Saturday, 31 July 2010

Good Week, Bad Week

Even while those on the backbenches mutter and chunter away to themselves, the new government has had a mightily impressive week at the end of an initial period which has seen them hit the ground running.

This week alone we have had proposals for reforming the police and creating a much needed national crime force along with police reform  - although consideration of merging some of the smaller forces for greater efficiency and effectiveness would also seem a good idea.

There has been much talk of regulatory reform and the chopping of quangoes, creating squeals of protest amongst the vested interests, fat cats and luvvie types who see their comfortable, protected lifestyles threatened.

We have seen Michael Gove's schools programme get the legislative go ahead this week, and finally David Cameron has gone on an undiplomatic diplomatic offensive. In so doing he only said what millions have been thinking for years.

Last but definitely not least, Ian Duncan Smith outlined his ideas for reforming the mess that is our benefits system. At first sight it is impressive and far reaching. IDS means to be as good as his word, a theme that has been repeated department by department. It's all rather refreshing.

Labour will no doubt jerk at the knees as usual and portray these welfare reforms as cuts. They are nothing of the sort. They will actually cost money initially but will save money in the long run.

But more importantly than mere financial considerations is the social aspect. These are the sort of reforms Labour ought to have implemented ten years ago when the economy was doing well. Instead Gordon Brown bullied and smeared those who wanted to do so, like Frank Field, and vetoed change. He then implemented his own tax credits which meant that millions were sucked in to the benefits system making any attempts to push people back into work all too often hopeless for millions on low pay and with low skills. It is another part of Brown's disastrous legacy the leadership candidates should be distancing themselves from. 

Speaking to friends who are by no means of the same political complexion as me, they are impressed by the coalition so far. The polls are not entirely reflecting that view. But Labour ought to be reflecting on that view. It is highly dangerous for them given how lacklustre, clueless and directionless has been the leadership campaign thus far. Do they have any ideas of their own? Or was their manifesto all there is?

Friday, 30 July 2010

I love Jessica

I think I love Jessica Ennis. God she's lovely. There are few better sights than seeing someone supremely good at what they do just enjoying it and then being modest about it afterwards. Perhaps that's a British thing but it seems rather noble and corinthian to me.

I do feel a little faithless when another of my great loves the supremely beautiful Denise Lewis is on television commentating on all of this. But I'm sure she would understand.

The Ennis smile is enough to put a spring in the step. They should employ it to light the Olympic flame in 2 years' time.

Divide and Rule

It is clear that Labour's opposition strategy, such as it is, is to try and divide the coalition by driving a wedge between the Lib Dems and the Tories. This is why they have been constantly sniping at the junior partners in the government rather than taking aim at the Tories. It's the 'how could you?' approach.

This has culminated this week in the opportunistic decision to vote against the referendum and reform package which would lead to that referendum. Labour hope that their opposition, added to Tory sniping from the sidelines, will mean that the bill will not go through. This is cynical but not unexpected. But why are Tory backbenchers trying to stymie the referendum? Are they really so afraid of AV? Can they not see that it is much more important to push through reform of constituencies to negate Labour's unfair advantage? That is what Labour are so afraid of and why they are hoping to exploit coalition divisions before those boundaries are redrawn.

The Labour Party has taken this approach from the inception of the coalition and even before. There is strong evidence that this was what Gordon Brown was trying to do when he realised that a deal with the Lib Dems had no chance.

In Nick Robinson's programme last night, there was much talk about what Nick Clegg did or did not say about what Labour were offering and whether David Cameron misled his back benchers. But what Cameron thought was happening was perfectly reasonable under the circumstances. It was a game of high stakes poker and he had to raise his bid. Brown had after all claimed to have been converted to the cause of AV and surely that was a price worth paying to cling on in Downing Street? Cameron had no choice but to at least offer a referendum.

But the other story to emerge is one that has again been missed. Why did Gordon Brown go when he did on that Tuesday evening? We are being sold the line that he wanted to get out before it went dark, a story which rings true because we all know how much Labour think about these things. It's actually a clever piece of spin utilising their reputation for spin.

But I doubt that this is the case. Brown knew that a deal between Labour and the Lib Dems was off. He knew he was going to have to quit. He also knew that he was responsible for pushing the Tories and Lib Dems together. Instead of a precarious minority government there was a real chance of a proper coalition which could last for four or five years, push through unpopular cuts and emerge at the end with credit. Furthermore he knew that the Tories would move the constituency boundaries which had cost them a majority, even after winning the same percentage vote as had Labour in 2005.

So what did Brown do? He reneged on his pledge on 7th May to stay in office while the other parties talked. In so doing he ignored the pleas of Nick Clegg but also, more importantly, those of the head of state through her private secretary. He resigned and advised the Queen to invite David Cameron to form a government. Perhaps he calculated that Cameron, once installed in Downing Street, would no longer see a need for a formal coalition. Gordon, you see, thinks that everyone is as cold and calculating and cynical as he is.

Ed Balls ludicrously argued in the programme last night that it was unfair to ask Brown to stay on while the deal was done. Yet that was precisely what he had said he was duty bound to do once he chose not to resign immediately.

Don't believe the spin about getting out before dark and of leaving graciously once he knew the game was up. It was cold political calculation which went awry. It was the beginning of Labour's strategy of trying to divide the coalition, but this was a way of doing it before the deal was signed. As the story continues to unfold, that miscalculation could look much worse in the years ahead.

 

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Judgement Day

Winston Churchill once said that history would be kind to him as he intended to write it. Presumably this is why Gordon Brown is currently bashing away on his keyboard to the exclusion of all else, getting his retaliation in first, or nearly first (still, at least it's not a civil servant or the back of a ministerial car).

But Brown did not condescend to speak to the BBC's Nick Robinson, whose story of how our coalition government came about airs tonight on BBC2. Five Days That Changed Britain talked to most of the main players in those heady few days in early May with the exception of Brown.

Yet Brown was the key. It was his decision to cling on to Downing Street for a few days, claiming to be doing it for the good of the nation which forced the Tories to be more generous and open minded than might otherwise have been the case. Had Brown simply resigned the day after the election they might have just formed a minority government and come to a looser arrangement with the Lib Dems or other parties. It was Brown's determination to try and engineer himself a less humiliating exit this autumn which meant that a deal with Nick Clegg was less likely.

Mad, bad and dangerous was the description Tony Blair is said to have coined of his former friend and colleague, and he was certainly toxic to his party's chances of staying in power. Those few days were another example of Brown's low skullduggery whilst talking of high principle.  

The history of this coalition government is only just starting to be written of course and there will be many twists and turns along the way. But the man who helped to bring it all about has not contributed to the early draughts. Instead we will just have to judge him by the accounts of others, and his own words and actions. As I have pointed out before, he said he would stay in Downing Street until a deal was done between the other parties. He then left before that deal was sealed, determined, despite his lofty words, to get out on his terms and at a time of his choosing. He had, he said, been humiliated enough.

History is not going to be kind to Gordon Brown, however much of a bashing his keyboard takes in the months and years ahead.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Greenwash



Yesterday I paid compliments to the coalition which, by and large and not without some mishaps and missteps along the way, has had a good first couple of months. I haven't agreed with all that they have said and done, for instance St Vince's ludicrous graduate tax plans and the initial ideas about the 55% rule. But it's been an impressive start.

But it was always likely that I and a lot of people like me would part company with them when it came to energy policy. And that was before Chris Huhne got the job to implement it. Now he seems to be intent upon repeating and indeed embellishing the mistakes of Labour and adding a few of his own. His opposition to nuclear power is bizarre and illogical. Ultimately there is no alternative to new nuclear plants even if you actually believe that the planet is warming up thanks to all of our nasty CO2. If we want energy security and to cut our emissions what alternative is there?

Let's get this straight. People like me wholeheartedly accept that we need to start the process of weaning us off fossil fuels. That is common sense because those fuels will not last forever. There are very sound geo political arguments to be made for using less oil too.

But what does not make sense is to try and do all this in some flashy, headline grabbing way, making drastic cuts, raising taxes and energy prices which will just drive more jobs abroad. All that this will do is make Britain even more uncompetitive against the likes of India, China and other rising BRIC like countries and saddle our green and pleasant land with expensive and inefficient wind turbines which do not do what the politicians think they do. What they do is put up energy bills, ruin the landscape and transfer money from the poor to rich landowners and foreign owned utility companies. Progressive politics?

We do need new technology and new ways of generating power. This takes time but it will come. Just look at the giant strides that the car industry has made in recent years. If they were allowed to innovate without political interference those strides would become ever larger. Instead they make stupid hybrid cars and electric cars which still need to be charged using fossil fuels. What they should be concentrating on is ever greater fuel efficiency and the ultimate solution, hydrogen fuel cells.

And why does this tiny, insignificant little island need to set an example to the rest of the world? Our emissions are negligible compared to the US and now being dwarfed by China's too. Can we afford gestures on carbon when we are desperately struggling to hold on to the industries we have and want to create millions of new private sector jobs?

This issue may well be the gravest test of the coalition because currently what they are espousing runs counter to their policies on job creation and a healthy economy. The Conservative Party, with the exception of the ridiculous Tim Yeo and some Cameroons (and perhaps Cameron himself) is rather more sceptical about all of this than they are sometimes prepared to let on. This is the issue, rather than arcane arguments about when to have a referendum, which they ought to be rebelling and speaking out about. This is vital to the future of this country. It's fine to pose as green when in opposition. In government the choices are more invidious. Thus far Cameron and co have shown a refreshing willingness to make tough and unpopular choices. Yet the irony is that if they started sounding less starry eyed about being green the only people they will be unpopular with are the Polly Toynbee tendency. It really is win win.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Metrosexual Coalition

So Parliament has now gone in to recess (note to the BBC2 announcer - penultimate means last but one) and the coalition has survived to the summer. So far, so good. In fact, so far, so very good.

Sure we have had one or two problems, the worst being the forced resignation of David Laws. But the new government has hit the ground running, honoured a few election pledges and a few post election coalition deal pledges, had the guts to start the cuts process and delivered a tough Budget, and yet it is still enjoying a honeymoon. The media, unaccustomed to ministers who were opponents prior to the election, has picked away at potential dividing lines and areas of difficulty, as have the opposition. Thus far nothing has stuck. It shows their desperation when an off the cuff remark about a 'brokeback coalition' makes headlines.

In fact this looks more like a metrosexual coalition, which is terribly modern and 21st century. Of course anything looks modern and 21st century after Gordon Brown. But, since the Labour leadership candidates currently seem determined to turn the clock back to the 1970s, anything which looks modern and, dare I  say it, progressive has to be a good thing.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Gordon Emerges from the Bunker

Perhaps realising that he was starting to a look a great deal less mature than his two youngs sons, Gordon Brown has at last emerged from his sulking bunker and given an interview to The Independent. Is it mere coincidence that he has finally emerged blinking in to the post election fallout now that parliament is about to go into recess?

Anyway, it would seem that our former leader is now ready to start the process of explaining away his failure. Unfortunately he is going to do so in the standard Labour way by claming that he didn't fail at all. It's very much like the various political pygmies currently vying for his old job. His problems were all down to the media he informs us. He was just misunderstood.

This is the same man who used to ruthlessly control the media and bully those who refused to toe the approved line. This is the man who used various ruses and deceits to pull the wool over our eyes for more than a decade. This is the man who, on becoming chancellor, stuck to Tory spending plans but told the country, through a compliant media, that he was spending billions. This is the man who subsequently went on a spending splurge but even then concocted various golden rules and other sleights of hand to appear prudent only to change his own rules when they became inconvenient. All of this for far too long was reported by a slavish and supine media, spun and bullied into submission by Brown and his minions. Then, when the truth finally emerged and he lost an election, he blames the media for finally having the courage to stand up to him.

Labour was always a media operation which did some governing as a sideline. Yet even now it cannot see the error of its ways. As the memoirs come thick and fast that is a theme we are going to keep seeing repeated.

We can look forward to Brown's version of events later this year apparently, including his take on how he saved the world. The government did act decisively during the banking crisis it is certainly true but how much of that was down to Brown's alleged genius is debatable at best. Many commentators, including this humble blogger, were urging them to do what was ultimately done. It will be fascinating to see how much credit Brown claims. His economic competence was his sole selling point at the election. But we should judge that competence on his whole 13 years and not just one frenetic month. Brown is currently typing away furiously we're told, anxious to get his version out there. But when you peel away the spin his economic legacy may turn out to have been largely an illusion. As today's interview shows, we should not expect any mea culpa any time soon.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Nuclear Option

The nuclear option is usually used as a metaphor for doing something extreme to achieve an end. That is of course unless you are North Korea, led by a megalomaniac fruitcake whose idea of diplomacy is throwing a hissy fit, issuing a lot of threats and seeing what one's more sensible diplomatic opponents offer to calm you down.

Thus this weekend North Korea has threatened nuclear retaliation because America and her allies have learnt recent lessons and are not backing down. Furthermore they are holding some naval exercises in the region. Presumably the North Koreans will not sink any ships during this exercise. No, they are threatening to nuke them instead.

There are a number of observations one can make about this:

1) This would be suicide. But what may be obvious to those of us who think rationally and are not being driven mad by sanctions denying us access to the best quality cognac is not necessarily obvious to an isolated regime which lost its grip on reality some time in the 1950s. Then again, for all of their eccentricities they have become masters of brinkmanship and it usually works.

2) If this threat fails, as it surely will, what will they threaten next?

3) It is by no means clear that North Korea has the bomb in any meaningful sense. Yes, they have managed to make some big bangs which may well be nuclear, but that does not mean that they have devices which can be delivered on the end of a missile. And their missiles are not exactly cutting edge either. Thus their nuclear status is meaningless at least for now.

4) North Korea has a history of bluster and threats which come to nothing. These are usually issued when they are desperate or backed into a corner. It usually means that international pressure and sanctions are working. They issue threats, eventually agree to talks and, once the pressure is off, go back to their old ways.

Perhaps this time the U.S will learn from past errors and call their bluff. Like a tantrum throwing toddler, Kim Jong-Il is desperate for attention (and maybe some more cognac and other luxury goods). The fact that the nuclear threat has been issued is a sign of weakness and desperation and should be treated as such. I'm sure diplomats can work this out for themselves. But the fact is that in the past they have always backed down. Now is the time to ratchet up the pressure. It's not rocket science, or even nuclear science. North Korea just wants us to think it is.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Real Hare Transplants




I love this. Australian bookmakers have had to reimburse punters after a greyhound veered off  course and out of contention chasing a real hare which had found its way on to the track. Yet if only all of the dogs had seen it we could have had a proper race, although had it happened in this country there would probably have been prosecutions. It might have amounted to hunting with hounds.

I've always wished that those horses which have the good sense to throw their jockeys but then carry on running in races like the Grand National should be included in the end results. After all jockeys just slow them down. The horses should be rewarded for their initiative, common sense and commitment to the race.

Now dogs are up to it too. But did he catch the hare? Can we have a rematch? Oh and where was the tortoise?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Diane's New Tactic

We are of course accustomed to our politicians avoiding, evading and ignoring questions and answering what they would rather have been asked or what the real question was. Now it would seem that Diane Abbott, that colossus of the Labour Party, is pioneering a whole new approach. Instead of these usual frustrating tactics for avoiding scrutiny or evading the truth, she now merely falls silent.

Yesterday, on the Today programme, she was asked once more about her son's private schooling. When on This Week a while back she stonewalled. Yesterday she just went silent. The presenters assumed that there was a technical fault.

This car crash of a leadership campaign is becoming a must for anyone who thinks politics is boring. It will soon be rivalling Britain's Got Talent for gobsmacking moments. Can we have a phone vote? Dial 1 for when Diane just refused to answer. Dial 2 for when she just sat and couldn't think of an answer. Dial 3 for when she pretended she couldn't hear the question down the line.

Still, she is doing the nation a service and proving that positive discrimination and token candidates may be counterproductive. A meritocracy you see ensures that people going for the top actually have the talent they need. Installing someone like Diane for effect and to look inclusive just looks rather patronising since she is daily proving that she is actually not terribly bright.

The Bleeding Obvious

Was David Cameron's 1940 moment a howler? An insult to 'the few' who fought in the Battle of Britain? A spectacular mistake? No of course it wasn't. We knew exactly what he meant which was that, in the second world war and thereafter, Britain was the junior partner to a superpower. That is a statement of the bleeding obvious. It does not diminish the courage and heroism shown by many in this country when we stood alone against the Nazi threat in 1940 and to suggest otherwise is absurd and infantile. What it does do is recognises reality.

Little Milly, one time Foreign Secretary and now an aspring leader of the opposition and prime minister, is now piling in. In so doing he just makes himself look puerile and a little desperate and is in league with the Sir Bufton Tufton, disgusted of Tunbridge Wells and Melanie Phillips types who have been tut tutting about this supposed gaffe. The way things are going Little Milly will soon become Little Milly Minor as his brother replaces him as Little Milly Major.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The B Team

As a matter of principle I don't usually write about PMQs when they send in their B teams. I understand why prime ministers have occasionally to miss these sessions, especially when summoned across the Atlantic by Barack (and let's face it Gordon once missed it so that he could go and stand in a crowd on Horseguards Parade to welcome a visiting president and his many wives) but I have never understood why this means that the opposition leaders should also have a day off.

Since today was the first PMQs with Clegg in the hot seat I did look in though. He was okay but nothing special, and only looked half decent because Jack Straw rambled on interminably, his voice strained and rasping - possibly in protest at what it was being forced to say. We became accustomed to Gordon Brown not answering questions, and Clegg did much the same today when asked about awkwards subjects like Sheffield Forgemasters and the married couple's allowance. But if he was avoiding answering questions it was partially explicable since Straw took so long to ask them. Clegg may have been unable to ascertain what the question was. I know I was confused.

It was not an edifying session, made worse by the bloody Speaker again, who kept interrupting and telling everyone to shut up. When World Cup referees perform poorly FIFA sends them home. Can someone please give Bercow a red or at least a yellow card? We know he's very small but he really doesn't have to keep standing up to remind us that he is there. And anyway if he wants to stand out he could always wear the wig, or is he worried that he would trip on it?

Meanwhile Dave is in America and the American media seem to have fallen for him. He was interviewed in a variety of places including on ABC last night and came across well, anwsering the awkward stuff diplomatically and being good humoured and self deprecating in all of the right places. If all goes wrong in the coming months and years he can probably be assured a lucrative lecture tour or two. The fact is that with that Etonian accent he couldn't go wrong. They think we all talk like that. And of course he is not the gurning, glowering Scot. What's not to like?

I think America may fall for him as they fell for His Tonyness before him. None of this will have improved Gordon's mood however.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

PMQs 21st July 2010

Since Dave is off consorting with Barack and trying to persuade him and his cohorts to stop being beastly to BP, tomorrow's PMQs will be left to his Cleggness the deputy PM. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't be interested in this sideshow but today I may well look in.

The question is what will the opposition do? In the past, when the PM was away, Cameron and Clegg made their excuses and sent in their deputies too. It was apparently beneath their dignity to ask questions of a mere stand in, and so they sent in the B teams. Pathetic as I have opined before.

But the opposition is already using its B team. Hattie is officially Labour's deputy leader, forced to take on the new PM since Gordon left. Remember this is the man who, whilst clinging on with what was left of his fingernails to Number 10, insisted that he would have to stay on as PM until a new leader was elected. So until October. Then, when the deal couldn't be done and he was only going be opposition leader having to sit opposite the Eton toff, he suddenly found that he could resign immediately after all. So essentially he threw a hissy fit and is still in the middle of the world's longest sulk. Toddlers usually forget what they are sulking about after a few minutes. Gordon is writing a book about it.

Anyway, the corollary of all of this is that Hattie, the deputy, has a choice. She can follow the precedent of her predecessors and send in her own deputy, or she can enjoy her last few moments in the sun and be a grown up about it. I would have a sneaking admiration for her if she were to abandon this ridiculous recent convention. This will probably be the last PMQs before the recess. She may get one or two more in September before her party elects a new leader to replace the Scottish sulker. Let's hope she shows that women can be more sensible. In doing so she would be doing a great deal more for feminism than a whole raft of her silly equal rights legislation.

Parsimonious Princes?

Remember all of that hype just a couple of weeks ago about how economical the royals were being? They were selflessly agreeing, in these hard times, to accept that the Civil List would not be increased. Prince Charles was going to slum it with only 140 or so staff to squeeze his toothpaste for him.

Then at the weekend we learnt that Prince William, currently learning for no very obvious reason to be a helicopter pilot with the RAF, is not prepared to be billeted with his fellow officers on highly secure and thus easy to defend bases. Oh no. Instead he has rented a cottage nearby, obliging us to pay for over a million quid's worth of protection for him in addition to the round the clock protection he already gets. On his frequent trips around the country and the world, the cottage will still need to be guarded so that the the nice but dim prince can get up close and personal with Kate when he gets back.

Why it is felt necessary to train the second in line to the throne to fly these aircraft is a mystery anyway. It isn't as if he will ever be allowed to do so in combat. So essentially we are paying for him to learn an expensive new hobby, and it will only ever be a hobby, much as flying has been for his father. On top of that we are having to pay extra for security for him so that he doesn't have to slum it with his fellow officers. Most rich people with spare time on their hands pay for their own flying lessons.

These are the sort of stories we need to bear in mind when reading about how parsimonious are our royals. It's not just the cost of their upkeep and various residences, it is the cost of watching over them night and day and transporting them and their retinues. We also pay for the protection of the likes of Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, not because they are under any particular threat, but because their feelings would be insulted and their status threatened if such protection were withdrawn. There's nothing that exercises these nonentities more than when their status and titles are threatened. They fight like alleycats for the preservation of their HRHs.

When the police are currently talking about the cuts to front line officers they will have to impose thanks to government cuts, here is a cut that could be made completely painlessly. Last night there was an excellent documentary on BBC2 about our troops in Afghanistan and the conditions they endure. Perhaps some of the money spent pointlessly training the dim princes to undertake roles they will never perform should be diverted to those who actually risk their lives rather than merely play at being soldiers.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Two Way Tolerance

France voted at the weekend to ban the burqa; or, more accurately if less alliteratively, the niqab. The British government has already said that it will not be taking the same path, arguing, I think correctly, that it would be un-British to do so.

This is not to say that I approve of these ridiculous garments. But if people are stupid and credulous enough to believe that their god, a wise and omniscient god they claim, really prescribes that women dress this way in addition to how meat should be slaughtered and what meat should not be eaten, then that is their affair. The state has no business telling people how to dress or what to eat. People have the right to believe what they want to believe, however absurd and contradictory those beliefs are. All religion is fundamentally absurd, it's just the dress codes which vary from culture to culture and from time to time.

By the same token however, tolerance and common sense are not one way streets. If employers and schools for instance have a dress code then they should be adhered to regardless of religion. Indeed religion should stop at the school gates. That would be a healthy move. Similarly it is farcical that women are driving, yes driving, wearing the niqab. They cannot possibly have a proper field of vision when doing so and should be told that this is unacceptable. They should then be prosecuted for driving without care and attention.

It also emerged over the weekend that there is an increasing problem with bus and taxi drivers refusing to allow dogs, even including guide dogs, into their vehicles because they or their Muslim passengers object. Again this is unacceptable. The moment one person's superstition disadvantages someone else is when that superstition becomes onerous and burdensome and thus should not be accorded 'respect'.

France is wrong to ban these symbols, however much we may agree with some of the arguments about freedom from oppression and culture clashes. Women wear these ridiculous garments for all kinds of reasons and make all kinds of silly arguments to defend themselves. Ultimately I suspect some of them rather like the feeling that their men are jealous of them being seen, and enjoy the feeling of being owned in this way. It is for the same reason that a lot of women regarded  Raoul Moat as 'a legend'. How nice it would be, they think, to have a man feel so strongly about them and be prepared to kill for them. Let's be honest, it turns them on.

You cannot legislate for people who think this way as the French will soon discover. Their new law will be unenforceable and that is the test for all laws. The silly and idiotic superstitions of the religious are fine in a tolerant society until they start impacting on others. That should be the simple common sense rule which applies now and always.

Taxing the Future

Also this weekend Vince Cable's graduate tax plans have had as mixed reception as they deserve. One should always be suspicious of politicians when they start talking about fairness. St Vince tells us that it is unfair that teachers pay the same fees as lawyers and merchant bankers and so a new tax should be imposed. It is fair, he says, to make students pay instead via their taxes. As I pointed out before the weekend, this tends to ignore the fact that the highly paid, regardless of their education, already pay more through income tax. 

But what is the betting that this graduate tax would be meddled with and used as a handy cash raising device by governments of the future? They could vary the rates paid or the length of time it takes to pay. Meanwhile the top rate of tax would be well above 50%. Did anyone mention brain drains? Do politicians never learn?


Politicians should actually be meddling less with education, not creating a whole new tax to disincentivise it. The moment politicians interfere, usually pleading fairness as a cause, is the moment education becomes devalued and poorer. Take a look at our schools. Grammar schools were abolished in the name of fairness. Good move?

Universities should be free to set their own fees and be free from interference from government. Our top institutions are genuinely world class, but that will not last so long as the purse strings are held by government rather than by those at the coal face. And why is student debt regarded as such a problem? If St Vince thinks that it sets people up sufficiently to be able to pay even more tax then servicing that debt, and in a lot less than 20 years, is not a problem. In America students routinely accrue huge debts to pay for their studies. But then America also has the finest further education establishments in the world, producing graduates who go on to create the Microsofts, Facebooks and Googles of this world. No doubt St Vince would like to tax a British Bill Gates a bit extra. But how best do we create a British Bill Gates? Is it by telling him that he will be penalised for that success by paying millions for an education costing at most £50,000?

In a couple of years time the government will receive a windfall from the sale of our airwaves currently used for analogue television. Why not bequeath this to the universities to invest to set up a system of grants and bursaries to help the poor go to university? They should then be set free to set fees at whatever level they require to achieve or stay ahead of the game. A graduate tax just enshrines power in Whitehall which keeps making a mess of education.

A Land Down Under Shows Labour the Way

Okay, since I have had a blog free weekend I have a bit of catching up to do. Here goes:

I see Australia, under its new prime minister, Julia Gillard, is to hold a snap election. So in the space of a few weeks they have dumped an unpopular leader, brought in a new broom and she is now going to try for a fresh mandate to capitalise on her honeymoon period. Meanwhile our own Labour Party, continues its navel gazing and recriminations. I wonder if they ever take a look at down under and wonder about what might have been.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Blog Free Weekend

Tempted as I am to write about the morons who think Raoul Moat is 'a legend' or about St Vince's scheme to make those who have an education pay more for the privilege (they already do Vince - it's called income tax) I am having the weekend off from blogging. I planned this weekend assuming that there wouldn't be much to write about. Oh well.

Back on Monday.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Hot Heir

Prince Charles has rounded on climate sceptics accusing them of peddling pseudo science. This coming from the man who advocates homeopathy.

Sceptics (all scientists are supposed to be sceptical actually, Mr Wales) are also accused of intimidating people out of adopting precautionary measures. So there are not wind farms being erected all over the place then? We're not being nagged constantly about CO2, not least by the Prince of hot heir himself.

He is however quite right that scepticism is on the rise. This is partially because of the nagging of sanctimonious wind bags like Charles many houses Windsor. But is is mainly because the science simply doesn't stand up and the case has not been proven despite the millions dispensed annually to scientists who want to do research proving it whilst those with sceptical views are denied it.

Given the advantages that the pro AGW camp has, with their monopoly on research funding and hundreds of right on celebrities and royal nonentities telling us what to think, they ought to have the consensus they so often claim to have. And yet they don't. Does this not put a scintilla of doubt in their minds? No, like the hot heir Prince they just dismiss us and sadly shake their heads at our delusions. But with advocates like Charlie boy we may win the argument by default anyway.

Balls This Week

Following on from his awful appearance on Today earlier this week, tonight Ed Balls appears on This Week. Will Andrew Neil give him an Abbott style mauling? Probably not, if only because Balls will evade the questions as usual. But doing that hardly does his campaign any favours.

Gordon Brown of course was spectacularly good at avoiding and evading questions and conjuring up erroneous statistics and arguments as he did in his pre-election interview with an under par Jeremy Paxman. Such chicanery rarely impresses the electorate but it is about all Balls has in his arsenal unless he's had a charm transplant recently.

It will be fascinating to see what Neil asks him about. Will he talk about the bullying and Balls,s links to the McBrides of this world? Will he ask him about the deficit and his argument that Labour was wrong to promise to cut the deficit? Will Balls answer if he does or employ Brown style evasions and lies?

I'm looking forward to it already.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Off Target: PMQs 14th July 2010

It was another rather dull PMQs and not worth going into in any detail. Cameron was pretty good as usual and dealt pretty deftly with what little was bowled at him, sometimes with a defensive parry but also with some decent shots which won applause if not wild adulation. Harman bowled a couple of slow and easy balls as looseners, a couple of slightly more difficult balls which had Cameron flailing slightly but not too uncomfortable. Strangely she chose not to bowl a full over, finishing after only five. Had she run out of questions or was she afflicted by an injury?

Cameron's difficulty, if difficulty it was, was the appearance of not answering Hattie's question about the NHS and the guarantee implemented by Labour that cancer sufferers should see a specialist within two weeks. Cameron of course didn't answer the question as such. Doing so would have given Labour cheap headlines. Instead he made the perfectly reasonable argument that two weeks is too much for some. It wasn't a disaster but neither was it a masterpiece, unless of course you compare him with his predecessor.

The obvious way to answer this however is that the guarantee is just a target by another name and targets, as the last government demonstrated, are an ineffective way to manage health. They skew outcomes and force hospitals to behave in a way that does not necessarily provide better care in order to satisfy a centrally imposed diktat. Instead of Labour's uniform, one size fits all approach, the new government want people to be treated as individuals and for clinicians to assess individual needs. That is what Cameron was essentially saying in his slightly roundabout way.

My own experience is a case in point. Two years ago I was suffering badly with my back. I needed to see someone and was sent by my GP to see something called the Orthopaedic Assessment Service. This was essentially a physiotherapist with a fancy title. She examined me and told me I didn't need a scan or to see a specialist but needed physiotherapy. She then made an appointment for this several weeks hence. The impression I gained was that this entirely unnecessary middle woman was a device for meeting a target, after all back pain is very common and no doubt a drain on the health service.

As it happens she was wrong anyway. My problem would have been exacerbated by physiotherapy and I did need a scan. In the end, as the pain got worse, I called her again and asked to have an MRI. Once she saw the result of that she sent me to a specialist. Before that appointment fell due I ended up in A & E with a foot and leg that were both numb and partially paralysed and had to have emergency surgery. The numbness and partial paralysis are now permanent. Was this due to targets? I can't prove that it was but it certainly feels that way.

Targets are not always a bad thing. Being seen by someone in A & E within a set time is not unreasonable. But all patients are different. When I was rushed into hospital I was seen immediately because I had become an emergency. But there was no need for me to become that emergency.

Cameron is quite right to emphasise the need for outcomes to individuals to take precedence over headline grabbing targets. But he will need to find a better defensive stroke so as to better fend off these bouncers that Labour will keep sending down. The next time Harman talks about guarantees he should hook her to the boundary. Thanks to my defective left foot, if I tried such a shot I would probably fall over and on to the stumps.

Talking Balls

Have a read of this. It's a transcript, courtesy of The Spectator, of Ed Balls's interview with the Today programme yesterday in which he continued Gordon's legacy of twisting facts and arguments and refusing to acknowledge Labour's debt legacy. It's like we have Gordon Brown standing again for the leadership, excpet this time he has to be elected because he has been unable to bully all opposition in to submission.

Yet don't be surprised if all of this denial and counter intuitive nonsense plays well with large parts of the Labour Party and the unions, all of whom seem more than ready to adopt the same head burying strategy. Could this man really be the next leader of the Labour Party? Don't bet against it or Labour's tendency for self destruction.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Reform Agenda

I didn't say anything yesterday about Andrew Lansley's health reforms and so I will now. This is good, bold and much needed reform; abolishing a layer of useless bureaucracy and bringing power closer to the patient. It is what people like me have been arguing for for years.

Quite why Labour are opposing it now is a mystery since what is being proposed was their policy ten years ago and is what Tony Blair wanted to do but was blocked from achieving by his next door neighbour. So is the Labour front bench now Brownite rather than Blairite? Do they know what direction they are heading in?

Labour can, during the leadership interregnum, be forgiven I suppose for not really knowing what their policy is on anything. The four candidates with front bench positions are effectively making it up as they go along. But what then? Ed Balls has already signalled that he intends to go down a left and union pleasing road when it comes to economics. Will he also want to oppose reform of the public services as proposed by the coalition? Is that the progressive route? Watching whoever emerges victorious create a coherent set of policies when Blairite looking policies are being implemented by the coalition is going to be fascinating.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Old Labour Economics

Irritated by the success of the new government in pinning the blame on Labour for the state of the public finances and the resultant cuts, the left are now trying to pull off an impressive conjuring trick. The deficit, they intone, is not due to their profligacy and recklessness but mostly down to having to prop up failing banks.

This is simply not true.

This country is running a vast deficit, half of which is structural and that is down to the fact that Brown lost control of the public finances. He ran a deficit even during the years when the economy was booming. That undoes any claims that what they then did was in any way Keynesian. The huge spending splurge Brown went on was with money he had not got and was based on the assumption that the boom would never end. Even if the bust had never come he was still spending money we did not have. He was behaving every bit as recklessly as the bankers whom those on the left now try to blame for everything.

Tellingly Ed Balls, Brown's chief minion and heir apparent, now tells us that it was a mistake to promise that Labour would have sought to cut the deficit, not the debt, in half by the end of this parliament. This is part of his and his party's attempt to rewrite history. They had planned cuts of course but refused to tell us what they would be. Now it seems that they would probably have balked at imposing any cuts at all once the election was out of the way. Thus our nation's slow spiral to Greek style bankruptcy and calling in the IMF would have been assured.

As the cuts come thick and fast in the coming months Labour will pretend that they would have done things differently. The terrifying truth is that they may really mean it. They might not have cut at all once re-elected and by now we could have been facing financial meltdown. What has until now looked just like political opportunism may actually be even worse. They really may be that stupid.

Peter Mandelson: Dying Days of Labour

The first part of Peter Mandelson's memoirs are featured today in The Times, but of course unavailable to those who are unprepared to pay for it. As a public service, dear reader, I have read them for you. Frankly, you're not missing much.

The first part today tells the story of the final days and hours of the Brown administration, its struggle to maintain power and what little dignity it had left in those tumultuous days.

Mandelson continues the new strategy of painting the Lib Dems as the bad guys - selfishly pursuing their own ends at all costs, depositing Gordon on the scrap heap of history and playing off Labour against the Tories to get what they wanted. He fails to mention of course that at the same time Labour were clinging desperately to power, that the power struggle at the top of his party was starting already and that, in a telling sign of all that was wrong with New Labour, Brown and his minions (but not Mandelson apparently) regarded Cameron's early publicly stated willingness to do a deal with the Lib Dems as a sign of weakness rather than the first signs of a constructive approach that would come to be called the new politics.

And in amidst all of this was Gordon who saw the same result as the rest of us but clung to the belief that this meant he was entitled to hang on in Downing Street. There were almost certainly temper tantrums, depressive tendencies, paranoia and flying stationery in those days but none of it is reported here. The Dark Prince is spinning until the bitter end, although at least he admits that he wanted Gordon to leave while it was still light and for Cameron to arrive in darkness. Spinning  to the end and just as superficial. To think they used to call the media obsessed with trivialities.

The Times leader opines that none of this paints coalition politics in a good light. They may have a point. But it does rather depend on the personalities involved. David Cameron and his team actually come out of this rather well. Mandelson even acknowledges this. Brown and the Labour team could not agree what they wanted, what was best and even what they were trying to achieve. Did they want to ignore the verdict of the people and forge a coalition they would have insisted was progressive? Was Gordon really willing to go? If so why did he have to wait until October? Was that really for the good of the nation, the party and to somehow ensure the recovery or was it merely so that he could avoid humiliation?

Ultimately, despite the pretence at statesmanship and his argument that he was staying on until a deal was done, Brown flounced out before that deal was finally sealed. He did so because Mandy told him to get out before it became dark. That and his long sulk ever since is his enduring legacy.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Mandelson Cashes In

News International has recently started its great paywall experiment for The Times and Sunday Times. That which was free must now be paid for - hardly a revolutionary concept, and yet rather brave in these days when so many help themselves to content for nothing, whether they are supposed to or not. I have my doubts whether this great bold experiment will work, not because they are not both fine newspapers - I for one would never miss my print edition of The Sunday Times - but because I suspect that with so much free content still out there people will not see any reason why they should pay.

Presumably the editors in Wapping are hoping that their exclusive content, their columnists and other writers rather than freely available news, will be what wins people over. As part of this strategy they are this week running TV adverts featuring Peter Mandelson, yes the Dark Prince of Spin, Lord of many titles and former minister for everything is their sales pitch.

Are they out of their minds? I would pay good money to avoid having to read the lies, spin and 'candid recollections' of this nasty, oleaginous, mendacious man. I am sure that he will make a good living from settling scores, dishing the dirt and then heading off to some career in PR, or lording it over some hapless blue chip company which buys in to his reputation. He certainly was very quick to quit frontline politics after the election so that he could make as much money as quickly as possible. But I shall not knowingly be contributing to his coffers.

The rats are of course now deserting the sinking ship. Little Milly, now that Brown is away sulking in Scotland, now comes over all brave and starts laying into the failing of the project and Brown's wonky moral compass. But Mandelson, the Millies and the whole of the Labour project were quite happy to follow the man and defend his policies until just a few weeks ago. Now they expect to get credit, the leadership and book sales for confessing that they got it all wrong.

Peter Mandelson was everything that was wrong with the New Labour project but he is now an irrelevance - he no doubt knows this which is why he is so keen to get his memoirs out while they are still worth something.  The thought of him profiting from his years oozing what some regard as charm is enough to turn the stomach. I think I'll buy The Telegraph this weekend. But if he really dishes the dirt, the media will of course report it breathlessly. I predict that they will tell us what we already know - that the rumours and gossip he was recently so stoutly denying, about Gordon Brown, Tony Blair et al, were mostly true.

There, you read it here first. No charge.

A Pair of Pauls' Predictions

Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I feel I should point out that I predicted that Spain would win the World Cup some weeks ago. Of course this may not turn out to be the case. Except that my namesake, Paul the now world famous octopus, has chosen Spain too. The two of us combined ought to mean that bookmakers should be very afraid.

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Met Office's Missed Opportunity

How they must be kicking themselves over at the Met Office. The summer after they decided they would no longer humiliate themselves by wetting their finger, sticking it in the air and then calling it a long range forecast, we seem to be having what one might call, picking a phrase at random, a barbecue summer.

 If only they had tried one more year they would finally have got it right. Eventually it was bound to happen. You'd think that they would know that. After all, last year's excuse was that their prediction was only a statement of the probability of a barbecue summer - and the probability is that, like a stopped clock, Met Office long range forecasts, which, like the clock, always seem to say the same thing, will eventually be right.

But this is a lost opportunity. In the week that those scientists have been cleared of dishonesty and manipulating the evidence, this would have been a chance for our esteemed meteorologists to point to the skies and scream global warming. Instead they just have to shrug and call it weather.

Of course it's not yet at record breaking levels, like in America which is struggling through a 100 plus heatwave. Here in England we are having our usual mix of hot and humid, north south divides, rain on the peripheries and water companies threatening hosepipe bans. Anyone fancy an overdone steak? And if you see a red faced man who winces when you offer him a non soggy hamburger, he's probably a weatherman.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Silly Season Shooting Spree

We are heading inexorably towards silly season in the media, when parliament packs up for the summer, the newsrooms become strangely silent and the news bulletins are presented by people usually found doing other things, but who want the opportunity to display their other talents and thus boost their salaries and job prospects. I'm daily expecting someone tol pick up the phone and ask me to read the news or report some breaking story from somewhere inaccessible or unglamorous.

Indeed silly season really got started the week after George Osborne presented his Budget. Since then there has not really been a lot to say. It is part of the reason, in addition to the sanctimonious dwarf, why PMQs has been so dull lately. It's to be hoped it picks up in the autumn.

This is why our media has alighted on the story of Raoul Moat with such delight. 'Madman on the run' the headlines scream. 'Targeting the police'. It's manna from heaven, especially as the police have somehow contrived to make such a mess of everything and seem to be letting this very large and conspicuous man give them the slip on a daily basis whilst deploying the equivalent of an infantry regiment against him.

Of course he is a very British madman. He warned people in advance that he was plotting revenge but nobody took him terribly seriously. He has thus far shot three people, only killing one of them and even then under mistaken circumstances. He is now evading a 'huge manhunt' by driving around, living in a tent from time to time but still having the time to write very very long letters explaining himself and calling himself a bit of a nutter or words to that effect. At this rate he will soon become a kind of national institution. T shirts cannot be far away, after all this is a mad man called Raoul, what's not to like?

One gets the impression that this not very mad madman with the exotic name who also gets very angry with bailiffs (another qualification for national treasure status) is just enjoying all of the attention. He has not gone on a Whitehaven style shooting spree and yet has still managed to get his picture on every front page and in every news bulletin. The Sun should probably pay him royalties. ITN keeps calling his phone for some reason and getting no response. Don't they realise he is a bit too busy at the moment to trim their hedges? It's only a matter of time until he calls a phone-in or asks to go on Jeremy Kyle's I still love you but I shot you because you're shagging a policeman episode.

Not so long ago a psychologist on Newsnight, speaking about the latest American shooting spree, warned that such events would continue to happen precisely because these hopeless inadequates get so much attention. This is clearly the case, indeed some suggest that Moat may have been inspired by the events in Cumbria only a few weeks ago.

Summer is clearly the best time for these things though. There is so little other news going on that the various news agencies will soon be appointing their own Moat correspondents. Don't be surprised if he ends up with his own colum in The Sun.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

PMQs 7th July 2010

God PMQs was dull today. The sanctimonious dwarf, otherwise known as Speaker Bercow, has killed it. Any time a bit of heat is generated he stands up (no, really he does) and dampens it down like a fireman in a drought ravaged forest. But this is a tinderbox which is supposed to immolate. We secretly like our politics with a bit of Punch and Judy in them.

Cameron and Harman made a few jibes, found some inconvenient quotes about one another, but it failed to spark. It may be hot outside but this PMQs was a damp squib.

 This may be the new politics, and I'm all for it, but could we resurrect the old style once a week just for old time's sake? Is it too late to despatch the sanctimonious dwarf too?

Climategate: The Whitewash

As expected, the inquiry into Climategate looks and feels like a whitewash. Dr Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia has been cleared of dishonesty, a somewhat narrow and partial interpretation of what actually went on.

Yet the report does point the finger at the reluctance of those at this supposedly august body to share their data with anyone who does not toe the alarmist line. The content of those notorious e-mails showed the hostility believers have for those who do not share their belief and who ask inconvenient questions.

One of the central arguments for the alarmist case is the supposed consensus on their side of the argument. Let's leave aside for a moment the fact that science is supposed to work through evidence and proof rather than consensus. The fact that these scientists, at the cutting edge, have been so reluctant to share their data and thus expose it to scrutiny damages their case. If their science is so robust they should be keen, enthusiastic even, to share the data and methodology so that a real consensus can be created. Instead they obstructed those who wanted to find flaws. That is not how science works. If an idea or theory is good enough it should be able to withstand detailed scrutiny, however irritating and persistent that scrutiny is.

Scientists, for no apparent reason, seem to have have been credited by politicians and the media with an image which is at odds with reality. The assumption seems to be that scientists, unlike the rest of us, are immune from normal human failings like hubris, pride, arrogance, greed, partiality and ambition. Yet the story of AGW and the almost religious fervour which surrounds it proves the opposite. Perhaps this report will ensure that 'the science' is rather more robust as we commit billions and even trillions to preventing what may well be just natural variance. Given the austerity we are all being asked to go through, one would have thought that politicians should be asking a few awkward questions about the assumptions surrounding the politics of climate change.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

What's Funny?

Later this week, a new series of the alleged comedy My Family starts again on BBC One. Why? I have no idea. It's a genuine mystery. Watch stony faced this week as the studio audience bursts into paroxysms of laughter at an alleged witticism which would struggle to win over a school playground. It's all rather depressing.

Yet last weekend tears rolled down my face and I was temporarily incapacitated by a genuinely funny moment in another tv programme - about cars. I speak of course of Top Gear, a genuinely and consistently funny and entertaining show which puts the efforts of highly paid script writers to shame. I defy anyone not to laugh as Hammond sits in a car with a German oompah band for company and the end of a trombone appears behind his head coming in and out of shot periodically as he drives. I have to watch the repeat tonight just to see the parts I missed as I laughed out loud for several minutes, and wiped away the tears. The previous week's report by Clarkson into the problems associated with the Reliant Robin was also laugh out loud funny in a way that My Family and other sitcoms can only dream of.

I have in my time written a sitcom script or two (none as yet commissioned) and I flatter myself that they are better than much of the drivel which actually makes it to screen. Yet My Family, which routinely gets panned by the critics, keeps on going. Why? Seriously, BBC, do you think it's funny? Watch Top Gear tonight. That's funny. I think you all need to go on a refresher course.

Living the Dream

So, the Lib Dems long held dream is coming true (well, partially anyway) and we are to have a referendum on changing our electoral system. Cue lots of fuss from various backbenchers, accusations of gerrymandering from Labour and assorted whining from the minority parties.

What all the fuss is about is difficult to see. The present system is very difficult to defend. The sole defence seems to be that it creates strong and stable government. But it does so at the expense of creating strong and stable governments that, if they win just 38 to 40 per cent backing, can have huge and unassailable landslide majorities which take three or even four parliaments to overturn. Such majorities mean that parliament can be treated as a rubber stamp, governments become elective dictatorships and prime ministers can be changed without consultation thanks to dodgy deals done in Islington restaurants. Democratic?

All electoral systems of course have their flaws. The present system for electing our MEPs is a particularly bad example of what can happen with a badly designed one. But AV would at least mean the end of wasted votes and would mean that MPs would genuinely have the backing of a majority of their constituents - if only once second and maybe third preferences are taken into account.

Nobody likes change of course, least of all our MPs it would seem - at least they don't like it when it applies to them. But they ought to know by now that the British public is intelligent enough to learn how to use a system to get the result they want, or at least the result they don't want. We could be entering a period when coalitions such as our current one become the norm rather than the exception. Some Tories fear that this means a permanent left wing consensus keeping them out. Presumably they have been asleep since May 7th.

Some are arguing, ludicrously, that the British public should not be asked to vote in elections and referenda at the same time. Apparently we cannot be trusted to separate the two in our minds. Speaking for the electorate, I regard that argument as insulting. Next May is a logical and indeed economical time to hold the vote. MPs may be incapable of multitasking but I think the rest of us will probably cope just as they do in other countries like the US when multiple elections for various public posts and local referenda are held simultaneously.

And it is being argued seriously by some that if the Lib Dems do not win what they have long argued for, this will mean an end to the coalition. Is this a serious possibility? Maybe some on the backbenches would take this rather ungracious attitude but surely the majority would have to accept the will of the people? This is the party which spent the last election arguing that they are different to the other parties. How could they then reject the democratic will of the people in a fit of pique and plunge the country into minority government chaos?

On balance, at this early stage, I am minded to back the call for a change to our electoral system. I can see that this would be an improvement. Would it make life more uncertain and unpredictable? Perhaps. But as this government is in the process of proving, coalitions can and do work. They have proven it again this week by listening to the objections about their proposals on the 55% rule and changing to something more sensible and defensible. Coalitions can and do work but as a country (and the media in particular) need to accept that the corollary of the new politics is that parties will necessarily have to renege on earlier promises so as to do viable deals We got used to broken promises under Labour and they won majorities. Between now and next May, if they continue to work well together, that, rather than arcane arguments about systems and psephology will be the best case for this potential leap in the dark.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Royal Economics

Why do the media buy all of this spin about the royals and their spending of our money? Last week the Evening Standard ran a front page headline about how parsimonious Prince Charles is. Really? This is a man who manages to employ over 140 staff to look after his every whim and, in between sending out letters disseminating his strange opinions about any form of architecture which doesn't involve bricks and pillars, and urging the government to educate and medicate people according to his prejudices, he also manages to charter aircraft to go on fact finding tours of South America so as to form new ill informed opinions about climate change. Furthermore, he then went to Copenhagen last year on yet another plane, rather than travel with ministers, since his schedule was too crowded to share.

And yes the civil list has once again been frozen but they don't mention that the royals were given such a generous settlement by the Major government that they built up a substantial nest egg and this is why they have gone so long without a pay rise.

Ultimately this is a family which needs 4 separate palaces in London alone, for no reason anyone has ever been able to adequately explain. Yet now we must listen to their bleating that these various residences are in need of some TLC. It always reminds me of the time during the war when the then Queen, later the Queen Mother, opined that she could look the east end in the eye now that Buckingham Palace had been bombed. Except of course the east end didn't have half a dozen alternative residence to move into; three in London, one just outside London plus a couple well away from all of those nasty bombs.

The royals live a sybaritic lifestyle funded by the rest of us. Until only a few years ago the Queen paid no tax, something now conveniently forgotten. Charles has a private income from inherited estates which rightly belong to the state but which allow him to play at being a businessman. It's bad enough we have to have these mediocrities as a first family; it's bad enough that for some reason some amongst us regard them as in some way admirable by dint of their accidental ancestry; it's bad enough that Charles feels entitled to opine on all manner of subjects upon which he demonstrably knows little or nothing, including supporting the spending of NHS money on homeopathy. But then being told by a supine and credulous media that these parasites are behaving with great economy in these straitened times is irritating beyond measure. As these hard working exemplars prepare to head off for a two month long holiday at Balmoral, I for one don't buy the spin.

PS

The government is today publishing its constitutional reforms, including various measures to do with the dissolution of parliament now that David Cameron has given up the right to call elections. If we were a proper grown up democracy we would of course have a better system for doing this via a proper elected head of state. Because we have a monarch we must put up with this constant tinkering and rewriting of the rules. When we had a prime minister like Gordon Brown we even had the spectacle of him clinging on to his job after losing an election with the head of state incapable of removing him.

I find the whole issue of the civil list and the spending on the royal family tremendously irritating. But their presence also makes proper reform of our constitution and proper democracy remarkably difficult to achieve. What ultimately is the argument for keeping them? That the Queen is a trooper? Or is it just that they are good for tourism? Can anyone think of a good reason why, in the 21st century, we should maintain this ridiculous institution which so clogs the wheels of democracy?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Instruments of Repression

BBC London yesterday reported that a substantial minority of Muslims in this country are being allowed to ignore the law and withdraw their children from music lessons because it is incompatible with Islam. This, like the 'requirement' to cover the hair or wear a Niqab is one of those questions of interpretation raising its head once again.

What should schools do? They should insist that withdrawing children from music lessons is unacceptable. This is a clear example of the rights of the child being sacrificed at the altar of political correctness and multiculturalism. It is obscurantism as practised in Afghanistan taking place in the UK.

Children have the right to be protected from this kind of idiocy in the same way that they have the right to be protected from forced marriages, genital mutilation and honour killings all because someone insists that it is written somewhere and must be obeyed.

The Government, when asked about this, claimed that they are unaware of such withdrawals occurring. This however is just because schools and even OFSTED are turning a blind eye to it. This is a line in the sand which must be drawn and urgently.

A Vote of Confidence

The Football Association, that collection of hopeless amateurs who have somehow risen from much  deserved obscurity to run the nation's favourite sport, have today concluded that Fabio Capello is the best man for the England manager's job. Presumably their unanimity has more to do with their decision, just a few weeks ago, to remove the clause in Capello's contract which would have enabled either party to terminate it just after this World Cup. Once more this self appointed bunch of nonentities manage to make themselves, and the would be august institution they run so badly, look even worse than the man they have now given the dreaded vote of confidence to.

But this is the sort of vote of confidence for which football is notorious. It's just that this one saves them £12 million. It is the footballing equivalent of a politician claiming to have no plans to do something which we all know full well they are seriously considering.

Capello, we are assured unanimously, is the best man for the job. One can't help wondering if that is a complete sentence. Perhaps the full sentence should read: 'Fabio Capello is the best man for the job..... from a field of one, considering that we cannot afford to sack him.' They then added, soto voce, as Fabio would say through an interpreter: 'We're hoping that this will call his bluff and that he will decide to quit rather than have to put up with being called a turnip by the British press and booed the next time he shows his face at a game. People of England, your country needs you.'

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Does Prison Work?



The reaction to Ken Clarke's new approach to prisons, criminal justice, rehabilitation and recidivism is entirely predictable, not least the hypocritical one from the Labour Party. The same party forced to release people early from prison to alleviate stresses on the system, now criticises Clarke's pragmatic and logical arguments about short term sentences.

This is not to say that prison doesn't work. It does. But only under certain circumstances. If middle class people were somehow to end up in prison, even if just for a few days, the shock to their systems would be profound and they would almost certainly lead blameless lives thereafter. It would be a clear example of prison working. Jonathan Aitken is a famous example.



Prison also works in at least keeping determined recidivists and career criminals behind bars and thus protecting the public at least for a time. For some, prison is, as it was for Ronnie Barker's greatest creation Norman Stanley Fletcher, an occupational hazard. It is arguable that the only way to break that particular kind of attitude is to give longer, harsher sentences. But even that may be too much of a generalisation if they have children, families and longer sentences would break those connections to normality. The recent ITV series in London's Wormwood Scrubs prison illustrated how the longing for contact with children can make even the most hardened of prisoners and hopeless cases re-evaluate their lives.

What Clarke is arguing is that for prison to 'work' it needs to be tailored to the individual. If that individual is a vicious murderer then the solution is easy. But lower down the scale, criminality is a choice as a consequence of a lack of choice. Other factors come into play from drugs, poor education, poverty and simple fecklessness. Unless we treat incarceration as purely kneejerk revenge it is seldom a remedy.

Community sentences are seen as a soft option and they probably are all too often. But then many sent to prison repeatedly hardly regard that as onerous. What would be harder would be forcing such people to do a decent day's work, enforced drugs testing, curfews, education and other more creative solutions. It's not a popular message which is why Labour are opportunistically opposing it. But that should tell us that Clarke is on to something.