Thursday, January 31, 2008

As if the Greeks will listen to that!

Look, I'm a smoker OK, you may not like it but I am. i'm also British which means that I can't help myself followinmg the rules. So you ban me from smoking in pubs, I go outside and moan about how it's outrageous but I still do it. Don't even think of throwing that 'you're a burden on the NHS' line at me either, I have a private health insurance policy so that when my lungs decide it's time to cause me pain I will get treatment.

However, in following the rules the great ingenuity in this country means that pubs bought patio heaters so their outcast customers, who they don't want to lose, can at least avoid getting hypothermia. So what do the powers that be in Westminster and Brussels want to do? Ban the things, where a jumper they say. Ok, I can wear a jumper and coat if necessary, but why the hell should I if the proprieter of a private drinking establishment wants to keep me a customer and keep me happy?

It gets more absurd though, I have just learnt that also in the name of saving the planet they want to ban bloody aircon too. So those of us in the north with die of hyopthermia in the winter, whilst those in Greece and Spain will die of heat exhaustion in the summer. Thus the reduced population will take our carbon emissions down as there will be less people breathing. However, just go back to the rules thing for a second.

When this new law by directive eventually comes, and I don't doubt that it will, who thinks that the Greeks and Spanish are going to listen to it? Exactly. They'll just ignore it. Meanwhile, us 'oh we must follow the rules' Brits will happily enforce it because we just don't seem to get how Europe works. What was it Hague one said? in Europe but not run by Europe? That's the way the rest of them are with their picking and choosing of legal application.

I dream of the day when we finally have a politician that speaks honestly about Europe and just says 'if they write a directive we agree with we'll implement it, if they don't they can bugger off'. That is what being a 'good European' is really about after all. We're oftentold that Britain is awkward, we're only awkward because we falsely assume that everyone else follows the rules too. They don't, and we shouldn't either. Once we get it through our thick skulls that we don't need to create a law for every single EU directive then the world will be a much happier place.

Scottish Lib Dems in donor sleaze scandal

There appares to be a little trouble brewing for the Lib Dem in Scotland. According to the Herald there are allegation that the former Transport Minister, Tavish Scott, made changes to a proposed Aberdeen by-pass after meeting with a major Lib Dem donor who was lobbying for the change.

Apparently another by-pass opposition obtained a copy of his ministerial diary showing that he met with the donor, after which the route was changed. The former minister is has called it "outrageous mudslinging", and the donor, who owns First Oil, a donor I have written about here before, is threatening legal action.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Watch out Beadle's .... dead?

Oh what a cynic I have become but when I heard this I just thought "yeah right, he's hiding somewhere, has shaved the beard off, got a new hand, and will jump out all of sudden and point and and laugh at all the hacks reporting his death and shout 'Game for Laugh!'".

I could be wrong though.

Exclusive: The new 18 Doughty Street

Interesting job advert over on Work for an MP. Launching in Februrary apparently, a "definitive portal to the ongoing political debate, edited by some of the UK's leading political journalists and pollsters." It's name? PoliticsHome... original huh?

The domain ( is registered to Stephan Shakespeare, so clearly another offshoot from the ConservativeHome brand. Seriously though.... can we please please make this the last bloody "XXXXhome" website? It worked once, it's maybe even worked twice with LabourHome, but now it's just looks like a lack of creativity, don't you think?

Another day, another dodgy politician

Should anyone be wondering why I have not posted anything about Derek Conway it's because I have the perfect excuse, I'm still on Jury Service at the Old Bailey. Clearly Conway has been a very very naughty boy indeed. In fact what he did was bloody outrageous and it perfectly expresses why so many of us are now such cyncical bastards when it comes to politicians.

Conway's misuse of taxpayers money is no different in seriousness than the almost serial corruption at the heart of Government. It may seem 'less' to some but when Blair said the politicians need to be 'whiter than white' he was expressing a hidden truth. One bad apple does not of course ruin the entire harvest but when you keep getting bad apples, on all sides, then people start thinking they might actually prefer pears.

These constant scandals are not the invention of the media, sleaze as it is colloquial known in the 'village' is a very real problem and no one is safe from it. It damages the value of democracy and it is exactly the sort of thing that pushes people to support the smaller fringe parties some of which leave an untold amount to be desired. Parties like the BNP will use these incidents and point out that they are not tainted by such things. You may think that people won't vote in droves for the bigots and that is probably true, but the more they see the non-bigots acting so appallingly the more they will ponder of spoiling their ballots or protesting.

It wouldn't surprise me if you could map the growth in the 'none of the above' vote against the growth in the 'sleaze' scandals of the past few years. No one can expect every politician to be pure of course, they are human after all and so by their nature flawed. But the system is clearly broken and needs fixing to ensure that they cannot pull off such dodgy scams in the future. Better to fix the system than have the result at the ballot box smash us around the head with the reality of unintended consequence.

ODPM's UK travel bill

I;m impressed, I really am, from 2002 to 2006, John Prescott's "Office of the Deputy Prime Minister managed to spend a total of £12,121,559 on travel in the UK. Must be those two jaguars guzzling up all that fuel and stopping off at the odd petrol station for a Ginsters pie!

Now some may say this an acceptable figure, but when you think about what his department actually did, which was bugger all for the most part, you have to wonder where it all went and how many people they were paying to sit in the back of a car.

Update: For anyone doubting the figure, it as established by adding up the yearly figures here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A personal message to Michelle Hogg

This is a message to Michelle Hogg, the make-up artist that turned Queens Evidence in the Securicor robbery of the century trial resulting in yesterday's convictions. We only met each other once a couple of years ago and now we shall never meet again, just as you will not see your friends again either. I just want to say though that you have balls girl. Seriously. The biggest balls of anyone I have ever known.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, whether you knew what you had got involved in or not, you have shown courage that few people will experience or have to experience. When I first heard that you'd been arrested all I could think was 'surely not? Michelle?'. Your guilt or innocence will remain a question for many in your now infamous 15 minutes, what will never be in doubt for me will be your courage.

I hope that your new life will be quiet and that you don't have to look over your shoulder and fear knocks on the door for too long. What you did in court was the right thing to do, but I don't think I could have done it. Don't pay attention to those that question your motives. Politicans like Gordon Brown talk about courage a lot, they haven't got a clue what real courage is.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Government endorses drug taking?

So ermmmm it's OK to get off your head if you don't drive? Glad that's sorted then!
From the Glastonbury website

Purnell doesn't think Brown is doing a great job yet?

It would appear that James Purnell is not sure about Gordon Brown right now. In an interview with the Independent he was asked by reader why Gordon Brown had been such a disasterous Prime Minister. In response he said that Brown wasn't a disaster but then added at the end 'he has the strategy and determination to be a great Prime Minister'.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement then. After all he doesn't say he is a great Prime Minister he just says he could be. That's a bit like me saying that I could be a great weightlifter because of determination, whilst ignore the fact I'm quite a puny little thing and so cannot ever be great no matter how much i want to be. Purnell's answer is telling because of what he fails to say, and what he fails to say is what everyone knows.

P2P free music download goodness!

After a decade of fighting the music industry appears to have given in and in a few hours (midnight EST) you will be able download Qtrax that will give unlimited, no fee, no membership access to a 25 million back catalogue of tracks.

The files will have DRM on them, and it remains to be seen if you can play them on an MP3 player. Apple won't be best pleased about it when the OSX version comes out. Once you have so many people around the world stealing copyrighted material I guess they knew that they would have embrace it and find a way of making money from it (i.e. advertising).

Do you want fries with that?

My apologies for no posts for a whole day, strange I know, but I went out Saturday night and did not get back until Sunday lunchtime, then had to go out again, and now there will be another week of limited post as I continue with Jury service.

Now I know that many people will be excited about Alan Johnson and the fact that yet another minister in Brown's Cabinet has been found to be acting in a seemingly dodgy ways. Playing loose and fast with the law is certainly becoming endemic, and I imagine Blair is laughing to himself quite a lot. After all, he got out at the right time.

However, the best news story today is not Johnson but the this one in the The Times about how McDonalds are going to offer an A-level equivalent qualification in burger flipping. OH alright then, so it's not burger flipping but basic burger bar management but still, the thought of someone doing their CV and noting that they got an A Level from McDonalds is thoroughly bleak don't you think?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cabinet Office bans people taking mobile phones out of Government buildings

We all heard about laptop losses this week, and The Register has a leaked email with the new rules that the Cabinet Office has sent out. The new rules are that no mobile storage devices of personal data can be taken off secure premises, and personal data is defined as
Any information that links one or more identifiable living person with private information about them” or “Any source of information about 1000 identifiable individuals or more, other than information sourced from the public domain.
So that includes the mobile phones of civil servants and spin doctors doesn't it? UNless of course they use silly names. The email also states that
Clarification has been given that this applies to any mobile device with storage capacity, including mobile phones and PDA’s.
So the next time you see a spAd walking along the street talking on their mobile, remember that they may in fact be breaking Government data security that have gone from one extreme to the other.

Smartphones patented - everyone sued a minute later

This has to be one the funniest things I've read for ages. Apparently a company called Minerva took out a US patent on essentially a "mobile phone with removable storage, an internet connection, a camera and the ability to download audio or video files". It was accepted and formally made live on Tuesday.

At one minute past midnight on Tuesday, the patent holding company then simultaneously filed lawsuits against Apple, Nokia, RIM, Sprint, AT&T, HP, Motorola, Helio, HTC, Sony Ericsson, UTStarcomm, Samsung and others. More info here.

Technical Support Offered

I'd just like to offer my technical support to Justin McKeating, Tim Ireland, Sam Coates at the Times, Three Line Whip, Kevin Maguire and Tom Watson MP.

Before leaping to conclusions next time, stop, think for a minute, and then learn to read email headers. And that doesn't mean just obsessing over the "To" address and the "From" address and whatever labels are next to them. It means looking at what MTAs the mail passed through to reach its final destination. Then what you do is find out what MTA and packages the originating server might be running.

For extra credit you could perhaps read RFC 821 as well just to get a feel of how mail actually works, and then perhaps you could ask someone that knows about computers to set-up MajorDomo for you! You can start sending email with manipulated content to distribution lists too! It's quite exciting really. Just imagine the fun you could have? You could let people email an address and then change the content of their email and put a footer in it. How awesome is that?

If by this point you're feeling particularly hardcore perhaps you could open up a shell and learn to use telnet and send your own "hacked" emails to people, you won't even need a '1234' password to do it either!* I won't tell you how to do it, consider it homework. Just think what it would mean if you followed some of these tips though. First of all you'd stop making yourself look silly, but even better for some of you, you might actually get close to being the technical wizards that you like to make people think you are!

On a serious note though guys, it doesn't take a genius to look at that mail posted by Three Line Whip and realise its gone through a distribution server and had content inserted.

This post was brought to you by Dizzy Technical Support - Opening the bonnet of teh Interroadsuperwebway.

* Should you find an Open Relay when doing your homework you should do the right thing and contact the server admin and tell him he's an idiot for leaving it open to exploitation. It is what he deserves, it will probably be a Windows box.
** Here's a tip for your homework. Try pressing Alt and F4 at the same time. Go on.. try it, it;s a well guarded techie secret easter egg function in all operating systems I swear.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hague at his very best?

Notice that even Miliband is laughing at the Brown piss taking?

The AleXander Files

One down, Wendy next?

Whatever happened to....?

Does anyone know what ever happened to this brilliant political satire website? It was well known a long time before there were lots of blogs, but sometime in September 2005 it just died, possibly due to finanical problems.

The old stuff pre-September 2005 is very funny.

Cover version of the Day

Have to love Fridays!

The non-answer answer

Back in December, Conservative MP Michael Fallon tabled a question to the Chancellor which appeared in the Question Book for answer on January 7th 2008. The question asked "what fees have been paid by his Department for advice on Northern Rock to (a) Goldman Sachs and (b) Slaughter and May." Has the Treasury answered yet? Nope.

Obviously when you don't get an answer the best thing to do is ask them when they will answer the question as he did yesterday. This time they said there answer was that they would answer "[v]ery shortly. The Treasury regrets not having done so earlier."

Think they might have something to hide or be embarassed about? Aftr all, Northern Rock and the taxpayers money goes hand in hand. How much more has had to be spent of the taxpayers money to get advice that the solution would lie in taxpayers money?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Newspaper Review on Newsnight?

Not sure if anyone watched BBC Newsnight tonight, but when Kirsty Wark got to the front page of the papers we had. The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Morning Star and The Mirror.

Yes, you did just see the Morning Star in that list. A newspaper which, according to a BBC report has a whopping great circulation of 13,000 to 14,000. There are local rags with better circulation but they don't get shown. Hell I imagine some UK political blogs have more readers too. It's all very odd.

Update: A comment was left suggesting that maybe blog headlines should be on Newsnight. May I just say that I think that is a universally stupid idea on par with making a root password, password.

The problem is that he does look weird

I've just read this post on Political Betting which was inspired by this post from Paul Linford.
it's a deadly serious attempt by the right to fix the idea of Gordon as a "weirdo" in the public mind..... you can see also see it happening on all the leading right-wing blogs.
I would just like to confirm that I have no sense of humour and every time I post and take the proverbial out of Brown and his wonky eye; the utterly creepy false smile; the weird shifty look; the surreal bouncing around like he's on valium; and the obsessive compulsive hand movements I am acting under orders.
Every morning I receive a telegram from CCHQ. This morning's said - "Welcome to the vast right-wing conspiracy stop you have been chosen because we think you can help stop please send us £5000 so that we can release funds in Liberia worth £25bn that a complete stranger called Piere emailed us about stop remember to say that Brown is a weirdo today stop this telegram will self-destr"
Image montage by Political Betting

Home Secretary puts her foot in it again

What is about politician's opening their mouths trying to save their own previous gaffes and then making another one? On the weekend the Home Secretary confirmed that she was not a streetwalker, and now today, in an attempt to take her foot out of her mouth she has stuck the other one in instead. She told the Today programme this morning that it was official Government advice not to walk the street after midnight whilst stressing that we're all actually quiote safe honestly and that crime is down blah blah blah. Is this woman on crack or something? Oh no wait, she's not a streetwalker so probably not.

This 'Government of all the Talents' is fast becoming laughable. We have Peter Hain labelled incompetent by his own boss and at the same time praised as a great minister. We have Harriet Harman taking illegal donations to cover her debts. We have a Chancellor who has dithered over the biggest banking crisis for over a century. A transport minister who loses people's data, as well as a former Chancellor doing the same. And now we have a Home Secretary who tells us the streets are safe and unsafe at the same time and then issues a kind of tacit curfew on our movements?

Government of all the talentless is more apt. Frankly an X Factor audition reject has more talent than this lot.

Cyclists Be Damned!

Seeing as everyone right now is talking about Peter Hain I'm going to talk about something else instead. David Cameron and the running of red lights by cyclists - it may get a little ranty. I first read it in the Indy diary column this morning and it has now made it to the Evening Standard as a news story, but apparently, David Cameron ran a red light on his bike outside Parliament and got shouted at by a pedestrian.

What I will say is this, she shouldn't have shouted at him she should've stuck a stick through his spokes. That is what all cyclists deserve. If they think bendy buses can be dangerous they should see what pedestrian backlash can be like. Look, you might think that you're ever so environmental in a hippy tree-hugging way but compared to us bi-peds who use no machinery other than our own power you're not. Not that I walk to be a tree-hugging hippy you understand, perish the thought!

Cyclists are a law unto thembloodyselves and the way they ignore lights on pedestrian crossings shouldn't see them charged with road traffic offences it should see them beaten to within an inch of their lives. Just because you have a cycle lane it does not mean that the rules governing the crossing designed for those of us on foot do not apply to you. Luckily you wear a helmet so when you do crash after I lock your wheels up at least you will bounce comfortably. Perhaps though you should wear skateboard pads too though just in case.

Right, I feel much better now that I have got that off my chest.

Quick comment on Hain

All the best stuff happens when you're away huh? My only comment on Peter Hain that can spring to mind right now is if you're innocent why do you need to resign? The house of cards with Harman and Alexander are now looking dicey.

Oh I'd never have guessed that!

OK I've come to the conclusion that I'm definitely on some permanently bad LSD journey. Page 13 of the The Times today under some story about how we're going to give fatties money to diet (will they buy chocolate?) is a small filler piece titled 'The coffee that can contain a third of daily calorie intake'.

The story details the shocking truth that a Vente White chocolate mocha with whip and whole milk from Starbucks is quite fattening according to a survey by Which? Magazine. Am I seriously being told that someone actually spent money on finding out that a coffee with chocolate, whipped cream and full fat milk might actually make you put on some weight? What next a survey that confirms Mohammed was a Muslim, the Pope really is catholic and Jesus was a Jew?

Left-wingers call for windfall tax on energy profits

Whenever energy prices go up you can always guarantee that the usual suspects on the Left will start talking about vulnerable people and nasty profit driven companies. Hence we have a motion signed by Abbott, Corbyn et al calling on the Government to introduce a one-off windfall tax on energy company profit in order to fund an increase in the winter fuel payment that the oldies get.

How about this for a better idea though. How about sorting out the system so that someone who retires to the Mediterranean doesn't get the payment to keep them warm in the winter for a start? In 2005/06 £4,215,000 in Winter Fuel Payments was sent to claimants in Greece, Spain, Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Portugal.

I simply do not understand the way the Left always see the creation of a tax as the solution. Why not start managing the systems you have properly and stop wasting money on pointless IT projects that fail to deliver? There is plenty of money in the system, its just the way it's being spent that is the problem.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Suicide, the Internet and group psychosis?

When I read the tale this morning of "copycat suicides" in Wales I was a little mind boggled by it. The notion of suicide is a pretty difficult thing to get you're head around when it just occurs once, but when kids who know each other start killing themselves over a short period of time you can't help but wonder what's going in.

The reporting seemed to imply that the Internet might to be blame because the teenagers in question all used Bebo. Danny Finkelstein over at Comment Central has written an interesting piece on this wondering if the Internet is not to 'blame' then might it simply make the possibility of copycats suicides more common instead?

I'm not sure it will necessarily, but the Internet and suicide is by no means knew. I can remember a few years ago when there were people actually committing suicide live online back when webcams first became affordable and bandwidth in the home started expanding.

I think, the interesting point in Fink's piece is that "birds of a feather flock together" and that the Internet simply means that even more birds of a (suicidal) feather can flock together instead.

Has Brown used taxpayer money for Labour Party political videos?

The following is an still from a video on the Labour:Vision YouTube Channel.
The next still is from a video on the Downing Street YouTube channel.
Same suit? Same tie? Same place for filming? Looking the same strange direction? Only difference is they turned the lamp on in the Labour one and he's standing a little further along the room.

So.... who paid for the party political Labour:Vision video? The taxpayer? Or did the Labour Party loan a camera to the state? Questions, questions, questions!
Hat Tip: Via email from reader.

When did we stop doing these things?

Excuse me for sounding so terribly naive, I am only 32 and I left school but some 17 or so years ago, but when exactly did they stop teaching kids how to cook in school? If, as Ed Balls has now announced, all the little ones are going to learn how to cook then they must not be doing it now, so when pray tell did that actually happen?

I can remember when the name changed from 'home economics' to 'food science' - both utterly absurd names I hasten to add - but the content of the lessons were the same. Sausage Rissotto, fairy cakes (is that a politically incorrect name now?), how to boil an egg (dear Edwina!) and the like. The point was that we were still doing bloody cooking so when did it stop?

There is a little bit of me that suspects it will be the Tories fault of course, the last Tory government is almost always to blame for everything, including AIDs, the end of white dog poo (how we marvelled at it!), and the total destruction of life in the Universe before the Messiah Blair saved us all from eternal damnation and death. Having said that, that would still mean that for ten years Labour did bugger all about it.

Was I just lucky with the state school I went to? Both of them in fact, because I ws expelled from one, but I still remember doing cooking lessons there. You see this is where I start to get confused daily with the Government and Labour in general. They are constantly creating initiatives that say we must do X, Y and Z more, and yet almost always I find myself thinking 'but we were doing all that in the 80s and early 90s so when did it stop?'

Kids are getting fat and not doing enough sport in schools, we must have more sport they say. I can remember two double PE periods a week at both my secondary school and the grammar I ended up in. That's four hours a week of potentially shameful time in your M&S underpants (sufficient support unrequired due to late puberty), so tell me how is that different to what the Government is saying we must do today?

There is this constant narrative of a society on the brink and in need of social engineering and yet almost every solution we get told about appears to be things that we were already doing, or at least I can remember being made to do by teachers with Napolean-complexes. Is the entire country on a collective acid trip impacting it's short-term memory?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why the surprise about lost laptops?

If ever there was evidence of mainstream media complacency then the latest lost laptops at the MoD should provide a lesson. There appears to be, quite rightly, serious concern about data loss but the news that laptop and computer theft goes on is not new and the shock of the media ought not be there if they made a habit of reading Hansard.

A quick use of it's search facility online will produce ample questions and answers on the subject over the past year or so. The Home Office has theft problems, so does the DWP, and HMRC has lost 44 laptops in the last twelve months. The only reason this has suddenly become an issue for the media is because of 'Discgate' but it should have been an issue much earlier.

Theft and loss of Government computer equipment is endemic across the board. What might have been on stolen equipment is completely unknown, but hey, it might be nothing right?

Youtube launches UK Politics channel

Interesting development over at YouTube, there is now a UK Politics channel. Currently it included Respect in the channel but for some reason no wanting is fighting with each other in their video.

Brown has done a launch video for it (although I was contacted about the channel by someone at Google directly with no mention of it being a Labour/Brown initiative) and his video is... errrrm... well it's boring and he's looking.... oh I don't know what he's looking at or where he's looking, it's just odd, especially the bizarre bounce and smile at the beginning.

There are some great comments under the video though. "You Be Wrong" said
To be honest, this really isn't all that suitable as a YouTube launch video. It doesn't 'engage' anyone really. If you are aiming the video towards the younger generation then why use the same style that disuades [sic] youth interest in politics.
Another says "look at me when you are talking to me." (that one made me snigger). But really, the best comment given that Brown is blathering on about YouTube and the Internet like he knows about it has to be the one that says "paperlilies for PM!".

Monday, January 21, 2008

Nothing to see here

Still on Jury Service, so no posts for today. Normal service will probably resume soon.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Will this hang in Downing Street?

Back in November I pondered whether Brown was blocking the hanging of Blair's portrait in Downing Street as per the convention of having portraits of previous PMs on the staircase.

At the time an anonymous comment appeared saying "no. it's just not been hung yet". That is to say it had been painted but was simply waiting to be hung. However, as the papers showed yesterday, the first ever portrait that Blair has sat for by Jonathan Yeo has been revealed. Is this the one that will hang in Downing Street?

Note: It's a bloody good portrait.

Ming Campbell's role in scam revealed!

According to the last Register of Members' Interests, the former Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell has taken a remunerated directorship with Scottish American Investment Company - quoted on the markets with the label.... SCAM.

They seem to quite like oil, gas and mining too, which I guess must sit quite well with Ming's much boasted about green credentials. Or perhaps all his environmentalist talk was really just a big scam? (pun thoroughly intended)

Home Secretary confirms she's not a street walker and shows she's out of touch

If a Home Secretary said that the streets were safer after 10 years of her political party governing the country and then went on to say that she wouldn't walk on them at night on her own, you'd have to wonder about the credibility of the first claim don't you?

Well that is exactly what Jacqui Smith told the Sunday Times in an interview she gave. She was asked if she would feel safe walking around Hackney at midnight said,
"Well, no, but I don’t think I’d ever have done. You know, I would never have done that, at any point during my life..... I just don’t think that’s a thing that people do, is it, really?"
What planet is she on to think people don't walk around at midnight? What about people who don't own a car and work in a pub? Does she think they have the ability to fly or something? She even said she wouldn't feel safe walking around in Kensington and Chelsea at midnight.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lying robots and silly trademarks

This has to be the freakiest technology story for a while. Apparently, scientists have created robots with neural pathways that can "lie".
The team at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Federal Institute of Technology created the little experimental learning devices to work in groups and hunt for "food" targets nearby while avoiding "poison." Imagine their surprise when one generation of robots learned to signal lies about the poison, sending opponents to their doom.
HAL is coming, he really is!

Meanwhile, there is apparently a lawyer in the US who is trying to trademark the term "cyberlaw". He runs a company called CyberLaw and practices errr cyberlaw, and wants the trademark. As is noted on the link, "[t]hat's like a soda company claiming a trademark in the use of the word soda in connection with the sale of soda".

Brown to create new Government department?

Received wisdom says that Brown will hold his first Cabinet reshuffle after the elections in May. What changes might come then though? Most people presume Hain will be out on his ear, but what about the creation of new departments? Take a look at this advert (advertised since Thursday) looking for something called an "Employee Relations Secretariat" on Total Jobs.
My client in Central London has a vacancy for an Employee Relations Secretariat. The aim of this role is to facilitate effective employee relations in a new government department. This will be through the establishment of a system for managers, colleagues and trade unions meet [sic] and discuss issues affecting staff.
Duties will include taking informal minutes but "also ensuring staff are informed of legacy issues". Sounds like a new department being created which is going to be taking on roles of an existing department doesn't it if there are going to be "legacy issues" - read "redundancies".

My guess is that he's going to merge the Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland Office into one single department for the devolved nations, hence the "legacy issues" that an HR person is going to have to deal with. This will also neutralise all those "two jobs" accusations if there is just one person responsible for all the nations together - not that there is much to do anyway.

Feel free to speculate wildly and further though.

Publish and be damned?

I see Guido has been naughty and published the names of a broadcast journalist and two commentators in a matter The Skimmer says is covered by an injunction. Mind you, Guido says the failure to write about the story is more about a wall of silence amongst journalists rather than it being about an injunction that exists to stop it being reported.

The story does involve the parentage of a kid though, well I presume that the child is still a minor anyway, so it may just be a child protection issue more than anything else. At least that is what I imagine the court would probably say its reasons for an injunction is anyway.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Carving up the BBC licence fee is dumb

I'm sure there will be quite a few right-wingers out there that will be pleased with news that the £3.4bn the BBC receives from the licence fee may be carved up with commercial operators. Obviously those that say they "believe" in the BBC will think it's the end of the world and someone somewhere will note how it is caving into profit and the talk of funding right-wing propaganda will probably appear.

Personally, I don't think that it should be done. After all, commercial outlets operate under heavy regulations already which stop them really being allowed to have an opinion. As such, there is a mythical notion of impartiality pushed throughout the broadcast industry.
What would it mean for those commercial enterpruses if they started receiving public money?

If a commercial operator gets public funds how will they be governed to prove what is and what is not being funded by the public in their output? You can imagine what will happen already, if, for example, a documentary that goes against the grain of received wisdom is shown there will be all manner of crowing from people saying it is a misuse of public funds.

It already happens with the BBC from the Right as it is. If public funds are spent on commercial operators you can guarantee that accusations of bias programming using public funds will appear from the Left. What would be far more effective is to scrap the BBC Charter altogether, lose the licence fee and move some of the corporation's output to a subscription based service.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Daily Mail Hyperbole of the Day

Pupils at private school discover their teacher in 'shocking soft-porn' advert on YouTube

Shocking soft-porn? How does that work then? I thought if it was soft it was so that it wouldn't be shocking. What I wonder would that make hard porn? Vomit-inducing? If it's shocking I hate to think what they would make of 9 1/2 Weeks. The shocking bit lasts about two seconds with the teacher, possibly not event that. It's the sort of thing that you see on Tarrant on TV that has come from Italy.

Perhaps the Mail should have the headline "No sex please. We're uptight"? Shocking soft porn my arse!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

MG Rover probe costs spiral

I've just read a Parliamentary answer from the DTI or whatever it is called now that says that their investigation into the collapse of MG Rover has so far cost the public purse just over £10 million including VAT and they have bugger all idea when it will conclude or a report will be published. Now doubt the cost will be called an 'investment' by some press offcier somewhere.

PPER offences have no sentencing guidelines?

As has been well reported over the past few days, the Electoral Commission is currently consdering whether to pass the Hain Affair over to the police. This is primarily because as a regulator it has no real power of censure and when it finds the law - in this case the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 - to have been broken its only option is to send it to the Police.

As already mentioned, the Times leader this morning note that PPER is seen as a bit of an inconvenience by the people that passed it into law and should you need any evidence of that look know further than the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw and the Ministry of Justice. When asked what sentencing guidelines had been produced for offences under the Act the answer was a glorious zilch. Zip. Zero. Nada.

Basically the Government's 'anti-sleaze' totemic law is taken so seriously by the Government that no one seems to have considered the possibility that anyone might actually break it. It really does sum up the sheer contempt that Labour have for the very laws that they themselves created. The PPER was always an act that was said to be about restoring trust. That no one has been directed to produce sentencing guideline for its offences just goes to show what they really think of it.

Who wants to bet that the result will be very low punishments setting the sentencing precedent for those that follow?

Government success in war on drugs!

At last something the Government has succeeded at something. Apparently since 2001 the Department for International Development has spent £91.5 million on promoting 'alternative livelihoods to the drugs trade' in Afghanistan.

Clearly money well spent with a massive reduction in the opium yields and international smack market. Just look at how the street price has gone up for heroin thanks to the Government's clear success at reducing supply - shurely shome mistake? Aren't yields up and prices down? Ed.

Can we get a refund?

It never ceases to amaze me the little snippets of pure gold that exist in Written Answers in Hansard. Take this little gem. In May 2004 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport paid Pricewaterhouse Cooper £114,000 for a 'Review of Olympic cost valdidation'. Just over a year later in November 2005 they paid KPMG £255,000 to 'provide validation of Olympic costs'.

These figures may appear small in the scheme of thing, but it's what they were paid for that matters. Evidently the reviews and validations of cost by these consultants have turned out to be absolute rubbish. So pray tell, how do we ask for a refund so we can chuck the money into the ever increasing Olympic budget?

How about using specific bank accounts?

This morning's Times leader makes for interesting reading, well for me at least. They have said that there is a 'strong argument for having one place (probably the Electoral Commission) where contributions or assistance of any kind are recorded' because the current system of duplication between the Register in Parliament and the Electoral Commission is overly complex. Obviously that is not something I disagree with given I wrote as much on Monday.

However, the Times go further to make the point that the system is not the only thing at fault but the character of politicians is too. They suggest that many politicians see the electoral laws they themselves passed as an inconvenience. This may in fact be true in some cases, and when you have that attitutde complacency kicks in. Throw into the mix though how some politicians have the media-savvy political nous of a mentally retarded ant and you have a recipe for disaster.

After all there will be the odd politician that is so universally thick that when they innocently accept assistance they don't even think of the possibilty of it ever becoming a story. The real problem if there is any with the system of declaration is that they rely on the politician or his minions to actively declare it. When the money comes in they have a set period of time to declare it and if they don't they break the rules and the law.

Why not remove that weak link in the chain? Why not, upon becoming an MP, do they not get given a specific bank account to be solely used for political donations? A specific account that requires all financial assistance that the law considers donations, in other words cash, to be deposited into and upon which nightly extractions are made for display in public records? This would remove the possibilty of the 'I forgot because I was so busy' excuse. If this was accompanied by a rule that was clear about the penalty for accepting cash by other means you wouldn't have a fool-proof system but you would have a system that started to remove the human need to remember where and when to register.

Update: Just to add another point here. If there were separate bank accounts created for MPs by the Parliamentary or Electoral authorities for this sort of thing with clear and simple rules, there would be no ifs and no buts if someone was found to using money from another source. Period. Sadly as Guido has pointed out this might be too simple and elegant idea to managing the records of financial donations for MP's to handle.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The cost of reviwing MPs' salaries

Now I know that MPs salaries are a hot topic, and I know that many people will think "low life, good for nothing scumbags, why should they get so much money?". To be fair, in many cases you would of course be right.

However, what made me nearly fall off the sofa even before the red wine had kicked in was when I learned how much the cost of the most review of ministers and MPs salaries by the Senior Salaries Review Board had actually cost.

According to Harriet Harman who, as we all know, is very good with managing her own money, the current cost of the review so far has been £136,296. The cost of actually publishing the report on how much they should be paid has not been finalised yet, doesn't bode well does it? So just to put that into perspective. They've spent the equivalent of approximately two MPs' salaries reviewing how much they think an MP's salary ought to be.

Why they can't just have an inflation-linked payrise and be done with it thus saving the extra cost of writing a report that will effectively say the same thing anyway is beyond me.

The Old Bailey is calling.....

Well I've spent two days sitting around in Southwark Crown Court waiting to hear my name be called out. It's a bit like playing the lottery, you're so bored that you really want to hear your name and at the same time you're hoping that it doesn't get called lest you end up on some boring trial which involves you leaving the court all the time because they want to discuss a point of law.

Then this afternoon, having been sent home early yesterday they call my name out and I know it means I am going home early.. great I think, but oh no, not this time. This time they say "give me your smartcard for the canteen and your time sheet. You need to be at the Old Bailey tomorrow at 9.30am sharp."

Fanbloodytastic! John Grisham novel next though.

Lots of nonsense on organ donations from Liberal Conspiracy and elsewhere

There really is an intellectually vapid piece over at "Liberal" Conspiracy by Justin McKeating from Chicken Yoghurt on the subject of organ donation. It doesn't actually constitute an argument in favour but simply calls anyone on the Right that has issues with the philosophical consequences of so-called "presumed consent", sanctimonious, selfish, pig-headed and self-contradictory. According to Justin,
"Needless to say most of the umbrage is coming from the Right. They might as well be saying 'Gordon Brown can pry my liver from my cold dead hand' for all the sense they're making. They bang on about the 'murder' of foetuses by the 'abortion industry' but are seemingly willing to stand by and let walking, talking people die because their politics have been offended."
Hmmmm... I am on the Right; I don't agree with presumed consent; but I'm also not anti-abortion and did, in fact, take the piss out of the phrase "abortion industry" by cracking a gag about factory production lines and knitting needles. Justin's argument couldn't, just possibly, be a straw man could it? Or perhaps it would be fairer to note that he's banging on making no sense? Or should I just say he's talking bollocks, that's much fairer.

The founder and contributer to "Liberal" Conspiracy seems to have swallowed Justin's argument hook line and sinker as well. I'm not sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but Sunny Hudal says,
But Justin's basic point still stands - why does the right suddenly find choice abhorrent when it comes to abortion... but in this case can't stop falling over themselves to display their libertarian credentials?
No it doesn't stand at all because off the top of my head I can think of a number of people on the Right who's views disprove the rather weak argument that Justin is making. Justin then goes on to the miss the point spectacularly about property rights and ownership.
'It strikes at our relationship with the state,' they say. Well get this: You can't have a relationship with the state when you're dead. You can't assert ownership over your own corpse. Why? Because. You. Are. Dead.
Who said that that it strikes at our relationship with the state when we're dead? Only a complete idiot would say that, or someone constructing another straw man perhaps which wouldn't make them an idiot but would make them foolish. The relationship in question is actually between living individuals and the state because "presumed consent" takes the starting point that all human beings are to be owned by the state unless otherwise stated. That is a major shift in the relationship of the individual and the state because it shifts liberty and ownership in favour of the state from individual as a default position.

Of course, some others might make even weaker points than Justin in support of him. Take for example Bob Piper. Putting aside the usual crap at the beginning that says those against the idea are "right-wing loonies", he says,
"What seems to have slipped past the minds of the sanctimonious right is that the phrase 'opt-out' gives those who are alive and care about these things, an opportunity to.... errm, how shall I put it.... opt-out."
He'll be reading Vogon poetry to us next, just after he tells us that "all the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it's too late to start making a fuss about it now".

OK, so quoting Hitchhikers might seem odd, but that is the fundamental of Bob's argument really. He's saying that because there is an "opt-out" that we should all be happy. But what if you haven't had the opportunity to do it? What if you get run over on your 18th birthday? In fact, the assumption that an opt-out is sufficient "choice" is another example of how the relationship between living individuals and the state will switch it's default starting point.

Back to Justin though, there is the final piece of crappy argument. That being that those who opposed 'presume consent' want to let people who need organs die. If in doubt throw in a nice bit of emtional nonsense and essentially call any political argument against equivalent to murder by-proxy. Sounds like the same logically weak argument pro-lifers give doesn't it? But Justin is not being 'self-contradictory' oh no! The thing is there are ways in which to improve organ donation rates without having to shift our liberty over ourselves into a new default position that places ownership with the state from the moment of our birth. For a start healthcare professionals could be more pro-active in encouraging people to fill out donor cards rather than leaving them on the desk for people to notice.

As I have said before, if people were asked whenever they went into hospital if they were willing to be a donor as a simple signing in question then, if polling on organ donation willingness is correct, you would see an increase in available donors. The problem is not that the 'opt-in' doesn't work, it's that no one asks the question until the worst possible time to the distraught next-of-kin. Stop presuming, start asking.

Update: Unfortunately, due to the limitation of my phone I was not able to write this bit this morning. Should you be wondering why the word Liberal is in quote when I say "Liberal Conspiracy" it is because the argument that Justin et al is claiming is right wing is actually the classical liberal one. Unlike their argument which isn't.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Angry Lib Dem Youths!

I think I (along with one of their own) may have upset them with yesterday's post.
I can confirm that the chair has not been waterboarded. If, however, I find out who is feeding Dizzy this kind of nonsense then they might indeed get a little bit wet.

Can I suggest that we move the rest of this discussion to the closed forums.
Mark Mills
General Executive Member, LDYS
So much nonsense that it has to be discussed privately and out of view, shurely shome mishtake? They must be having a leak inquiry. Hope the bath tub doesn't leak.

Cameron agrees double declarations can be frustrating

Further to this morning's post wondering why the system whereby MPs declare financial donations requires them to do so in two places, thus duplicating data unnecessarily and potentially causing all sorts of unnecessary media stories. It would appear David Cameron was asked about this point at his press conference by Conservative Home today after they read the post.
The Conservative leader said that rationalisation "would be worthwhile" but that it didn't need to be done from "on high". The Electoral commission could streamline procedures in direct talks with the parliamentary authorities. Mr Cameron agreed from personal experience that double reporting was frustrating.
Well that's good to here. I'd be surprised if there were any arguments from across the political spectrum about it really. Registering financial donations in one place rather than two makes much more sense.

Observation of the Day

PPF - Progressive Policies Forum. Mysterious Peter Hain backing non-think tank believed to be used as front for donations into Peter Hain.

PPF - Pensions Protection Fund. Policy programme overseen by Peter Hain to ensure people don't find themselves old without a pension because of corrupt businessmen.

I cannot think of any jokes to add.

Why are donations registered twice?

The issue over donations and their registration continues to roll on I see. As reported yesterday there are now questions hanging over George Osbourne because he received declared money to the Electoral Commission which was donated to the Conservative Party centrally but was done so with conditions that his office receive some of it. According to released emails the Parliamentary authorities said the donations did not have to appear on the Register of Members' Interest, but they have now questioned their own advice. This has been helped along by the fact that David Willets received money in the same way and did put it on the Register.

Evidently, and understandably, the Labour Party have leapt on this with a 'you too!' argument, and their glee is helped along by the names of the donors as well. After all, when the Rothchilds name appears what Labour person wouldn't inject a bit of class warfare into the mix? Just to add a 'you too' response to their 'you too' I would say this. Take a look at the Co-op Party. How many Labour MPs, up to and including the Prime Minister receive money through that party that is entirely untraceable? I know of Labour MPs who declare nothing on any Registers but are bankrolled by the Co-op. This is not to say that anything dodgy is going on with the money, just that the system of declarations is in mess. If you want to reduce the number of 'sleaze' allegations then fix the system of how and where financial contributions are to be declared.

One of the first principles of data-handling and designing databases is the removal of obvious repeated data. Currently we have a system where legally a donation must be declared to the Electoral Commission, and, under Parliamentary rules, must also be declared on the Register of Members Interests. The Register is available in electronic form as too is the Electoral Commission so why does the former not simply link to the latter? After all, the rules governing what level of contribution should be registered are identical in both cases.

Of course this would do nothing for the current questions surrounding Osbourne which are more about the grey areas of what constitutes a donation to a person and what constitutes a donation to a party where someone says 'I'd like X to receive benefit from this money'. However, I seriously doubt whether all three of the main parties have not had situations like this multiple times. When someone is tapped for money it stands to reason that how it might be spent will be mentioned, and as I said, the reaction to Osbourne is driven by an instinctive 'you too', argument rather than something that is a matter of principle. It could also easily backfire if a letter emerges pointing out where someone would like a donation spent within the Labour Party.

The point though about data repetition is one that is important. As long as their are two sources for finanical contributions then there will be times when the two do not match up which will give rise to stories. Failing to register a donation is one thing. Registering it as per the law and then failing to repeat the data elsewhere should not really be a story. It won't get rid of funding rows, but it would reduce the number of cock-ups that become seen as conspiracies.

Update: Just to clarify. When I said the Register should link to the Commission I meant that it should just refer interested parties to other. Electronically this would be a hyperlink to the Electoral Commission. What I did not mean was the databases themselves should be linked.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Off to court in the morning...

Blogging will be quite light for the next fortnight, this is because I have, rather annoyingly, been called up for Jury Service. Rest assured that whoever it is I'm sure they will be guilty. Shifty eyes, bad hair, and whatever other subjective rash prejudgments I can make will ensure that is the case.
Note: For any idiots who think I am being serious about the prejudgements thing. You're idiots.

On the organ donation thing....

I refer everyone to the opinion I gave last September. The term "presumed consent" is a nonsense, what they actually mean is "presumed ownership".

Clegg to spin 'Yoof Wing' relaunch?

Apparently the youth wing of the Liberal Democrats, currently known as Liberal Democrat Youth & Students, is about to have a makeover and big fanfare relaunch as "Liberal Youth". When Liberal Youth is born the official spin will be that it has been driven by Clegg as part of his first 100 days as leader. Well that's the spin anyway.

However, there are restless mutterings that the relaunch will be little more than a big media scam, and that the name change was agreed a long time before Clegg became leader. "The decision was finally passed at LDYS conference last October, but the announcement has been delayed so that it can be announced as something that Clegg decided to do to relaunch the youth wing" says an insider.

"As far as I know the name was Gettleson's (Chair of LDYS) idea and it's 100% awful, it sounds like Hitler Youth." The relaunch will be "totally staged managed" with many of the current LDYS membership banned from attending so they can "bring in the beautiful people". That Hitler Youth caricature sounds quite apt doesn't? It's all so liberal too!

A guest post elsewhere

I did a post for the Our Kingdom blog yesterday on the DVLA and the personal information they disclose in millions of requests each year. You can read it here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Is Brown's Electoral Commission submission complete?

Here's an interesting thing, anyone remember the Gordon Brown leadership website domain registrations and Silverfish from early in 2007? Well, why is it that Silverfish do not appear on Brown's Electoral Commission submission as a benefit in kind?

The domain, along with all the others that were originally registered (and Silverfish said they intended to sell) are still registered to Rachel Bull at Silverfish. Also there were quite a few videos on Gordon's campaign website and videos are not free to produce now are they? Who was likely to have filmed them? Couldn't be a production company called Silverfish could it?

Could this potentially mean Brown received non-cash donations above the value of £1000 and he's failed to declare them in his non-cash submissions on the Electoral Commission website? Everyone is so busy looking at Hain's donations and records, perhaps they should be looking at Brown's too?

Update: It's been noted domains are cheap as chips, which is true. However the plethora of registrations were, according to Silverfish at the time, carried out with the intention of selling at a profit to Brown later. So their value once registered would have increased somewhat. Of course, if Silverfish were fibbing about them being speculative profit purchases then the point about their cheapness stands, and so Team Brown lied to the press about the domains all those months ago when they denied all knowledge.

Why on earth would you separate twins?

Some people may have read about the twins that were separated at birth, grew up in separately adopted families, met by pure random chance, fell in love, got married, and then learned they were twins leading to High Court annulment. I have but one question in this crazy and head screwy situation. What on earth possessed the people dealing with the adoption to separate twins? That just seems absolutely crazy to me.

I'm not saying that they could have predicted the randomness of them meeting, but surely separating twins, given what is known about twins, would have quite a psychological impact on them even though they won't remember their sibling. Would or do they separate twins today I wonder?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Kinky Sex Makes the World Go Round!

So I'm having a YouTube evening going over some old ground, that sort of thing, and then I recalled a track by the Dead Kennedys that is over 20 year's old called "Kinky Sex Makes the World Go Round" which is essentially a telephone conversation between an unnamed American and a British Prime Minister. I dutifully went off to find it on YouTube and discovered the following.

Again, whatever your politics may be, it's interesting how timeless and easily applicable Jello Biafra's words from all those years ago can be applied to the situation today. Not sure if that is something within the conspiratorial nature of the argument being advanced, or just a freaky coincidence of fate. Either way, I always loved the 'song' for some reason.

What more could you want than escapist insane paranoid rambling on a Friday night?

Billy Bragg deserves recognition

I'm sure this will annoy some people, but as far as I am concerned for all the disagreements that I have with Billy Bragg's politics I can't possibly deny that he is a great songwriter and someone who has the ability to take one of his own (old) tunes and make it relevant to today's world and politics.

The following was recorded on the Henry Rollins Show (Rollins is a God!) and is a slighted altered "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward". I think Bragg's lyrical genius is worth respecting just like Tony Benn's Diary writing.

He'd never accept a Knighthood, but he probably should be offered one just for the media story of his refusal. Surely anyone who can take a left wing protest song and change the closing lyrics so they attack your own sides' current shallowness deserves recognition?
"So join the struggle while you may. The revolution's just an ethical haircut away. Waiting for the Great Leap Forward"*
* Yes I am well aware of what "The Great Leap Forward" was before anyone points out Bragg is invoking Mao's murderous insanity.

Who is Gregory McEwen?

After quite a busy day in between meetings I've finally digested the Hain story and as has been noted by Ben Brogan, "if you drop by [the Progressive Policies Forum] registered address in Wimpole Street, you find the office of the solicitor listed on its company file". That solicitor is listed as McEwen Parkinson.

In the detailed company file it shows that the company itself is solely owned by one shareholder, Mr Gregory McEwen of Chorleywood, presumably one half of the solictors. Does the Parkinson half of the outfit know I wonder? Is Gregory McEwen just a lawyer, or does it go deeper?

I couldn't help but laugh when I googled "Gregory McEwen" and the second link was "Gregory McEwen' Store Front". Alas it was not a confession but just an author's Amazon Store.

Is he going to grow some liberty caps?

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many mushroom composting plants there are in England.

Jonathan Shaw: There are three firms in England producing spawned compost for mushroom growers.
Yeah Mann! Why are the green leather seats suddenly breathing?

Some local council absurdity

This is not a national news story, but last night I got told by a local councillor that he was going to an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting. The Council he sits on is Labour-controlled and the agenda was light so they had apparently filled some time with a special powerpoint presentation by the Council officers.

The title of the presentation? "What is Value for Money?" It's good to see that bureaucratic silliness doesn't just restrict itself to central Government holding consultations about how to do consultations.

The ID Loyalty Card?

[The Department of Culture Media and Sport] will be working with the Home Office prior to the introduction of the National Identity Scheme to establish how identity information held on the proposed National Identity Register might be used to provide easier access to our services for our customers."
It's going to become like a bloody supermarket loyalty card without the choice element isn't it?

The silence on Andrew Brown explained?

It's been making me wonder over the past few days why there has been absolutely no comment from anyone in the Conservative Party about the fact that Gordon brown's brother is Head of Corporate Communications at EDF Energy. According to an internal memo sent around EDF his primary role is to "lead the communications agenda in the nuclear project" as well.

The potential for raising the possibility of sleaze, however tenuous it might be is there. This is especially the case when you add in the nuclear and energy lobbying link of Labour donors like Sovereign Strategy and Weber Shadwick. On top of which you have a former Labour Chairman (Iain McCartney) being a paid advisor to a nuclear specialist.

Then this morning I think I discovered why there is so much silence about the pontentially smelly EDF links to Downing Street. Between 2003 and 2005 EDF Energy, 70% owned by the French state, donated a total of £43,000 to the Conservatives and Labour. £31,000 and £12,000 respectively. Hardly going to big up connections if the quick answer is "you're connected too aren't you!"

Cross party MPs start to ask questions about DVLA

How refreshing to see a motion in Parliament that is supported across party, and is raising an issue on data security and the DVLA. I've posted more than once about the way the DVLA gives out data and the fact that it charges for it. What has always worried me more than anything else is that the data itself can leave the DVLA to a legitimate company, but there is no real way of knowing whether the person receiving it is doing so for legitimate reasons.

Last year if I recall correctly there was the case of newspapers using private investigators who obtained infromation through DVLA leakage, so the fact that MPs from diffiferent have all raised the issue is actually quite pleasing. Having said that I doubt anyone will listen to the motion anyway.

Bah humbug?

Christmas may be over but the hangover of question in Parliament about the period are still going on. And boy are they interesting. Take for example the Department of Work and Pensions, who apparently say that it is "not the policy of this Department to provide Christmas trees, incandescent light bulbs or LED lights for festive decorations on departmental premises."

Can this honestly be true? Does the DWP really spend nothing for Christmas decoration on its departmental premises? Is the spirit of Ebenezeer flowing through the corridors or is just a case that the accounting is so bad they don't know and it's better to just say they don't? After all, they do have the evidently incompetent Peter Hain at the helm.

According to the junior minister Anne McGuire, the reason that they don't 'provide Christmas trees, incandescent light bulbs or LED lights for festive decorations on departmental premises' is because the land and buildings are owned by Land Securities Trillium under PFI and they just pay a unitary charge for "fully serviced accomodation". That charge, should you be wondering amounts to £517,671,000.

So the question is this. Did the DWP really say "bah humbug!" and leave it to the owners of the offices to provide some cheer for the poor sods that woprk there? Or did perhaps the DWP staff have to dig in their own pockets for decorations only to be told that they couldn't use them because they had not been electrically tested?

So much for "pay discipline"

It's been quite widely reported that Brown is trying to force his own MPs to be sensible and restrained on the matter of their payrises. This morning's Times for example says that Brown has ordered his ministers and whips to quell a rebellion over the "above-inflation pay increase" of 2.8%.

Should he succeed it will no doubt be painted as victory of his strength and prudence, but perhaps, before he does that, he should explain why that new Communications Allowance that MPs get of £10,000 a year rises based on the Retail Price Index which is running at over 2% higher than the Consumer Price Index which he uses all the time to make it sound like inflation is low.

Think about this for a moment. Brown says that public sector workers must be disciplined and accept pay rises that will not impact inflation. Now, putting aside the hogwash of that argument, how can it be that a public sector worker on say £12,000 a year is told that they can only expect a payrise of 2% based on the CPI, whilst the MPs in Parliament have a £10,000 allowance that will rise each year by - on current figures - about 4.3%.

Some people don't like the implication that MPs are feathering their own nests, but when you have a situation where allowances are risen in line with the more trutful and realistic inflation figure, whilst simultaneously telling people earning little more than the allowance that they can only have half the percentage rise otherwise they risk destablising the economy you can't help wondering what planet the people in power are actually on.

The current total value of the propaganda communication allowance is, according to the Leader of the House of Commons' Office, £6.46 million on the basis of a maximum spend by all members. At the current RPI rate that will rise by about £250,000 next year, but that is not dangerous to the economy you see, oh no!

Ricky Gervais's sitcom character in Extras has the catchphrase "are you 'avin a laugh? Is he 'avin a laugh?" All I can think is "are they taking the piss? Is he taking the piss?"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

MPs to avoid rubbish collection charges with taxpayers money

Should you ever wonder why people get annoyed with politicians and the way there seems to be one rule for them and other rules for us take a look at the preceedings of Parliament occassionally and you'll see it laid bare.

Yesterday for example, according to Helen Goodman, junior minister at the Leader of the House of Commons Office, MPs are going to be allowed to use their additional cost allowances to pay for the costs of local authority charges for the collection of household rubbish.

In other words, those politicians in central Government who are giving the authority to local Government to charge us for special rubbish collection, special biodegradable bags etc etc, are going to be allowed to use taxpayers money to cover their own charges. Do any of them have any shame? That is what I want to know.

Is there scope for a "through the middle" candidate?

It's been well noted on different blogs how yesterday’s early edition newspapers made complete arseheads of themselves by writing up their New Hampshire Primary analysis on the assumption that Obama was going to win. There is little better than mild crowing after all, and the Democrat race is causing so much more attention what with its 'first woman president vs first black president' potential. I guess it's worth noting at this point also that the assumption is that the Democrats are going to win the White House by the soothsaying media.

This may indeed turn out to be true, but what I find myself wondering is at what cost internally for the Democrats might that happen? I may be wrong on this but the race to be in the race for the White House has been possibly the longest in history, and during that time, at least on the Democrat side, what we now appear to have is not so much a race for the nomination but a battle of identity politics in the political home of identity politics. It's gender versus race and I find myself asking what impact that battle could have on the unity of the Democratic Party, and if any impact could be detrimental to them and exploitable by their political opponents?

We're already seeing the issues being pitched against each other by the different briefer in the campaign teams. Obama aides have been wondering if the so-called Bradley Effect whereby voters tell pollsters they'll vote for the black guy and then go for old whitey in private. Meanwhile the Clinton team and the lady herself have made no bones about suggesting that when she has done less well expected in debates and polls it is because of the wife-beating misogynistic bastards. Whichever one prevails through the primaries the seeds are already being sewn for internal discontent.

Putting aside the evident spotlight this places on the virtue and near angelic perception of identity politics from the Left, might this bode poorly for the Democrats when it comes to Republican attacks? If the primaries produce accusations back and forth on gender and race then political opponents would be mad to not exploit them and highlight disunity amongst the party, whilst the Presidential candidate talks about uniting the nation around a measure of some sort of change. Then again does it have to be like that or will it?

I am no expert on how these primaries work, but if ever there was a case for a party to have a so-called 'unity candidate' then now would be as good a time as any wouldn't it? Democrat control on Capitol Hill is already starting to create rumblings after all, and a bitter struggle between gender and race could extenuate those rumblings further and cause more widespread damage than many think. So I ask this question to any specialists in American politics. Has there ever been a precedent for a third candidate to rise through the middle? And is John Edwards a man that could do that?

I always remember a truism that the Democrats never win the White House unless the candidate is southerner. With the Carolina's, Florida, and all those other southern states still go could there be scope for even more inaccurate predictions and surprises yet to come?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lib Dem supporter at Mayoral Debate an actor?

This evening they've just finished filming the London Mayoral candidates in a debate to be screened on the television on Thursday night. As to be expected the Mayor had ensured that his people were in the room to ask nothing but personal attack questions of Boris Johnson. This included raising the whole Darius Guppy incident from eons ago.

The Lib Dems joined in with attacks too of course. Well all apart from one of their number that is. Word reaches me that sitting at the back near James Cleverly was one gentleman wearing a yellow rosette who wasn't a Lib Dem at all. He was in fact an actor roped in because the Lib Dems couldn't muster a fall compliment of supporters for the debate.

The actor was apparently rather upset that he was forced to wear a yellow rosette and was subjected to some mild piss-taking from some of the people sitting around him who kept on reminding him that he just had to be a method actor and it would be alright. Isn't it good to see that Brian Paddick enthuses his own side so much they can make it to the TV studios to support him?

Update: According to "Grant from ITV" in the comments, the audience member in question wasn't an "actor", he was just a random person in the building for something else who they used to fill the seats and gave a yellow rosette too. No forcing of the rosette was involved.... it wouldn't be very liberal after all!

When they're not listening there is probably something smelly happening

A week or so ago, the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said that she wanted to bring in legislation to ensure local Council listen to communities. She said that if a petition had 250 signature then it should be legislated so that the Council acts upon it. Power to the people and all that jazz, listening etc etc.

So isn't it interesting that the Government is pressing ahead with abolishing Cheshire County Council and its six district council and replacing it with a two unitary councils that will cost an extra £20 million a year and in MORI polling as well as local district polling the residents were over 70% opposed to the Unitary proposals.

Gwyneth Dunwoody, just before Chrsitmas savagely attacked Hazel Blears on the matter, going so far as to suggest that the decision was made for the "for the most venal and personal reasons". I wonder whether, when the new Unitary councils come into being, that certain property developers that personally donated to Hazel Blears will find planning application gliding through somewhat easier?

New Hampshire Thought for the Day

The question today is not "Is America ready for a female President?" it's "Is America ready to let two families execute political sovereignty for over 20 years?"
Two households, both alike in politics,
In fair DC, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where political blood makes political hands unclean.
Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush, Clinton(?)

Money for nothing

Have you ever wondered what the Scotland Office actually does now that the Scottish Parliament controls pretty much everything the office used to do? Well it seems to be that it has one primary purpose that I can tell. It pays David Cairns MP an extra £30,000 a year for being responsible for..... well nothing.

Honestly, I'm not kidding. In recent days there have been questions in Parliament put to the Scotland Office about its staff and responsibilities. It turns out that the office has no role of overseeing anything as such. There are no regulators and/or inspectorates that come under its remit.

As for staff, it doesn't actually have any. OK, it has bums on seats, but it is not responsible for them. All of its staff are "on loan" from other Government departments. The pay is dictated by the other department, as too are the terms of employment. David Cairns, the Junior Minister there, has no actual power of them as such.

Everything leads back to the lending department. Getting a junior ministerial job at the Scotland Office looks to be just a sinecure for a bit of extra cash. Either that or the MP for Inverclyde has something on someone and he's been chucked there to shut him up whilst making sure he can't actually cause any damage.

Good work if you can get it I guess!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Road pricing work carries on apace

Road pricing? Is it on? Is it off? Who actually knows? Some people might remeber that at Labour Conference, the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, said that road pricing was "inevitable"A month later it was reported that the Government had U-turned on the subject.

For a policy that is supposedly dead it's interesting though that since 2004 the Department of Transport has spent "£6.5 million on consultancy contracts including professional advice on possible technical designs, system architecture and cost modelling" and that "[a]nother £1.0 million is currently contractually committed through to the end of 2007-08".

Wouldn't be anything to do with ITIS Holdings that company that has the former Transport minister, Stephen Ladyman, who bigged up road pricing, consulting for it now? Worth noting at this point though that former MP and London Mayoral candidate, Steve Norris is a non-executive director of ITIS. NOt sure how that sqaures with his opposition to road pricing but there you go.

The point is though is that the DfT is spending quite a lot of money on a policy that it has been applied will not be happening. On, off, on again? Or never really off, just postponed to the right politically expeident moment?

The keyboard and mouse is going nowhere

I see that Bill Gates has been out and about at CES in as Vegas predicting the end of the keyboard and mouse. What that actually means is that he's been promoting the Microsoft Table technology which is... errm... well it's a table which is also a touch screen monitor. It's nothing particularly new or fancy, touch screens have been around for a while, they're expensive and when they break, which they inevitably will, they really do break.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not being all anti-Microsoft against the table. It's a cool gadget there is no doubt about that, and, if you felt like getting me one I would have it like a shot, but let's be serious for a moment whilst also thinking in a crude way. How long after the Table goes to market as a commercially viable alternative will it be before someone sues after the screen broke during sex and they got a lump of glass stuck in their backside?

Yes yes, I know that you might be thinking 'why must he bring it down to sex?' but the point is that a table is a multi-functional physical object already, is bolting on technology something that will catch on that well when someone can use a remote control at a giant Media Centre TV from their armchair without moving, or even a wireless mouse? That brings me on to Gates' original prediction. The keyboard may become less used if voice recognition technology actually becomes brilliantly reliable, but the point is that it will reduce in the personal computer world only.

In the BIG computer world it will not. Not even where Windows runs in server environments. Weight, space and cooling costs are key you see and you don't want to by device that require huge bloody screens to manage, espeically if you're doing remote management. So is the keyboard and mouse going anywhere? Of course it isn't and Gates knows that only too well. He does enjoy making wrong predicitons though, and why not, hels rich after all so he has got some things right.

How dare you change your name for racist Tories?

There's a great little 'all Tories are secretly racists especially Andrew Rosindell' story in the Independent Pandora column this morning. Apparently a Tory candidate called Annesley Abercorn used be Annesley Abeykoon but he anglicised his name by deed poll. Pandora says a friend of his said this was upon advice that it was 'too foreign' and the same friend cites mentoring by Rosindel. The implication in the story is of course quite clear.

First, the candidate has denied his roots, 'what a tory scumbag!'. Second, he's done it to pander to the racist Tory Party. Third he is pandering to the racist electorate and conning them about who he really is (because they can't ever find a picture of him you see). Frankly it's outrageous that someone would anglicise their name! It's not like there is a precedent for it. Can you imagine the outrage if the Royal Family anglicised their name for example?........ Oh..... errr......

Monday, January 07, 2008

Hilary blames the system

Via Andrew Sullivan the following from a Clinton Campaign email.
The Iowa caucus process is a broken and flawed process. It was designed to allow for the active party Dems generally known to one another to assign delegates and was not designed to handle a flood of students and independents. It was a system designed to give more power to Dem party loyalists. In the tension over whether the candidates should be chosen by the party or by the general public, the Iowa caucus was designed to give the party the advantage. For this reason, the Iowa system failed on Thursday.
As Sullivan says, "Translation: we couldn't control it. So it sucks."

Nuking the Christmas Turkey?

Word reaches me that Andrew Brown - brother of the Prime Minister Gordon Brown - may well have had quite a pleasant Christmas. Apparently there was a little reshuffle at EDF Energy, Europes largest single nuclear energy supplier, and he was quietly promoted to Director of Communications.

Meanwhile today we have news that John Hutton will make an announcement to Parliament on Thursday outlining Gordon's the Government's decision on new nuclear power plants. Not, just for clarification, that I'm making a connection between the two things or that anything may have been discussed over the cranberry sauce.

It's interesting that Brown knows so much about the prospect for energy prices though. Wonder what he will say when EDF put their prices up shortly? It will no doubt happen after British Gas to try and avoid unnecessary backlash though, that's what a good Director of Communications would do, right?

Lost in Space?

All you need is Google Earth to help you find your way home?

Click image for large version
Hat Tip: Found on an Interweb Forum