Wednesday, 31 October 2012

PMQs 31st October 2012 - The Europe and Tarzan Edition


Labour, the party that signed the Lisbon Treaty without the referendum they had previously promised and which handed back part of our hard won rebate to the EU in return for empty promises all of which have been broken, seems now to have decided it would be politically expedient to turn a little Euro sceptic. Now this ought to make them a laughing stock or possibly reduce people to incoherent rage. But then the Labour leadership rarely worry about that sort of thing. They spent their thirteen years in power sloganising rather than governing so why are we surprised by their behaviour now? Of course their attempt to turn on a sixpence happens at the same time as their most electorally successful leader has started openly campaigning to be President Blair. The EU's current insistence on a larger budget would presumably be spent on his retinue and a nice big plane like the one the Americans have.

Presumably Labour would be opposed to this excess as they claim that the government should be cutting our contribution to the EU. They are opposed to all cuts except to Europe. So cuts that, they claim, are devastating for our economy are okay in Europe? That's not very internationalist is it? Or is this part of their One Nation soundbite dressed up as an agenda? From now on sod the rest of the world we're one nation. Catchy! You have to wonder how these people manage to walk in a straight line, such is their tendency to zig zag on a daily basis.

But would the newly confident Wallace have the courage to try to make these nakedly opportunistic points to Dave? Would Dave put him in his place or fluff his lines again?




Dave got his retaliation in early in response to a supportive question from Andrew Stephenson and would use the veto if necessary. He laid into Labour's naked opportunism before Wallace asked his question and then again once it had been asked.

Wallace came back with a quote accusing Dave of the same opportunism. He then started his schoolboy taunting with the crimson tide coming up again and even adopted the sort of voice he probably used when he was trying not to be beaten up at school as he told Dave he . It made him look like a twerp quite frankly. His determination to reverse the taunts Dave used to level at him smacks of immaturity. Wit would be better. There was precious little sign of it.


But that was all we were treated to on Europe. Wallace probably felt he had to bring the subject up as it is a wonderful opportunity to get Tories upset about Europe and fighting with themselves and the Lib Dems. The fact that it makes him look like a monstrous hypocrite and a shameless opportunist doesn't enter into it. I would judge however that someone may well tell him not to use that voice he used to taunt the PM about the possibility of him losing a vote. It's nauseating.

Wallace then moved on to Michael Heseltine. Dave defended himself stoutly, although not particularly convincingly. This is odd because the government commissioned a report and got a warts and all assessment of what is needed. The critique was of industrial policy over decades, not just the present. Wallace refused to see this. Indeed it is probable that Wallace and his party would never commission such a report. They prefer to know what is going to be in them in advance. It's why industry diminished so markedly, not under Thatcher but under Blair and Brown. Dave sort of said that. But not quite.

Wallace deployed his usual response by summing up what the prime minister had just said. It's the politics of assertion over actual argument. It's rather like soundbite politics and his constant repetition of that one nation line. If he keeps telling us that the prime minister is not answering very well or is getting angry then we will believe him apparently. They are also telling us how weak the PM is, and now comparing him to John Major, forgetting that it is thanks to Sir John that we had an opt out from the Euro, not a bad piece of negotiation I think we can all agree.

To my eyes Dave seemed perfectly calm if a little weary with the annoying little twerp with no policies or principles opposite him and who was let off the hook by the Speaker when asked if he would veto an unacceptable deal. But Dave attacked the jokes more than the lack of policy, although admittedly the jokes weren't up to much. At the end he dismissed him with one line: he's no Michael Heseltine. No, that's true. But who is Dave emulating? On Europe and the leader of the opposition, he could do with swinging a metaphorical mace as Tarzan once did many years ago. Indeed he could do worse than emulate John Major, let alone Margaret Thatcher.

Let Parliament Take the Blame


Parliament will be having one of its rare days of assertiveness today as Tory backbenchers and those mischievous scamps from the Labour Party posing as principled defenders of the nation's finances try to give Dave a red face or worse in preparation for the forthcoming haggling over the EU Budget. Number 10 is insisting that they will veto any demands for increases above inflation, perhaps forgetting to mention that, as with all things, it just ain't that simple when it comes to the EU. We could somehow be made to pay more even after a veto thanks to various arcane rules. All the more reason, one would imagine, to say no now, or at least to tell our 'partners' that they can spend what they like, we're freezing our contributions and won't pay a penny more. That would concentrate minds.

Some are pointing out of course that the prime minister ought to be grateful for the chance to blame his  unwillingness to compromise on parliament. This of course is true, although whether the Eurocrats would understand the notion of a democratic body preventing them having their way is a moot point. Nevertheless it is difficult to understand Dave's reluctance to go into the negotiations with this formidable weapon at his disposal.

If you're unwilling to say no, prime minister, blame it on others. You might get to like it and then promise the referendum the British people demand. We don't mind taking the credit for doing the right thing for the country. The last time we made a British prime minister do that it kept us out of the disaster that is the Euro.  

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The City That Never Sleeps Has Sleepless Night

So, is ex hurricane Sandy, or the Frankenstorm the product of global warming? Well, even if it is, and hurricanes are hardly unprecedented even this far north, this does not mean that this is the consequence of human activities, however much the green meanies want to point at us, and those gass guzzling Americans in particular, and say 'we told you so.'

Because the simple answer is that we just don't know and it is the purest arrogance and hyperbole to say that we do. All things being equal, warmer seas and higher humidity (it's increased over the last 40 years or so) could well lead to higher intensity storms. But we are simply not in a position to make that determination, indeed studies have been unable to make any link between storm intensity and warming on either side of the Atlantic, especially since hurricane seasons vary from year to year. Science is about theorising and then making observations to confirm the theories or amend them accordingly. The data does not yet exist and this storm, though devastating, does not help.



Hurricanes are a chaotic product of a multitude of complex factors only some of which we understand. It is possible that such storms may increase. But recent research has shown the opposite. Sandy was not a particularly bad storm in the grand scheme of things. It was, however, a very large storm and, more importantly, it took a more devastating track through densely populated areas less accustomed to hurricanes.

Large cities, particularly those on the edge of oceans, are especially vulnerable to storms like this because it doesn't take much to affect their infrastructure. Modern life relies on a reliable source of power. Cities like New York come to a standstill without it.

The best sense we have heard on this has come from a New York cabbie interviewed by BBC News. Sorry, I missed his name. Most people, this sage told us, will have been inconvenienced by Sandy but will not have had their lives wrecked. They have just had an unexpected day off and will not know what to do with themselves during the interregnum. Sandy has been a big news event and will provide copy and pictures to blogs, newspapers and TV companies around the world. But that's all really. Nothing changes.






Monday, 29 October 2012

The Political Game



Want to know why people are increasingly turned off politics in this country and across the democratic west? You only had to look at what happened this last week and across the parties.

The most egregious example was of course in Scotland where the ineffably smug and cynical Alex Salmond was finally hoist by his own bombast and arrogance. He lied. He lied on national television and did so in a way that even he, with his prodigous talent for half truths and evasions, is struggling to extricate himself from. He was even caught out proposing to spend public money to evade the truth about his lies coming out. He said he had asked for legal advice and hadn't. Then, when people asked to  see this legal advice, he refused to publish since it didn't exist and fought a war of attrition with public money attempting to defend his right to keep the non existent advice private. Now he is going to have to commission the advice after all.

The consolation for all of us who believe in democracy is that this is actually an example of it working beautifully. Only a week since the deal was done for Scotland to get the referendum that Salmond has been working for all of his career, the wheels are already coming off the SNP bandwagon as its various arguments for independence fail to stand the test of analysis and debate. It makes you wonder why they are so keen to allow this process to last for another two years. I think we can safely say that this is not because they are keen to debate all of the issues exhaustively. Their case is transparently ridiculous.

And this is not to say that Scotland could not exist independently. Of course it could. But why would it want to when we have 300 years of becoming intertwined and stronger together whilst managing to keep separate identities and cultures intact? And why would it want to do so whilst being willing and indeed keen to shackle itself to the EU, something that may not even be constitutionally possible if the lawyers, European politicians and Eurocrats are right. How is rule from notoriously undemocratic Brussels, which is dominated by the larger countries, a better deal for a tiny and independent Scotland? Scotland may feel it gets a raw deal now, something which many of us would dispute and which will no doubt be debated a great deal these next two years, but that is nothing to how it would be sidelined within the EU - and that's only if it is allowed in.

The fact is that the SNP is lying to the Scottish people about the real motivations behind their call for independence. It is nothing to do with increased prosperity and greater autonomy. It is everything to do with this juvenile, self indulgent chippiness, this resentment of the English so beautifully embodied by SNP politicians. It would be farcical were it not so dangerous for Scotland.

But the SNP are not alone in this purblindness. Look at Labour. This last couple of weeks we have seen  real indications that Britain is at last emerging from the recession that they helped to create with their crazy and reckless spending and abandonment of fiscal discipline whilst posing as saviours and the creators of the 'end of boom and bust.' We are not out of the woods yet. The economy is going to zig zag for months. But private sector employment is holding up well and the cuts, for all of the bleating by the left, are just not wreaking the havoc that the jeremiahs predicted.



Yet Labour's prescription for the still tough times ahead is higher spending. Just last week Wallace went on to a TUC stage and told booing and even more delusional protesters that the government cuts were too far and too fast. Ed Balls (see earlier post) still refuses to accept that the government of which he was such a prominent part even ran up a structural deficit.

Lefty politicians as a rule don't believe in a god (one of the few things with which we are in agreement) but they do believe in magic. It's just that they call it Keynesianism. They honestly believe that there is a painless way of way of extricating us from recession, fostering growth and keeping their various clients in the (publicly funded) money. This, they dream, creates the growth which pays off the debts and all is well. In reality, had Labour won the last election, they would have either cut a similar amount to what the present government is cutting or would have been forced to by markets made nervous by their lack of discipline. Ah, the banks again, the lefties would say. But it's not banks is it. It's all of us, investing our money. If we worry that a creditor is a risk we demand more interest. If we suspect that the politicians taking borrowed money as an easy option are going to renege or stoke inflation to magic it away we are naturally nervous. It's actually a perfectly rational response.

And what lefties also don't realise is that when states spend ever higher sums on themselves that sucks money out of the economy. If money is being spent on the pipe dreams and fantasies of politicians who cannot face economic reality it doesn't get invested in new businesses, research and development, new equipment and eventually jobs. Thus the money they suck out of the economy ultimately leads to lower growth. Perhaps I should repeat that again, but in capitals: THE MONEY THEY SUCK OUT OF THE ECONOMY ULTIMATELY LEADS TO LOWER GROWTH. The easy option for cowardly politicians ultimately impoverishes us all and our children on to whom the debt has been loaded.

And what of the Tories? Well for the last couple of weeks they too have been playing the game. They have been talking tough on criminals, telling householders that they can  use force to defend themselves and telling prisoners that they will not get the vote. They are also making tough noises about Europe, about negotiating a new deal for us and refusing to pay anything above inflation into EU coffers. They have even been making noises about an EU referendum.



And it's not that I disagree with any of these positions. It's that I doubt that they will deliver. Constant disappointment has made me cynical like the rest of the country.

What none of them seem to comprehend is that, if they would just take the strong lines that they constantly threaten to take on all of these issues, then they would reap the electoral rewards. Tell Europe they can't have any more money, not even an inflation rise. Tell the courts to take a more robust and defensible line on householders defending their families. Tell the ECHR that our parliament, our democratically elected parliament, rejects wholesale their demand to give prisoners the vote. What do international obligations have to do with anything? This has nothing to do with international obligations. Nobody could argue that prisoners are suffering or having their human rights callously disregarded. They are having some rights removed when sent to prison after due process. They get them back when they have served their term.

And if the government were to give a firm commitment now that we will have an in/out referendum on Europe it would strengthen their negotiating hand in trying to get us a better deal. Experience suggests that such a deal will not be available anyway. The rest of Europe is determined to continue on its path to ever closer union. We, with the exception of the Lib Dems and the sort of people who seem for some reason to be listened to more than the majority, think that way is folly. We used to say the same about the Euro and still do. We want a referendum because it is the only way we will be listened to by our own government and the EU elite.

And these stances would be popular. They would make life difficult for the government but do they seriously think that the present situation of fudge and muddle and kicking things into the long grass is easy?

The reason that politics and politicians have become so unpopular and the electorate so cynical is that all too often they are conducting a conversation and consulting only with themselves and the metropolitan elites from which they are drawn. Yes they can buy votes with short term gimmicks, they can make themselves popular by spouting meaningless slogans, refusing to answer awkward questions or set out policies. They can do this in government as well as in opposition as we have seen over a new London airport and the constant fudging over the EU.

But ultimately these questions have to be faced, tough choices have to be made. We saw what happens when you have a government that prefers being popular and being re-elected to making tough choices and responsible decisions between 1997 and 2010. That is why we are in our current mess. This government, despite its coalition nature, is successfully pushing through some real and necessary changes. If only it could toughen up and follow through its tough words, it could be popular and get re-elected. And it could be a Tory government without those annoying Lib Dems in the way.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Economics of Balls


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For all that Labour may currently be riding high in the polls and giving the government an uncomfortable time, every once in a while they are forced to confront their own problems and intellectual dishonesty. They are there for all to see in the person of Ed Balls, still using Brownlike evasions and half truths to dodge his own culpability in our economic mess, still in denial about Labour's bankruptcy, still having learnt nothing from his 13 years at or near the seat of power.

As the economy shows clear if tentative signs of recovery (so what if the Olympics are a large part of the reason, surely an economic boost was one of the reasons we wanted to host them?) and the government has a rare week of good news, Labour may now have to explain more and spend less time making cheap political points. When pushed they're not too good at it. See above.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

PMQs 24th October 2012 - The Post Sabbatical Edition



A week, as a prime minister once said, is a long time in politics. Thus six months is an aeon. This blog was last able to write about PMQs a political aeon ago. A lot has changed.

Back then the man we used to call Forrest and now call Wallace was making his first tentative steps to becoming a decent leader, or at least a man capable of giving a reasonable impression of one. David Cameron was still giving a decent impression of being a competent prime minister.

How things have changed. We have had the summer of omnishambles. We have had....well that's it really. Nothing has changed as far as the leader of the opposition was concerned. Oh he gave that speech, something apparently highly impressive as a feat of memory, even though he missed a bit out and was completely devoid of any real content. But the major difference is that he has the confidence of a man who is facing an opponent who keeps cocking up and serving up ream after ream of priceless material. Dave gave a good speech too at the conference. He had to. The difference was that prime minister's have to do more than that. At the moment he seems incapable of more.

The great saving grace of left wing politicians is their utter shamelessness. Thus the former energy secretary Miliband can make great hay of the problems with our energy providers. Labour, the party of Gordon Brown, can talk without irony about government incompetence or of the sheer awfulness of that 45p tax band, despite their having kept it at a lower rate throughout their tenure. Labour, the party of the Railtrack debacle, can talk of the West Coast Mainline debacle and keep a straight face. The party of such grand and arrogant figures as Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and Robin Cook has the effrontery to call others out of touch. But the fact is that the can do so because they face a Tory party utterly incapable of taking them on and counterattacking.

Leading that party is the new David Cameron, a man who seems determined to make up for all of the advantages he enjoyed in his early life by screwing up his time as the nation's leader as recompense. This new diminished figure rose today for PMQs against Wallace, the man who cannot believe his luck.  He looks like he has inherited a cheese factory.



And here's the thing: Wallace still isn't that great. He rose and asked his question about Dave's premature announcement last week about energy prices. He had a little joke about telling the house - and his energy secretary - about the policy. His timing was lousy. It was a good joke. It was delivered with all of the aplomb of a BBC Director General.

Not that Dave's response was any better. A more confident man would bat away the little lad with a bit of Blairish false modesty, a little self deprecation, a well timed joke. The PM stuck rigidly to script. He almost always does when his form is suffering. It was not a good script. It sounded like the sort of thing that a decent BBC editor would reject for transmission. It even had a note of Lib Dem style sanctimony in it with a reference to that speech about strivers.

Wallace fired back about Dave's alleged inability to do detail. So Dave did detail, detail about Wallace's flip flopping and opportunism. He stumbled a little and sounded perhaps a little nervous. But it was a decent response from a man under fire.

Up popped Wallace with a boast about his record as Energy Secretary. Bills, he informed the nation, fell under him. It's a spectacularly disingenuous boast of course. Those were different times. But Wallace has never been a man who worries about that sort of thing. What a fine prime minister he would make in the classic Labour tradition.

So Wallace moved on to the West Coast Mainline and made a few jibes about that chaos and the various ministerial promises made on that subject. Dave's response was fumbling now. Yes he fired back with some lines about Labour's record on energy prices but forgot to make a couple of points and tripped himself up when he remembered. He was trying to sound confident and breezy. But this was not a prime minister who sounded chillaxed.

Dave was trying to attack and did so by pointing out, not unreasonably, that Wallace won't talk about any of the big subjects that really matter. He, said the PM, just wants to make a lot of rubbish jokes. This was demonstrably unfair. The jokes aren't bad. It was the delivery from both sides of the aisle that was failing. But then that's true of government by all of the parties.

This was not as disastrous a performance by the PM as some have indicated. Speaking as someone who hasn't watched these sessions for a while, they didn't look so different. Sure Wallace looks more confident and Dave a little rattled at times, but then both have a right to be.

Labour have a narrative of government incompetence and confusion they are determined to stick to. But they do so because they have so little to say about themselves and their solutions. At the end Dave recited a list of statistics about unemployment, inflation and other indicators that were part of the good news that emerged last week but which we missed because of all of the other news burying it. Labour responded by alleging, absurdly, that the PM had broken the rules by hinting that the GDP figures are also going to be good news tomorrow. That actually says a great deal more about them than they should be comfortable with. We have a PM who is currently struggling and failing to get his message across. But at least he has one.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The BBC and Savile


Since the Jimmy Savile scandal broke, the BBC has been spinning for all of its worth. Yet the story keeps changing. They have managed to make even the Downing Street operation look competent and trustworthy.

Their latest ruse to try and regain public trust was last night's Panorama in which they investigated themselves, or at least gave a decent impression of having done so. Newsnight has tried the same trick in the last couple of weeks too. It's not working.

It looks as though even this attempt to make itself look at least belatedly open is less than it seems.  The Newsnight team whose investigation into Savile was dropped without proper reason emerge with great credit. They tried repeatedly to alert management to the issues that are now being revealed. Those e-mails, however, were omitted from the Panorama investigation.

Peter Rippon, Newsnight's editor, was suspended yesterday. He should have been sacked because his decision to drop the investigation looks suspicious and, even if we accept his explanation still looks inexplicable. Perhaps he wasn't sacked because there was indeed pressure put on him by senior management and they realise that they are now in the frame. That suspicion, which was always a possibility, now looks probable given that we know they are saying it was all Rippon's decision and yet have admitted that this justification for that decision on a blog was inaccurate and misleading. The two statements cannot be reconciled surely?

Whatever the truth, and it is starting to emerge, it is hard to see how Rippon can survive in his job. His suspension is just going through the motions.

Yet his might not be the greatest misjudgement. That could be the one the BBC board made when they appointed George Entwistle to the DG post. He looks out of his depth. He is mishandling this crisis on a daily basis. But more than that he has either applied the pressure in the first place or seems to have not asked the right questions about this scandal and the Newsnight investigation. Indeed his account is that he didn't ask any questions at all about an inquiry into a man who was about to be given a rousing send off by his former employers in the Christmas schedules. It looks and is unbelievable.

On current evidence, Entwistle's tenure as DG may be very short lived.


Saturday, 20 October 2012

This Hopeless, Hapless Government


I stand by what I wrote just two days ago on this blog. It is ridiculous that a man has to resign for losing his temper and because the police are engaged in a campaign against the government. But he almost certainly did use the pleb word. That makes him a liar too. And not a very good one.

But then this is also symptomatic of a hopeless and hapless government that keeps contriving to make a mess of things. Had David Cameron sacked Mitchell immediately he would have looked like the decisive leader he did when the MPs expenses scandal erupted while he was still in opposition. His instincts to protect a man from attack were sound enough. His political instincts as usual were awry. He should either have sacked him immediately or stuck with him through thick and thin. Instead Mitchell's enemies got their man, Labour and backbenchers have won a major battle and the prime minister looks weak, indecisive and plain inept. His reshuffle has been mixed. Some new appointments have been encouraging. Too many, like Mitchell and the curiously promoted Jeremy Hunt, look disastrous and accidents that have either happened or are waiting to happen.

Last week, briefly, David Cameron looked to be recovering. This week, following his premature announcement on energy bills and now the Mitchell debacle, not to mention headlines about the Chancellor who tries to travel first class at standard class prices, he looks once again like the PR man who is not terribly good at governing. Oh and he's not great at PR either. How did he make his millions?

And it shouldn't be like this.  The economy is showing signs of recovery. The government is being dragged into taking more popular and indeed populist lines on Europe and crime. It is winning the argument on education and welfare. But what's the betting that Osborne will cock things up with his autumn statement?

This is a prime minister who may as well never have made that speech of only 10 days ago. This is a government that needs to get joined up quickly. Given its track record I have no confidence it is capable of doing so under its present leadership. For the sake of the Conservative Party, Mr Cameron needs to buck his ideas up or give way to a man who can run more than a whelk stall. For the sake of the country, backbench Tories should keep the pressure up. We are dangerously close to people thinking that the return of Labour under the disingenuous and policy light Miliband is now inevitable.

Interlude

Interlude

Friday, 19 October 2012

Losing Sleep Over Surveys


We constantly hear from various scientists that they need ever more funding for their research. Most unthinkingly accept that such spending must be a good thing. Science is important. We must fund research to improve our lives.

Yet the next time we are told that research is in peril, perhaps we should think back to the survey that is making many of the papers this week about what your sleeping position says about you. Apparently sleeping in the foetal position, as above, means that you are a worrier. My own sleeping position, on my side with an arm tucked under the pillow and knees slightly bent, means that I am a forgotten genius sure to change the world in a meaningful way once that genius is recognised.

Actually I just made that bit up. But how do we know that it's not true? How does the 'body language expert' prove his assertions? How does he know that the way we sleep is not just down to what is most comfortable? What about where we sleep? What about the bed, the environment, whether or not we are alone, whether or not our partner snores?

When newspapers refer to experts, what qualifications do these experts possess? And why, if they are so expert, are they not named? Could it be because they are just using guesswork?

And how much money are we wasting on these pointless and spectacularly unrevealing surveys? Will it make you change the way you sleep, or don't you really have any choice in the matter if you want a decent night's kip?

Still, best not to lose sleep over it, eh?

The Politics of Twits and Twats


Remember when David Cameron once opined on-air that too many tweets made a twat? Well he's in the process of proving himself apposite and on the money. Today, on his new Twitter account, he made the following observation:

Two great signs of govt successes today - crime down again and proof NHS spending is rising 

Truly he is the heir to Blair. Or maybe it's Gordon Brown. Success is measured in increased spending apparently, because that all worked out so well in the Labour splurge years didn't it. The same government that is telling all services, not least the truculent police forces, that they need to become more efficient, is at the same time giving the opposite message, or at least conflicting messages to the NHS. Oh and they love it apparently.

We should always be suspicious of politicians when they tell us that they love institutions, particularly large and unwieldy behemoths like the NHS. You can love or at least admire the principles behind it by all means, but love is blind and loving the NHS will just mask its multiple failings. The NHS is a failed experiment preserved in aspic and defended most vehemently by the million people who earn a living from it rather than those who use it.

Last night, for reasons best known to them, the BBC had Tommy Sheridan as a guest on This Week. Sheridan, with all of the bluster and problems with reality that he became famous for, sees Scottish independence as a means of creating a socialist state and stopping the privatisation of the NHS. He is the sort of politician who professes love for the NHS. He is also one of the biggest twats ever to occupy a position of power in British politics and proved so once again last night. Maybe Scottish independence wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.

Maybe our prime minister should think twice in future about allying himself with the sort of unthinking adherence to this kind of dogma. The public don't believe you when you tell us you love the NHS, Mr Cameron. It makes you look like a Tommy Sheridan.    

 

Inside the Internet

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Closing the Door on GateGate


To those still obsessing about GateGate, could we please just leave this now? You haven't got your man and neither should you. For Labour,the party of Gordon Brown, the prime minister who called a pensioner a bigot and who used regularly to throw actual objects rather than just words at people to be  claiming outrage at this is beyond parody.

This is entirely a Westminster Village obsession. Nobody else cares. Most people don't worry too much about the word pleb, it's a word that only has resonance among public school boys and Marxists.

And, as we have seen all too often recently, the police long ago left behind their Dixon of Dock Green image and probably never really deserved it. They are the most vested of vested interests, utterly tribal when push comes to shove and have tried to use this issue to defend themselves against attack. The government treating them like just another public service and demanding changes to working practices and some much needed efficiencies? Horrifying! Best go on the counterattack.

Did Mitchell call a police officer a pleb? Maybe he did. But who cares? The man has apologised. Or does the country that routinely lets off burglars with cautions or community sentences really believe that a man should have his career ruined for losing his temper and using language much milder than that our suddenly sensitive bobbies usually manage to ignore on the average Saturday night in our city centres?

Our Enervated Energy Market



The latest accusations of shambles levelled at the government are hitting the headlines today - although at least it has meant that the latest tedious rumours about GateGate have subsided once again. Is this another shambles? Well not quite, although it certainly doesn't smack of decisive and joined up government.

But if it is it's because this is the legacy of years of indecision, green posturing and having Lib Dems in government. The state of our energy market is nothing for Labour to crow about though. They allowed the situation to develop in this area as in so many by never making decisions that might have offended the focus groups, about building of new capacity and not cracking down on energy companies when they had their vast majorities.

The fact is that our energy providers are taking customers for a ride. It's a market that is simply not working. They often don't unless regulators step in. Nobody ever said that capitalism is perfect and always delivers best value. This is especially the case for those products we are forced to buy through necessity and which can be made opaque through pricing policies. Energy is a classic example.

The car industry used to call Britain treasure island because they were able to charge much higher prices for products that were much cheaper on the continent. The same is now true of the various foreign owned utilities that have become cash cows and which put up prices routinely just ahead of winter or when the oil price rises and demonstrably do not lower them with anything like the same alacrity. The fact that they all raise their prices within days or even hours of each other is another sign that all is not right.

The prime minister's unexpected announcement of forcing providers to put customers on to their lowest tariff is not a bad idea. Much better than the Lib Dem's supposed solution. But it is a properly functioning market we need.

The solution would actually be to simply have industry standard tariffs rather than allowing the various providers to create their own differing tariffs. If we had energy packages set by the regulator, the energy companies would be easier to compare and thus would have to compete on price and price alone. We can all see easily what we are having to pay for a litre of petrol or diesel, if you have to buy oil or LPG for your home you can compare also. So why not just have such a system for gas and electricity? Why allow the companies to create complex and deliberately confusing tariffs which you need a mathematics degree to understand and calculate?

 If people can compare easily you create a functioning market. It is not in the interests of our fat cat utilities to allow that to happen. They have to be forced to compete.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

PMQs 17th October 2012 - The Didn't Get To See Them Edition


Since I have now resumed blogging after my enforced sabbatical, I would normally now be writing about today's resumption of PMQs. Sadly however I shall today be receiving poor treatment from St Mary's Hospital and engaging all of the sarcasm normally directed at the House of Commons at my orthopaedic consultant who has lately been incurring my wrath.

Hopefully, dependent upon what said consultant says, normal service will be resumed next week.

In the meantime, please take a look at some old reviews. In particular this one from earlier this year has lately been getting a lot of hits.  

A Good and Bad Day for Freedom and Democracy


Sometimes you have to wonder about this government. Even when they are having a good day, as they undoubtedly were when Theresa May announced yesterday that she would not allow the extradition of Gary McKinnon, they somehow contrive to do something else wrong. And I don't just mean that, in order to do the right thing by the silly Mr McKinnon, she had to employ some double standards and  invoke the otherwise despised human rights act.

When Mrs May announced yesterday that Mr McKinnon was not to be sent to America to stand trial for his alleged hacking crimes, she managed in one stroke to unite on her side Tory backbenchers, the Guardian reading classes, the Daily Mail (not withstanding the human rights act) and even the grudging admiration of Labour - even if they would probably have made the opposite decision if in government because old habits die hard.

Conservatives liked it because it was an example of national sovereignty being asserted. The Guardian reading classes liked it because it was standing up to the Americans. One blogger even called it a Love Actually moment (lefties love that film, or at least the part when Hugh Grant's prime minister stands up to the bullying president - it's like their wet dream). Indeed if only Mrs May could have been persuaded to let Nick Clegg stand up in parliament and make the announcement the Tories could probably have got their boundary changes voted through in return. The Daily Mail liked it because.....well I'm not sure. I find it hard to understand the Daily Mail at the best of times. But it was a genuinely impressive moment from a government that needs them desperately. Some even started talking of Mrs May's potential leadership credentials. I know. People got a bit carried away.


But then this welcome example of liberalism and good sense was all ruined by the announcement that Prince Charles's extensive correspondence with various government ministers will not be made public. Furthermore this will be the case because Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, has vetoed their publication following a long legal battle that the government was about to lose.

Mr Grieve said that the letters are 'particularly frank' and 'would potentially have undermined his position of political neutrality.' But then that was why we wanted to see them. That is why we ought to see them and are furious that we can't.

Charles has long been a prolific letter writer, having convinced himself that he is an expert on all manner of subjects. His meddling, judges have opined, is a matter of considerable public interest and they should be published. If this undermines his neutrality then whose fault is that? Perhaps, as a neutral, he shouldn't be firing off these letters, although why anybody should pay attention to a man who is a passionate believer in homeopathy and other alternative medicines remains a mystery.

Nevertheless, if an unelected but mysteriously influential man is seeking to intrude on public policy and the spending of public money then surely we have a right to know?  Perhaps now someone will leak the letters. I for one would publish them. If anyone does will they be locked in The Tower of London?  

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

My Left Foot


As regular readers will no doubt have noticed, this blog has become rather thin of late. Now it is time for me to explain why.

Earlier this year, long before the summer began, or at least should have begun, for  reasons that we need not go into here, I became semi-homeless. By this I mean that I had no place to call my own, forced to rely on family and friends for a place to sleep and on a few occasions having nowhere at all to hang my hat at night and so having to wander the streets and avail myself of London's legion of homeless services - a very hit and miss affair this, there is one organisation called No Second Night Out which is a pathetic and useless joke, a typical consequence of politicians and know-nothing do gooders garnering headlines and concocting slogans rather than doing anything constructive about the problem they claim to be trying to solve. But this will be the subject of a future blog.

The corollary of all of this was that, like many of the homeless, I developed a great tan and a prematurely aged face plus problems with my feet. Since I have no feeling in my left foot - the consequence of nerve damage after a slipped disc caused havoc in my back a few years ago - I was walking around getting blisters and the like without knowing about it. One blister, near the little toe of my left foot rapidly became an ulcer - a large hole in the sole of my foot - and this became infected.



And so I turned to the NHS. Now these sort of problems are not unknown to the NHS. They are very common, although they usually afflict diabetes sufferers, who endure numbness allied to poor circulation, a potentially devastating condition leading to amputation and, frequently, early mortality. I lost count of the number of times I was asked by doctors, nurses and other health practitioners whether or not I was diabetic.

But, given this knowledge, my experience of NHS treatment of this well known condition was not a good one. It was like banging my head against a brick wall. My ulcer became infected. I was put on to antibiotics. Sometimes it became so bad that I had to go to A and E, be given IV antibiotics and kept in for 24 hours. But on each occasion I was sent on my way, usually with yet another course of oral antibiotics. I had five courses. Once each one finished the infection quickly came back. I was having the wound cleaned and dressed at walk-in centres (an excellent innovation) on an almost daily basis and yet still the infection kept returning, my foot swelled like a football and nobody seemed to have any idea about what to do except dispensing yet more pills and sending me on my way until the next time. I was given conflicting advice and often told that it wasn't infected only for a test to reveal that it was. The smell should have been a give away, but not according to some doctors.

I consulted my GP, nurses, A and E doctors and got nowhere. Worse than that, my frequent trips to various hospitals were being noticed and logged and they seemed to think I was some kind of hypochondriac.

But even this depended on which doctors I spoke to. On one occasion I went to A and E at Homerton Hospital in east London. The doctors were excellent, agreed that drastic treatment was needed and that I should be admitted. But then the shift changed. Suddenly I just needed yet more oral antibiotics and could go home.



On another occasion I was admitted to St Thomas's Hospital and ended up staying there for four days, although this was largely because I had arrived at the time of the Diamond Jubilee and the people I needed to see were not there. When they returned, normal (bad) service resumed and I was discharged. But whilst there I was pumped full of antibiotics, given an X Ray to check if the infection was in the bone (something I would later find out is not necessarily definitive) and even given a special boot to help the healing process. It didn't work. I needed to see a tissue viability specialist but these were unavailable.

By now my foot was really bad, although not painful as I couldn't feel it. It smelt appallingly of infection and was swollen. I changed GPs and started going to see the same nurse every time so that she could log my progress or lack of any and react. This worked beautifully. Within a week the nurse was sufficiently concerned to alert a doctor and he sent me to hospital. This was like being given a magic password. Suddenly I was getting proper treatment.

Of course it couldn't last.



I was sent to St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London - it's where Fleming first discovered Penicillin somewhat ironically. At first they were brilliant. Armed with that letter and the concern of my GP, I was admitted. The doctor who saw me in A and E was very concerned as a test had confirmed that the infection was MRSA . She spoke to a microbiologist who was equally concerned and said I would need to be admitted for up to two weeks and given intensive IV antibiotics as there was a risk that I would need amputation if they could not stop the infection. This prognosis was only made more urgent when an MRI scan (more revealing that an X Ray) confirmed that the infection was in the bone, specifically my left little toe - osteomyelitis to use the proper term.

And so I was admitted and started to receive my antibiotics. There were issues about the cleanliness of the wards as they didn't seem to worry about changing sheets or to be able to locate clean pyjamas, but at least I was getting the treatment. The foot began to look better; the swelling went down.

After four days of this, a doctor came to see me, confirmed the diagnosis of osteomyelitis and told me that I would need a week or more of IV. She also told me that the next day I would be going to see a specialist, a Mr Rosenfeld, who would now be handling my case. I called my family and told them what was happening and that I would likely still be in hospital for another week or possibly more. In the meantime, owing to the fact that I had MRSA, I had been transferred to an isolation ward and given a single room with its own bathroom and told not to walk on my foot.

The next day I was taken by a porter to see Mr Rosenfeld. Here is where it all started to go wrong again. At first it seemed fine. He saw me, inspected my foot, approved, sotto voce, of the aggressive treatment taken thus far and expressed the opinion, like so many doctors before, that the wound was no great problem despite the fact that I had had it now for 2 months. He told me he would arrange for a podiatrist to fit me for a special sole, which would take the pressure off my foot and enable it to heal. He went off to arrange this without making any mention of the other treatment I was receiving and I went back to the waiting room.

After half an hour, with me still in my pyjamas in a waiting room full of a dozen other people, he emerged again and announced that he had decided to change me onto oral antibiotics and that I could now be discharged. Without bothering to explain himself or ask me if I had any questions he walked off. I was in no position to chase after him. I complained immediately but to no avail. They thought I was worried about the podiatrist. I was told to make an appointment for two weeks later which I did.

But that was it apparently. The great consultant had decreed what was to happen and I had no say in the matter and certainly deserved no explanation of this sudden change of heart from what I had been told only 24 hours earlier. I expressed my anger and dissatisfaction to the doctors who came to see me the next day. But again to no avail.

The next day I was discharged, although not without having to wait 7 hours for my prescribed medicines to be delivered from the pharmacy. In the end, facing a deadline of a coach I had to catch to go to my mother's in Worcestershire, I went to the pharmacy myself and, after a loud argument in which it transpired that they had lost my order, I was given my drugs and some crutches and left.

Once in beautiful Worcestershire I decided that going back to London within two weeks was impossible. I called to get a different appointment and was given another one two months later. Why when I had been given one within two weeks before? Nobody could tell me, except that Mr Rosenfeld was on holiday for part of that time and I was his patient, even though he had seen me for 5 minutes and hadn't done that properly. I couldn't possibly be seen by another doctor of course.

In the meantime, and despite the attentions of the now holidaying Mr Rosenfeld, I still had a large hole in my foot that was not healing. I had not heard and still, to this day, have never heard from the podiatrist he said he was going to arrange. This remains the only conversation I have had with the man and it came to nothing. Instead my GPs surgery - which has been superb - arranged for me to see a tissue viability clinic. I travelled to London to see them and they gave me a detailed prescription for how it should be dressed three times a week via a GPs surgery.

And so I made an official complaint, partly about this inordinate delay, and in part the arrogance and lack of professionalism of Mr Rosenfeld. Three weeks later I received a letter acknowledging this and asking me to call them on a number that nobody ever answered, even when I left a message on the answering machine. When eventually I got a response to an e-mail, they told me that the woman who had been given my case had immediately gone on leave. Of course it couldn't be handled by someone else.

By the time I did get a response from them, weeks had elapsed and my October appointment was imminent. Even then they managed to send me the wrong letter, which initially told me that I wouldn't get a response until November. When I angrily responded that this was unacceptable they quickly claimed that this was a mistake and sent me a letter telling me the result of their 'investigation' which had taken so long.

Predictably this investigation essentially amounted to them asking for me to have an earlier appointment, which of course proved impossible and explaining that Mr Rosenfeld dealt with these sort of cases all the time and had consulted with a microbiologist and agreed that the oral drugs were appropriate. They didn't bother addressing the fact that the treatment had changed despite Rosenfeld's initial approval of what I had been given, that nobody had explained why and that I had been informed of all of this in a waiting room without any explanation. I could not, they said, see another doctor as I was Rosenfeld's patient, despite the fact he had spent 10 minutes or less on my case and airily discharged me without a by your leave.

Needless to say I was less than happy at this outcome and said so. I asked the same questions again and asked if, when I saw him, I was to receive an MRI to determine if their treatment was working. If this proves to be the case of course then all will be well, although it does not explain why it was changed, why the change of mind and why I wasn't given a proper explanation. If I still have the infection I may lose part or all of my foot. How can they know?

Tomorrow the appointment at last arrives. Last night I got a call from the hospital with an answer to my question about the MRI. I'm not going to have one as Mr Rosenfeld wants to see me to decide if I need one.  Mr Rosenfeld, in addition to his other gifts,  can clearly can see through tissue and so doesn't need blood tests or scans. Perhaps he should read this very clear and concise website on the issue which insists that osteomyelitis can only be diagnosed by scans or biopsies.

The wound on my foot, thanks to the attentions of my GPs surgery and nothing whatever to do with St Mary's Hospital and Mr Rosenfeld, has now almost healed. It remains to be seen if the infection in the bone has been cured.

Whatever happens or has happened, my treatment at the hands of this hospital and the NHS  in general has been shoddy and infuriating. This has nothing to do with a lack of funds or the usual excuses. It has everything to do with a culture of arrogance and a take it or leave it approach. They can't even handle complaints efficiently.

I shall update you with my progress after the appointment on Wednesday. Unless of course I have to have my foot amputated. Perhaps that is why they don't want to give me an MRI. Ignorance is bliss.


PS

I attended the hospital and got an apology from Mr Rosenfeld, quite an achievement in itself and a proper explanation of what is happening and the drugs I am on. My foot, thankfully, seems to be making good progress. I shall be on the antibiotics for a while longer however, possibly months. But at least I still have two feet.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Why the Press Wouldn't Publish Claims About Savile


Religion is for Dimwits

Yesterday, in London, approximately 10,000 Muslims marched through the streets, bringing much of the capital to a standstill because someone has posted an online video to which they take exception. Of course we should probably be thankful that this was a comparatively moderate response.

Other parts of the world have not been so lucky. There has been large scale violence and even murder as Muslims riot and express their fury at the belittling of their beliefs. These tend to be those parts of the world in which Islam is dominant and in which people, when asked in a survey, responded that religion is a major or the most important part of their lives. Indeed some people in this country, in the debate that this video has provoked, have responded very revealingly. Mehdi Hasan, the usually quite intelligent if invariably wrong blogger and commentator, told an audience that for him the Prophet Muhammad is more important to him than his children.

For most in the west this is an alien concept. Indeed it is one that almost invites ridicule because it is so demonstrably absurd. But then that is true of Islam and Muslims in general. It is this touchiness, it is this spectacular sensitivity and tendency to righteous anger that invites our incredulity and sparks in some the need to ridicule and provoke.

Not all Muslims react in this way. Some can see that, though they may be offended by such videos, it is self defeating to react aggressively or even angrily. Sadness and weary resignation would be the best way, surely.  Or you could simply not watch what you don't like. Easy really. I find it stops me getting angry about the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. To their lasting credit, Google, who own YouTube, have refused to take the rather tedious and badly made video down. Neither should they.

Muslims tend to be the most fervent believers of all of the world's major religions. Their faith is a dominant part of their lives. So this explains why they react so furiously when that faith is impugned. But does this not reveal a certain fragility about that belief?  Surely it can withstand a little criticism, or even mockery? You could always not look. If your god is great, surely he can look after himself?

And can you not see that this reaction just plays into the hands of the sort of people who get pleasure from making this kind of video or threatening to burn the Koran? They are trolls. Trolls thrive on reactions and hate to be ignored.

Ideas - and that is all religion is really because its historic claims, of whatever religion, cannot stand up to proper analysis - cannot be protected forever from mockery, ridicule and debate. If an idea is worthwhile it will survive. The reason that so many people in the west these days do not believe in god is because it is an outdated and facile concept that really ought to have died a few hundred years ago. The fact that it clings on and that people are still prepared to die and indeed kill for it is testimony to how much more we need to grow as a species. It's also testimony that there are a lot of very dim people around.

If you are religious you may well be offended by this post. But so what? You do not have a right to not be offended. If you don't like this blog don't read it. That is your right. If your religion is so fragile that it cannot withstand criticism then it is not worth your time and effort. You would be better off devoting your time and energy to something more worthwhile and rewarding. Think how much humanity could have achieved by now if we had devoted our energies and treasure to science and learning rather than to the worship and reverence of a delusion. They say that we atheists are becoming more militant. Well at least we have something concrete and real to be militant and angry about. It can be measured in trillions of dollars - all wasted.  

People are actually rioting and marching to protect the feelings of a man who died more than 1000 years ago and whose story is essentially just chinese whispers. Why aren't they rioting about the lost opportunities, the waste, the lost lives? Why aren't they rioting about the fact that a bunch of moronic zealots can, on the strength of their collective delusion, shoot a 14 year old girl for the crime of standing up to them? Under the circumstances Muslims should be glad that they only have videos and cartoons to get angry about. Criticism and lampooning are the very least their idiotic beliefs deserve.


Friday, 12 October 2012

Savile's Travels Unravel



On occasion, when I have admired someone or enjoyed their work, or when it is a figure of great historical import, I have been known to write obituaries on this blog marking the passing of someone prominent. I don't do it often and the subjects are wide and varied, from Norman Wisdom to Christopher Hitchens.

This blog is proud to say however that it did not join in with the hagiographies that came out upon the death last year of Jimmy Savile. The reason I did not do so was because, long before the current stories emerged, I had always thought of him as a talentless, egocentric, arrogant weirdo. When this story first began to come out - a few weeks ago it was rumoured that there was to be an expose of Savile and that he was going to be accused of being a paedophile - my reaction was: quelle surprise. I cannot have been alone. And I never met the man. I could just see that there was something odd and vaguely unpleasant about him. That this man ever had power to abuse is a mystery to me to this day. But that's showbiz, and in particular the world of television and radio for you. Producers do love their colourful eccentrics.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Savile was a predatory sex offender. It is also becoming clear that people were well aware of his activities but did nothing about it. For proof of this we need only look at the decision this week to remove his characteristically gaudy and tasteless gravestone. After initial protests at the iniquity of the accusations, his family have quickly changed their minds and bowed to the inevitable. Sometimes the refusal to confront Savile's crimes was because the police or media had no proof. All too often it was because they feared the consequences of taking him on. Was the man that powerful and influential?  If so, why?

The showbiz and broadcasting world is always rife with rumour. My own career came long after Savile's star had waned and so I never heard any of the rumours about him. But there must have been some. I heard many rumours about the peccadilloes of various presenters, usually sexual - of a well known presenter of the 70s and 80s who liked to pleasure himself on BBC premises and was caught doing so. Of another who hired prostitutes to spank him while he was dressed as a baby. I'm not kidding.



But Savile, it seems, was engaged in a conspiracy of abuse of vulnerable young girls. And for once the word conspiracy is wholly appropriate. It seems likely, probable even, that all of that charity work was part of his plan to gain access to young girls. These unceasing activities were his cover for doing so. But they were also his keep out of jail card. People wouldn't believe that this prolific charity worker was capable of such things. The hospitals and other institutions wanted a man of his prodigious fundraising abilities on their side. That's why they gave him such access and special facilities. It meant he had real power. He was the selfless charity worker. He chose his victims with care - who would believe them over him?

Because Savile was the classic sex offender - cunning, clever and manipulative. He was famously a man of high IQ. We were always hearing about his membership of MENSA. And we were always hearing about his charity work too, along with the OBE and knighthood he received in recognition of it. He was never shy about blowing his own trumpet. Now we know why. He had to.

His predilection for girls would have been initially fostered when, like many stars, he had young groupies at his mercy. Radio One DJs in those days were huge, like the rock stars whose records they played. Girls were everywhere and there for the taking. But, as he got older and became the embarrassing uncle of Radio One, they would have been less readily available. Now he had to seek them out. Savile was always a great promoter of himself. Now he found a way of promoting himself and getting his sexual kicks at the same time.

You see, for all of his fame, and like many paedophiles, he was a man who actually eschewed proper, mature human contact, he couldn't form proper human relationships. He never married, never had girlfriends - astonishing for a man of his fame and wealth. He famously spent most of his adult life living with his mother. In that infamous Louis Theroux film about him, Savile even claimed that he had always kept his distance from people, and children in particular, so that there was no innuendo or accusations about him. And he succeeded didn't he - until he was no longer around to prevent them, after his star had waned completely.

And let's not forget what everyone's reaction was after that Louis Therous programme - which was on the BBC - it was one of incredulity and quiet sniggering. What a weirdo we all said. Yet still the story didn't come out. He was no longer a big star, no longer had the power. Why was he still protected?



Some of the newspapers, in their usual way, are seeing this as another golden opportunity to give the BBC a kicking. Certainly some terrible things seem to have gone on at Television Centre in the 70s. But before they point the finger, perhaps they should have a look at their own behaviour. They must have known, just as some at the BBC knew. Indeed some have admitted that they did know but were unable to publish on the advice of lawyers. But they should have investigated. The BBC should have investigated. Presumably, if such rumours were around these days - and you can feel sure that they would have made their way on to the internet - they would do now. Different times and different attitudes perhaps. But it is no excuse. All of the newspapers, along with the BBC, paid glowing tributes to him. How spectacularly inappropriate that must seem to them all now, especially as we look back at those pictures of him surrounded by young girls, sitting on their hospital beds or hugging short-skirted young women on Top of the Pops. I know it makes my flesh crawl.

If the BBC, the modern BBC, has anything to reproach itself about though, it is that it had the story and yet it was ITV which broadcast it. Newsnight's editor should resign, not because he was pressurised into dropping the story, I'm sure he wasn't, but because he didn't think that there was a story there. Perhaps he felt that this tawdry tale was not Newsnight material - best left to the tabloids and lowbrow ITV. The investigation was said to be about whether the police and prosecuting authorities had failed to do their jobs properly, which is richly ironic. But surely, even if the superior Newsnight did not want to broadcast this, it was the duty of the BBC, some part of this vast organisation with hundreds of hours of empty space to fill, to tell the story and give the victims the right to tell theirs? At the very least it was their duty to stop those tributes paid to Savile last Christmas. I'm only glad that, even before we knew all of this, I could not stomach watching any of them.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Politics Aussie Style

Further to my last post, Dave gave a great speech yesterday to the Tory Party conference. But don't you sometimes wish our politicians could be a bit more....what's the word?....Australian?

Oh, and by the way, this is not to say that I have a great deal of sympathy with Gillard. Quite to the contrary in fact, she comes across as a kind of Yvette Cooper/Angela Eagle type figure - all sanctimony and self righteousness, especially when one considers that her anger was prompted by the need to defend her chief whip's gratuitous and repeated use of the word cunt.

But that doesn't stop one admiring her fiery rhetoric whilst at the same time abhorring her hypocrisy. But that's politics for you - the world over.  

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Cameron Fights Back

David Cameron is not a particularly good speaker. He lacks the timing and the variation of the likes of a Kennedy, King, Obama or Blair. This is why his more successful speeches have been those given extempore, or at least giving the appearance of it. It's why he was last week emulated in this by Ed Miliband who is also not a great speaker but won plaudits for this increasingly fashionable way of connecting with his audience.

But Dave deploys this weapon less and less these days. It's a difficult trick to pull off. It's much harder for a busy prime minister.  

And this was an important moment for this prime minister. He was under pressure from all around him - from his party, the media, his party's blond bombshell and from the leader of the opposition's alleged triumph of last week said to be a gamechanger. Dave needed to deliver.

And to his credit he did just that. It was a speech low on drama and actually rather low key at least at first. But, unlike his opposite number, it was a speech of content and arguments. Cameron came out and defended his government and spelt out how difficult things were and still would be. It was a didactic performance, a speech that spelt out economic reality in the face of Labour's delusions and policy vacuum.

And he presented a good contrast to Wallace's absurd claims to be a man of the people. Cameron openly admitted that he had no hard luck story. He is, he told us, a stockbroker's son. But really, he almost said, what's the difference between his upbringing in leafy Surrey and Wallace's as the son of an academic in cosmopolitan north London? And, he told us, he and his family were the product of hard work which had prevented hard luck. It was a quintessentially Conservative sentiment.

And this was a quintessentially Conservative speech. You could almost hear the relief in the hall as Dave demonstrated that he was one of them after all. There was no mention of the Lib Dems. The only sour note which produced muted applause was when he somewhat disingenuously defended his policy on international aid.



But for the most part this was a speech to rouse and enthuse his troops but to tick boxes with the electorate too. He showed genuine emotion when he spoke of the Olympics, invoking his son and expressing the hope that this summer has changed attitudes to those being pushed in wheelchairs. The cameras flicked between the prime minister and his wife, both fighting back the tears.

Cameron then took on Labour and Miliband specifically. At last he started to fight back against the rich man's party slurs. They were not the party of the better off he averred but the party of the want to be better off. And he nailed Wallace's ridiculous one nation conceit with the joke of the day, albeit in a speech thin on jokes, when he called Labour the one notion party: more borrowing.

Not only that but he took the advice of this blog and nailed the opposition leader's tax claim of last week in which he seemed to think that the government would be writing cheques to the rich. 'Ed, let me explain how it works....When people earn their money, it's their money. Not the government's money.'

Ultimately this was a speech which, though ticking lots of boxes with his party, will have gone down well in the country. It was, in its way, a we're not for turning speech; unapologetic and determined to continue on the path they have set however hard it may be. And for all the Westminster village's rhapsodies about Miliband's speech last week, it turned the spotlight on his policy vacuum. That speech was just more Labour slogans instead of policies, more evasions and misrepresentations. Oh how impressed they were by his attempt to steal the one nation clothes of the Tories. But then he had to say something because he didn't really have anything concrete to say about how he would achieve it.

Today Cameron came out fighting again. He has plenty of policy, plenty of brave positions which are causing him problems in the country. Today he defended them and stood up for them. Labour are complacently assuming that they need only wait for their buggins turn without having to explain what they will do. Today the PM started the process of ensuring that it won't be so easy as that and about time.  



Badgering Farmers


Here's a silly row to start off the morning. Last weekend the BBC's very popular Countryfile programme announced that the winner of their photography competition was the one above - a badger walking through an avenue of trees. It's a lovely and unusual picture, although the judges had chosen another spectacular picture of a rainbow - a superb piece of photography and a real technical tour de force.

But now this is all creating controversy, or at least farmers are trying to claim that it is. They say that the BBC is not showing due impartiality and animal rights protesters have hijacked the competition. The photo was chosen in a phone vote by viewers.

But how do they know that this was an animal rights campaign? It's a nice picture. It was my favourite too, although I certainly saw the merits of the rainbow picture and a spectacular one of a huge wave inundating a harbour wall which was another finalist.  I am not an animal rights protester. Indeed the thought of this being a controversial choice had not crossed my mind until I read this story in this morning's papers.

You see the fact is that people like badgers. They are cute. And farmers may be convinced that these inoffensive and cuddly creatures spread TB but the scientific evidence is mixed and inconclusive. A cull is a blunt instrument and will probably fail once again. And, at the risk of repeating myself, badgers are beautiful and people don't like the idea of them being shot. In the PR war, the badgers are winning hands down without a spin doctor in sight.

Maybe some animal rights protesters did vote this way to make a point. But the fact is that by demanding this cull farmers are up against entrenched public opinion in a nation of animal lovers. They may not like it but that is the truth.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Signs of the Times


As Boris proved yesterday, London has a fantastically entertaining mayor and some excellent squirrels. But it also has a fantastic sense of humour as these fake signs prove. Is it too late for them to be entered for the Turner Prize? Now that's art.