Tuesday, July 31, 2007

They get an F for discipline

If anyone listened to World at One they will have heard Ali Miraj not denying that he asked for a peerage recently and then claiming he is being smeared (see here for backgrund). However, what was worse was to then listen to, if I heard it correctly, the Chairwoman of Newark Conservative Association, Sheelagh Hamilton.

Besides the fact that the woman sounds like exactly the sort of posh Tory that everyone loves to hate. She bizarrely started talking about how brilliant Gordon Brown was, and that he has gravitas and is doing a great job.

On Sunday, David Davis said that Cameron "has passed his first test. Now the party must pass its first test, and that is a test of discipline." Ali Miraj and Sheelagh Hamilton (if I heard it right) just failed.

Jon Snow gets his wrist slapped by the gallery?

It looked very much like Jon Snow on Channel 4 News may have got a slap from the gallery during last night's programme. When introducing a VT piece on the end of Operation Banner in Nothern ireland he referred to it as the end of of the British Army's "occupation" of the province.

As soon as the VT finished he quickly corrected himself, and apologised profusely for making the mistake, or, as most people would call it, a freudian slip.

When we call it a "flame war" it is not meant literally

A tad extreme methinks
ELM MOTT, Texas -- A Navy man who got mad when someone mocked him as a "nerd" over the Internet climbed into his car and drove 1,300 miles from Virginia to Texas to teach the other guy a lesson.

As he made his way toward Texas, Fire Controlman 2nd Class Petty Officer Russell Tavares posted photos online showing the welcome signs at several states' borders, as if to prove to his Internet friends that he meant business.

When he finally arrived, Tavares burned the guy's trailer down.

Communties department to set up online community

Many will remember the farce that occured when David Miliband tried to introduce a wiki as a means to encourage engagement of the electorate on DEFRA policy. It got royally owned by people, some political activists, some just webmongs libertarian fruitcakes, who decided to have some fun.

The problem with all these forms of "engagement" by any Government is that you will attract quite a significant handful of nutters and just mischief makers (and I happily include myself in that). It's not just Government, but political parties in general where this will happen.

We saw it last week in America where CNN decided to set up a debates site on YouTube and ended up with all manner of crazies. Mitt Romney, a Republican nomination candidate summed it up succinctly when he said "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman".

The obvious solution of course is to try and do these sort of things under the radar. ConservativeHome and LabourHome are independent of their parties (I would include LibDem Voice but frankly it doesn't feel like that anymore) yet they garner their respect as a platform for discussion. Alternatively you use Think Tank organisations, or other areas.

Of course the problem that "Government" will see in that is that you're only engaging with your base. You're not engaging with real people but rather political obssessives. This is a reasonable point, but the obsession with engagement with "normal people" at all times seems to fail to acknowledge that "normal people" often don't have the time, or inclination to engage.

The reason I bring this subject up though is because the Department for Communities and Local Government is about to take another of those "eSteps" again. It's about to relaunch its website and it's decided that it's going to have a discussion forum. Why? What is the point?

Having a discussion forum will balance the department on the classic and irritating sword edge. Do they let freedom reign and end up with atypical Internet political discussions? Or do they heavily moderate, see traffic tail off after an initial surge, get accused of censorship and sanitisation and then can the idea?

I fear that the latter will be the end result, and Lord knows how much will be spent in design, maintenance and moderation costs whilst the project goes on. One only has to look at the traffic statistics that the Government has released for its main department sites to realise that very few people actually visit them in the wider scheme of things.

When you do a bit of dirty and assumed downward extrapolation from page impressions and unique hits, and then you factor in return visits, it's pretty clear that in a country of 60 million people, the vast majority never look at them anyway.

Having a discussion forum sounds wonderful, but it will just end up being the same political saddos and civil service wonks who are reading all the other blogs anyway, and even then they'll probably start getting bored.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Is Hodge helping Harman to accessorise?

There is a rather odd entry in the last published Register of Members' Interests. Apparently, Margaret "The BNP have a point" Hodge gave a personal donation to Harriet Harman of an undisclosed sum on July 17th. Whilst the figure is not disclosed it must be at least £1000 as that is the level set for entry on to the register of sponsorship which it is entered under.

Interestingly though Harman has not (as yet) submitted it to the Electoral Commission, as with all her other Deputy Leadership donations (£18,050). So was the money a late donation for the deputy leadership or was it for something else?

It's all rather perculiar, an MP chucking a few quid at another MP (Mandelson/Robinson aside). Especially when the other MP is one you've locked horns with in the past. Maybe Hodge felt sorry for Harman in the Blears handbag stakes and wanted to help her out?

Or maybe Harman has something on Hodge? Perhaps a video? Click click, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more a nudge is a good a wink to blind man? It could all just be part of the great sisterhood though... ooo err.. nudge!

Update: It's been pointed out in the comments I am a fool because it's not the Margaret Hodge but a different one. In which case, why did Harriet Harman register it as "Margaret Hodge MP (personal donation). (Registered 17 July 2007)" here, and just in case TheyWorkForYou is not good enough, here's the register at Parliament. Maybe it's Harriet Harman who is the fool?

Why did they need new computer hardware?

When the new Ministry of Justice was set up, the proposal was that essentially some stuff that was at the Home office would move into the Department of Constitutional Affairs and the DCA would simply change its name.

Apparently this wasn't going to cost very much money as it wasn't the creation of a new department as such but more a simple reogranisation. All the people doing roles would carry on doing their roles, the department name Minister at the top was all that really changed.

This isn't strictly true though, the change actually cost us £1.59 million. Including, bizarrely, spending £700,000 on new IT capital hardware. What I'm confused about here is that if it was a straight re-org why the need to spend almost a million on IT hardware? Did they all get shiny new systems?

Communications, including the new logo (which is just a royal crest isin't it?) had a budget of £130,000 and they spent £275,000 on new offices and signage. I'm not sure on what the breakdown between those two things is, and I can understand spending some money on signage, but new offices? Does this mean that the Home Office now has large amounts of offices empty or has everyone just got more desk real estate?

Where do I buy my dole money from?

So my befuddlement about the Government, or more specifcally, the taxman, calling me a "customer" is documented already, but I've just received a press release that has knocked me over. It's from the Department for Work and Pensions about the Postal strikes and says,
During the industrial action by Royal Mail staff from 30 July until 8 August payments to a small minority of customers will be affected.

The vast majority of customers have their payment made directly into a bank or building society account. These payments will not be affected and will be paid into accounts as normal.

Customers who are paid by cheque will not receive their payment through the post to their home address during the dispute. Instead, cheques will be sent by courier to the Post Office nearest to their home address.
So now, not only are you called a customer when you pay the taxman, but if you're on bloody benefits taking free money from the state you're a customer too? Seriously, being a customer implies that you are purchasing goods or services. Remind me, where is the purchase in the benefit claim? Or are they offsetting the tax payments as the "purchase" in order to define people who take tax credits as customers?

Yes yes, I know this sounds awfully ranty, but come on, if you're on the dole you're not a bloody customer of the DWP. You're an unemployed person, probably with Sky (but not the movies package just yet).

Flushing hate crimes down the loo?

We're quite good at hate crimes and thought crimes int eh UK, but as is always the way, the US is ahead of us. We shall endeavour to catch up I'm sure.
NEW YORK (AP) A 23-year-old man was arrested Friday on hate-crime charges after he threw a Quran in a toilet at Pace University on two separate occasions, police said.

Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn was arrested on charges of criminal mischief and aggravated harassment, both hate crimes, police said. It was unclear if he was a student at the school. A message left at the Shmulevich home was not immediately returned.

The Islamic holy book was found in a toilet at Pace's lower Manhattan campus by a teacher on Oct. 13. A student discovered another book in a toilet on Nov. 21, police said.

Muslim activists had called on Pace University to crack down on hate crimes after the incidents. As a result, the university said it would offer sensitivity training to its students.
Jesus wept..... in the pan.
Hat Tip: The Corner

e-Government laid bare

Funny because you're not actually meant to have a clue what the hell they're talking about half the time. Bloody acronyms.

I feel Whitehall Webby's pain

Have just a read a brilliantly candid description of the headless chicken state of the Civil Service just before recess over at Whitehall Webby who says,
Unfortunately, the week or so before recess is a nightmare for people running government websites. Policy officials all over the department suddenly remember that they were supposed to have something published online months ago and they’re going on holiday for three weeks at half four.

‘It simply must be published’ , ‘It’s one of the department’s priorities’, ‘The minister has insisted that it goes on the website today’, are all commonly heard phrases from anxious harassed officials on the phone during weeks like this.
Ah yes, a priority that has been left in some idiots inbox because he's been too busy on Facebook, we Ops people know all about that! The next bit sounds eerily familiar too.
(us) ‘Alright, we’ll do our best, can you send us the documents in question together with the form we send out for all publication jobs’ (this covers things like metadata, where on the site it should go etc etc).

Nothing heard back by lunchtime. We called them - out to lunch. Left messages, still nothing.

Finally made contact at around 3pm. (them) ‘Why haven’t you published it yet?’ - (us) ‘You haven’t sent the documents to us’.

Wait a bit longer, call back - (us) ‘Is this still happening, we assume its not as you haven’t sent anything’ - (them) ‘I’ll send it in five minutes’.

Forty five minutes later, the email arrives. No documents attached. Try calling back, no reply. Send an urgent email ‘we tried calling you, need the documents urgently’. Twenty seconds later, we get an out of office message, on holiday for three weeks. Urgently tried calling, eventually somebody else picks up the phone, ‘Sorry he’s gone, don’t know anything about the documents’.

Three weeks later, (them) ‘why didn’t you do that thing I asked you?’ (us) ‘you didn’t send it’.
I've been there Webby, I feel the pain. I feel the frustration. I do though take solace that there non-techie to techie interfaces are just the same in the public and private sector.

Brown snubs the Welsh?

It was always interesting I thought that the Downing Street website decided to have an Arabic version, but it appears now they have launched a French version too.

Now, considering that Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world, followed closely by Spanish (or English depending on who's figures you use), why go for a language that isn't even considered in the top ten most widely used language according to the Summer Institute for Linguistics?

OK, so you might say that we have a lot of French speaking people in the country, or that it is our neighbour, but what about Welsh? Gordon tells us so often about his love for Britain, yet he can;t even be bothered to speak to taff in their mother tongue.

Handbags at dawn

At the begining of the month, Amanda Platell, in her Daily mail column said of the Tory community cohesion spokeswoman, Sayeeda Warsi that she was "ambitious to become a celebrity" whilst also pointing out that she "welcomes the election of Hamas, whose idea of democracy is to drag its political opponents into the street and shoot them in the head."

In this morning's Indy, repsonding to a question about Platell's attack on her, Warsi said,
"I am not sure Amanda has been in the best place to comment on Conservative politics for the last six years. She was a failure when she worked for the Conservative Party. Rather than getting on with her job, it turned out that she was doing a video diary."
Surely now is as good a time as any for an official policy on mud wrestling? If not mud then at least some sort of structured ring based fighting?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Gordon's obsession with "Britain"

What better evidence could there be to exemplify the problem of the West Lothian and Gordon Brown than the issue of flags? As some will know, Brown has said that the Union Flag would fly on Government buildings and could do so every day. Meanwhile Alex Salmond and the SNP have said that it won't be flown on Scottish Executive buildings and the Government has conceded there is nothing they can do about it.

It seems to me all this British tub-thumping by Brown, which has now been ongoing for a year is getting a little silly. He's just released another book about Britain "unsung heros", and in just five of the statements/speeches available on the Downing Street website he manages to say "Britain" or "British" 55 times.

He really is trying to hard to make everyone forget that he epitomises the raw deal England gets today in the constitutional arrangement. Although it makes sense I guess as he must also know that without Scotland his "bounce" isn't all that.

CameroonHome launches

Looks like Platform 10 has now launched. This is the site that has been euphemistically called CameroonHome. The site says it wants to make the case for a "modern, liberal Conservative agenda." Frankly, I think it's looks fugly, but then I'm a picky git, I shall have a browse around its content though and will be bookmarking it.
Hat Tip: Mike Rouse

Quick glance at the Sundays

There are it seems some rather concerning and amusing stories in this morning's Sundays. According to the Sunday Telegraph, Gordon Brown has decided to cut £50 million from drug treatment programmes in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.

Now some will say that it is Darling that is Chancellor, but the cynic amongst many of us will know that really means Brown. Meanwhile the Independent on Sunday has a whistleblower story about the NHS, with one of Britain's most senior surgeons saying there is a bed crisis for trauma patients.

The BBC finds itself hit twice in the Mail on Sunday which alleged that the BBC entrapped someone by offering them £40,000 for some children in a human smuggling scandal in Bulgaria. At the same time it is expressing outrage that the bleeding obvious fake caravan fire in Top Gear was... errr... faked.

Michael Portillo in the Sunday Times has an interesting piece, which, if you can get past his constant slagging of the Tories, suggests Brown should scrap ID Cards and it would be a sign of his strength. Also in the same paper, Bryan Appleyard has a brilliant piece about the "Web 2.0" world and the creation fo notorious nobodies (also known as web celebrities).

My one criticism as ever is this belief that Web 2.0 is actually different to Web 1.0, it isn't, apart from the fact that a technically illiterate person can now easily publish online. There were many web celebrities before the easy publishing systems - Jay Stile springs to mind even if his sites are, shall we say, decidedly adult.

Finally, on a purely political point, David Davis, has weighed in with support for David Cameron, telling the Sunday Telegraph that "David has passed his first test. Now the party must pass its first test, and that is a test of discipline."

He's absolutely right too. Whilst there have been some tactical errors in the past few weeks, and the "Brown Bounce" is suddenly surprising people who were openly acknowledging it would happen before it did, it's not a time to start blinking and talking about patricide.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Did they make the newbie pay?

The following pictures were taken in Westminster last week when the Labour Party deleivered their new candidate from Ealing Southall to Parliament. What I want to know is, did they make him pay for the ticket or did the Labour whip Tom Watson handle the bill?

Hat Tip: Nigel Fletcher

Win yourself £100 worth of political DVDs

Should anyone want to be win themselves £100 worth pf political DVDs, there is a little interactive thing going on over at Iain Dale's blog. The "2007 Guide to Political Blogging in the UK" will be published this September and, unlike last year, it will not just be Iain's decision that will decide the outcome.

He's requesting people send their top 20 political blogs to him, where number 1 get 20 points and number 20 gets 1 point. These will be used to work out the ranking and popularity of the blogs in the Top 100 and each submission will be go into the hat for the £100 worth of political DVD prizes. The closing date for submissions is August 15th.

Email Iain with your Top 20 by clicking here remembering to remove the NOSPAM bit from the address.

Boring movie coming soon

Great.. another bloody disaster movie about flooding and climate chaos. Simply called Flood we get to see London flooded. According to IMDB this is the plot summary.
Timely yet terrifying, The Flood predicts the unthinkable. When a raging storm coincides with high seas it unleashes a colossal tidal surge, which travels mercilessly down England's East Coast and into the Thames Estuary. Overwhelming the Barrier, torrents of water pour into the city. The lives of millions of Londoners are at stake. Top marine engineers and barrier experts Rob, his ex-wife Sam and his father Leonard Morrison, have only a few hours to save the city from total devastation. A real probability in a real location. It is not a question of if, but when London floods.
It's true it's not a question of if, but when London floods, but it is questionable whether it will happen like this.

Mind you, if this did happen I would have a nice river view from the end of my road.

Should we just ignore female genital mutilation then?

Iain Dale has done a list of things he learned after going to Rwanda. One of them was that "We should not try to impose our way of life on others", which, another Tory blogger, Benedict White agreed with in the comments saying "yes we should not impose our way of life on other countries, they do things differently there and why not". In fairness to Iain he says we shouldn't "try" to do it, rather than that we must do it under any cost, but I must say I'm surprised with Benedict White's more forceful expression of cultural relativism.

This view that we should not impose our values on other countries and simply accept their they're just "different" is worrying. It means, consequentially that we should just turn a blind eye if a country wants to carry out forced female genital mutilation on 10 year old girls. It states, "why, that's their culture and they're entitled to do things differently!" Sorry, but they're not and we should impose our values in such circumstances.

Alternatively, in somewhere like Afghanistan where the Taliban outlawed music; forced women to wear burkhas; stoned women to death for being raped. Why bloody shouldn't we think our way of life is better than that? Our values of equity, liberty, freedom and justice are superior to that medievalism. It may sound lofty to say "we shouldn't impose our way on life on other countries" but it leads to accepting some pretty horrible things if you stick to it.

This doesn't mean you have to support imposition by the barrel of the gun, but if a country has values that are the anti-thesis to ours then why shouldn't we use other methods to impose our values on them? Especially if they want money from us? I for one don't like the idea of paying money to a country that, for example, carries out forced female circumcision on ten year olds.

So yes, we shouldn't go out and seek to impose our way of life around the world actively. However, when things are happening that run contrary to our Enlightenment values we shouldn't sit and accept it on the basis of playing equivalence. That way lies folly. Firstly, it suggests that we don't even believe in our own values (which is what Islamists quite successfully exploit already) and secondly it leads us into accepting some of the most oppressive and disgusting practices on the grounds that "oh well that's their culture".

Friday, July 27, 2007

Missed targets in ministerial statements

Given I'm a saddo, I've been having a read through some of these ministerial statements that the Government made today to see what they may have hoped to go unnoticed. One of the things buried in there was a rather amusing and equally worrying statement from Vernon Coaker about the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

For a start, there's the net liabilities on the balance sheet which are pretty staggering, £1,187 million to be precise. Now fair enough, this is a compensation authority so it's probably going to have quite high liabilities, but £1.1 billion certainly surprised me.

Having said that though, the net liabilties are the really worrying, or amusing part. No, that came in the last three sentences of the statements. Coaker said,
In 2006–07 the authority received 60,861 applications for compensation and resolved 59,096.
OK, that doesn't sound too bad. Good work!
The number of cases outstanding at 31 March 2007 was 87,543.
Errrm.. what was good has suddenly become bad.
The proportion of cases decided within 12 months was 62.9 per cent.
Well that's just appalling. Especially when in 2001 they had a target to "provide a decision in 90% of cases within 12 months". And last year the target was to decide 90.9% of 80% of all appeals with 12 months (% of a % huh? nice!).

So basically, they're crap.

Government buries bad news shocker!

Apparently the Government has today, the eve of the long summer recess, published over 100 ministerial statements which include information such as spending on ministerial cars, the fact Blair's farewell tour cost us £1.5m and lots of other great nuggets of buried bad news.

According to the Leader of the House, Harriet "I'm a woman that is what I do" Harman, this is just a practical reality and they're not trying to hide anything at all, heaven forbid! Frankly I;m not surprised by the number of statements at all.

Over the session there have, quite literally, been 100s of hundreds of questions about costs and the like where the answer has been to say it will cost too much to answer and figures will published at the end of the year. In fact it happened this week and I guarantee the figure that were to expensive to publish on Tuesday were not too expensive to do so on Friday.

Prescott was brilliant at ignoring questions about spending and simply saying that the figure would be published at the end of the year. The modus operandi of New Labour in Parliament has always appeared to be to obfuscate the scrutiny process. If scrutiny cannot happen properly then it is possible for the Government to actively shape the message on their terms.

The real reason Brown scrapped the Manchester casino?

A lonely motion from Croydon

Andrew Pelling, the MP Croydon Central tabled a motion last week which said,
That this House is concerned that the proposal for polyclinics in London will compromise the future of local GP practices
Number of signatures so far? One. Perhaps a rewrite is required?
That I am concerned that the proposal for polyclinics in London will compromise the future of local GP practices

What is modernisation?

Quick question to throw out there for Friday, but, what is, in terms of party politics, "modernisation"? Seriously, this notion of "modernisers" when people talk about both New Labour and the Tories, I've never actually figured out what it means.

It seems to me that it's a vacuous self-defining phrase rather than a meaningful term. It essentially tries to paint the entire past as, by default negative, whilst this "modern" thing that they are claiming to achieve is always by definition right.

What was the "modernisation" of the Labour Party exactly? Structurally it is largely undifferent now to how it was before Blair. Some might argue that the removal of Clause IV and nationalisation from their constitution indicated some massive modernisation step. But did it really?

Was Labour, before scrapping Clause IV from their constitution calling for a manifesto of mass re-nationalisation? No. The removal was cosmetic and nothing more. So again, what exactly is "modernisation"?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Working for Johnson and Darling sounds stressful

It would appear that the Department of Trade and Industry - now called the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform - has become an increasingly stressful place to work over the past few years.

Apparently, in 2004-05, of the people off work with illness, 5.6% were off due to stress-related problems. However, the following year, under the leadership of Alan Johnson the renamed for a week Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry saw the figure double to 11.5%.

Johnson wasn't there for long though, and in 2006 Alastair Darling took over from him. A new regime, less stress? No. Under Darling's leadership the figure almost doubled again to 19.8%. I bet they were pleased when he sodded off to the Treasury.

The real question is whether John Hutton can de-stress the place?

Hanging out with fatties makes you fat

No you're not big boned, and it's got nothing to do with that Big Mac a day you have along with full-fat coke. Being fat is not your fault, it's your fat friends fault. Their fatty disease has spread to you, it's official. At least that's what a report in the New England Journal of Medicine says.

According to the International Herald Tribune, it involved a "detailed analysis of a large social network of 12,067 people who had been closely followed for 32 years, from 1971 until 2003." The investigation's lead Dr. Nicholas Christakis, professor of medical sociology (wtf??) at Harvard Medical School essentially claims that if you start hanging around with fat people you find the body acceptable. Your peers therefore act as "a kind of social contagion, that spreads through the network."

Personally it sounds like bollocks to me, but then I am a cynic. Let's put it like this, if you flip it on its head then it's probably not wise to have special centres for anorexics to hang around together right? In fact, if the research was correct, then the success rate of those sort of places would be lower than it is wouldn't it?

Are the Lib Dems going after air conditioning?

Whenever an MP asks the same question to every single department you instantly wonder what they're up to. Are they just fishing for embarrassing statistics or is there a deeper policy reason for their enquiries. These are the two questions I find myself asking about Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems Environment spokesman.

Over the past few days he's been writing to every department asking them how much they've spent on mobile air-conditioning units in the last five years. As it happens, with the exception of the House of Commons Commission who seem to spend an approximate average of about £70,000 each year, most department appear to spend peanuts really. And by that I mean less than £10,000 with some years where nothing was spent.

My guess is that it's unlikely Chris Huhne was merely looking for over the top spending though. Interestingly, another Lib Dem MP, Norman Baker, asked the Government what assessment DEFRA had made on the environmental impact of the increase in air-conditioning units like those Huhne was asking about. The answer was basically that most air con units in the UK are grade B (where A is the best) in terms of their impact.

They're estimated to increase the carbon emissions in the UK by 9,900 tonnes a year, plus they have fluorinated refrigeration systems which help add other gases to the atmosphere which might/can/are not very friendly. So, are the question's by Huhne designed to show that whilst the Government acknowledges the impact of air con on the environmental it is not practising what it preaches and continues to use it?

Maybe I guess, but I also have a little nagging feeling that we may hear some policy statement on air-conditioning in the next few months. Wild speculation I know, but the Lib Dems are good at coming up with wacky stuff (like that proposal to ban people from winning goldfish at funfairs) and they've been squeezed on the environment by Labour and Tories in recent months. Increased VAT on residential air-conditioning perhaps? Or maybe calls for greater regulation to help phase out their usage? (see incandescent light bulbs for how that sort of thing works)

If it was just Chris Huhne asking questions I would just shrug it off, but as it's not, and Baker has asked one of those "what assessment has been given to the impact of" questions which usually means the questioner has already decided an impact exists anyway I find myself pondering upon a possible "Lib Dems to tax home air conditioning systems to tackle climate change" headline in the coming months.

Sacking the manager is not the panacea

Interesting article in the Spectator by Fraser Nelson that wonders "if David Cameron were to be run over by a bus tomorrow, who would lead the Conservative party?". He argues that, should there be an election next spring and the Tories lose, then the question will no longer be a speculative game and become real because "Opposition leaders do not survive failed election attempts in modern politics".

At first glance his analysis of Opposition leaders in 'modern politics' sounds instinctively true, but should it be the right ting to do? Conservative United Football Club certainly has been sacking its manager at the end of every season because it hasn't won the title. The board hasn't been sacking the manager because of relegation, they've just sacked him because he hasn't achieved miraculous turnarounds against the well-oiled squad across the park at Labour FC.

Ironically, the Board's problem is that its approach to the manager's position has been progressive rather than conservative. The manager is expected to take over and rapidly improve the situation. If he doesn't go fast enough then the whispering on the terraces and corporate boxes begin, and before you know it, the man's been sacked. Soon, the club becomes known as the poisoned chalice for a managerial career because the fans and the board lack patience.

The end result is that a team such as CUFC has found itself during the past ten years in an almost permanent state of flux because the manager is forever having to fiddle with the formation, the system, and the squad, in order to keep the board and fans happy. Rarely does the team get real time to bed in and gel before the manager is sacked and the right-back takes over as player-manager for a while.

Then the board starts wondering whether it can convince a former manager which it sacked to come back by wooing him and telling him how great he actually was the first time round. They'll all be lying of course and will start talking about firing him the minute the team loses a match 3-0. After that point even a 0-0 will be considered a nail in the lid of coffin, the cleansheet will be ignored, as too will the fact that the width of the pitch over at LFC is the thinnest in the league now, making goals galore a limited possibility.

The truism is not that "Opposition leaders do not survive failed election attempts in modern politics"; it's that the CUFC board, along with the fans on the terraces, need to take a step back, a deep breath and realise that thinking about a plan B and the next manager all the time is the reason the club has been in such a mess.

Trust me, I'm an Evertonian.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Beckett still in 'grace and favour' home

She may have been fired from her role as Foreign Secretary, but it looks like Margaret Beckett has joined the John Prescott malingering club when it comes to staying in 'grace and favour' ministerial property that were a perk of their former positions.

While Prescott is "finalising arrangements" for moving out of Admiralty House, it seems Margaret Beckett is still living in her 'grace and favour' home in Carlton Gardens. It may even be they're both still using ministerial cars on security grounds, but as security arrangements are never commented on that bit would be nothing more than wild speculation on my part.

However, frankly it remains quite amazing that Prescott and Beckett remain in these properties at the taxpayers expense. Both will have received pretty hefty severance and redundancy packages since the handover of power almost a month ago, and yet they still haven't found somewhere to live?

Couldn't they just share Beckett's caravan in the meantime?
N.B: Yes that photo of her does make her look like she has hunchback. Why do you think I picked it?

Brown hails the Same World Order

So it appears that Gordon Brown has decided to shake up the way intelligence is handled in another of his Soviet-esqe slating of his predecessor.

Obviously the difference in the Soviet Union is that they would stand up and openly slag the person that came before them, whereas Brown praises him publicly whilst U-turning his policies.

Anyway, digression of Soviet analogies aside, these changes in the Intelligence and security structures in the Cabinet Office seem... well.. utterly meaningless to what they claim to be trying to achieve.

According to Brown his changes are "in line with the Butler Report" and will make the Joint Intelligence Committee "provide Ministers with assessments which have been formulated independently of the political process". In order to achieve this he has created a political position titled Head of Security, Intelligence and Resilience that will act as Security Adviser to the Prime Minister.

So let's just recap for a second:

In the 'Old' World Order, or specifically the Blair World around the "45 minute dossier", was one in which the JIC provided independent intelligence assessment to Government which was then shaped against public presentation by a politically appointed position that was not on the JIC - in this case the Director of Communication, Alastair Campbell who was also a direct adviser to the Prime Minister.

In the 'New' World Order, the JIC will provide independent intelligence assessment to Government which will then - presumably if the need arises for public consumption - be shaped against public presentation by a politically appointed position that is not on the JIC - in this case the Head of Security, Intelligence and Resilience, Robert Hannigan who is also a direct adviser to the Prime Minister?

Sounds more like the 'Same' World Order doesn't it? Or may be the phrase should be 'continuity and change'?

Update: I should add that I am not criticising either structure. More the claim that they are somehow different from each other, when it looks to me like the name plate on the door is all that has actually changed. But the political appointees handling intelligence assessment against policy continue to be present.

Open mics are great huh?

I may be totally behind on this one as I've been away, but I've just watched the following video and you have to chuckle given how much people laughed at Bush and Blair after their microphone gaffe. It appears Clinton and Edwards are plotting.

Sorry if you've already seen this elsewhere.

iPhone throughly owned

Never takes long!

Expensive Government macros?

How weird, the Department for International Development are able to tell David Simpson MP that the departments travel and subsistence costs for all domestic and overseas travel of Ministers, Advisors and Officials during the last 12 months was £10,838,328.

Yet apparently, in order to tell Theresa May how many overseas trips Ministers, Advisors and Officials have taken will cost to much to answer? This is made all the more bizarre by then saying the information is being compiled for publication in a few weeks anyway.

You cannot seriously tell me that it will cost more than £400 of civil service time to disaggregate foreign and domestic travel from the information they clearly already have in their response to David Simpson?

All they have to do is spend a couple of hours on the logic for a script/macro and then run the bloody thing. Unless they're employing contractors on stupidly high pay rates of more than £200 an hour then the response to Theresa May is total bollocks.

Call me a cynic, but frankly it all just sounds like information handling to me. I wonder what other news may happen on the day the figures for Ministerial travel across Whitehall is published?

Pointless Government trivia

Apparently the Home Office owns absolutely no land in Wales. This is what the Home Office minister Liam Byrne said in response to a question from Paul Murphy MP anyway. I realise it's nerdy to find this interesting, but surely the Home Office must have some sort of departmental presence in Wales?

Does this mean they're renting office space instead? Perhaps they're sharing with some other department? Or maybe they've just given up Wales? I need to know dammit! My trivial curiosity will drive me insane if I don't find out!

Update: Peter Black AM has commented wondering about prisons. The four Welsh prisons are own by the Ministry of Justice, not the Home Office. MoJ also owns sites in Cwnbran and Newport and a diary farm called Cilwrgi Farm. I wonder if they get dairy subsidies for it?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mod/BAE revolving door?

Yesterday I posted about a Parliamentary question which, at its heart, concerned the perception of a revolving door between Whitehall and certain private sector organisations. In the specific example it was the Ministry of Defence and BAE Systems.

Yesterday it seems the subject was expanded on slightly, and it transpires that since 2006, 33 MoD staff have been given permission to work for BAE Systems. This is not in itself a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with someone leaving the Civil Service and getting a job elsewhere, and I say that before someone with limited intellectual faculties suggests I might be saying otherwise.

However, it is interesting to note that just under 25% of those 33 people (eight to be precise) when working at the MoD were involved in the receipt of tenders from BAE and the awarding of contracts to BAE. Now that really does smell a little bit iffy, and it's not last night's curry.

Ruth Kelly scraps VAT on rail tickets? Or makes taxpayers pay twice?

I've just watched a classic piece of linguistic doublethink by Ruth Kelly on Channel 4. Apparently, "taxpayers" will pay for part of the spending on the railways whilst "farepayers" will pay for the other part.

So, given that VAT is paid on passenger transports in a vehicle, ship or aircraft designed or adapted to carry more than 10 people (including the driver), does this mean Ruth Kelly has just scrapped VAT on rail tickets?

If the Government will insist on claiming a definitional difference between a taxpayer and a farepayer when it comes to funding the railways. it suggests - does it not - that fares are to be tax-free which must mean no more VAT right?

Wishful thinking huh? But I use the trains all the time so you can't blame me. Apparently, according to Kelly, we'd all be happy to pay high fares if we just had a seat.

Update: It would appears when I researched quickly that I misread something regarding VAT, in that VAT is actually zero-rated on vehicles designed for not less than 10 people (as opposed to be applied on vehicle for more than 10), my bad.

There still remains of course the point that farepayers are seen as different to taxpayers which is nonsense. Most people using the trains will be paying tax and paying for th trains that way, and will then be paying a second tax hit to pay for the trains through the fare.

Basically, it sounds like a separation, but really it's just saying we're paying for it all, and, because there is sod all competition if you need to use the train there's little choice we have..

Is this the Speakers Carter Ruck bill?

The other week it transpired, through the pages of Private Eye, that the Speaker of the House, MIchael Martin, was using the media lawyers, Peter Cater Ruck to represent him. The obvious question that was raised at the time, was who's paying for it. Blair Gibb from the Taxpayers Alliance even submitted an FoI to find out the result of which should be coming back some time around now.

Meanwhile, the ever locked-jaw pitbull, Norman Baker MP has been asking questions of the House of Commons Commission, which the Speaker Chairs and where, if the taxpayer was paying his Carter Ruck bill would be. According to the Commission, it has paid £2,820 to Carter Ruck since 2003, but no details were given about exactly when or what the bill was for.

Could all be perfectly innocent and nothing to with the Speaker. Although it's interesting that when Baker asked "how much was spent on legal (a) advice and (b) actions on behalf of (i) the Commission as a whole and (ii) individual members of the Commission in each year since 1997", he was told that it was impossible to "disaggregate legal costs specifically for the Commission or individual members of it."

Awfully convenient huh? But then I'm the first to admit I'm a cynic. Incidentally, if you're wondering what the figures are, they have, since 2003 spent £1,252,368 on legal costs. Half a million or so of which was to cover all the legal cost incurred due to Portcullis House claims.

Would you nick the towels?

You know how it when you stay at a hotel and you might take the shower gel and soap with you. Or if you're feeling really cheeky you might take the towels or bath robes? Putting aside the moral question about theft, whether you do it not it remains a common cliche that it happens.

Imagine therefore what you might decide to take as a memento in a place you'd been living in for say, oh I don't know, ten years? Maybe even longer. You'd want a little something wouldn't you? A keepsake of your time there. Not something big of course, you wouldn't want to draw attention to yourself after all.

I mention this simply because I am, right now, asking myself, what might Gordon Prentice MP know? Or perhaps he's just stirring. You see yesterday he asked Ed Miliband
"whether any (a) works of art and (b) (i) valuable furniture, (ii) porcelain and (iii) other items have been reported missing from (A) 10 Downing street, (B) 11 Downing street and (C) Admiralty House since 1977."
The answer was, as expected, that it would cost too much too answer, which, in fairness for once is probably because of the fact he was asking for information over the past thirty years.

I do wonder if the question may reappear in a slightly rewritten manner. That won't of course change the fact I now have images in my head of Thatcher, Major and Blair comparing tea cups that may, or may not have been half-inched.

The water has to go somewhere

Yesterday, in my brief post just after returning I mentioned in passing, and in a joking manner, that I noticed that even though there were floods everywhere the Thames Gateway building projects were continuing a pace. The reason I mentioned it is because as we know quite well, the entire project is being built on reclaimed flood plain mostly consisting of marsh.

Each time the Thames Barrier is raised, many of these flood plains swell with excess after from high tide, and when you add the rain of last week it becomes clear why we have flood plains in the first place.

And yet, yesterday, in a classic piece of joined-up Government that is impossible to satirise we had the news from Yvette Cooper (why doesn't she call herself Balls?) that the Government was to plough on with its house building project and would not avoid using flood plains.

In a most bizarre display of argument, Cooper claimed that because the Romans built York on a flood plain and defence then why couldn't we? She also pointed out that Downing Street was on a flood plain, which is actually irrelevant to her point about whether it is right or wrong.

The Roman analogy is absurd anyway simply because the difference of urban density. Building flood defences in Roman times largely meant ditches and walls and they didn't have to worry themselves with such non-porous water holding materials like tarmac.

Perhaps the Housing Minister is confused because she also heard the Romans built roads? Let's also remember that the York that the Romans built was on the highest land within a flood plain. It was on the land that, during your atypical flooding was the little mound exposed and and untouched.

Yvette Cooper is not however talking about building Mott and Bailey type dwellings - although perhaps she is, that might explain her plan for homes that are 'carbonfree'. Mud is the new brick! New Labour home building - Back, not Forward.*

Sarcastic mickey taking aside though, the real problem here with what Cooper is proposing is thinking that it's all about building defences. If we just take the Thames Gateway as the example area which just happens to be where the bulk of the building will happen it becomes clear it's not that simple.

Take a look at the river Thames through London heading east over the years and it's clear what going to happen. Every time we have built in the natural flood plains we have shifted the flood plain along the river until the next building project.

Image from Environment Agency
So.. whilst we may build defences in the projects in Tilbury and Dartford, what we'll actually be doing is creating new flood plains somewhere else further down the Estuary, the water has to go somewhere after all. Now personally I've never really liked Chatham anyway, but I imagine the people that live there might.

A significant amount of the already built PrescottCooper-Paradise down by the Thames is already uninsurable because of the flood risk pointed out by the Environment Agency in it's interactive maps. House prices in the south London parts of the Thames Gateway are already falling and the Government's solution is to build even more?

Of course, there will be those who say "we need these houses!" or "you just want to help the few, not the many", perhaps even allegations of nimbyism. Far from it though. We do indeed need to build houses, but we shouldn't be even thinking of doing it on flood plains that have, as a result of historical defence building, become larger and larger as they've been moved by our actions.

* Yes. I was mixing historical metaphors between Romans and Anglo-Saxons. It's irrelevant to my point though so don't even bother going there.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The difference between knowing and holding information?

Mr. Carswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many former departmental staff are working in senior management positions with BAe Systems.

Derek Twigg: The MOD does not hold this information.
I cannot begin to imagine why that might be!

The Blair Years

One of the things I did whilst away was read Alastair Campbell's diaries. I have to say that they were actually quite enjoyable read of contemporary history simply because I had also read a number of other accounts of the same events from multiple sources. To hear Campbell's view, for example, of Robin Cook extra-marital affair was interesting. Especially having read a Robin Cook account, and also all the other accounts.

One thing that did strike me, and has been commented on elsewhere I think, was the number of times Campbell was with Blair and Blair was just wearing his pants, or in some cases was stark bollock naked. I was expecting Bernard Jenkin to do a cameo at one point.

This said some other things shone through quite strongly. Firstly, lots of people thought Clare Short was mental. Frankly, I agree with Prescott who apparently said "that woman is fucking mad". One of the more notable entries for me though was on May 14th, 2000 about the former BBC political editor, Robin Oakley, which said,
Oakley called me, to say he was really angry that he was being described as a Tory in some of the papers and he wanted me to know how angry he was. His anger went way beyond that though. He said he had simply been summoned to a hotel at 10pm [by the BBC] on Thursday and told he was going before his time. He sounded devastated, said he was devastated and felt betrayed and very bitter. I said I had always found him fair and reasonable and I was sorry he had been treated so badly. I asked him if he wanted me to generate people to say he was someone of independence and integrity, which he did.
Notice how Campbell does not mention why Oakley decided to call him to say how angry he was about the way he was being described in the papers? It was the omission that I found interesting. Oh yes, and the fact that Campbell then offers to spin a line about Oakley being "independent" and of "solid integrity". You couldn't make it up irony huh?

There is a common theme throughout the diaries when in power though. The media are bastards who care only about trivial things as far as Campbell is concerned. Yet the trivial stuff that he himself pushes during the first section of the diaries when in opposition kind of negates his argument somewhat.

It's actually quite strange that these diaries chronologically show Campbell doing things that he later claims to despise, and yet, in all his interviews he refuses to acknowledge any of it. Incidentally, unlike some of my fellow bloggers I did not get a free copy so I did line Campbell's pocket, mainly because I can't help but respect how bloody good he was at what he did.

Sure, it's easy to bemoan it all as the debasement of politics, or, if you're obsessed scream "45 minutes" all the time. However, from a purely objective point of view, he was employed to be Machiavelli and Machiavelli he was.

Flooding, Adam Smith and the EU

Well I am back and apparently where I have had heatwave and sun the Northern part of Europe has been quite wet. OK, quite is an understatement, floods galore I see. I also notice though that the building work is continuing on the flood plains of the Thames Gateway.

Whilst I'm on the subject of the weather though, I witnesses the most remarkable and brilliant display of supply and demand in practice whilst abroad. Imagine if you will, you run a shop on a tourist island that gets average temperatures of 35 and up during the summer.

What is the one product that you're going to be guaranteed to be able sell? Yep. sun tan lotion. And what is the one product that you know that you can crazily mark-up with your fellow businessmen because you know they all the pale skinned Brits have to buy it? Yep, same thing again.

Price for a small bottle of sun lotion, say SPF 15? A tenner or thereabouts. It gets more expensive the higher the SPF protection. Of course I moaned, but I also shrugged and said "well I'd do it if it was my shop".

Oh yes, another quick observation, why is it, in other EU countries they just ignore all the EU rules we slavishly follow and no one seems to care? Honestly, seat belts? Who wears those? Crash helmet? What's that then?

Seriously, one day we'll learn that the way to make the EU "work" is to just ignore everything we don't like just like all the others do. I swear that is the only reason we have so many issues, and our anal attitude toward following rules. OK, normal politics back soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

You want more?

There will be no blogging this weekend. It took enough out of me to write non-time specific stuff for five days, don't ask me to do it for seven. I will be back in the country on Monday morning, so should be blogging by the evening I think, although I will also be on Blogger TV on 18 Doughty Street as well so it may be Tuesday before I really get going again.

Yours enjoying the last couple of days,


Friday, July 20, 2007

That was the by-election that was

Well it's Friday, so that means the by-election is over and someone has won. Given I am in Greece I have sod all knowledge about who has actually won though. OK, that may be a lie, I may have access to the Internet, but just in case I don't, please read below and choose the relevant analysis and accept the reality that I am, as always, fundamentally right even if I do make lots of typos.

(a) I am a genius. My prediction was spot on. The Labour Party won, but they got really hammered and Ealing Southall is now a marginal seat with a mere 3000 or so majority. Tony Lit did brilliantly, it's a great boon for David Cameron. Ming Campbell on the other hand will not be happy, the knives are no doubt sharpening as we speak. A Nick Clegg leadership might not be good for the Tories.

(b) Oh look, I was totally wrong like most people who try to predict the results of elections. The Labour Party romped it and maintained their majority. Tony Lit did brilliantly, it's a great boom for David Cameron. Ming Campbell on the other hand will not be happy, the knives are no doubt sharpening as we speak. A Nick Clegg leadership might not be good for the Tories.

(c) Oh look, I was totally wrong like most people who try to predict the results of elections. The Labour Party romped it and maintained their majority. The Lib Dems spanked the Tories who remain in third position. Ming's position is safe for now. Questions will now be raised about Tory stagnation. Perhaps Tony Lit's selection will be seen by some as the death bell tolling for Cameron's leadership?

(c) Oh look, I was totally wrong like most people who try to predict the results of elections. The Lib Dems have come from nowhere and done what everyone knows they are good at. Their challenge will be to hold the seat at the General Election, but Ming has solidified his leadership. Labour have been shoved into a second which is a massive blow for Brown. Meanwhile Cameron has been left licking his wounds with many people saying his alleged intervention in Tony Lit's selection may well be the death bell tolling.

(d) Jesus wept. We only bloody won!

(e) You suck, you missed out the actual result scenario. This blog used to be good but you sold out to the man. Call yourself a blogger? You delete my comments. This place used to be cool. I hate you.

(f) If you chose to take (e) then I'm sad to see you go. Here's a whistle and glow stick to help you on your way.

Yours at the Greek estate agents,


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Polling day arrives

Well today is polling day. As should now be abundantly clear, I am not in the country and am, in fact, right now probably on a beach enjoying the Greek climate and gazing at the wonder of the Ionian whilst romanticising about the Classics. As such I have no idea what has happened in the campaign so have to write entirely from a speculative viewpoint. The result of this by-election, whatever it may be, will produce highly predictable post-count analysis. If Labour lose then it will be a "blow for Brown" obviously. If the Lib Dems get knocked into third then Campbell's leadership will be in question and Nick Clegg will be being mooted as the man to solve their problems.

If the Conservatives find themselves in third then the phrases stagnation, static, and all other euphemisms for not moving forward will be wheeled. In that scenario it is important to avoid blinking I think. The Tories have, historically, had trouble with winning by-elections with dramatic swings in their favour. This is primarily because for the period since universal suffrage came in, we've been the party most likely to be in power. Incumbency, added to a need to get a gain, is never an easy prospect for any party.

For all I know though, an Independent might win because the locals got annoyed with factionalism of the campaign and that really would put the cat amongst the pigeons. So here's goes with my prediction from a far with sod all knowledge of what might have happened in the final week. Labour win by a massively reduced majority with a swing to the Tories. The Lib Dems poll around the same level in sheer number of votes what they did last time. A sign of relief for Brown, a boost for Cameron, and a horrible summer of soul searching for Campbell.

Yours wondering why he couldn't just live here instead,


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The new Home Secretary passes the buck

Funnily enough, you might be surprised to hear that I don't support Identity Cards. Besides my lack of faith in the Government actually being able to manage the technology, there is something disturbingly worrying about having my entire life recorded on a chip and managed by the Government. We get told it's about protecting my identity, but who protects my identity from some incompetent Database administrator that types the wrong thing in a SQL window? You might think I'm paranoid, but believe me it happens. "Datafix" is not an uncommon word in the private sector so I doubt it's a rarity in the public sector - assuming they ever actually make a system go live of course.

Of course there are also practical problems to ID cards. For a start what do you do about the homeless? How exactly do you go about registering Cardboard City? Interestingly, last week, Nick Clegg - who may be leader of the Lib Dems soon if the by-election tomorrow goes badly for his party - asked this exact question to the new Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Irrespective of what might have happened between then and now (she may have been fired or worse for all I know given I am not in the country) her answer was intriguing. She said,
"Precise arrangements have yet to be made for identity card applications, including how it will be possible for homeless people to register for a national identity card. However, we intend to draw on the experience of other government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions and the national health service that already provide services to homeless people."
Alternatively this could be read as "Oooooo that's a good question. I never thought of that.... errr..... don't fret about it, we'll sort it out honest, I speak to more clever people about it like those nice people at the Job Centre."

Yours reading Campbell's Diaries,


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

No one should be obligated to expose their identity

I just don't understand or get a recent trend towards this idea that everyone online should be identifiable and not allowed to be anonymous. Being anonymous, using pseudonyms or, as Internet sub-culture calls them, "alts" (as in alter-egos) is actually one of the great advantages of the Internet. In recent months the phrases "sock-puppet" has been used on a number of political blogs but it's important right now to distance the idea of an alt and a sock-puppet. The latter concerns active deception with an express purpose. In the context of political blogs it has been used to imply that anonymous posters are in fact just the same person posting over and over again pretending to be someone else. Alts on the other hands are actually more complex.

Being anonymous online, or posting under a pseudonym allows users to explore parts of their personality and character that might otherwise leave hidden. They may be someone who has internal rage and seeks outlet in WRITING IN CAPITAL LETTERS. They could be a male who wants to be a female and wants to role play that life out. Second Life is the alter-ego born into graphics, it is a window into the psyche of the masses in some respect, because the avatar presented to you is what that person wants to be, and rarely what they actually are.

When it comes to words, and comments posted on political sites there seems to be two schools of thought. The first is the NetLibertarian school which states simply that the Net is a free place for individuals to express themselves without fear of repercussion. As such they can post as whoever they want if the features allows them too. The other school of thought is the NetAuthoritarian school which believes political communication on discussion forums or in some case personal websites should be identifiable, and usually argues that this is necessary based upon the assumed belief that if someone is being anonymous they must have something to hide.

Personally speaking I fall into the former position. The problem, and frankly, serious concern I have with the latter is that it ignores both the autonomy of the individual's property and information, and equally disrespects their privacy. Thankfully the Internet, being the free network that it is, means that one can simply refuse to engage where a site demands information that the user does not want to provide. However, it still remains that a movement to shift the autonomy of the individual over their information towards an accepted model of identification is out there.

This it seems is becoming particularly the case when it comes to politics. The argument goes that if there are anonymous sites out there, they could be seen as being propaganda by failing to declare an interest. However, this argument is problematic because the "identify yourself" argument merely shifts the fallaciousness of the reasoning behind any critique. Say you have a site that is run anonymously and slags off the Tories. Most intelligent people would assume it is run by a Labour or Lib Dem supporter and the charge will be made that the site is a propaganda machine.

Let's say that site then declares a political affiliation. Will the criticism on the site change? Not really. The assumed negative in the argument will simple shift to "you are being partisan". Crucially, in both cases the reasoning is flawed because both positions are ad hominen attacks that ignore content and choose to dismiss on the basis of who is saying it. We are at that point - in effect - back to square one. At all times of course we're assuming that the impact of the example website is actually significant, when often it probably isn't.

What's interesting to note here though is where the definition of a political site actually lies. I myself, for example, only actually joined the Tories a couple of years ago. However I've been pontificating and arguing about politics on websites for years. What happens when someone who's just a voter wants to rant anonymously but can actually write and is popular? Is there to be an arbitrary trigger that says when a site goes from being "allowed to be anonymous" to "not being allowed to be anonymous"?

At the end of the day, the Internet biggest strength is its cathartic nature for people to explore parts of themselves that would otherwise go uncharted. For example, the strength and belief I have in my own political views came as a result of arguing online from positions that I fundamentally did not agree with. If the Internet is to be a free network it's fundamental that people - if they choose - be able to run websites, post comments, or whatever in a totally anonymous manner. It's worth noting as well that those that have called for greater exposure of identity in the online arena have also been vocal in their opposition to the introduction of ID cards in the offline world. That suggests an interesting contradiction about attitudes toward personal autonomy to say the least.

We shouldn't forget though that it is autonomy over our information; and autonomy to disclose about ourselves when we choose too that is really at stake here. Some might consider it a freedom of speech issue but that would misplaced, its actually a freedom of control over our/your/my information issue.

Yours drinking beer on the beach,


Monday, July 16, 2007

Alan Johnson lost in Okinawa?

The more perceptive amongst you may notice when you get to the end of this post that it hasn't been posted by me but has in fact been posted by Croydonian who I thank massively for agreeing to do so (he's a very cool diamond geezer!). The reason he's posting my words is because right now I am on a Greek island relaxing with a copy of Alastair Campbell's Diaries. Unlike some I won't be refusing to read them. The only annoying thing is that I've probably read all the best bit already thanks to the bloody papers, but I digress.

What do I have to say from the warmth of Greece? Well it's simple really, did no one tell Alan Johnson that he had lost the Deputy Leadership election? A strange question I know, but if you take a look at all those lovely campaign websites what you find is that all the losers bar one have realised the election campaign is over. Hazel Blears has redirected her .com site to her normal .co.uk one. Hilary Benn has a thank you note up, as too does Jon Cruddas. Peter Hain looks like he's pretending it never happened (he made a mint though!), and obviously the winner is crowing still.

Alan Johnson on the other hand still says he is on the campaign trail. He's been visiting a primary school for the past month it seems, and doesn't seem to be aware that it's all finished. So, does he know? Is he planning a coup against Harman? Or will he suddenly walk out a primary school one day like a Japanese soldier and not realise the war is over?

Yours enjoying the sun,


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blogging will be light for the next week

Blogging will be exceptionally light over the next week. There will be posts, one a day roughly. I am going on a much needed holiday and the laptop is not. Comments might not be published whilst I'm away. I shall try to bring some sun back with me.

Stand Up Speak Up

The website for Stand Up Speak Up has launched this morning inviting people to contribute to the policy reviews for the next Tory manifesto. Great video on there too.

History repeats itself with Facebook?

We all know about the Facebook Revolution right? Whilst I've not said it on here, I don't think Facebook will last as a major user proposition. There are a couple of reasons for this, like Second Life, I think it will be a platform that will see its user base increase, but see its active user base plateau. Like many things, it's great initially but users eventually get bored and move on to the next fad.

There is another problem that Facebook faces, it is, in 2007, what AOL was in 1994. What do I mean by that? Well I suggest reading Scott Heiferman's blog to understand the point. He notes
AOL 94 vs. Facebook 07 While at Sony in 1994, I was sent to Virginia to learn how to build a Sony "app" on AOL (the #3 online service, behind Compuserve & Prodigy at the time) using AOL's proprietary "rainman" platform.

Fast forward to Facebook 2007 and see similarities: If you want access to their big base of users, develop something in their proprietary language for their people who live in their walled garden. Strangely, many young facebookizens aren't very net savvy (facebook *is* their internet) & they have little desire to go beyond the walled garden -- just like the old AOL users. There's even a proprietary Facebook messaging system (kids don't use much open internet email)
AOL eventually dumped Rainman in favour of open standards as it started to face fierce competition globally, and whilst AOL Server went open source it's usage remains quite limited. Facebook has in effect become a similar walled garden of activity. It's fan will tell you it's a great tool for communication and collaboration, but as kottke.org points out,
we already have a platform on which anyone can communicate and collaborate with anyone else, individuals and companies can develop applications which can interoperate with one another through open and freely available tools, protocols, and interfaces. It's called the internet and it's more compelling than AOL was in 1994 and Facebook in 2007.
Facebook is a fad right now, at some point though it will find itself competing against a superior and open version of itself, and unless it changes history will just repeat itself.

Prince upset his label... again

Looks like Prince has upset a lot of people today. For anyone not aware, Prince's new album, "Planet Earth" will be on the front cover of the Mail on Sunday today. Sony BMG have gone nuts about it apparently, and Paul Quirk, co-chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association said "It is an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career".

Call me a cynic if you must, but I think what Quirk said actually translates to "we're going to lose profit margins now because we can't sell it with a mark-up". One thing is for sure, MoS sales are going to go up today. Even lots of lefties might buy it with their noses held.

George Galloway to be suspended from Parliament?

According to the Sunday Times, George Galloway is going to be suspended from Parliament for a month by the parliamentary standards watchdog over his links to the United Nations oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

What a shame! I couldn't think of a nicer person for it to happen too.

Married couple split because they get more money when they're apart

What a brilliant illustration this morning of the massive problem in the tax and benefit system in this country, and Gordon Brown's stupid tax credit system. The News of the World (which some will dismiss out of hand of course) details how a married couple with one child have decided to split up because staying together will see them almost a £1000 worse off each month.
As a couple, they had a joint net income of £1,702 a month. But after the split, Sean now gets £1,184 and Chloe £1,396—making a total of £2,580. That means they are £878 a month in benefits better off leading separate lives.
It is well documented that the marginal tax rate for those taking tax credits means that people lose more money the more they work. Effectively the tax and benefit system that Gordon Brown has created actively destroys not just relationships but also social mobility by keeping lower earners on less money.

You say political donation, I say business transaction

The Ealing Southall by-election is getting rather funnier by the day. Allegations about possible lawsuits, and now we have "Tory candidates donates to Labour less than a month ago". Well that's the line Labour have pushed, which is understandable, elections and all.

It seems what has happened is that Tony Lit in his position as MD of Sunrise Radio, and his wife, attended an event which was celebrating diversity and was actually a Labour fund raiser with Blair and presumably other great and good Labour people too. They, that is Sunrise Radio had paid the Labour Party £4800 for a table at the event. Apparently the table also won an auction which it has yet to pay for with a winning bid of £4000.

There are of course some who would say this is evidence of shameless opportunism by Tony Lit. Weeks before he became the Tory candidate he was "donating" money to Labour. I think some perspective is needed on this though, after all, it was a business identity that was attending an event which, essentially, was a "here's a chance to lobby the Government" event as well as be seen in the local community and maintain a friendly business profile.

Whilst some people might call it a donation, anyone with a modicum of business understanding knows that the £4800 will be seen as a business transaction rather than an act of generosity. In fact, I would be surprised if it wasn't written off in the Sunrise books as part of a relationship building expenses ledger. One thing's for sure, personal political views won't have been a factor in the decision of whether to attend or not.

And to be fair, it sort of beggars belief that an event about diversity and the British Asian community would not have the nations largest Asian radio station in attendance in some way. The chances are they were probably contacted by the Labour Party and invited, rather than it being active participation the other way round. At which point a business decision was made to attend, because, funnily enough, from a business point of view it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Those of a more tribalistic persuasion might find this hard to stomach. Obviously a Labour tribalist won't buy such an argument because it (a) doesn't suit the situation to do so and (b) they're probably a public sector housing officer that doesn't understand the dispassionate nature of making a business decision. A Tory tribalist meanwhile will probably understand the point, but just see it as an excuse to blame Cameron some more I imagine.

There is one final thing to consider though. The Labour Party have (presumably thanks to Tom Watson and Joan Ryan who are dealing with their by-election strategy) just sent a message to businesses around the country that it will (a) breach a trust it may have with them and (b) use them as a political football if it's expedient to do so.

In the short term they've created a story on a Sunday when the polls look horrible for Tories, a double whammy, and politically a great hit (even though the story is devoid of any sanity really). But, in the long term, they've probably just ensured that they're not going to get a decent hearing on the largest Asian broadcaster in the country for some time to come.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Does Brown really believe in Parliamentary sovereignty?

Am I alone in being confused about where Gordon Brown thinks sovereignty lies? According to Brown and his constitutional tinkering plans, he wants to give the Royal Prerogative on war to Parliament. Now clearly there is a practical timing problem with that, after all, at what point would Parliament vote?

If you did it really early then you would be signaling to your enemy what was happening. If you did it late then Parliament would be voting when all the troops were in place on the ground ready to go. Is it likely they'd vote to stand down? Still, what is fundamental here is that Brown sees Parliament as sovereign on these matters... right? Maybe not.

On Thursday, the International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander gave a speech in America. Whilst also containing coded messages towards the Bush Administration (which I will come back to in a minute), it effectively said that British military action was beholden to the United Nations giving us permission first.

So how does this fit in with a Parliamentary vote? How can you, on the one hand, that Parliament decides something, and then on the other say that you won't do anything until you've managed to convince other nations of your opinion? The implication is that if you cannot convince you'll concede to their view. So where does sovereignty actually lie for Brown? Is it Parliament, or is it in the self-interests of nations like Russia, China, Cuba, Iran etc etc?

Of course, Brown was very quick it seems to play down this speech, so maybe it was a mistake?Initially the speech has been seen as flipping the V-sign to Bush and saying "I'm not going to be seen as your poodle". Downing Street however were very quick to say the speech had not been cleared, so distancing itself from it.

Then they told the Lobby that the interpretation put on the speech was "extraordinary". The PMS then said that he "would not" have put that interpretation on it when "he read it" but "it was for journalists to put whatever interpretation they wanted on the speech".

So lets get this straight, first they say they hadn't seen it until it was delivered, then they say its been misinterpreted, effectively saying that they still agree with its content, and then they passively encourage the "misinterpretation", suggesting that the misinterpretation is anything but.

Roll on to today and this seems confirmed in an interview with Brown's new foreign policy minister, and former UN official, Lord Malloch Brown. He told the Telegraph that Brown and Bush will not be "joined at the hip" and makes it quite clear we;re going to start engaging deeper with Europe. The article also notes that when Brown goes traveling in the next few weeks he's going to be seeing Sarkozy and Merkel before he sees Bush.

Clearly all this posturing will play well for Brown with the populist anti-Americanism that runs through the country and particularly in his party. What's perplexing is exactly what the position of sovereignty is in Brown's head on this matter? In the one breath he says Parliament, in the next he says the UN, and now, if his direction of travel is anything to go by, it looks like he is driving Britain towards the European Empire* even more.

Putting it simply, Brown's foreign policy appears to be a complete mess of contradiction with his domestic pronouncements about Parliament's sovereignty.

* This is a reference to the Emperor of Europe President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso who said the other day that "We are not the United States of Europe - we are unique in the history of mankind! Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empires."

Friday, July 13, 2007

I think I found the off switch!

Who needs a caption competition when the Lib Dems hand Sarah Teather to you on a plate?
Hat Tip to Croydonian for finding this one.

Hi... I'm a..errr...hum...

Nearly £100m a year just to staff regional quangos?

Just in case you were wondering, you know those different regional "Government Office of..." that exist across the country and are essentially quangos as part of the regionalisation requirements for the EU? Well guess what. They cost a lot of money. For example, the Government Office of the South West, which employs 273 people cost £14,684,860 to run last year. Next year the staffing costs alone are expected to be £10.51 million.

It doesn't take a maths genius to see that doesn't actually leave them with very much money to spend when their staffing costs account for over 70% of their actually spending. There are eight other Government Offices in the country and the total staffing costs is a mere £93.75 million. What a bargain!

Is the Tory Internet about to turn on itself?

This morning, Fraser Nelson over at the Speccie blog wrote about a new Cameroonie blog that is on its way called Platform 10 which will be run by Fiona Melville, a former member of Cameron's leadership campaign team. I actually heard about this site in passing on Monday night and decided not to run with the story at the time (not sure why but I think it was because I was drunk when I got home).

The word is the site is to be an antidote to ConservativeHome which some have said is far to critical of the leadership and is causing them headaches. A commenter on Conservative Home posting under the name 'CCHQ Spy' said this morning,
We should be under no illusions here. The main aim of this initiative is to destroy conservativehome. CCHQ hates the fact it cannot control what goes on here. Hilton will give all stories to this new site in a bid to make it competitive. It will be a fascinating battle.
There is an interesting point here regarding stories. It's entirely possible that Conservative Home could find itself cold shouldered with preference given to the new, less critcial site. The battle could go either way. If Conservative Home does finds itself in that position it will maintain its independence whilst many will just call the new site a funnel for the leadership's propaganda. Frankly, I can hear the word "split" echoing around the TV studios of talking heads already.

There is indeed it seems a battlefield forming. The problem is it looks to be a battlefield where the same side is preparing to look in on each other. It could get messy, and the overspill may not be enjoyable. Still, it's only a General Election we're trying to win right?

Update: Just to make clear, I don't have a problem with another site appearing. What's one more amongst bloody hundreds? I just wonder whether a site which will apparently be quite well connected in "insider" terms, might have a reverse impact in that it could create perceptions of rows that might not actually exist. Interesting times ahead indeed.

Update 2: Iain has now posted about this saying that I think the sole purpose of the site is to destroy Conservative Home. I don't think that, that is what a commenter on Conservative Home said. I do however think that, as with all these lovely Internet things, there is a serious potential for unnecessary flame wars.