Sunday, 31 January 2010

Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

David Cameron today pledged to tackle the deficit early on if elected but to do so without immediate swingeing cuts. This is a slight change to what has been said early, albeit an understandable change given those growth figures early in the week.

But it is a simple nonsense to claim, as the government do, that cutting any spending now will damage the recovery. It is even worse when Peter Mandelson (who is back out and talking after his recent sulk) derides the Conservatives for comparing our situation to Greece and calls it 'unpatriotic.' Oh dear, oh dear. That the great prince of the dark arts should be reduced to this.

It is precisely because we are facing a situation similar to the one Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal are facing -albeit without the added burden of the Euro which Mandelson and Blair would have liked us to have joined by now - that it is important that the Conservatives do compare us to Greece and their current difficulties. We don't want to go there.

The next government will have to address spending over the course of the next parliament but it will also have to start straight away. Labour, for all their protestations, are already pencilling in cuts and the public sector is already starting to squeak in protest. There was a headline in a local Birmingham paper this week about cuts to the NHS.

But even if you accept the argument that it would be dangerous to inflict big cuts on spending immediately because of the fragility of the recovery, there is plenty of fat to trim. This is fat that the nation has gained during the Brown binge years. 57% of all new jobs created under Labour have been in the public sector. That is ridiculous and obviously unhealthy. Or are they saying that all of those jobs were front line? We all know there are plenty of non jobs, quangos, publicity campaigns, whole layers of bureaucracy which have no impact on the economy other than to drag it down by imposing onerous costs. The first measure an incoming government could usefully do is impose an immediate freeze on public sector recruitment without express ministerial approval.

Labour argue that it is their spending that is propping up the economy. Except when that spending is on roads and infrastructure projects, their spending is actually doing the opposite. It is sucking money out of the economy and thus making the recession worse. Nobody is saying that this need have any impact on frontline, vital services like education and the NHS. But that is a comparatively tiny proportion of public spending, to claim otherwise is Brownite lies like in 2005. Useless, non-productive, wasteful spending which could be cut at a stroke would have no impact other than on those who are employed to do nothing of any consequence and on The Guardian which carries all of those adverts. The country can't afford them any more. It is unpatriotic to continue to claim otherwise.

Are We Living in a Dickensian Nightmare?

Do you think we are all living in a bizarre make believe world dreamt up by Charles Dickens or similar? I only ask because Gordon Brown can't be for real. Can he?

The Sunday Times reports what I have long been arguing, Gordon Brown has no intention of giving up the Labour leadership whatever. Coups, more popular alternative leaders or those with a real vision are immaterial to him. And, as I have been saying now for some time, he has no intention of standing down even if he is rejected by the electorate at the coming general election. He will hang on. He feels it is his right.

I mean seriously, even though, having studied the man and analysed him I have been writing that this would be the case, you still can't quite believe it can you? He has to be one of those figures from a Victorian melodrama. How is it possible that anyone is that deluded? We read about the temper tantrums (these are set to make news soon in a book by the well sourced and reliable Andrew Rawnsley as the Mail on Sunday reports), we read about the sulks, we read about the obstinacy, the rudeness, the arrogance. Unlike many I don't buy the notion that the recent debacle over those letters to a dead soldier's Mum just happened because of his poor vision. This is what he is like. This is how he treats people. It was a chore to him and he did it grudgingly. Like Uriah Heep he was so very 'umble in public about it all. But in reality the real Gordon was revealed for what he is. On this occasion he somehow got away with it.

The recent book by Peter Watt telling the tale from the heart of the Labour operation revealed what it is all toe easy to believe: Brown is a dithering, clueless, bullying, charmless automaton. He reached his exalted position in the party because he had a talent for soundbites and political manoeuvring. In government his less exalted talents came to the fore and now we find ourselves in our current mess. Yet even now, as he prepares to squander a healthy majority bequeathed to him by his predecessor against a Tory party that daily contrives to make a mess of everything they touch, he is still insisting that he is the man for the job.

Everyone assumed that Brown, after sulking for over a decade about not getting the top job, would have some great masterplan, a series of policies and ideas which, though many of us would disagree with them, would at least justify his reputation as a brilliant thinker. But there is nothing. His vision is non existent, literally and figuratively. He is an empty vessel. He believes in certain things like equality, help for the poor, quality education for all, innovation and enterprise, skills, training and the like. But these are all just slogans. They are things we all agree with. The trick is to find ways to make them a reality. It is a trick that has eluded him. It's likely he never really had a clue. It's why New Labour has resorted to old Labour and just chucked money at everything.

And it turns out that this is all he does. His much vaunted cleverness begins and ends in dreaming up ways of saying all the right things and creating problems for his opponents on both sides of the Commons aisle. Worse than that he is too arrogant to listen to other people, even if they know more than he does. That is why we have spent the last 13 years splurging cash on unreformed public services, have decimated pensions, a huge and growing public sector, a vast public deficit, rising taxes and a plunging currency. These are all things which, as my series Things That Gordon Said showed, he used to say, in those clever but meaningless soundbites of which he was so fond, would never happen under him.

Now we learn that he intends to go on and on, and who is to say that his party will be able to stop him? If we do get a hung parliament he may find that they buy the argument that that is the wrong time to change leader. We could face another election within a few months. In many ways I kind of hope that this happens. I hope the Tories only scrape a narrow win with no overall majority. I hope Brown clings on. I hope the Tories, who are more ruthless, dump the increasingly useless David Cameron. Then, at the second election, we could have a contest between someone with the guts to take on the talentless, arrogant and useless Brown and grind him into the dust. It's the only way to finally be rid of him. In so doing we would be doing the Labour Party a favour too.

I'm sure Gordon Brown will re-emerge somewhere once he is finally despatched. He will re-emerge seething and holding grudges as usual and denying responsibility for anything that has gone wrong. He will probably think that one day he will be back and prime minister again just as he does now. But I imagine someone will find him a job somewhere whatever happens, somewhere that doesn't have to be elected. He would like that. He's not keen on elections. Yes, let's send him to Europe. They tend to ignore popular votes they don't like too. And, like Brown himself, the EU often resembles something that cannot possibly be real and must have come from the fevered imaginings of an author like Dickens.

Goodbye Birmingham



This weekend I am heading back to London and leaving behind my home town. I shall be happy and excited to be back in London where there is more of the kind of work I want and where I have had plenty of good times in the past. But I shall be sad to leave Birmingham behind. It's a city which has an unfortunate reputation for concrete soullessness and of course a famously awful accent. But, even if there is little we can do about the accent except lose it as I seem to have done to a large extent, at least the architecture and surroundings are getting better as these pictures illustrate. Indeed the new shopping centres including the Bullring and Mailbox are drawing visitors from miles away. The city has become a tourist destination perhaps attracting those who hitherto took in the delights of Stratford upon Avon and Warwick but gave the second city a miss. Birmingham was always firmly on the map, it's too big to miss. But people usually did so anyway. Now Birmingham seems to be where it's at.

So goodbye Birmingham and thank you.

Things That Gordon Said

My series Things That Gordon Said has now come to an end, for now anyway. I may of course find some more and you are welcome to send in suggestions. Illuminating though wasn't it?

Let's hope someone repeats some of them to him during the election campaign and asks him for his comments. You can read all of them again and in once place by clicking on the link above.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Early Election?

My new rule about opinion polls is being tested already. There are three out tomorrow all telling remarkably different stories. But the ones that will make the headlines are those from YouGov for the Telegraph and IPSOS/MORI. Both show a substantial narrowing of the Tory lead, down to 7 and 8 points respectively. This puts us into hung parliament territory. Another poll, one we can probably safely ignore from Angus Reid, shows a Tory lead of 16 points.

I can't say that this comes as any surprise. The Tory campaign since Christmas has been shambolic and confused. Labour, for all of their infighting and problems with the economy, are just keeping their heads down now. Those David Cameron posters have been a disaster. Whoever came up with that idea should be despatched to the Conservative equivalent of Siberia, or Glasgow as it is more popularly known.

I wonder if Gordon Brown will take a look at these polls and think about calling the election in March after all. It must be tempting. The economy is looking decidedly dodgy with a double dip recession looking likely, there is a distinct possibility of a sovereign debt crisis kicking off in Greece and, though things have been going a little more smoothly for the government this is mainly because they aren't really doing much.

If this trend is confirmed by more polls the Cabinet would be well advised to use their new influence to urge Brown to call that election. Would it be a gamble? Of course it would. But that will be the case whenever it happens. That is what happens when an unpopular prime minister gets boxed in like this. Events can derail a campaign and he is hostage to the news cycle and bad economic news which could still come thick and fast. But notwithstanding what could happen this could be their opportunity to seize a less damaging defeat from the jaws of obliteration.


Too Idle to Dress

A lot of fuss has been kicked up because Tesco has banned people from wearing their pyjamas in their stores. Predictably the human rights lobbyists have been on the case averring that those who seek to do their shopping are having their rights infringed. Nonsense. Tesco has a perfect right to have a dress code for their shops, or, as in this case, to insist that their customers actually put on some clothes before going in.

What is astonishing is that people need to be told this. How bone idle would you have to be to not even be willing to get dressed before going down the shops? How long does it take to pull on a shirt and a pair of jeans? And presumably those who are willing to go out dressed or undressed like this have also missed out on other preliminaries before venturing out, such as washing perhaps or brushing their teeth and hair.

So who are these great unwashed and undressed amongst us? Well they're chavs aren't they, after all PJs aren't so very different to their daytime uniform the tracksuit. And I've seen them in their PJs. I was once in a library and saw a girl wandering around and trying to use the internet when she was quite clearly still dressed for bed. There were many glances at her, much whispering and sniggering and yet she carried on regardless. It should also be noted that this was not early morning, it was the middle of the afternoon. Clearly some think that there is nothing wrong with being too idle even to get dressed when they finally raise themselves from their beds. Perhaps politicians should take a look at this issue too. I'm not suggesting that they legislate to ban pyjama wearers any more than they should ban burkas, but it does raise questions about whether or not the legions of the serially unemployed are really so desperate to find something gainful to do with their time.

Tony Blair: The Verdict

I'm not going to add much to the acres of coverage of Tony Blair's appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry. What is there to say really? He turned up, gave an assured and at times theatrical performance, refused to accept that he had done anything wrong and stood by the decisions he made to take us to war. The media in large part and much of the public continues to be angry with him and insists that he lied. The conference centre across the road from parliament was a reminder of the build-up to the war, the security presence was huge, there were protesters out in force and some jeered and heckled Blair in the inquiry. Nothing he said will have changed minds as we all suspected.

Blair continues to insist that he did the right thing, that Saddam needed to be removed and that had he not done so he would have become a threat even though he we now know he was no threat at the time. To be fair many of us believed him when we were told that Saddam had WMDs because of his track record and backed the war on those grounds. I was one who took Blair's representations at face value. It turns out we were wrong.

Ultimately, as I said yesterday, what matters is not the arcane arguments over the legality of the war, it is the fact that Blair did what Blair always did, he spun and exaggerated to get his way. What he told parliament to get it to vote for military action was not true. Was this deliberate? I suspect that it was but we will never know for certain. What is worse is that once we were in a liberated Iraq we then bungled the aftermath and lives were needlessly lost. Blair tried to pin the blame on Al Qaeda and Iran for this. Of course they are to blame. But they should never have been allowed the opportunity.

The war in Iraq will forever be a stain on the reputation of Tony Blair and a richly deserved one. Even if you believe he did it with the best of intentions, and I do believe that, what he has achieved is a more dangerous world. Yes the world is better off without Saddam Hussein and his evil sons but now we have Iran behaving in an even more dangerous way. Thanks to the Blair/Bush adventure in Iraq, taking action against Iran and containing its ambitions is much more difficult. The aftermath of the Iraq war is still happening. Historians may still have more blame to heap on Blair's shoulders.




Things That Gordon Said.....Part XXVI

'The myth that the solution to every problem is increased spending has been comprehensively dispelled...The level of public spending is no longer the best measure of effectiveness of government action in the public interest.'

Labour's Manifesto, 1997 (inserted at Gordon Brown's insistence)

Friday, 29 January 2010

Meanwhile in Afghanistan

As Tony Blair prepared yesterday to explain the events which led to this country becoming embroiled in one war under his leadership, yesterday in London his successor was holding a conference attended by various allies, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, trying to find ways to extricate us from the other one, the even more intractable and endless conflict in Afghanistan.

Quite what was achieved by this conference is hard to tell. There were all kinds of schemes proposed to try and buy off those mercenaries the Taliban has recruited for financial rather than ideological grounds and promises by our politicians that we will be out of the country within a five year time frame. This looks optimistic to say the least. President Karzai argued that it would be much more likely to be fifteen. His is by far the more realistic assessment and even that could be a rose tinted view. Let us not forget, we have already been there for nearly ten years.

Many have raised objections to the prospect of bribing with our money those who may well have been responsible for the deaths of British soldiers. This is understandable. At the same time the idea of offering wages to those who are buyable is not a bad idea.

But what happens when that money runs out? Surely we should by now have learnt that Afghanistan is a broken country with no infrastructure to speak of. We went in there in 2001 and cleared out the Taliban with the aid of tribal leaders. We then declared mission accomplished and moved on to Iraq. The Taliban then started to come back so that we are now having to clear them again with Obama's surge. If this latest strategy works and they are cleared once more, what is to stop them coming back with fresh cash, fresh fighters and stepping into the vacuum we leave behind again?

Afghanistan, if we are serious about it, cannot be pacified let alone civilised on a neat western imposed time scale that fits in with our electoral cycle. It is going to needs decades of patient work and investment. Buying off potential fighters is a reasonable if offensive strategy in the short term. But if we are going to stop them changing their allegiance again in five years time we need to make it worth their while. The only way to achieve that is to construct a viable economy which provides them with gainful and long term employment in a safe and stable country. Does anyone think that can be achieved in five years?

A Pretty Straight Sort of Guy

So, today is the day, the man who once told us that he was 'a pretty straight sort of guy,' but who has come to be known as Bliar, goes before the Chilcot Inquiry. The nation will be watching. 24 hour news channels will be setting aside most of those 24 hours for coverage and endless commentary. Newspapers have live bloggers standing by. At least one is allowing readers to vote on a lie meter. Blair must be thankful that he no longer has to stand for office. Whatever damage is done today, and there may be none at all, will impact on others not on him. They didn't call him Teflon Tony for nothing.

But of course had Blair still been in power we would not now be having this inquiry. He would have seen to that. For all his image as the dour and obstinate Stalinesque figure of his party, Gordon Brown has been forced to perform more U turns than a learner driver on crack. This inquiry alone has been the consequence of a catalogue of them. It need not have been this way. Blair, though he will affect insouciance and charm his way through proceedings, will have been cursing his old neighbour as though those good old days of anger and mutual suspicion are back again in all of their bilious glory.

We're told that Blair has been sitting up all hours doing his homework in preparation for today's appearance. I expect him to admit to certain mistakes, use that renowned charm and a bit of body language to win over those who are watching. It is what he does. Ultimately though his line will be that he believes he did the right thing. It is a standard Labour line that. Brown uses it all the time. They are doing 'what is right,' no supporting argument, suddenly no evidence based policies, no appeal to reason. It's a judgement call.

And that is why this whole inquiry process has been so damaging and could still be more so. It is exposing the way that government has been done under both Blair and Brown. Evidence is only to be taken into consideration when it supports what they want. Otherwise it has to be sexed up. Legal arguments can be ignored if they do not back what has already been decided.

What is ignored by all of this is the much more important aftermath. Blair frustrated MOD attempts to prepare for the war itself so that those preparations were inadequate. The preparation for the aftermath were non-existent. Britain liberated Basra and then effectively handed it over to Islamist militias. Remember this was a war that was fought to rid the world of a regime which was supposedly fostering terrorism. Or was the policy to create a nice little fiefdom for Islamic fundamentalists, a place a long way away where they could punish and execute those who were being insufficiently Islamic, dressing incorrectly, not shaving their beards in an appropriate manner. In Saddam's secular Iraq such things were unheard of. In Basra and southern Iraq under British rule they became the de facto masters since the British were unable and unwilling to do anything about it thanks to government incompetence. As many commentators are pointing out today, this self indulgent whine about the legality of the war is irrelevant. The real crimes were perpetrated on a people we had supposedly liberated by the fanatical morons who stepped into a vacuum of our creation.

But none of that will matter today. The issue at stake is why we went to war and the false prospectus for it. We've been over that ground many times before. I am one of those who doesn't actually buy this notion that the Iraq war was an illegal war. International law is one of those things that is beloved of those on the left who live in a make believe world. Should there be an international body of law which everyone obeys? Of course there should. But it cannot be enforced. Perhaps one day it will but that day is a very long way away. Blair got into trouble because he promised to go to war and then tried to find reasons to do so. The legality of it in the moveable feast that is international law is an irrelevance. The real issue is that he lied to the British people and to parliament to get what he wanted and then thought little about what would then happen to Iraq. He used New Labour methodology, the spin, the soundbites and the massaging of opinion to commit this country to war; then, once the mission was accomplished he got us the hell out of there and left the people to their fate, perhaps hoping for his Falklands style electoral bounce. That and not arcane arguments about the law are what really matter.

Blair will go into the inquiry today nervous but quietly confident. This is what he is good at and it is why all of those companies are happy to pay him his millions. Yet he knows he is still on to a loser. The jury has already decided its verdict and he is guilty. Happily for Blair, like the Hutton and Butler inquiries before it, the jury (the media and public) do not get to deliver their verdict except in spleen filled columns and letters to the editor and they are still not focusing on the real scandal, the needless deaths of thousands of Iraqis at the hands of their fellow Muslims. Blair will emerge as ever largely untouched. It's Brown and Labour's electoral chances that will take a further pummelling because it is revealing in stark terms and at an inopportune time the rottenness at their core. But it's a rottenness that goes even deeper than we will be permitted to see and which the legality argument is obscuring.

The Hostile Hostel

The Snow Hill, a homeless hostel in central Birmingham run by the Midland Heart Housing Association, is to close at the end of March, and sooner if possible, for a major, multi million pound refurbishment. This is a good thing. It’s an old and increasingly dilapidated building which belies its rather plush, almost hotel style reception and communal areas, the public face of the hostel.

Head into the inner sanctums however, the places where those unfortunate to end up in this place reside, and things are nothing like as cosy, although they are of course an improvement on living on the street, a fate which had hitherto befallen many who have ended up here. But this place has a feel of the outdoors. Decrepit windows let in endless draughts; some windows in bathroom areas are either holed or missing altogether; the bathrooms are filthy and cold with many of the cubicles decorated on their walls with excrement; paintwork is peeling and filthy, it may once have been white but it’s hard to tell now.

The rooms themselves are no less grim. Dirty and malfunctioning blinds keep out what little sun gets through the dirty windows which are cleaned half-heartedly every few weeks by someone with a brush on a long stick. The windows are single glazed. During the winter it is possible to keep food nicely refrigerated simply by leaving them on the window sill without need of actually opening the window. Beds are lumpy and ancient, possibly to remind residents of pavements. And that, apart from a small bedside cabinet, a kettle and some old built in furniture older than many who use it and in which sits a hand basin, is all that fills the rooms. The rooms are bleak, cold and dirty with off-white walls covered in marks of unknown and best not thought about origin. They are each heated by a single and aged storage heater which is usually cold by the time evenings come around. Those who have experienced it told me that living here is remarkably like being in an open prison, or possibly a little worse.

To be fair the aforementioned communal areas are much better. There are a couple of TV screens provided and decent quality food comes as part of the rent along with weekly provision of clean bedding and facilities for washing clothes. But away from these areas and the public face of the hostel it becomes unremittingly cold, draughty and filthy. It is a building in dire need of fresh investment.

So this place closing down must surely be a good thing? Well, yes, except of course Midland Heart seem to have given remarkably little thought into where those still living here are supposed to go. Residents have been exhorted, indeed nagged in recent weeks and months about registering for council housing and exploring any and all avenues, an often frustrating and fruitless task. Accommodation is advertised on boards as and when it comes up but it is of variable quality with dozens chasing each one. The suitability of that housing seems to be immaterial. Given that the plans to close down the hostel must have been in preparation for months or indeed years, why was more thought not given to those who provided its raison d’etre?

Before closure became imminent, The Snow Hill was supposed to be more than just a roof over people’s heads. It was supposed to be an institution for helping those who found themselves in this most demeaning and debilitating of predicaments, a means of offering support and advice to enable them to get new, decent and long term accommodation, to provide a permanent address to facilitate the search for work. I short the mission of the Snow Hill was to ensure that those who ended up there never found themselves in that predicament again.

The reasons for becoming homeless are of course many and various. It can be as a consequence of unemployment, bankruptcy, divorce or separation, arriving in this country as a refugee or just sheer bad luck; but it can also be the consequence of drug or alcohol dependency and various illnesses or disabilities, both physical and mental. Those unable to cope with what is laughingly referred to as care in the community often end up homeless and destitute and in need of this kind of community. Some residents need more help than others, stays in the hostel ranged from just a few weeks to up to two years. Some are embarrassed and humiliated to find themselves there, others are barely able to fully comprehend where they are and wander around in a fog of drugs and alcohol.

Yet now the needs of residents are seemingly secondary to the requirement to move them on. One resident told me that there used to be signs on the noticeboards advising them of what they needed to have before they would be ready for rehousing, these included some money to purchase basic items and of course the benefits or wages in place to pay for it all. Now those notices have disappeared. Residents, whatever their situation, and if the council are unable to help them which is usually the case, are being offered one choice and one choice only. Refusing that offer of a flat, for whatever reason, would have dire consequences, it would mean that they could well find themselves homeless again.

Even if offers of new homes are accepted, about which there is in practice no choice, problems await. Though often clean and newly refurbished the flats will almost certainly lack a bed, a cooker, a fridge or of course the various utensils and other equipment which are essential to any home, however modest. Grants are available from the government to purchase some items but these can take several weeks or even months to be processed. Applications are by no means a formality, even for those living without the basics. And all of this is assuming that those offered these homes are in any fit state to go and live on their own, deal with the paperwork and bureaucracy and look after themselves again.

Like many organisations The Snow Hill refers to its residents as customers. Yet they are actively trying to get rid of all of their customers as quickly as possible. In a building which, when full, accommodated 157 men, there was a support staff of 20, not including those in catering. These were there, supposedly, to manage and run the building but also to provide tailored support and advice and care to customers with enormously diverse needs. Everyone, they say, will be treated as an individual. Yet now they are frantically trying to cajole those customers to leave as soon as possible and take whatever is offered.

One ‘customer’ who felt no need of their support as he was arranging his own, told me that he had never really been offered any except for a casual enquiry about whether he had been given one of Midland Heart’s pin numbers to access vacant properties online. He had not. He never has. Then he was asked what his plans were, ‘I told them that I had accommodation lined up, although I was struggling to get the money together for the initial move. In response they informed me that if I failed to move out by the date I told them I would be given notice.’

This customer, it is fair to say, didn’t feel very supported. But in their headlong rush to vacate the building Midland Heart has set aside those high minded mission statements of the past. Their attitude now seems to be that if they offer advice and a minimum of support, which can just be asking what you are planning to do and when, then their duty of care is over.

The Snow Hill closed its doors to new residents at the beginning of the year. It is now about a third empty, although they did allow some emergency access to some street sleepers in recent weeks, a moment which was caught by the TV cameras. The Snow Hill project is coming to an end and the building will soon be given a much needed revamp followed by an entirely new role. Other hostels around the city will have to take the strain. The way the closure has been dealt with looks like adding considerably to that strain at least in the short term.


Things That Gordon Said.....Part XXV

'Compare the Guardian job ads with the Sunday Times's. There'll be 500,000 extra public sector jobs over the next five years, but not right now.'

Gordon Brown speaking privately to some trade unionists, 1997

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Unravelling Continues

Is the mainstream media finally catching on that all is not what it seems, or at least what we keep being told, in the world of climate change? For far too long now the mainstream press and the BBC in particular have bought the line that the science is settled, that the debate is over, policy must be decided as a matter of urgency. They allowed themselves to become propagandists rather than reporters.

Yet over the last three months, since those Climategate e-mails, more and more journalists are at last starting to ask the questions they should have been asking all along. What they are finding is what the blogosphere has been arguing all along. There has been a deliberate campaign of silence, withholding of data, exaggeration and censorship on the part of some scientists. That is not how science is supposed to work. That they felt such measures were necessary just illustrates how flimsy that science is.

Now The Times reports that the University of East Anglia, in addition to the various practices and abuses revealed in those e-mails, refused to release its data, the data upon which so much rests, for others to analyse. In so doing they were breaking Freedom of Information law. That they were willing to go to such lengths to prevent their critics from questioning them is scandalous. That is how science makes any progress. If they were so worried that sceptics would be able to find fault it must mean that they knew only too well that their conclusions were either wrong or nothing like as robust as has been consistently claimed.

I'm no great believer in conspiracy theories but this is looking more and more like a conspiracy of believers in a cause who had become evangelists for that cause rather than seekers of truth. The AGW case is unravelling at astonishing speed and finally the media is catching on. It's hard for them because so many got caught up in the hyperbole, the calls for radical action and the stories of impending disaster. But that just means they should be even angrier and even keener to expose the truth. Scientists all too often produce hyperbolic predictions in order to gain attention. Perhaps now at last the media will not just accept assertions when they have the word science attached to them. And, as we near a general election, perhaps politicians who have been so keen to levy taxes based on all of this will be asking themselves a few questions too.

iPad, Therefore I Am?

You certainly can't fault Apple and Steve Jobs's ability to create hype and garner acres of free publicity whenever they launch a new product. And to be fair the design of their products is also a major plus. It is why Apple products are seen as so sexy and a must have. Even their failures - and there have been a few down the years - generally looked good even if they didn't do what it said on the box and in all of those gushing editorials.

Now we have the iPad, a device that will apparently fill the gap between the smart phone and the laptop. But what gap? Are there people out there desperately yearning for a new device to carry around? And isn't that what Netbooks were supposed to achieve? I can see the point of Netbooks. They are nice and small and portable, although too small for my taste and without enough oomph. Apple have said that they aren't going to enter the Netbook market because it is too cheap and their products are premium. But surely the iPad is going for precisely that market, albeit people who will be happy to pay a premium for Apple sexiness?

As far as I can see the iPad is a big iPhone which isn't a phone. The hope is that it will carve out a niche for itself and become a default device for reading books and newspapers and of course surfing the net for those on the move. Frankly, I don't see the point of it. It's trying to find a gap where none exists.

Those who have seen it say you only get it when you get your hands on it. That is certainly the opinion of that great iPhone enthusiast Stephen Fry. But, though the geeks and gadget freaks may love it and appreciate its style and no doubt fantastic intuitive software, will everyone else find a place for it? I have my doubts. The iPhone has been so successful because it is a phone. The styling, applications and fantastic interface have turned it into something more. The iPad does not have, at first sight, the same appeal, the same USP, because people don't know they need one. Apple will have to persuade them that it is so cool and funky that they want one regardless. But then they're rather good at that.

Things That Gordon Said.....Part XXIV

'Under Labour Britain's rate of growth will increase...taxes will be as low as possible...savings and investment will be higher....red tape will be cut...training and productivity will increase....house prices will be stabilised.'

Gordon Brown, election campaign, 1997

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

PMQs 27th January 2010

Gordon is still in Northern Ireland dealing with their intractable problems. One suspects however that even the prospect of having to reconcile the conflicting demands of Sinn Fein and the DUP is preferable to PMQs the day after Britain crawled out of recession, there is talk of a double dip and the man who must decide when to call an election is facing a decision few would relish even if it is all his fault.

Quite why Brown's absence should mean the absence of Cameron and Clegg remains a mystery. The rest of us turned up so why not them? It's bad enough when Brown is away at some summit and we have advanced notice of his non appearance. But today it was a last minute, albeit probably rather convenient decision. Cameron and Clegg must have been preparing for it so why not go ahead? It just makes them look silly.

So this will be an abridged PMQs coverage in protest. I will limit myself to saying that Harriet Harman was spectacularly awful. She was dire. In fairness she might have had little time to prepare, although Brown's absence was a possibility last night and for all we know was seized upon by him with relish days ago as the perfect excuse. This is Macavity we're talking about after all. But Harman was even pretty poor when responding to planted questions which is quite an achievement. She was limp and insipid and often seemed confused.

Her responses to Hague's rather clever and fleet footed questioning made Gordon Brown look like a witty and urbane raconteur. He swatted aside her lines about continuing the stimulus with disdain. Hague was on good but not sparkling form. he didn't need to be. It was like watching Manchester United take on Torquay United.

Harman's inability to answer questions and patent lack of knowledge of issues which were obviously going to come up was frankly disgraceful, she is after all a Cabinet minister who sits and discusses these matters week in, week out. Her colleagues looked embarrassed. She looked bewildered, a rabbit in the headlights, reading her prepared lines like a nervous school kid at a prize giving ceremony. We're told that Hattie does not have any ambition to be Labour leader any longer. If she does she should watch the tape of this car crash on a loop all weekend.

So perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps Dave and Nick got it right after all. Certainly many other MPs couldn't be bothered to turn up either. This sad, pathetic rump of a parliament is doing itself no favours with days like today.

The Climate Change Climate is Changing

Hallelujah! According to this interview given to The Times, Professor John Beddington, the government's chief scientific adviser, has admitted that there is fundamental uncertainty about climate change science, scientists have been guilty of exaggeration and certain scientists' refusal to share their data for fear that people might find something wrong with it is plain wrong.

So that means that the science is not settled then? Has he advised Ed Miliband of this who earlier this month told the Commons that it is? Has he told the prime minister who says that sceptics are flat earthers?

Beddington rightly points out that it is unchallengeable that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. This is where many go wrong. They see that this is established science and then fail to read on. What is substantially in doubt is its role in a huge and complex climate system. What is substantially in doubt are the assumptions made in countless climate models, the ones whose hysterical predictions have created many of the headlines and much of the fuss.

At last we are getting some reality about 'the science'. Where I still disagree with the professor is his assertion that none of this means we should hesitate about taking action. It rather depends on what action he means doesn't it? Making our homes and workplaces more energy efficient. Fine. Making more efficient engines and power stations? Quite right. Looking for alternative fuels? Good idea. Building more nuclear power stations? Excellent idea. Building thousands of wind turbines at vast expense on the other hand? No, no, no. This is absurd, ruinously expensive and leaves us open to future power shortages. Similarly, carbon trading and adding costs to industry through carbon taxes is just going to mean even more transfers of jobs and industry to other countries - those with different priorities, like jobs and prosperity - the sort of things which pay for mitigating climate change if it happens.

This is a welcome change of emphasis though. The Green Meanies are in retreat. But they will be back if we let them. If, and it is a big if, the climate is changing, it is almost certainly not changing as dramatically as has been alleged. Our role in that change is a matter of substantial doubt. The climate is changing in a way that is by no means unprecedented and really not at all scary. We can and will cope with it. The rest of it is pure hype and speculation dressed up as 'settled science.'

Sceptics however readily accept that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and we need to become more efficient at using them in the meantime. That is simple common sense. But we can safely ignore those who tell us we only have months to save the planet. We can safely ignore those, including ministers, who should know better, that drastic and costly change is necessary or even vital. They have no basis for that claim whatsoever. The last few weeks have demonstrated that. Man's ingenuity will solve whatever problems are coming. The sooner we get around to concentrating on that instead of worrying about catastrophe, the better for our future.

Things That Gordon Said.....Part XXIII

'I have nothing to hide. I never have had. In politics I believe you have to be cleaner than clean.'


Gordon Brown, 1997

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Chavez Revolution Starts to Implode

While the world has been watching in horror the events of Haiti, it has of course been indulging in the almost ritual criticism of America. America has nevertheless stepped up more than any other nation and taken charge of a chaotic and borderline anarchic situation. Of course the situation there has been chaotic. A disaster has just occurred and the nation's capital has been smashed. What do people expect?

Elsewhere in the Americas another disaster is emerging and one that cannot possibly (although you never know) be blamed on the US, the inevitable implosion of Hugo Chavez's Venezuela has begun. The man who loves to berate the evil empire of the north has had to watch while they ride to the rescue of Haitians. Meantime his country is engaged in a very Latin American kind of crisis. Inflation is soaring away out of control, electricity is being cut, crime is on the up and the murder rate has tripled. Chavez has closed down TV stations that fail to toe the government line and critics are being beaten up.

We could of course see it all coming when Chavez had the constitution changed to allow him to stay in power. This is clearly his intention. Opinion polls show that his popularity has slumped but that will be of little concern to him. He is not yet a dictator, merely an authoritarian, but he is rapidly heading that way. He is already engaged in the classic dictator strategy of beating up opponents, silencing dissent, blaming outside forces for his ills and even threatening war against neighbours.

History teaches us that things will get a lot worse for Venezuela before they get better. But then history taught us that Chavez would inevitably go down the road he has travelled and that we would eventually end up where we are now. Are those around the world, including a former mayor of London who hailed him a hero, ready to admit their mistake yet? Or must history repeat itself a little more?

God Willing?

'God willing,' said someone purporting to be Osama Bin Laden at the weekend, 'our raids on you will continue.'

So, let me get this straight. Al Qaeda is trying to attack us. But it will only do so if their god allows it. So, logically, if these intended attacks do not take place that means that God did not will it. So doesn't that mean that these pious souls who believe in the will and power of their god should stop trying?

Double Dip?

I've already written earlier about the polls showing that the public are unwilling to give credit to Gordon Brown and his government for the recovery from the longest recession on record. Today's figures from the ONS show why. We are barely out of it, could still be in it if the figures are revised downwards, and may well slip back in again during the next quarter, at exactly the time when Brown will be preparing to call that May 6th election.

My prediction that he might end up waiting all the way to the last possible moment in June is looking better and better after these figures and that poll in The Guardian.

The government line will probably be that, but for their intervention, things would have been worse. But their intervention has been minimal. Yes there have been schemes to help the badly suffering car industry but they helped foreign manufacturers far more than they helped our own. It did of course help dealers. And there was the VAT cut. How much that helped in a climate of competitive pricing anyway is moot. There is evidence that retailers pocketed the cash or used it to help cut prices they were planning anyway.

The government was unable to have a massive stimulus plan because we simply could not afford it. Most of our vast deficit has been on the so called automatic stabilisers, spending on additional benefits for the unemployed and other costs we automatically incur during a recession. The government was able to do very little more except print money. Quantitative Easing is an experimental policy, the effects of which are hard to discern and which has been buying the wrong kind of debt anyway. The effects of that are still to come. If the so called experts are wrong about inflation we could soon see rising interest rates on top of anaemic growth. That, as I have been saying here for months, is the perfectly possible nightmare scenario.

On today's figures we could well be looking at that much vaunted double dip. This could be the only major economy which suffers such a fate. We are already the last out of recession and still the weakest in doing so. And that's only if the figures aren't revised. The man who told us that Britain was best prepared can have very little to say now (he's left it to his chancellor today) and will be praying that things don't get worse. The phones have no doubt been flying in Downing Street. But he only has himself to blame.

What's Out There?

The Royal Society is holding a conference at the moment to discuss whether ET exists. Okay, they're not. They're actually discussing all manner of questions from how common life is in the universe to how often it evolves intelligence to whether or not it is likely to come calling. Some, as a side issue, are asking whether or not we should be trying quite so hard to attract attention. After all they might not be like nice cuddly, vegetarian ET. They might be more like the Daleks (I do hope so) Vogons (nice poetry - Groop I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes) or David Bowie (it's a very old film but confirmed what many people had long thought).

This is a subject I cover in my as yet unpublished novel. I think it is probably a given that life is extremely common throughout the universe. Chaos theory and what little exploration we have done suggest that the conditions for life are replicated all over the place. It's probably only a matter of time before we discover extra terrestrial life, or traces of past life in our own solar system. Astronomers are discovering new planets around distant stars on an almost daily basis. We know from our own planet that life exists in the most hostile of environments and keeps coming back no matter how often the universe tries to wipe it out.

Recent studies also suggest that intelligence is probably quite common too. It's actually more common on our own planet than we somewhat arrogantly think. We've known about the intelligence of dolphins and chimpanzees for some time, but other animals are, studies suggest, a great deal more intelligent and sensitive than we give them credit for. And who is to say that such animals are not evolving ever greater intelligence? Just because we were the first to do it doesn't mean that the race has now stopped.

So, given all of this, surely it can only be a matter of time before ET or the Daleks make contact? Well, not necessarily. First there is the vastness of space to consider. As far as we know the maximum speed achievable is the speed of light. Warp drives are just science fiction. Thus even if ET is looking at us and dreaming of one day sampling our fauna, even if the Daleks or the Borg want to exterminate or assimilate us, the laws of physics are preventing them from ever getting near, unless they are hiding on a nearby star.

And then there is the forgotten element of time. Human civilisation has existed for just a few thousand years. We have had the ability to look at the heavens for a couple of hundred and find planets outside our own solar system for only a decade. Communicating with the cosmos has only really been possible for a century or so. Even if life is abundant and intelligent life only slightly less so, what are the chances, in a universe 13.7 billion years old, that intelligent life would evolve at the same time, learn to communicate at the same time and start wondering about what else is out there at the same time? Then all they've got to do is find a propulsion system which can travel faster than the speed of light.

No, I think we're probably all right. ET is not going to come calling. All of those people who think they've been abducted and anally probed are, well they have their own issues. It's far more likely that humans have an entire corner or just a spiral arm of our galaxy all to ourselves, at least for the time being. Life probably starts in one place and spreads, much as it did here on Earth.

Of course what happens if we head off into the cosmos and find some new intelligent life which is slightly less advanced than we are will be a test of our modern enlightenment, a test we continually fail where other intelligent life on this planet is concerned. Maybe by then we will have grown up a little more. As I say, it's all in my book. Perhaps one day James Cameron will make a movie of it.

Things That Gordon Said.....Part XXII

'Your pension is not safe with the Tories.'

Gordon Brown, 1997


Honestly! He really said that!

Monday, 25 January 2010

No Credit for Brown

As per my new rule for myself, I'm only writing about new opinion polls when they say something new and interesting. So the latest ICM poll for The Guardian on the face of it would seem not to qualify. Conservatives are broadly where they have been for months as are Labour with just a very slight widening of the gap.

The interesting thing is that they asked a question about the recession which we are widely expected to officially come out of tomorrow according to latest ONS figures. It's bad news for Labour, a majority 50% to 43% believe that Gordon Brown has made matters worse. Given that Brown will be counting on his experience and wise handling as an attack line this cannot be good news. True, 43% believe that he has helped matters. But then even I would acknowledge that he has got a lot of decisions right since the recession started, albeit he hasn't helped matters with his silly spending dividing lines. People are possibly including in their answers the view that he contributed to the extent of the recession with decisions before. That means, like the Tories in 1997 after the debacle of 1992's ERM exit, Brown will not be given credit even if he deserves it.

The Guardian's headline majors on the notion that the Tories are seen increasingly as upper class. Yet the figures don't really justify this and the Guardian is vague about them anyway, merely referring to them as a substantial minority. Are they just trying to make a story out of nothing? Most see them as middle class or for everyone which given Labour's attacks will be seen as a result.

Brown Saves Northern Ireland?

One of the very very few things that Labour have achieved in their thirteen years, that is things which they can honestly and justifiably feel proud of and actually point to as part of their legacy, has been the Northern Ireland peace process. That is currently going through one of its periodic crises.

But look who has gone off to try to solve it. Oh bugger, it's Gordon Brown. The man who once thought he had saved the world and who tried to do it again in Copenhagen just last month only to come a cropper and even got sidelined by his mate Barack, has now lowered his sights and is off to save the little province of Northern Ireland again. Unfortunately Gordon, as we have seen so often, though he means well, has the opposite of the Midas touch.

Say what you like about Tony Blair (as I often have) but he was rather good at this sort of thing. Brown's style of government has never really been about consensus, unless it is a consensus of one. To be fair we're told that he has been very good at recent international summits. But these were summits which either came up with some of his famous fiddled figures (G20 last year) foisted on the EU Baroness Ashton as Foreign High Representative and denied Britain more important economic and trade roles and of course achieved precisely nothing at Copenhagen last year.

Now Brown and Biffo (Brian Cowen) his Irish counterpart who is similarly burdened with oodles of charisma and charm, are heading to do deals with the famously obstructive opposite sides of Ulster. A nation awaits in trepidation.

A Short Precis

Sorry about the light blogging today. I've started a new job and my life is in flux again. The blogging might remain light all week, although I'll do my best. I might have better internet access tomorrow and a little more time. You never know.

Anyway, in my absence the AGW case continues to unravel. James Delingpole continues this endlessly entertaining story. There are continued rumours about a March election, although I suspect this is just Downing Street trying to recapture the element of surprise after Bollocks Bob let the cat out of the bag at the weekend. And David Cameron had yet another press conference today trying to press home the fact that the recession was in large part down to Gordon. This on the eve of the day when we will probably be told that we are officially out of recession. Nice timing Dave.

That's the best I can do for now. Happily it's a comparatively light news day. I'd hate to be missing out on another coup or something. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. I have a dongle and I'm willing to use it.

Things That Gordon Said.....Part XXI

'I repeat, we have no public spending commitments on Labour's part that will lead to increases in taxes.'

Gordon Brown, 1997

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Election Machinations

Bob Ainsworth the Defence Secretary let slip this morning on Sky that the election will be held on May 6th. Except of course he didn't really. He let slip what we already know, that current intentions lie in that direction. But then intentions in 2007 were that we would have an election that autumn. Then Gordon bottled it.

I'm sure that the planning is currently for an election on May 6th. That's 102 days to go. But Brown can still change that. He can bring it forward if there is a sudden surge in his popularity, he can delay it if something disastrous happens. The only thing he cannot do, well not without acts of parliament, permission from the Queen and possible riots, is extend the election beyond June 3rd.

The Cabinet are probably being told that current planning is for 6th May. But this is Gordon we're talking about. Don't put your house on it.

In other election and Gordon Brown related news: the TV debates are looking a little in doubt again as the parties bicker over detail. Apparently they want an audience that remains mute, just listening reverently without intervention, questions or even applause. So what's the point of having an audience at all then? Why not bring in a canned laughter and applause machine?

Presumably they think that the whole event should just be as stage managed as possible, like a party conference. This is an impression which is only reinforced by the news that Gordon Brown, notwithstanding the fact that he wants the audience to remain silent, wants the audience make-up to reflect the state of the parties in the House of Commons, so heavily in favour of Labour. This is the same Gordon Brown who is currently proposing that we hold a referendum at the same time as the election to introduce PR. Yet PR is not good enough for the TV debates apparently.

For the record the percentages of the popular vote at the last election, as opposed to the way this turned out in seats in our rather odd system, would not favour Labour nearly as much, although as the victors it would still favour them. In 2005, Labour won 36.2% of the vote, the Tories 33.2% and the Lib Dems 22.6%. This gave Labour a more than decent majority, one that Brown now claims as his own even though the country was told that we were voting for Tony Blair to serve a full term. That he now claims this should be used as a basis to pack the audience of the debates is about as astonishing as his sudden discovery last week that he is middle class.

The TV Companies should just stop negotiations, set out their rules and invite the leaders in writing to take part. Like it or lump it. Their responses should be published in full.

Outlook Unsettled

Back near the beginning of this month John Redwood asked a question of Ed Miliband, the minister for hot air. He wondered, in the House of Commons, why the northern hemisphere was experiencing such a cold winter. Miliband, in a fit of pique, and apropos of nothing, responded that the science of climate change was settled. This tends to be the response when those of us of a sceptical state of mind ask awkward questions about this settled science.

It's not been a good couple of months for the warmists. First there was Climategate which showed that the settled science has been going to remarkable lengths to stop anyone with a different point of view from accessing their data, asking awkward questions or publishing reports which point in a different direction. In so doing they have damaged forever the peer review process which has been shown to be prey to corruption, censorship and blatant bias.

Then of course there was the great hot air festival in Copenhagen to which a lot of people turned up, often in private jets, sometimes in a number of separate private jets because they were too busy and important, despite not actually having a real job, to be inconvenienced by travelling with mere ministers and prime ministers; they were ferried around in limousines, talked a lot, shivered in the cold and then went home having achieved nothing.

Then we had the winter which is just weather in which most of the northern hemisphere shivered in extreme cold, watched while the authorities struggled to clear roads which had become icy despite what the forecasters said; but we were at least warmed by the sight of all of those Green Meanies becoming really really red and angry when people wondered if this might be more than just weather after all. No, they said, stamping their feet because they were angry and not just bloody cold. No, no, no. It's just weather. It happens. So why, we asked, did you say just a few years ago that children might never see snow again? The science is settled they shouted and flounced off.

And now, gloriously, we have Glaciergate. This is my favourite. Oh I love all the others; I want to hug them and kiss them and take pictures of them so that I can remember them when they were young, fresh and innocent moments without a care in the world. But this one is the best. I want to have lots of little moments with this moment.

The IPCC, that great bureaucratic monolith and living testimony to the useless, self serving, fat gravy train that is the United Nations, is beloved of the Green Meanies. Its allegedly authoritative reports, which are couched in such lovely, reassuring civil servantese, are what the likes of Ed Miliband (Little Milly 2) base their assertions about the settled science. Yet now the IPCC has been caught out being less than rigorous. It has been caught out doing precisely what we have suspected it of doing all along: looking for evidence of what it wants to say and then including it to the exclusion of all else. It did it with the famous hockey stick and now, gloriously, wonderfully, it has been caught out doing so with glaciers.

Christopher Booker gives the full story of how it all happened and how IPCC leading lights are up to their necks in it. But let's note that the IPCC, in the person of its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, was defending these assertions in the usual Green Meanie way, by stamping their feet, shouting a lot and calling sceptics names. Even after admitting that they have got it wrong, hopelessly, ineptly wrong, they are doing the same whenever anyone argues that heads should roll or if they wonder out loud whether the IPCC is quite so rigorous or independent as it claims.

Oh, and this is a story that just keeps giving and giving. The Sunday Times, which first broke the Glaciergate story, today reports that the same bogus prediction was used as evidence to gain a research grant from the EU for TERI, another little project with Pachauri at its heart. The same paper has another story about sexed up IPCC claims on global disasters. And the Mail has a report in which an IPCC scientist, Dr Murari Lal, admits that the predictions about glaciers were put in purely for political reasons.

I would say that we've pretty much achieved QED haven't we? If this were an IPCC report we might even say that the matter is settled. When Little Milly 2 asserts that the science is settled he does so by referring to these 'authoritative reports'. Yet those reports have been demonstrably sexed up to serve a purpose. So where does that leave the science now, unsettled like the weather?




Things That Gordon Said.....Part XX

'The Chancellor doesn't like black-tie dinners.... The Chancellor wants everyone to dress down.'

Sue Nye, 1997

Saturday, 23 January 2010

New Policy on Opinion Polls

There are two new polls in the papers tomorrow. However they don't really tell us anything we don't already know. The one in the News of the World is marginally the more interesting because it concentrates on marginals, the sort of seats on which the parties concentrate most of their resources because these are where the election will actually be decided. Here the Conservatives are making steady if unspectacular progress which we sort of already knew. It means that my prediction at the start of the year for a Conservative majority of 20 - 40 is looking reasonable.

However, the new policy of this blog is going to be to ignore opinion polls. Unless and until one of them comes along and says something radically different they really are pointless. We are going to get dozens of them in the coming months and one or more a day during the campaign. Generally they will all show Labour languishing in the high twenties or low thirties (a disastrous performance lest we forget) and the Conservatives in the high thirties or low forties (a solid but unspectacular performance). I strongly suspect that this is going to remain the case right until polling day. When polling day itself comes Labour will perform even worse than they have been in the polls (because they almost always do) and the Conservatives marginally better.

If any of the above changes then I shall of course reverse my no polls policy. But for the sanity of us all, I shall now find something else to write about for the next four months.




Elections Don't Count For Gordon

I hate to say I told you so. Actually that's not true, I love saying I told you so. But I have said it before and I will say it again: Gordon Brown has waited too long, fought too hard, stabbed too many people in the back, lied, cheated and bullied far too often and thrown too many phones and assorted stationery to give up on the leadership any time soon.

Now James Macintyre in The News Statesman has the sources who agree with me. It seems that Brown's stubborn resistance to the various coup attempts this last year were part of a pattern that will be repeating itself. And yes, as predicted here some time ago, that means that Brown has no intention of standing aside even if rejected by the electorate. He will hold on.

Now some are arguing that this is a good thing. The succession must be handled correctly, maturely and sensibly they argue. Brown remaining in post will allow a period of reflection while the party adjusts to being in opposition.

Oh, but they misunderstand. Brown won't be staying on so as to be a caretaker while the party begins a fight for its soul. He intends to stay on. End of story. He is the leader and he wants to be prime minister again and no mere election is going to deny him.

There is some precedent for this, although not much. Attlee stayed on for a while after losing an election. Now Brown probably sees himself as a figure of similar stature but, with the possible exception of those related to him by blood and marriage, he is alone in that. Harold Wilson stayed on after losing an election and was indeed prime minister for a second time. I expect this is the precedent that Brown will cling to on that fateful night in May or June as he is dragged screaming from the bunker. Kinnock also clung on after losing in the 87 election. For the Tories, Heath would have clung on after losing twice in 74 had his party not despatched him with their typical ruthlessness.

So once out of power the Labour Party will have to go through the whole coup process again even before it gets to fight over future direction. Brown will simply refuse to go. He sees no reason why he should. Will his party give him reasons? You would think so given how disastrous he has been. Maybe he and his supporters (if there are any left) will argue that he was rather effective as an opposition leader. This is, I concede, true. But then he did not then have thirteen years of failure in government behind him. As you will have seen from my series Things That Gordon Said, he was very good at soundbites. Unfortunately they have all come back to haunt him. He has repeated the Tory mistakes he was so cutting and witty about, he has ignored the solemn promises he made, his soundbites for what he wouldn't do could actually be used as a kind of manifesto for what he did do. Presumably he thinks that he can now go into opposition and do the same and that we will all forget that he was once in government. If only we could.

Still, watching him try to cling on and those around him including, Little Milly and Little Milly II trying to summon the courage to remove him could be the cheap post election entertainment we don't dare hope for to brighten the days of austerity his catastrophic leadership will have caused.

Things That Gordon Said.....Part XIX

On being told by an official that the state of the economy left by the hated and derided Tories was much better than predicted upon him taking office:

'What am I supposed to do with this? Write a thank you letter?'

Gordon Brown, May 1997

Friday, 22 January 2010

What's the Difference?

The news that retiring Labour MP Harry Cohen is to forfeit his resettlement allowance is welcome and wholly justified. By claiming as his main home a property he was in fact renting out he was committing offences that have been described by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee as particularly serious.

They are right that they were serious - they amounted to fraud or acquiring money by deception. But were they particularly serious when compared to those of others? How are they materially different to the offences of Tony McNulty or Jacqui Smith to name the two most obvious and seemingly similar examples?

Both have not had to pay any money back and have merely had to apologise, something which Cohen will also have to do. But why haven't these similar offences been punished with financial penalties as well?

Presumably, if their constituents react to their dishonesty by voting them out at the next election, they will still be entitled to this allowance. Again, why? What's the difference?

Four Lions

I've been saying for a while now that we are in danger of taking jihadist morons too seriously. The best way of combating their stupidity is to mock them. They are desperate to be seen as avengers and heroes when they are in reality just silly little boys who have chips on their shoulders.



Now at last they are to be lampooned. The forthcoming film Four Lions is the first attempt at a whole new genre. I haven't seen it yet obviously but wish it well. Here is a clip, it looks promising:

Lessons to Learn - Again

Yet again a case shocks the nation and the authorities tell us that there have been failings and that they must 'learn lessons.' Yet they never do. Are these lessons so very difficult to understand? The facts of the case in Edlington clearly show that, once more, the authorities were involved for months or even years with the family that effectively created these two psychopathic monsters. That family was large, dysfunctional to the point of anarchy and demonstrably not fit for purpose. Yet still it was left intact. It keeps happening. The facts keep repeating themselves. Baby P, Victoria Climbie, Karen Matthews and her brood and now Edlington. How many lessons do they need?

This is the recurring theme in all of these cases. Social workers in particular but other figures in schools, police and local authorities are getting involved with these families and failing to intervene. But what causes their hesitation? These are failed families. They are not doing what families are supposed to do. Yet the trend amongst the authorities is not to break up families, any families and so they keep applying sticking plasters, keep giving new chances, presumably keep dishing out advice and cash. Do they ever point out irresponsibility? Do they ever accuse? Do they ever judge? It doesn't look like it.

It cannot be too difficult to spot families such as these. Neighbours will be only too well aware of them as will schools and most likely the police. The moment children start arousing the attention of any of these bodies early intervention could nip these crises in the bud, because we all know what leads to these disasters. Social workers, teachers and police officers know it all too well and can spot the early signs.

Families like these are a wholly modern phenomenon. They are those Gordon Brown is trying to help with his various schemes to 'end child poverty.' His efforts are making things worse. These children are suffering poverty of parenting far more than they are the economic variety. They are doing so because successive governments hand out benefits without responsibility. Children have become a way of accessing additional state cash and housing. Women are allowed to have child after child and to have it paid for by the state. That in itself is an act of irresponsibility and yet it is indulged and even encouraged. Such families then suck into their orbit feckless and abusive men and the cycle begins or is perpetuated.

Reports about this case will talk about poor communication and liaison between the authorities. This is nonsense. The failure is cultural and it is endemic. There are no lessons to be learnt in Edlington. We know them well enough. It's just that we keep pussy footing around the issues and failing to confront the reality that some people are abusing our benefits system, abusing the modern non judgemental approach of social services and creating a whole broken generation of kids who don't want to learn, don't want to work and are casually, sometimes sadistically violent and criminal because they see it as normal. This has happened because too many politicians and authority figures are unwilling or unable to face the reality. David Cameron talks passionately about broken Britain. But it's broken from the top. Only harsh reform of how we administer such families and whether we should even allow them to continue to exist is going to solve the problem. Rights without responsibilities are what has created this mess and children that politicians are trying to help are dying as a consequence. Even when they don't they are doomed to a life of poverty and hopelessness as a direct consequence of their upbringing.

PS

As Rod Liddle points out here, (the next editor of the Independent anyone - go Rod!) the media don't help in this debate. They are furious about the case in Edlington and rightly so, yet at the same time they are critical of social workers for taking a baby from a mother who is too thick to raise it properly. How can they possibly reconcile these two positions?

Keep Taking The Pills

A protest group is planning on taking a mass overdose next week. Is this a new and savage form of terrorism? Is it a Monty Python sketch based on the People's Front of Judea? Are they just very very depressed?

No. None of the above. The protesters are actually not in any danger. For they will be taking overdoses of homoeopathic medicines. So, water essentially.

The fact that people believe in homoeopathy in the 21st century should actually depress us sufficiently to take a real overdose. But then we live in a world in which people still believe that a big man in the sky created the universe in six days and then took a day off. We live in a world in which believers in that same loving god can blow themselves up in his name or indeed blame the beliefs and practices of the people of Haiti for God's vengeance in the form of an earthquake. We live in a world in which people believe in astrology, tarot cards, ghosts, souls, reincarnation, intelligent design, chiropractics and the rapture. Oh and Simon Cowell. Or am I just hoping he is a figment of my imagination and people couldn't be that stupid?

Compared to some of the above, perhaps homoeopathy is relatively harmless. But that is not to say the protest is a bad idea. Boots should not be stocking these so called remedies when they know them to be false and ridiculous. But more than that we should be furious in these straitened times that this idiocy is available on the NHS. Why don't they just hand out tap water?

And what should we think that our next king is a homoeopathy enthusiast? Well I would suggest we should probably think that perhaps it is not such a good idea to always appoint our head of state from the same family, a family which seems to have a persistent speech defect, a propensity to look like Tim Nice But Dim and whose menfolk seem to go bald from the age of 25. But perhaps that's because they ignored medical advice about inbreeding.

Brown in a Corner

If you want to see an illustration of the chaos at the heart of Gordon Brown's government you need only look at the various inquiries he has instituted in his short time in the top job. From those he asked to report into MPs expenses in an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass, to the current Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq, he has either completely lost control or they have come back to bite him. The Legg inquiry into MPs expenses, which Brown himself set up last year when the furore was at its worst, is set to detonate once more in the coming days. It was a classic example of his preferred method of putting off decisions, delaying and obfuscating to try and regain the initiative or some measure of control but then losing that control anyway. Legg will be sending MPs their bills soon. In some cases it won't be pretty and Labour MPs will be furious with the man whose idea it was in the first place.

Now Chilcot is set to cause him further problems. What started as an inquiry which wasn't going to take place until after the election, then it was going to be held in private with a narrow remit has now become a major media and public event, held before the election and which will be calling as witnesses two Labour prime ministers and several other currently serving ministers. The possibility of catastrophe is there for all to see, especially as the media and the public have already made up their minds on the issue and just want to see those they consider culpable fess up. Number 10 are trying to spin this as their man doing the right thing and being willing to give evidence. The reality is that he has been backed into a corner.

Thus far there have not been too many moments which will have discomfited the government but the manoeuvring has started. Jack Straw notably tried to position himself as reluctant to go to war and Geoff Hoon made some awkward accusations about Brown. And there is the suspicion that the Chilcot Committee are getting better at the process. Could this be just in time for when Messrs Blair and Brown appear before them? They will of course be aided by a media that will talk of little else and will publish various helpful lists of questions that need to be answered in the days leading to the big events. I don't doubt that Blair and Brown are skilled enough to dodge the bullets but appearances are everything. Brown is brilliant at dodging questions or answering them in a way he prefers but he does so in such an obvious way and with such dodgy body language that the perceptions of those watching matter more than his non revelatory words.

This long and endless election campaign has just become a bit longer at Brown's own behest. He has Chilcot to endure, the TV debates and questions about an economy that is by no means certain to behave in a way that he is hoping for. Things can still get nastier. Suddenly that March election may be looking like a good idea. Either that or my instincts about him waiting all the way to June will be spot on.

Tiger's Dreadful Addiction

Tiger Woods has checked into a sex addicts clinic. Yes he thinks that he's suffering from an addiction rather than merely the kind of stupidity men suffer when their penis overrules their brain.

The always pseudo-scientific world of psychology hit upon a real winner here didn't it? After all the sort of people who suffer from this terrible affliction tend to be very rich and very famous and very much in need of some way of spinning themselves as victims rather than just weak willed and stupid. The psychology 'profession' was only too willing to oblige.

What I want to know is this however. Generally speaking people who are addicts have to first admit their terrible addiction and then they have to resolve to abstain from it forever more. So is that what sex addicts do? No of course they don't. Presumably they still want to have sex with their wives or partners. So how does that work then? Do they have a different kind of sex with loved ones than with pneumatic bimbos who offer it to them on a plate in hotel bars? Would they regard themselves as addicts if the pneumatic bimbos promised not to sell their stories and if they thought they could get away with it? Would they regard themselves as sex addicts if they were unmarried, unattached and just getting lucky on a nightly basis? Which particular part of their anatomy were they thinking with when they decided that the pneumatic bimbos don't see a famous rich guy and don't see career enhancing opportunities? Or were they overruled by their hopeless addiction?

Presumably some clever PR chap has come up with this idea but it won't work. Confessing to having an addiction is not going to solve the problem. Confessing to having been a dickhead will probably do the trick. I have never exactly been the lothario type, although it would have been nice to find out. I suspect that Tiger wouldn't be either were it not for the famous face, the squillions and the plentiful opportunities afforded by constant touring. The temptation would be too great for many men let's be honest. But that's because we're men and not addicts as reams of sports and showbiz biographies will attest.

The only kind of therapy Tiger Woods needed was the sort his wife was attempting to administer when he drove off in a panic and hit a fire hydrant. A similar sort of therapy has since been administered by the press, various sponsors and a sniggering public. It's the sort that could finish off his career and curtail his earning power and that is why he has responded as he has. Ultimately we would have more respect for him if he came out of hiding maybe a little bit sheepishly and just got back to what he does best, and that according to the various pneumatic bimbos, is not between the sheets it is on the golf course. You see the only thing that Tiger Woods is addicted to is being Tiger Woods. And who wouldn't be? So be a man, Tiger. Come out of hiding, come out of 'therapy' and play golf again. And if you feel the addiction calling again just remember your furious wife and furious sponsors and the hideous embarrassment. That will cure you.

Things That Gordon Said.....Part XVIII

'The long night of Tory rule is drawing to an end and a systematic pattern of arrogance.'

Gordon Brown, 1997

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Clinton's Critique

In a welcome and long overdue move, U.S Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a speech today, criticised state censorship and cyber attacks. She clearly has the recent spat between Google and China chiefly in mind, although of course there are others, notably China's pals in Iran.

At the moment this doesn't really amount to much though. Clinton is calling on China to investigate those attacks which is almost certainly unnecessary since China was behind them. They have a history of it as does Russia.

Clinton called on corporations such as Google to stand up to states which demand censorship. This is of course welcome. But when are the American government going to stand up to China? When are they going to stop being so supine? Google, possibly with mixed motives admittedly, is actually showing them the way. The U.S administration is playing catch up.

The Citadel of Incompetence

In another example of the kind of joined-up government we have come to cherish under Labour, but under Gordon Brown in particular, it turns out that the man who just yesterday intoned about action in the 'citadel of terror,' has at the same time allowed a vast shortfall in funding for counter terrorism and radicalisation projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is because of the fall in sterling. Not the government's fault? Well you might think so, except that the man who once told us that there had been an end to boom and bust and sold our gold when it was at historically low levels also decided that it was unnecessary to plan for falls in sterling because of his mighty stewardship of the economy. Foreign and Commonwealth Office budgets, which necessarily are most affected by sterling movements have now been cut by 20% as a consequence and that includes those in the 'citadel of terror.' The Treasury used to make plans to protect the FCO from such movements but Brown decided to end this sensible arrangement. It's yet another example of Brown ignoring advice, trashing past practice and of us all reaping the whirlwind.

Even Labour loyalists are asking questions about this. This is an issue which is supposed to be at the core of their thinking. This is a government after all which loves to talk tough and pose as a defender of the nation against terrorism, Brown did so yesterday in the Commons. That's how they seek to justify their various draconian measures on security and policing and stupidly expensive ID card schemes. Yet thanks to the arrogance of Brown and his disdain for expert advice challenging his own opinions, yet more government policy is running counter to their stated aims.

Asked about it today Brown answered a different question as usual, claiming that counter terrorism expenditure was increasing year on year and that these efforts are linked with police forces and border controls in this country. None of this has anything to do with the problem. But then that is Gordon Brown. Incapable of admitting a mistake, incapable of showing humility and incapable of making the right decisions to do what he claims he is trying to achieve. When this problem emerged, which is not even a large sum of money compared to the vast sums being borrowed, he should simply have admitted he had got it wrong and ordered changes. Instead he shows on a daily basis why he is such a terrible prime minister.

The Owens 2010


While we're on the subject of my favourite things (see last post), after due consideration, and notwithstanding the claims of Lily Allen (another one of my favourites who gets honourable mention) the award of best song from last year goes to Pixie Lott's Mama Do which to my mind is clearly the standout single of the year.

The terrifyingly young, talented and beautiful Pixie is up for several awards in the coming weeks and months but I'm sure this one will be her most cherished. Hell, I might even commission an actual trophy. Perhaps a statuette of me looking thoughtful and philosophical as is my wont. We'll call it The Owen. It's the one to win.

More announcements of awards in the coming weeks as they occur to me. Free cinema tickets, DVDs and CDs so that I can come to my determination will of course not sway me at all. Exotic foreign holidays and shopping trips to New York? Well, I'm only human.....

For now though, the first ever Owen, and one unsullied by any corruption whatsoever and so all the more worthy, goes to Pixie Lott. Congratulations.


BC

Above you will see a cartoon from the BC series, one of my favourites. It first appeared on the Comics.Com website about a month ago and, since I kept going back to it to have another look because I thought it so funny, I have now decided to add it permanently to my blog.

As far as I am concerned this is a better summary of me than a thousand words could ever achieve. My Mum always says that I have a stupid sense of humour. Here is your chance to sympathise. But if you too think that this is funny then you might also enjoy my blog.

Things That Gordon Said.....Part XVII

'No one can condone the leak of sensitive budget matters the day before the budget.'

Gordon Brown, 1996

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

PMQs - PS

Further to my PMQs review, many commentators are arguing that Brown had a good PMQs and won. This may be so but in the narrow, Westminster village, yah boo kind of way which only a tiny percentage of the population subscribe too. In the real world he came across in his usual blustering, bombastic, petty and evasive way. I have never been in doubt that Brown is a consummate politician but he is no statesman and he proves that every week on these occasions. This, I would argue, is why the public so dislike the man.

And it was shown very starkly, as Iain Dale revealed at this week's session in answer to a question from a Tory MP, Michael Fabricant. Fabricant was asking a perfectly reasonable question about a dam in his constituency which is in danger of collapsing. It is a non political point but of serious and pressing concern to his constituents whose lives could be at risk. Fabricant, as is the tradition, wrote to Number 10 in advance to brief them about the issue so that he could get a decent answer. But this is Gordon Brown. He just saw a Tory. So he agreed in the briefest terms (despite the advance notice) to look into the matter and then made a jibe about a Tory asking for increased public spending.

Now in the narrowest terms that might be seen by some as Brown 'winning' this contest. In the real world it is cheap, petty and pathetic. And this is what Brown does each and every week. It is why he is a terrible prime minister. He has become quite good at this knock about stuff, so long as it doesn't stray too far from what he has rehearsed. But, as he showed today, he is not a big enough man to just do good government and answer the fears of the electorate because they elected a Conservative MP.

The Courts Get It Right

The Court of Appeal has released 'have-a-go-hero' Munir Hussain who pursued his family's attackers, caught one and set about him with a cricket bat. The court, however, has taken a sensible and pragmatic approach to the details of this crime. In so doing they have been a great deal more measured than politicians, including the Tories' Chris Grayling who has been talking nonsense and even been threatening to change the law.

What happened that night was of course terrifying for the Hussain family. Their father's response was of course wholly understandable. It was not however defensible. He committed a crime the moment he caught the burglar and started beating him about the head. That is not a reasonable or proportionate response, however much we may sympathise with him and understand that he was probably reacting as he did in circumstances in which proportionality and rationality were not high on his agenda.

This is what the court has now said. It has shown mercy. It recognised that a wholly understandable red mist descended and dictated this peaceful man's actions. It recognised that a prison sentence is going to achieve nothing. It did however distinguish between Munir Hussain and his brother who was called in for assistance and who had not been in danger. His response was straightforward revenge.

The original verdict was right in this case. The sentencing was harsh. That has now been corrected. As a society we cannot condone people acting in this way. Self defence is not the same as revenge. Idiot politicians, playing to the tabloids, were effectively arguing that chasing someone down the road and beating him repeatedly with a cricket bat is a reasonable response. The law has to draw a line somewhere and in this case it got it spot on, especially now that Munir Hussain is back at home with his family.