town, West Ham, or Stratford. I'm assuming he must have a flat out there someone, unless someone can tell me different? It's the only explanation for why the leader of the Scottish National Party would venture into the depths of East London right?

Maybe Boris was thinking of Slough rather than Portsmouth?

Spotted this earlier on in the week whilst I enjoyed the delights of Slough for three days. For some reason all I could think was "does this mean they have a drug problem here?" I wonder if the really ill people refuse to go there because they don't have anything for them!

Obviously you need to click the image for the bigger version.

EU to outlaw free speech?

A while back now the Devil's Kitchen wrote a couple of posts about how the EU wanted to make holocaust denial a criminal offence and essentially lock down free speech. This morning he's posted with more details and the fact that the Financial Times has now commented on it.

As Iain rightly said, people who deny the holocaust are batty as fruitcakes, but the act of doing so should not be something that is restricted. If you want to say the world is made of orange peel and the leaders are all lizards then you should be free to do so. This is not something that should even come close to be passed into law, however obtuse someone's words may be they should free to say them.

Fox hunting in Westminster?

It seems there are rumours flying around the parliamentary lobby that in the post-Blair Gordon Brown world not only will there be an inevitable reshuffle of the Cabinet, but Cameron will follow suit and reshuffle too.

The rumour mill in the lobby is running apace that Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary is going to be, shall we say, "moved". According to some lobby sources he's not seen as a team player anymore, and allegedly Steve Hilton rarely has a good word to say about him.

I imagine, if the rumours are true, that his lacklustre response at the beginning of the week to Des Browne's apology won't have played in his favour. I've yet to read a flattering or positive report of his performance in the chamber.

Such a move would certainly stamp Cameron's authority on the shadow cabinet, but there would probably be a little bit of brief fallout in the wider-party given he was a former leadership contender and only missed out on standing against Cameron himself by a handful of MP votes.

Electronic voting starts on Saturday

Have just heard that the first electronic console polling station in this years local elections will be open on Saturday in a shopping centre in Shrewsbury. Let's hope the system is neither overloaded or loses data. Apparently Shrewsbury will also be having text message voting and Internet voting as well. Wonder how long it will take for someone to make allegations of electoral fraud after the results?

Tie a knot in it!

I'm guessing that the MP for Brighton Pavillion, David Lepper (I bet he had the mickey taken out of him at school with a name like that), frequently gets caught short on his train ride back to his constituency.

This might explain the motion he has tabled calling on the Government to introduce legislation making it a legal requirement for train operators to maintain the shooting galleries toilets on their trains for all passengers (sorry, customers).

As my mother always said, go before you leave.

Combination lock clamping with one minor flaw?

Also in this morning's Times is the news that "DIY clamping" may be introduced. As the picture shows, a clamp will have a combination lock on it. When you get clamped you ring a company, pay a fine and a £150 deposit, unlock the car and take the clamp back within a week for your £150.

One minor problem, thatv looks to me like a six figure combination lock. True it will take you time, but what is to stop anyone simply cycling through from 000001 to 999999 until it unlocks. You can almost guarantee you won't have to go that far either because they'll probably be set to the clamping manager's date of birth which reduced the range down to somewhere between 010130 and 311299.

Or am I just too cynical? I mean, sure, it will take you bloody ages to cycle through the combinations, but if you don't have £200 odd quid available (deposit plus approx £50 fine) you might fancy sitting by the roadside and trying it, right?

As if they'll ever give them back?

According to a report in this morning's Times, the British Museum has "intimated that the Elgin Marbles could be lent to Athens". The Greek authorities told the Times that the move was significant as it was "the first time they’ve ever said they’d let them out of the museum. We’ve said we’re not disputing the ownership."

Now, whilst Greece may say they're not disputing ownership that is, rather obviously I think, just diplomatic speak. Deep down of course the ownership dispute remains. So, is it really beyond imagination that if the British Museum lends them to Athens that when the loan period runs out they refuse to give them back? It's not like we'll invade them to get them.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

OK! Who's been spiking the tea bags?

I don't know, you turn your head away for just a second and all hell breaks loose. You start to wonder to yourself, have the people in CCHQ had their tea bags spiked with LSD crystals? Hell, have I been spiked with LSD at some point? Has everything just been one giant hallucinogenic roller coaster and I'm entering the really crazy phase where an ex-Labour donor and supporter might run as a joint Lib/Con mayoral candidate against Livingstone?

As Iain has posted in his update, Dyke has been telling Sky News how he floated the idea with Cameron. So how the hell did a floated idea gain momentum so bloody fast? The time line is interesting, Andrew Neill casually mentions it on the Daily Politics, then Iain posts and confirms the idea is true but that there are misgivings and mutterings at CCHQ. Before you know it, Dyke is telling Sky he won't stand, and Ming Campbell is essentially saying "sod off".

The question is how did such a plan even get out? I imagine that Cameron - if Dyke really did approach him, - would have told very few about it, Steve Hilton for sure, and maybe one or two others? So which one mentioned it to Andrew Neill? Was it mentioned deliberately to get the idea "out there" and flattened for the rank insanity that it would've been? Or was it mentioned because the idiot genuinely believed it was a great idea?

Either way, there's no way the grassroots (yellow or blue) would've bought into it anyway. Certainly a fast news day, shame the news was so silly.

UPDATE: Have just heard from a reliable source that Andrew Neill is most likely to have known about this because of something Charles Moore has written in tomorrow's Spectator. The question remains of course, why would CCHQ even consider the idea? Seriously.... it's bonkers.

UKIPHome upsets UKIP?

Interesting, the unofficial voice of UKIP, Chad Noble, appears to be pitching his UKIPHome site as just "UKIP" on News Now. This sort of gives it the smell of being official when it isn't. Word is UKIP are not very happy about it. Naughty Chad!