Saturday, March 31, 2007

Miliband, will he or wont he run?

Well, on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions David Miliband made his position clear when asked:

"I have said over the past 3 years that I am neither a rider or a runner in this race and I have not seen or heard anything to change my mind"

(roughly what he said)

This translates as "I won't run unless I do run."

Well, I am pleased that is cleared up then!

You can listen to the program here.

Gordon Brown's Great Pension Smash and Grab

Well, today's Telegraph carries this article on what Gordon Brown was told about his plan to remove pension funds tax credits on dividend payments.

The process worked like this:

A pension fund owns some shares in a company who pays a dividend. Normally this is taxable, but pension funds get the tax back.

Well Gordon removed that.

After a long battle under the Freedom of information act papers have now been released, you can find the main page here listing all the documents.

What is clear is that the poorest pensioners were going to be hit hardest and that far from being a tax on pension funds alone it would force companies to reduce pension benefits or pay an effective stealth tax.

Now we know Gordon was warned of the danger.

Clearly Gordon Brown is a chancellor who will fritter away tomorrows wealth for today's headlines.

Update 11:12

The Times apparently was the paper that pushed for the Freedom of Information act request, and has this article here. Below is a damning extract:
Documents that were released to The Times under the Freedom of Information Act show that officials told Mr Brown:

–– The lower paid would be worse off under the new rules

–– Pensioners due to retire would lose out immediately

–– Businesses would struggle to adjust to the change

–– It would cost pension providers £4 billion a year

–– Pension benefits would be cut

–– Shares could drop by between 6 per cent and 20 per cent

–– The value of existing pension funds could fall immediately by £50 billion

–– Local authority schemes would need topping up, leading to higher public spending

–– The Department of Trade and Industry would be “gravely concerned” about having to bail out pension schemes driven into insolvency
It's not look good for Gordon Brown this morning.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Vote for blog of the month

On Sunday I noticed that I have been nominated for blog of the month by Central News in this post here, after having been blog of the week.

If you fancy having a look and a vote, the link is here, with links to the other nominees.

Go on, please vote for my blog, you know it makes sense!

Hacking TK Maxx

TK Maxx has been "hacked", 45 million customers have had their credit card details stolen over a period of time.

The BBC has this here.

The security breach raises two questions. The first is one of how sensitive data is stored by organisations, the second is do they actually need to retain this information?

Both commercial organisations and government need to realise that if data is held then people will try and hack the data. The more data you have and the more complete it is the more valuable the prize.

In short one big ID card database is a very very bad idea.

Halifax muck customers about

An update on that banking error story, apparently Halifax will not allow people to withdraw cash if there wages are held up, but are offering overdrafts instead.

I do not know if they will extend overdrafts free of charges to those who are already at their overdraft limits or have a bad credit history or not.

If you get mucked around by a bank because your wages have been delayed, please let me know.

Banking Error affects 400,000, wages held up, What to do

You may well have heard that there has been a big banking error that has held up many payments of peoples wages.

People who were going to be paid today are affected, having had their pay processed on Wednesday. The affected payments are those sent by BACS but manually processed. Potentially it can affect business to business payments as well.

What to do if you are affected

Firstly don't panic.

You need to act now if you need funds for the weekend. You must:

Call your bank, and ask what their procedures have in place. Most have now got something. They will probably do the following:

Allow you to withdraw a specified sum of cash, FROM A BRANCH, not a hole in the wall, provided you have ID and proof of earnings (like a wage slip).

Your wage payments should clear on Monday.

If you have a problem such as Direct Debits or standing orders bouncing, then you can get compensation for this, but initially speak to your bank. As and when I get more information I will let you know.

The BBC has this.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Are we getting poorer?

One of the factors that governs how people vote at a general election is how the economy is doing. "It's the economy stupid" to borrow a cliche. Except that it isn't the economy as parroted in economic statistics that people notice, it is how they feel in their pockets that counts.

According to this report in the today's Telegraph disposable income is growing at its slowest since 1982, whilst the budget will make 5.3 million people worse off, mostly at the lower end of the pay spectrum. In fact disposable income dropped in the last quarter of 2006 dropped by 0.7%!

We then have to factor in things like higher fuel costs, mortgage costs and council tax .

Mind you the ever rising council tax is another issue! In Mid Sussex the district council now has to provide more services than it did in 1997, but on a £6 million budget has £100,000 more now in cash terms than it did in 1997. It makes it very hard to keep council tax at reasonable levels.

Hat tip to Witan on

Michael White of the Guardian is a Liar!

Well either that or he can't remember what he wrote in June last year, here.

On that Newsnight program featuring Guido, Michael White and Jeremy Paxman, Guido questioned Michael's closeness to John Prescott having been at his 68th birthday. Michael immediately said he was not at John Prescott's 68th birthday and did not know he was 68!

Well, that is not true, He did know he was 68, as this extract of this article here shows.
Interviewing Prezza for the Guardian on the 10.05 out of King's Cross yesterday I was startled, not for the first time, by his resillient energy. It was his 68th birthday, which makes him eight years older than me and a good deal more energetic. Why hasn't he got any white hair, I found myself wondering? What's his secret? Pauline's cooking? Grecian 2000? Tracey? Croquet? A zeal for the public good?
Well there you have it. Don't trust Michael White to tell the truth, because either he does not want to, or he can't remember what it is.

Hat tip to Guido,who posts his regrets here, and an anonymous poster on his blog.

Home office Split to happen this time!

According to the news this evening splitting the Home Office is on the cards again, presumably as Labour just don't seem to be able to get the hang of running the department.

Expect an "official" announcement tomorrow to Parliament, after just about everybody else has heard it first. It is nice to know new Labour still has the same level of respect for Parliament that it always had.

Well, here is some comment I prepared earlier (in fact on the 22nd of January) which as far as I can tell still applies:

Well, there has been a lot in the media over the last few days about Dr Reid's alleged plans to split the home office into two parts.

Some bloggers (such as Iain Dale here) have suggested this may be to bury bad news.

Well what ever the news management merits of the case, is there a case for splitting the home office.

Well, for the split are John Reid, Lord Falconer, and Tony Blair. (oh, and some weird centerish party called the Liberal Democrats, you won't have heard of them)

Against are David Blunkett, and the Conservatives.

What was interesting about David Blunkett's comments was that he objected to the weakening of a senior cabinet post, possibly leaving only the Prime minister and Chancellor as senior members in the cabinet. He thinks that would be bad for representative democracy. I don't often agree with Blunkett but here I do.

William Hague for the Conservatives pointed out that the issues the Home Office is currently facing are primarily lack of communication between sub departments within the Home Office, so he was unclear on how splitting them up would help. I also agree there.

However, if you look into the detail what is actually proposed is to create two departments, one responsible for policing, terrorism, and immigration, the other responsible for the Courts, prisons, probation, rehabilitation and sentencing.

This is no split of one department into two, it is in fact handing tricky bits of the Home Office over to what was the Lord Chancellors office and is now the Department of Constitutional affairs.

The issue here is that the Lord Chancellor is there to represent the courts in government, which despite it seeming odd has been for 1400 years a useful thing. Now that particular role is being changed beyond recognition for no particularly well explained reason.

However, there is also another issue. The Lord Chancellor has never been responsible for locking people up. If he (or indeed she) was then you run into the problem of sentencing being unduly influenced by prison places, and indeed departmental budgets.

At the moment they are not. The courts apply sentences according to guidelines based on sentences. If prisons get over crowded that is someone elses problem. It is a firewall if you will. It is there to give the public some sense of confidence.

However, the real issue has to be, will handing Lord Falconer more work fix the problems? The answer is no. If the Home secretary can't get the individual bits of his department to cooperate then how is that going to get better if it is complicated by having to talk across departments?

The real problem is that John Reid can't sack his ministers, after all if he could, surely he would have got rid of Tony McNulty? He seems to have had his hands on all sorts of disasters but is still there!

Of course, the real problem that the Home Office has, is that Tony Blair can't sack Dr John Reid because he has not got the political capitol left.

Meanwhile the BBC has this, and the Ft has this.

Guido on Newsnight

I have to say I did like Guido's piece on Newsnight tonight. You can watch it here.

His point was that in order for journalists to get their interviews and stories they had to play soft with politicians, and to some extent his interviewers backed that up. If you get at a politician too much they will stop talking to you.

It has to be said I would not enjoy talking to difficult people too much either.

Nick Robinson said that yes, they do work with politicians, but when something big comes up, they do ask the difficult questions. This probably explains why the BBC did not run the Gordon Brown picks his nose story, because whilst amusing it serves no vital media purpose, but they do ask awkward questions, (though perhaps less often than they should).

Guido thinks they should be tougher, whilst Nick Robinson and others get to explain their position. This seems to have put Nick Robinson's nose out of joint a bit though I can't think why. He has his position, Guido has his, both got an airing, looks fine to me. I see, understand and sympathise with both sides of the argument.

Then we had a debate with Jeremy Paxman, Micheal White of the Guardian, and Guido who was in a separate studio and in the dark. Guido does this to protect his anonymity. I say fair enough. It is not just a question of what his name is it is also what he currently looks like. I know who he is, and have met him so know what he looks like. I could go a name drop to make myself look big, only I don't think it would work, and I think it would be very rude as well.

Micheal White then seemed to get great enjoyment from constantly giving Guido's real name. I have to say I thought that made Michael White look a bot of a prat. It is certainly true that Guido did not appear as confident a media performer as the other two but then they have had more practice. I wish I now had not voted for him to appear.

It seems to me that Micheal White is as a dead tree journalist afraid of bloggers. He seems to put them down solely as places for gossip and comment, without coming up with any thing new. It is certainly true that a lot of political bloggers do mostly comment on what is in the news, or in press releases and so on, but sometimes they break stories or move them right up the agenda. For example the story about Cherie Blair signing a copy of the Hutton report to auction and raise money for the Labour party was out there but got very little coverage until Guido and Iain Dale kept on plugging it.

Iain Dale and I both broke different versions of the BBC injunction story, whilst Guido broke stories about Two shags Prescott. So it happens.

Guido has this here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Innovative Youth Crime measure. Apparently Prison Works!

Well, according to this article here on the local BBC news website, Arun District council sent some 11 to 15 year olds to Lewis prison which is an adult prison. They were for the most part involved in low level anti social behavior. They spent there time being shown around, being searched, seeing the exercise yard and hearing from inmates.

Apparently they did not like it, and the message has sunk in. What is more they are likely to circulate it to their friends. Reports so far are good.

I have been there myself as a delivery driver (when I was at University) and I can tell you it is a grim place. I certainly would not want to go there!

I'd like to say well done to the council for the scheme. I wonder what other innovative schemes there are out there to help children get back on the straight and narrow?

Guido on Newsnight

Guido has made this interesting piece about the relationship between journalists in the lobby and politicians to be broadcast on BBC 2's Newsnight.

It makes interesting viewing and makes some interesting points. Iain Dale has more here.

Guido also has this, with a vote as to whether he should appear or not in the Newsnight studio.

The Falklands War Remembered

It seems some people are being asked what they remember of the Falklands war which happened 25 years ago.

Firstly I had for one reason or another been reading up on the Falklands long before the invasion, along with other islands in the South Atlantic like Tristan Da Cunha, and Gough Island. So I knew exactly where they were.

When at 13 I heard we were to withdraw the Endurance I was concerned that it was a cut to far, and concerned about the signals it would send. In short I thought it was nuts.

I was 14 at the time. I was on the bus home from school when someone got on the bus and said that the Argentinians had invaded the Falkland islands. I seemed to be the only person on the bus who knew where they were.

The invasion was a shock. Well, it was to a lot of people. Obviously we made a statement denouncing the invasion and demanding the immediate withdrawal of Argentinian forces. Needless to say they didn't accede to the request.

I remember the build up to war and sailing of the fleet, with large crowds gathered to send our lads off.

Several ships were commandeered for the war. One such was teh container ship Atlantic Conveyor which carried more aircraft to the area (They could fly off the deck). Many other ships were also commandeered including the Canberra which was used as a troop ship and hospital ship.

I remember Brian Hanrahan's famous words as our Sea Harriers engaged the enemy. "I counted them out, and I counted them all back."

I was shocked at the loss of the Sheffield, and the Atlantic Conveyor (we lost other ships as well). When the Atlantic Conveyor was hit several of its merchant crew, including its captain died.

I also remember the sinking of the Belgrano. This seems to attract a lot of controversy even today though I don't know why. If you go around invading someone elses territory and sinking their ships, expect some payback. Like the German Surface fleet of the First and Second word war, the Argentine navy withdrew to port.

It was tough at San Carlos bay, named by the troops as bomb alley. They were constantly under air attack. From there the army advanced on Darwin and Goose Green, where 500 men of 2 Para led by Colonel H Jones VC took both, despite being outnumbered. Colonel Jones VC lost his life storming a machine gun nest, for which he posthumously received the Victoria Cross.

I still remember the pictures of our infantry "yomping" across the Falklands. (We lost a lot of helicopters on the Atlantic Conveyor).

I was both sad and angry to hear of the loss of the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram with the appalling injuries to the Welsh guards and others aboard, including Simon Weston.

Then after some fighting around Mount Tumbledown we forced the surrender of the Argentinians in Port Stanley.

We lost 258 men, whilst the Argentinians lost 649. I will remember them.

You can read this Wikipedia article on the Falklands war here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Metrication Madness! please sign this petition.

EU directive 80/181/EEC provides for everything to be measured in SI units. That is metric.

This is not a problem for lots of things but will be for others. For example if you own a vintage car, or are involved in model engineering you buy lots if things in imperial units. In particular the directive will ban when it comes fully into force in 2009 mentioning non SI units on the packaging.

In principle article 4 of the directive does make the following provisions:
The use of units of measurement which are not or are no longer legal
shall be authorized for:
— products and equipment already on the market and/or in service on
the date on which this Directive is adopted,
— components and parts of products and of equipment necessary to
supplement or replace components or parts of the above products and
However, the use of legal units of measurement may be required for the
indicators of measuring instruments.
Were we living in any other European country this would of course be a get out of jail free card, and any one who wanted to could and would ignore the directive. As one person on a model engineering list observed:
Depends where it is implemented; you can rely on most EU countries to implement in a liberal fashion, while the UK Civil Service will go out of its way to interpret everything in the most narrow, constraining and damaging way.

And will later bleat about other countries not applying the rules they themselves have made, and impose on the UK populace.
So I urge you to sign the petition here, the full text of which is:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to undertake to secure permanent derogation from those aspects of European Union directive 80/181which will, at the end of 2009, make the use of imperial units of measure illegal.
And under more details:

The economic and social effects of this ban will be wide ranging. Industries which export world wide will have major problems - many parts of the world still employ imperial standards. Spare and replacement parts for existing equipment built to imperial standards will cease to be available - it will not be possible to package, advertise or catalogue such items. Thousands of citizens with interests in vintage vehicles, preserved railways, model engineering, etc. will be deprived of legal access to tools and materials to pursue their interests. Public opinion is firmly in favour of retaining the option to use imperial units of measure if they so wish.

As an example of UK based EU madness, consider the fate of animal rendering plant in the UK. The EU waste directive specified that waste must be properly disposed of etc. blah blah. All very reasonable stuff until you ask yourself the question what is or is not waste. Rendering plant across the EU produce tallow as a result of the rendering process which they then use as fuel to render the next animal. Saves on cost and carbon emissions. Good idea. Not here though. The bureaucrats have defined tallow as a waste product of rendering so now not only do they have to pay for fuel they did not have to pay for before, they also have to get some one to dispose of a perfectly usable resource.

You can read the actual EU directive here, and the working paper on it here.

*cough* Thanks to Renaud for pointing out the lack of "out" in get out of jail free, now corrected. (oops)

Child Poverty Rates increase

Figures released today by the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) show that 100,000 more children now live in relative poverty compared to a year ago.

Relative poverty is defined here as people living on 60% or below of average household income.

We already know that whilst tax credits have lifted those people close to the 60% barrier above it, it has in fact done little for those on 40% or below average household income, whose numbers have increased.

As George Osbourne says tax credits are not the only way. They will not on their own solve the problem. We need to tackle other issues like family breakdown, community cohesion and lack of aspiration that exists in some areas.

The BBC has this.

Yet another laptop theft!

Apparently a laptop with the details of 11,000 children stored on it has been stolen from King's Mill hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield.

You can read the BBC's report here.

The question is of course, what was this sort of data doing on the hard drive of an easily stolen or indeed lost laptop?

I wrote about the Nationwide laptop theft back in November last year. Apparently lessons have not been learnt.

The Hand of History

I must admit to still being surprised at the news from Northern Ireland. Gery Adams and Ian Paisley sat at the same table, and devolution set to start on the 8th of May.

Much has been made and in many ways rightly so, of Tony Blair's involvement in the process. Others also rightly mention Sir John Major.

Both deserve quite a lot of credit. However Margaret Thatcher and Tom King also deserve some of the credit for putting in the security polices that made the IRA realise they were not going to win. In short the IRA had to talk because they were contained. If they could have achieved what they wanted to achieve through violence alone they would not have come to the table.

That drunken rape case part II

I wrote this post yesterday about the case of Benjamin Bree who had his conviction for rape overturned at the Court of Appeal yesterday. Firstly I stand by what I said yesterday.

The Daily Mail has this report, from which I will quote a little.
"A woman who is very drunk may still be capable of agreeing to sex, they said."
Well, yes.
"The girl drank between four and six vodka Red Bulls and two pints of cider and Mr Bree was also drinking heavily."
I have seen some people, more so women, who would be floored by a pint, but then I have seen men and women drink enough alcohol to put an elephant to sleep and still seem perfectly lucid.
"They returned to her hall of residence at Bournemouth University, where, she told Bournemouth Crown Court last year, she was 'continually throwing up'."
There are all sorts of reasons why people throw up after a night out. being far too drunk is only one of them so unfortunately this does not tell us enough.
"She said her next memory was waking up to find Mr Bree having sex with her. She told the jury her memory was "very patchy" and I knew I didn't want this but I didn't know how to go about stopping it"."

Mr Bree told the court she had given her consent and "seemed keen".
Here in lies the real problem with these sorts of cases. We do not know (admittedly the details are still very sketchy, I have not seen the actual handed down judgment which may not be available for weeks) neither does the complainant whether there was some action or words which would amount to consent and we do know that when she wanted to withdraw consent she did not because she did not know how.

In these circumstances it is entirely possible for the victim to feel raped whilst the defendant has done nothing wrong, at least from his point of view. What is a jury asked to find guilt beyond reasonable doubt supposed to think? Without a fully filmed incident (with sound) we can only go on the testimony of those concerned.

Deputy Lord Chief Justice, Sir Igor Judge went on:
"However, where the complainant has voluntarily consumed even substantial quantities of alcohol, but nevertheless remains capable of choosing whether or not to have intercourse, and in drink agrees to do so, this would not be rape." The judge said it would not be right to lay down rules - "some kind of grid system" - that say a woman who has reached a set level of drunkenness is incapable of consent.

He added: "Experience shows that different individuals have a greater or lesser capacity to cope with alcohol.

"Provisions intended to protect women from sexual assaults might very well be conflated into a system which would provide patronising interference with the right of autonomous adults to make personal decisions for themselves."
Sentiments with which I would entirely agree.

So what has the government been up to as far as rape law is concerned?

Well apparently it wants to "toughen the law" setting out new provisions covering rape and alcohol. Apparently Home Secretary Dr. John Reid and his ministers remain committed to increasing the number of convictions for rape which as it results in only one man convicted for every 20 rapes reported they say is too low.

Well, it is, the question is what you do about it.
The Home Office said yesterday: "We need to tackle the myths, particularly the view that victims are either partially or fully responsible for the assault they have experienced if they have been drinking.
Surely the question here is not whether the victim "bought it on themselves" but whether the intercourse was consensual or not, because if it was consensual then there is no victim.
"Rape is never the responsibility of the victim, whatever the circumstances."
This is of course trite rubbish. Lets look at two remarkably different sets of circumstances. Firstly let us take the outrageously dressed and serial one night stander who walking home one night gets attacked by a stranger. It matters not what their moral character was or is, because stranger rape tends to revolve around two simple questions, did intercourse happen, and if so, was it the defendant who did it? It matters not a jot how many partners the victim had, how "provocatively" they were dressed or indeed how drunk they were.

Then let us take a pair of people who meet up, chat, drink, and go to one of their places, having been all over each other all night. It happens. It is a regular occurrence. For the most part it does not end with any allegations at all, other than "you snore". Circumstances lead to one thing and another. Both parties seem "up for it" (at least in the eyes of the other") and at some point one of the parties decides they don't want this any more.

The question then becomes was there consent. Well, it can be hard for a jury to tell. In this case from the Daily Mail report the "victim" recognised that she ceased to consent, but was unable to communicate that. What we do not know is how the defendant came by the original consent other than she "seemed keen". Well drunk people can be keen to do all sorts of things.
The Home Office has been considering a study by the Association of Chief Police Officers which found that a "significant" number of rape and sexual assault victims had drunk at least the equivalent of eight pub glasses of wine. This is equivalent to two and a half times the drink driving limit. At these levels, said the ACPO study, a woman can be expected to show "marked intoxication levels".
Well, this is the problem. What are people supposed to do? In our liberal age women as well as men like to go and pick up casual partners, like to have a drink and like to do things. How is anyone supposed to tell whether someone likes it after a few drinks, or whether they are taking advantage of someone?

The problem is that it is always going to be hard for a jury to tell, unless you can't have intercourse unless you have a prescribed blood alcohol level (what do you do? nip off to a police station to get a breath test certified and promise you have no alcohol at home?). This is clearly unworkable.

So then we go back to the real issue which surely can't be how do we convict more people of rape, but how do we reduce the number of people being raped, and this has to be through education, whether at school or through public information broadcasts.

We have to educate people to avoid these situations. The alternative is to assume the accuser is right and the accused wrong. To do that would do serious harm to our country.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rape, consent and drunken consent

On my way home from work I heard a report that a case concerning rape and consent, more particularly consent given when drunk had been heard in the Court of Appeal, and clarified some points in this area.

I can't yet find an online report though I will look. The law now says (Thanks to the Sexual Offences Act 2003) that someone must be able to give consent in order for it to be consent. The Appeal Court clarified that drunk people are capable of giving consent. They do have to be capable of understanding what it is they are doing though, clearly unconscious people can't consent.

I am not sure this clarifies things much. The problem is that people like to drink, and sometimes when they drink they lose the inhibitions and in the case of women their sex drive can rise (due to alcohol causing a rise in testosterone.) In the case of men, certainly with some it does not need to rise.

In short some drunk people like to have intercourse. Also people who are drunk may do things they regret. Drunk people also get taken advantage of and are sometimes forced to do things which they do not want to do.

We have a problem, which is the rise and rise of reported rape cases and an ever decreasing rate of cases getting to court and an abysmal conviction rate.

Government's response seems to me to concentrate on the law and the administration thereof, so far to little effect. What is worse you can't actually deal with the evidential problems of date rape with out assuming someone is lying before they have had their day in court. Shifting the presumption of innocence. This is a major problem, pottentially causing great damage to our justice system.

What is missing though is some form of education program or public campaign to actually get the rates of rape down. After all it would be far better for the victim if they were never a victim. I certainly have not seen one.

Was Satan behind the anti Brown briefings?

Today's Independent carries this story which lays the blame for the Observer article yesterday (See my article here) firmly at the door of Peter Mandelson.

As I said yesterday Peter Mandelson is not supposed to get involved in party politics. His oath of office as an EU commissioner precludes that.

What is interesting is that the only person more poisonous and divisive than Gordon Brown in the Labour camp is Peter Mandelson. If there is going to be a fight between the two Labour will be the loser. After all Peter Mandelson must know where the bodies are buried. he could sling a lot of mud Gordon Brown's way.

So why is this going on? Mandelson used to be on Brown's side then switched to Tony Blair. Where does this enmity come from?

Hat tip to Mike Smithson of for the Independent story.

Dr No says yes?

I was going to write this one up before I went to bed, but alas power cuts intervened. In short it looks like Dr Ian Paisley is set to accept power sharing with Sinn Fein which may well have looked like being on the card for a while, but is still stunning news.

It appears that they have already met this morning and are going to release a joint press statement soon.

The Guardian trailed the meeting here, on its front page (The only paper to do so, which is surprising as it is such big news) whilst the BBC has this here.

I don't know what shocks me most. Dr No saying yes, or the face to face meeting. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams have been the big political figures in Northern Ireland for a generation yet have never before met.

Power sharing is set to resume on the 8th of May after a bit of DUP brinkmanship that saw Peter Hain's last never to be shifted deadline of today shifted.

I just hope it all works out in Northern Ireland.

Power Cuts!

I was writing an article about Dr No and Gerry Adams last night but I had a power cut!

Then when the power came back on it when off again a few minutes later!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Anyone but Brown

It is interesting to see that the anyone but Brown camp have had a bot of a splash in the media today. For example the Observer has this story reporting that Blair believes that if David Miliband stands, he will win, whilst this from today's Mail on Sunday reports that Miliband's people have received signals from Tony Blair that he should stand.

We also now know that Jack Straw is going to be Gordon Brown's campaign manager. That seems tacit acceptance that there will be a campaign. Personally I still have doubts. Mind you I did bet Mike Smithson £10 that Brown would win unopposed!

This morning on the BBC's Sunday AM program, we had Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw discussing the leadership, Peter did not look comfortable in the shots I saw. Mind you Mandelson is an EU commissioner who was supposed to have committed to leaving party politics behind so you have to wonder why he is sticking his oar in. Then again Mandelson and rules do seem to be strangers.

What does it all mean? Well the most telling quote is in the Mail piece:
"David has not ruled it out completely but realises that it is a huge gamble. If he lost badly, it could be ruinous and if he won, it could cause such a violent backlash from Brown that it may not be worth it."
Or in other words Labour are just gearing up to tear themselves apart.

Nominated for blog of the month

I have have noticed that I have been nominated for blog of the month by Central News in this post here, after having been blog of the week.

If you fancy having a look and a vote, the link is here, with links to the other nominees.

Cash for Peerages, Tony Blair was to be questioned under caution

According to this article in today's Sunday Telegraph the police wanted to interview Tony Blair under caution when they interviewed him for a second time on the 26th of January this year. They were advised by political intermediaries not to do so as that would make his position untenable, so he would have to resign.

Downing street have of course denied this, but they would wouldn't they?

The interview was recorded and a transcript sent for approval to Number 10, but as yet there has been no reply. Number 10 says "witness statements are being drawn up in the usual way". What? 3 months to agree the transcript of an interview? Pull the other one, its got bells on!

This puts a completely new complexion on things. At the time the interview was played down, he was interviewed as a witness, there is not accusation of wrong doing etc. ad nausiem. Well if in fact they wanted to caution him that is all out of the window.

It also seems that the police are surprised the Lord Levy and Ruth Turner have not been suspended given the seriousness of the investigation.

I wonder what Lord levy and Ruth Turner would say if charged?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Politics is good exercise!

Yes it is. I have just been out delivering some more leaflets in Ashenground ward in Haywards Heath, and I can say that it certainly is good exercise.

I just wish it was warmer, and not drizzling. Still the clocks go back forward tonight so at least it will be lighter for the rest of the campaign.

Thanks for the Anonymous correction!

The Budget's dead cat bounce

The big question in politics at the moment is how much of a poll bounce will Gordon Brown get when (or perhaps if) he becomes Prime Minister.

Some have it that he will get such a bounce that he will call a snap general election, others have it that he will be cautious. Some, (including me) have it that the bounce will be a dead cat bounce. As in none at all.

Interestingly enough we have some early poll results from the Times here, covering how well the budget went down.

Dead cat bounce? Frankly it seems to be squashed. There is no poll bounce at all.

Regardless of how much people will be better or worse off, only 11% of people think they will be better off whilst 26% think they will be worse off. What is shocking is that the people least affected either way are high wage earners whilst those on low incomes can actually be worse off!

Hat tip to "me" on for the Times poll details.

Friday, March 23, 2007

How our returning soldiers should be treated

Whether you agree with the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts, our soldiers fight for us, and are prepared to die for us. This surely is how they should be treated when they get home, not left lying in their own excrement in an NHS hospital with people popping by to tell them how bad they are.

Yes I know it is a commercial, but the point still stands.

Hat tip to Iain Dale, who also has it here.

Bob Woolmer's murder

I was very sorry to hear that Bob Woolmer, former Kent and England player, world class coach and indeed coach of Pakistan died. I was also surprised to hear Pakistan got beaten by Ireland.

I was doubly shocked to hear that it looks like he had been murdered. This is obviously a difficult time for his family. I am sure we all send our condolences.

However what irritated me was the news coverage on BBC News 24 when I got home last night. Clearly this is big news. However, I got home about midnight, and by the time I had gone to bed I don't recall having heard any other news at all. Nothing on the budget, Iraq, the Middle East, any murders that may have happened in the UK, and no newspaper review.

Surely there is only so much speculation you can do about this murder? Surely with a 24 hour rolling news program you can fit in other stories?

Well, thank goodness for the web. At least you can find out what else is going on there!

The Bremner take on the Budget!

Looks good to me, the Telegraph has this take on the budget by Rory Bremner.

So far it seems fairly accurate to me.

I am looking at the effects of the budget on people on tax credits, if you want to email me anonymously I will try to work out if you are better or worse off.

Hat tip to Witan on for the link to the Telegraph.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Budget bombshell, Defence spending has been cut!

Many thanks to Elliot who in my previous article provided this link to a very useful piece of work that he has done on the defence spending promise.

If you recall from the budget, Joseph Stalin Gordon Brown announced a £400 Million increase in defence spending. Well according to Elliot if you actually look at the numbers last years numbers for defence were £40.8 billion total, this years budget for defence was going to be £40.4 billion, so add the extra £400 million and you get last years numbers, a real terms decrease in spending of £800 million.

So let us get this straight. Our boys are fighting on two fronts in a major way and deployed over the world and yet they get this kick in the teeth.

Of course the Sun are just too daft to spot this cut or else they would be up in arms. However they just have this daft sycophantic editorial here.

The Budget, The devil is in the detail

The problem with Gordon Brown's last budget is that the devil is in the detail.

We already know that the 2p cut in the headline rate of income tax is offset by the removal of the 10p band, leaving single people who don't or can't claim Working tax Credit worse off until they earn over £18K per year.

We know that big business has had a cut in corporation tax, but small business has had a hike.

What I did not realise until I read this on Iain Dale's blog is that the 2p cut in income tax does not really apply to people in tax credits, because the claw back has gone up by 2p from 37p to 39p to compensate. Obviously those who get more tax credits may well be a bit better off, but this is clearly going to take some getting to the bottom of!

This is real smoke and mirrors stuff!

The Budget, some analysis

Firstly this budget is mostly neutral. It was only ever going to be that way, because there is no money to give away.

Indisputably there are some useful things in it, but some bad ones as well.

Overall the budget seems to simplify things which is good. However it does beg the question why did Joseph Stalin, sorry, Macavity, no wrong again, Gordon Brown make it so much more complex over the last 10 years?

Big Corporation tax is down by 2p, good, it will hopefully help the economy. This in part is paid for by simplifying allowances for big business so is broadly neutral.

Corporation tax for small business is up 2p, and will rise again, ostensibly to stop tax fraud where people who are effectively fully employed try to make out they are a company.

This is offset by allowing a 100% allowance on certain types of investment to all companies of up to £50,000 per year. Gordon trotted out some numbers on the effective corporation tax for small businesses who take up the offer of the tax relief on investment.

There is a big problem here. Firstly 53% of all private sector jobs are in businesses this size, so that is a huge part of the economy that has just had a tax hike. Also, small businesses do not necessarily need or want to invest £50,000 per year in new equipment. Small business comprise a very diverse sector from small niche manufacturers who may be in that niche for using old fashioned methods, like hand made pottery manufactures, to others like small scale foundries supplying castings to the model engineer community, to window cleaners, florists, gardening contractors. There are many businesses which will not benefit at all or seldom benefit from the tax break, yet will be hit by the tax hike.

Small businesses are the engine of the economy. They employ more people than any other sector, and have the capacity to employ a lot more, if the environment is right. So that aspect of the budget is a very bad thing.

Green taxes are up a bit, but lower as a proportion of GDP than under the Conservatives.

Cigarettes up by 11p a packet, great news for tobacco smugglers, I expect they are ecstatic. Beer and wine up, but bizarrely spirits (mostly produced in Scotland) frozen for the 10th year running. Is Gordon Scottish?

There is a rationalisation of National Insurance and Income Tax rates so that they cut in and out at the same levels. Looks good from a simplification point of view, seems to benefit those around £35K per year and gets neutral at around £42K, so bar some losers in odd places, fair enough.

The basic rate of income tax has been cut by 2p. On the face of it very good news, but as ever the devil is in the detail. The 10p band is cut. It looks like a simplification and indeed is to some extent, but those currently on the 10p will now be paying 20p rather than nothing.

In short if you earn between £5,250 to £17,800 you pay more tax. That in principle is wrong, as I said here. There is more detail though, some of those affected will benefit from more tax credits.

Well, lets look at that a bit. Firstly there seems to be a combination of fraud and mistakes in the tax credit system running at a colossal scale, I have heard estimates that 50% of the payments are wrong. That is bad. Secondly whilst those who have children are better off with more tax credits, those with out suffer from two problems. The increase in their tax credits still leaves a lot of them worse off, then the fact that people without children just do not claim working tax credit even when they are entitled to. The take up rate is 20% (See this here, table 10). You do not have to look that far or that wide to see why. People just do not need the grief of dealing with tax credits unless they really have to.

In short, tax cuts for the rich, big companies, "working families", tax rises for the poor, but childless, and small businesses.

Hat tip to Neil for the take up rate on tax credit information.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Brown robs the poor to give to the rich!

During Joseph Stalin's Gordon Brown's last budget, he has on the one hand reduced the basic rate of income tax by 2p to 20p in the pound. Good news you might say, but on the other hand has funded this by scrapping the 10p in the pound rate altogether which puts up tax for all those who earn less that £17,000 per year.

Those on less than £11,500 may well be able to claim Working Tax Credit, but those not able to will be hit.

One person I know will be £8 a month worse off as a below average wage earner, whilst an above average wage earner (but not higher rate) will be better off!

Why is Gordon robbing the poor to pay the rich? It's a bit regressive isn't it?

That Brown Budget

Corporation tax down to 28%, though small business tax rising from 20% to 22% and rising. The reason is that he thinks lots of people are not real companies paying their due in taxes.

Does Brown not understand how much growth small companies provide to the economy?

Also Brown has reduced the 22p rate of income tax to 20p. Sounds good, but it is mostly funded by scrapping the 10p rate of tax so you have to be earning something like £17,000 to be better off. If you are not you are worse off.

Apparently working tax credit will offset this. Why bring people into a tax credit system when you don't have to? If you are going to give them the money back, why not just leave them with it in the first place?

What Gordon giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other.

The BBC has this, and I will be writing more when I have had a chance to look at it in more detail.

Lenin on Gordon Brown

Before Vladimir Lenin died he became increasing concerned about Brown's Stalin's character and wrote a testament in which he suggested that he be removed. "Comrade Brown Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated enormous power in his hands: and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. I therefore propose to our comrades to consider a means of removing Brown Stalin from this post and appointing someone else who differs from Brown Stalin in one weighty respect: being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite, more considerate of his comrades."

You have been warned!

Hat tip to Icarus on

Image originally by the Spine, Via Dizzy thinks.

For more on Comrade Brown Stalin see here.

That last Brown Budget in Full

Today Gordon Brown will announce his last budget. That is a certainty. He will not be chancellor next year no matter what happens. Either he will graciously accept the invitation to be Caesar and have rose petals strewn in his path, or he will face a serious challenger for the job of Leader of the Labour party who will win and will go off in a sulk that will make Ted Heath look like a good loser, and he will take his bitter cohorts with him. However what he will say tomorrow will be like this:

Ukrainian Tractor production* will be up again by 328.35%

(Gordon's forecast for growth will be met or surpassed, because he measures the winning figures. What won't make it into the speech is that whilst growth according to treasury figures is on or ahead of target, tax revenue is below target, and therefore borrowing is higher than forecast.)

Prudence, prudence, prudence, investing for the future .. cont. Page 04.

What he will fail to mention is Eddy George's evidence to parliament yesterday when the former head of the Bank of England admitted that the recession that every other country faced between 2000 and 2002 was avoided by a massive consumer and public borrowing boom leaving problems for the future, including very high house prices (See Sky article here).

Green taxes to protect the environment blah..

Bizarrely we have heard this before, because this budget like many new Labour ones has been leaked. Chancellors have resigned for this. You can read this here.

One billion to raise 200,000 children out of child poverty! (See another leak in the Guardian here).

This according to the article is because Gordon feels bad about how we got on in that UNICEF report. Firstly that amounts to £5,000 a head EXTRA per child. Secondly it assumes that whoever that money is going to is going to do something with it, or indeed that mere money is the answer.

The plan seems to be fiddling at the edges, more money for working tax credits and so on. The fact is that it is less the individual wealth of the family that counts but how cohesive the family is that counts, and where that may be in doubt, how cohesive the community is around it. For example how able a neighbor is to watch over your children? Mine are, are yours? In quite a lot of communities this is not the case because we are all scared of the consequences of telling off an errant child, or applying a sticking plaster to an injured one. We do not need to throw money around as if it will solve all our problems. We need to apply a bit of thought.

*I have no idea whether the Ukrainians make tractors or not and if they do, how that business is going, the expression "Ukrainian tractor production" is shorthand for silly government statistics that look a bit Stalinist.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More Mandarins Attack Brown!

I have just been listening to BBC Radio 4's World at One, which is covering the story first carried in the FT (see here) featuring Lord Alan Turnbull's attack on Gordon Brown, describing him as Stalinist.

Well, we now have Sir Stephen Wall, formerly a senior civil servant at Number 10, on Radio 4 agreeing with him. Apparently under Thatcher the treasury was strong and brutal, but open to discussion. Since 1997, it hasn't been. There is a complete lack of discussion between the Treasury and anyone else in Whitehall including Number 10. Ridiculous.

Sir Stephen pointed out that whilst there are claims that Joseph Stalin Gordon Brown will be more collegiate once PM there was no evidence this was the case. He also seems to think that Labour should think long and hard about whether they want Gordon as their Leader and PM.

Hard hitting stuff. The knives our out for Gordon with a vengeance!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Turnbull slams Brown as Stalinist

According to this article in the Financial Times, Lord Turnbull, former Chief Permanent Secretary to the treasury and then Cabinet Secretary slams Gordon Brown for being Stalinist, of having a “very cynical view of mankind and his colleagues”, and in essence forming government policy himself to the point that if you want something done, you don't ask the minister concerned, but the Treasury.

He went on: “He cannot allow them any serious discussion about priorities. His view is that it is just not worth it and ‘they will get what I decide’. And that is a very insulting process,” Lord Turnbull said. “The chancellor has a Macavity quality. He is not there when there is dirty work to be done.” Ouch!

Not Gordon Brown's week is it? Next week isn't looking good either. You do have to wonder if the knives are not sharpening for Gordon.

Update 09:46

In error I described Lord Turnbull as former Chief Secretary, he was not, the title is permanent secretary.

Also according to BBC Radio 4's Today program Lord Turnbull claims he was speaking off the record.

Conservatives build massive poll lead

The Guardian ICM poll for the month is out, giving the following poll breakdown:

Conservatives 41
Labour 31
Liberal Democrats 18,

In terms of seats, these numbers give the Conservatives 329, Labour 251, and the Liberal democrats 39 with others at 31 an overall majority of 8, according to the election predictor from the UK Polling report website and the seats work out like this Conservatives 362, Labour 239, and the Liberal democrats 18 with others at 31 an overall majority of 74, according to Martin Baxter's election predictor here.

However when asked who you would vote for with David Cameron leading the Conservatives, Brown Labour and Ming Campbell the Liberal Democrats, it comes out as:

Conservatives 43
Labour 28
Liberal Democrats 18

In terms of seats, these numbers give the Conservatives 374, Labour 213, and the Liberal democrats 35 with others at 28 an overall majority of 98 according to the election predictor from the UK Polling report website and the seats work out like this Conservatives 415, Labour 183, and the Liberal democrats 21 with others at 31 an overall majority of 180 according to Martin Baxter's election predictor here.

That is a fantastic lead. It has taken David Cameron a while, but now we are consistently either around or above 40% whilst Labour seem to drift between the low 30's to high 20's.
Hat tips all round to those on, especially Ted and Andrea!

Update 21:04

The Guardian report on the Poll is here.

All those stabbings

You can't have missed news of the recent spate of stabbings particularly of Adam Regis, who's uncle is John Regis, not that having a famous uncle makes your murder any less acceptable than anyone elses.

We clearly have a problem with violent crime amongst our youth, and what is more, it seems on the increase.

I listened with interest to Sunday's BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend, ( 4 minutes and 47 seconds in) which featured an interview with Shaun Bailey, a fellow of the Centre for Policy Studies. have to say it was fascinating stuff.

Shaun is an interesting chap. For a start he grew up on a crime ridden estate but avoided crime. You can learn more about him by reading this.

He was asked if family breakdown was important in youth violence. His answer? Massively. Children spend far too much time away from their families. There is a nationalisation and centralisation of child care. You can't administer a hug from Westminster. (even if it is only as far as North Kensington so what chance has the North East got?)

I have to say he was compelling. On the other hand the MP for the next door constituency, Lyn Brown seemed to blame the disparity between the rich and the poor, and in particular in London. I can't say I found her compelling at all, primarily because Shaun Bailey comes from one of the richest areas in the country where there has always been a massive disparity in wealth and youth crime is not getting any better.

What is in 2007's Budget?

There used to be a time, it seems now a long long time ago, when what was in the budget was a closely guarded secret, only to be revealed on the day of the budget and before parliament first.

There were, and indeed are, good reasons for this. The budget contains much in the way of sensitive information. What is in the budge can and probably will change peoples behaviour. What is more it is a key bill that affects taxes and must be passed by parliament each year. Propriety dictates that parliament ought to hear of it first.

In fact budget secrecy used to be so important in pre New Labour days that Chancellors have been known to resign over leaks. Not a bit of it now. It is all over the press.

For example:

The Times has this article about how Gordon Brown is going to ratchet up the road tax on the most polluting cars registered since last April, the Sun carries a similar story. The Guardian has this article on how houses that generate more environmentally friendly electricity will not have to pay income tax on their profits when they sell it back to the national grid.

I am not going to comment on the policies themselves at this stage, but I find it remarkable that they have been leaked ahead of the budget, in essence to try to steal David Cameron's green clothes.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cash for Access, A new sleaze storm brewing?

The Sundays Times has being carrying out an investigation into "Cash for Access" for two months according to this report today. In it the Sunday Times claims it has uncovered close access between lobbying firm Golden Arrow Communications employs a former Labour minister David Jamieson.

This is to some extent reminiscent of the cash for access scandals at the end of the 1992-1997 parliament. However this report will come as no surprise to regular readers of Private Eye who are already very aware of the revolving door between Whitehall and private firms for both ministers and civil servants, frequently avoiding the scrutiny of the committees set up to avoid accusations of impropriety.

The problem is of course that lobbying companies can get better access to decision makers than ordinary members of the public which makes their services valuable. That obviously causes public concern.

Cash for Peerages, has it just got worse?

The reason why I ask is that I am in two minds about this report in today's Sunday Telegraph.

It reports on a letter sent by Sir Christopher Evans, Labour donor, lender and the man who had that note written in his diary talking of P's and K's.

The essence of the letter is that of course he talked money with Lord Levy, as that was hos job. They talked about a possible future role in politics for Sir Christopher Evans, in the Lords for example, what is wrong with that?

Legally it is difficult to tell. After all a jury will make the final decision if and when charges are brought. it will depend on whether the conversations amount to an inducement.

I do wonder if Sir Christopher has been as candid with the police. I do hope so or otherwise he can expect what I am sure will be an unwelcome visit.

What is certain though is that politically this is very damaging. Lord Levy is at the end of the day he money man. He has claimed to have had little or no role in nomination for peerages, (though the police may now want to ask supplementary questions) . Clearly that line is looking less tenable by the day.

Sir Chris and Lord Levy seem to feel they have been hung out to dry. The implication of that statement is that they will be bitter if that is the case. I wonder if charges will make them more talkative?

For more on the cash for peerages saga see here.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

In Defence of Dissent

I listened to parts of BBC radio 4's Moral Maze (See here) on Wednesday evening.

The debate centered around dissenting from current orthodoxies like climate change, and to some extent multiculturalism, and discussed whether there was a growing intolerance of ideas that do not fit within the new orthodoxy.

I have to say I think there is a great deal of intolerance around, directed at people who hold unfashionable views. The problem is of course, that the current orthodoxy was yesterday's unfashionable view. If we allow debate to get fossilised in this way then we will lose the ability to move ideas forward.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hospital not fit for purpose

The latest issue of Private Eye carries the story of the death of a 60 year old patient in a mental health centre in Leeds. He was the fith person to die whilst in teh care of the Becklin Centre.

The man was found on fire in a corridor.

Apparently it is one of three mental health centres in Leeds that failed fire regulations in 2005. Perhaps they need replacing? Well, no they are new build PFI units.

What is worse is that apparently the layout of the unit makes it hard to supervise patients!

This problem is of course not just a PFI problem. Lots of public buildings seem not fit for purpose before they open these days. You have to wonder how they came to be that way. Obviously the architects need some experience of working in these types of building but I suspect a bigger problem is that executives make executive decisions about what is needed with no knowledge or understanding of what the people who will end up working there will do, or how they do it.

Until we find a way of dealing with this sort of serial incompetence we will continue to build facilities that are not fit for purpose.

Labour's NEC to decide Blair exit timetable

Well according to the BBC that is here.

the only problem is this, no one other than Blair can decide when he is going. The rules of the Labour party make it very very difficult to unseat a sitting Labour Prime minister.

You would need 70 MP's to sign up to a leadership challenge, which would then need a conference to be organised and a vote held. That is of course before anyone has had a chance to run for the post if all that works.

It won't happen, and it certainly won't happen quickly. What is more with Tony Blair's vague promises to leave of his own accord before the next conference there is no appetite to force him out.

However all I have heard Blair say is that he will not be Labour leader at the next labour conference. That means that he can resign first, as leader and stay on as PM until after the conference. He probably will not, but he could and stick to his promise.

So the NEC trying to decide any kind of timetable, except in the loosest possible terms, is just silly.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Miliband to cut emissions by hundred percent before 2010

Yes that's right. According to rumours on the Internet there is a shocking new policy to cut emissions by 100% by 2010. What's more it looks like it could work.

For more see here.

Cash for Peerages, Yates letter to the Public Affairs Select Committee

Guido has published a copy of Yates of the Yards letter to the Public Affairs Select Committee here.

What I found most interesting about it is this paragraph:
"As experience no shows, it is unwise to set myself any deadline to complete the investigation. To do so would be unrealistic in view of the fact that many matters, not the least of which is further evidence coming to light, are out side of my control."
Looks like the saga will carry on for just that little bit longer.

Mind you he does also promise to get the files over to the CPS as soon as possible, its just that the tone of that paragraph indicates it may be a little way off still.

Morgan Tsvangirai Attacks Police!

Yes you heard it here first!

According to a spokesman for the Zimbabwean government Morgan Tsvangirai ruthlessly attacked police.

An eye witness who did not wish to be murdered named said he saw Mr Tsvangirai head but a police mans truncheon several times. A large gentleman stood directly behind explained "It's a devil of a job to clean the blood off a truncheon after someone has head butted it repeatedly"

Meanwhile the Chief of Harare's Police complained about agitators. "They cause immense damage by constantly throwing themselves down stairs, spattering blood as they go. The cleaning bill is horrific. When you add that to the damage they do to truncheons by ruthlessly head butting them it seriously affects our budgets!"

Meanwhile in other news, there are rumors that Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf has been approached to act as spokesman for the government of Zimbabwe to lend it much needed credibility.

The BBC has this obviously biased report here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The cost of Silence

Or rather, the cost of trying to keep Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes finding out in detail how much MP's spend on travel expenses and what sort of travel they spend them on.

The answer is £17,000.

The Commons Commission resisted Norman Baker's request under the freedom of Information Act for two years, arguing that giving him the information would breach data protection rules. It seemed they had something to hide. I don't know why. All it means is that MP's have to explain themselves if they seem to be spending a lot.

Of course now MP's are considering giving themselves a get out of the Freedom Of Information Act. That would be a big mistake. Anything that makes MP's look less accountable is bad for democracy and politics.

The BBC has this on the cost of trying to deny the request here and the story about the expenses here.

The House of Commons Commission webpage is here, and its membership is here.

Voting Fraud, you can help stamp it out

I have written about voting fraud before here. I don't like any form of voting where the voter does not turn up at the polling station because of the potential for fraud and intimidation.

On top of that postal voting seems fraught with with opportunities to steal peoples votes. I do not believe enough has been done to combat this. We will have election monitors from Poland to see oversee our elections. Ridiculous.

While this is happening the government ploughs on regardless with other ways of voting potentially open to fraud such as telephone and Internet voting, all in the name of increasing voter turnout. Not enough thought has been given to the vast increase in the potential for fraud.

Electronic voting will be carried out in Rushmoor, Sheffield, Shrewsbury & Atcham, South Bucks and Swindon.

Electronic counting will be piloted in: Bedford, Breckland, Dover, South Bucks, Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Warwick District Council.

If you live in these areas you can help. The Open Rights Group is looking for volunteer election monitors. You can learn more here and sign up to help here.

Lets keep our elections democratic!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Post Office closures, it does not have to be this way

This may be old news to some but it still concerns many.

In short it looks like the government wants to close down 2,500 post offices. Well, they are being subsidised and yes that is with tax payers money.

Is that justifiable? On the face of it no.

However is that the question? Do they need subsidising?

Well, under current rules and restrictions yes. This situation has arisen over a number of years as the Post Office network has lost major parts of its business, like for example the processing of giro's and pensions and the latest, TV licenses, which you can no longer pay for in a post office but can in a number of shops.

Maybe the market has moved on. Fair enough.

However the reason why the post office can't compete is because the government has failed to loosen the rules on what the post office can and can't do. Whilst government is removing services from the post office network for what may or may not be valid reasons, the dead hand of government is failing to allow it to evolve, move on and attract new business.

I work in Burgess Hill. The main Post office in the town center closed there a number of years ago. Then it had a bit of a post office inside a large shop, and now it has by popular demand got a new post office. Good. There are a lot of people in Burgess Hill, and it would be odd to only have a few sub post offices dotted around. I can't help but notice how busy it is with regular business quite a lot of it generated by eBay.

This success story aside though what we are actually talking about is sub post offices, as well as main post offices. It is a fantastic branch network that can provide a lot of services.

Instead we have plans to cut the network back to save money. I am happy with saving money in principle, but closing post offices is not the only way to do it. Letting the post office network compete would save even more money. Alas that does not seem to be on the cards.

The Post Office needs help from the Government to generate new business ideas and opportunities, not closures. It provides a lifeline to the local economy and community and we have launched a petition rejecting these planned closures. We need your help to secure the future of these vital services. It just does not have to be this way.

The Great Global Warming Swindle!

Yes its all a con! Well according to this program on Channel 4 it might be. I did not watch the actual program, but did catch a bit of the Newsnight discussion and have read the programs webpage.

The program lays out its arguments here.

I will make the following observations.

The program claims, here:
There is some evidence to suggest that the rise in carbon dioxide lags behind the temperature rise by 800 years and therefore can't be the cause of it.
This is a massive load of old tosh. Yes there may well be evidence to show that global temperature rises lead global carbon dioxide levels. I have no problem with that. What it shows it that global warming causes increased natural carbon dioxide emissions. It does not prove or disprove that carbon dioxide can cause global warming. For a bit of a discussion on how carbon dioxide heats the atmosphere see here.

The program claims here:
If greenhouse warming were happening, then scientists predict that the troposphere (the layer of the earth's atmosphere roughly 10-15km above us) should heat up faster than the surface of the planet, but data collected from satellites and weather balloons doesn't seem to support this.
Well, I'd like a bit of backing for this as a model. It does not seem to make sense to me. Most carbon dioxide emissions happen near the earths surface and carbon dioxide is heavier than air, just. Therefore it will stay low if it is generated low. The program does have some lovely pictures showing how carbon dioxide traps the suns rays by seemingly bouncing them back to earth. Well that's wrong, what happens is that carbon dioxide absorbs more heat. It does not bounce it anywhere.

So any sensible model would say the air with the most carbon dioxide in it gets the hottest (Well, OK methane generates more), and as it is heavier than air you would expect that to be closer to the ground.

However the program goes on, here with this:
For some people, the final nail in the coffin of human-produced greenhouse gas theories is the fact that carbon dioxide is produced in far larger quantities by many natural means: human emissions are miniscule in comparison. Volcanic emissions and carbon dioxide from animals, bacteria, decaying vegetation and the ocean outweigh our own production several times over.
One would hope it only took a small amount of thought to dismiss this argument. The natural environment both gives off and absorbs carbon dioxide. That is normal. It is in balance. As in fact is animals, bovine or otherwise farting. It happens and it has always happened. Nature copes.

The problem is not that human activity cause carbon dioxide to be produced, but where it comes from. generally it comes from fossil fuels which contain carbon that has been locked up for Milena. That adds carbon dioxide to the system faster than it is used to absorbing it, whilst crucially we reduce the ability of the environment to absorb that increase. This is where the problem comes.

Here there might be a point:
New evidence shows that that as the radiation coming from the sun varies (and sun-spot activity is one way of monitoring this) the earth seems to heat up or cool down. Solar activity very precisely matches the plot of temperature change over the last 100 years. It correlates well with the anomalous post-war temperature dip, when global carbon dioxide levels were rising.
Well, yes, but an unnatural increase in carbon dioxide concentrations does help the atmosphere absorb more heat. It is certainly the case that as the sun burns hotter so the earth gets hotter, but as I discussed here, that does not mean we can't do anything about it, nor does it mean that climate change models have ignored it.

Mind you there does need to be a debate and discussion. There can be no room for theological positions on this and we do not need a Mary Whitehouse of the climate change debate.

Where the SFO left off, the DOJ will continue

I watched an interesting report on Newsnight about the ending of the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

It featured an interview with Robert Wardle head of the Serious Farce Office, who still maintains that it was his decision, and that he reached it after discussions with the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, the Solicitor General Mike O'Brien and our Ambassador in Saudi Arabia.

Robert Wardle claims he made the decision in the public interest. However there are doubts. Firstly as I have said before in this article, it is not his job as he still does not have all the information and it is still a political decision, then we have this about Sir John Scarlett's letter saying there were no concerns about our relationship with the Saudis. Apparently the Americans who have had anti corruption laws for years are not convinced either.

Well according to the Newsnight report the United States Department of Justice is actively looking at the case and may well carry on and seek to get a conviction. What is more they get easy extradition terms from us. Could be fun.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cash for Peerages, More on that BBC injunction

Well, according to BBC Radio 4's 6 o'clock news, the BBC has now been allowed to report the reasons for the injunction.

The BBC story is here. It is serious stuff.

According to it, Ruth Turner's document did in effect accuse Lord Levy of trying to get her to lie. I wonder if Bindman partners, Lord Levy's lawyers will be issuing an injunction against the Sunday Times. If they don't then some of us may draw adverse conclusions. (If Bindman Partners want to email me a statement on Lord Levy's behalf I will publish it).

Strong stuff indeed.

However the Met, and therefore presumably Yates of the Yard sought the injunction as they wanted to question Ruth Turner, John McTernan, and did wanted to retain the element of surprise.

That leads to the question how long has the Yard had the document, and if they only just got it, how did the BBC find out? If they had it for a while why not question sooner?

I also suspect that Yates of the Yard would have also wanted to question Lord Levy and Johnathan Powell again, but then maybe not.

The Dirt on the Dome

There has been much speculation about the Dome, owned by one Philip Anschutz, and whether or not it would get a licence to operate as a Super Casino. That is not what this is about. In fact it isn't really about Philip Anschutz, or his company AEG which now owns the Dome site.

It is about who is building in the Dome, and should they be?

There is currently much construction going on in the Dome. In fact it is a building site. There are now clear rules about who can and can't work on a building site, for health and safety reasons. All construction staff have to have a Construction Safety skills Certificate, or CSSC, which in theory means that you know that building sites work on 110 Volts not 240, about slip hazards and other safety matters.

These cards have a 7 digit number. When you want to work on a site, you fill in 3 forms giving the 3 digit number, and that is it.

Well, in the Dome, they don't check whether the number is valid or not. You could and many do, just make up a 7 digit number. As long as you use the same number on all the forms, you won't be found out.

This makes the scheme pointless. What is worse is that most construction sites in London seem to work the same way. So the labour in the construction industry could well be untrained and unskilled, but worse still dangerous.

not all building companies work this way, some do check the numbers given, and obviously reject those without the valid paper work. The problem is of course that then they have to pay more for their workforce, as they can't rely on cheap foreign workers with no paper work.

It seems that there are a lot of Eastern Europeans working in construction in London at the moment and they are pricing many of the local workforce out of a job. Fine as far as it goes, but they are not just from the EU. They are also from places like Russia or Albania and clearly have no intrinsic right to work here. They can get away with it because no one bothers to check their paper work.

Update 20:50

I now understand that there are frequent raids by immigration officers at Greenwich station, in fact on average twice a month once every two months! (sorry for the original inaccuracy)

I wonder if it has ever occurred to the immigration officers to wonder where these people are going, after all there are not that many new and large employers in the area.

The plot thickens. I wonder if any one has told Philip Anschutz yet? I know his people know!

Brown on the Environment

Gordon Brown is giving a speech on climate change today to the Green Alliance. In it I suspect he will highlight Ukrainian tractor production and bore people stiff.

However he will also seek to trash George Osbourne's announcement on taxing air travel.

The Conservative party's position on air travel seems to be this:

We need to cut the growth in air travel because it is the fastest area of growth in green house gases.

The Conservative party are issuing a consultation process, that is about to start and has not yet even finished.

The bones of the consultation are these:

Air travel within the UK will be subject to VAT. (Given that tampons and sanitary towels are I can't see this as controversial, after all you could catch a train, but I dread to think what the alternatives are for "sanitary products", I think air travel is a bit more of a luxury especially as I have to pay VAT on the fuel I put in my car, but apparently it might be.)

Individuals will get a personal air travel allowance, on which either they will not be taxed, or at least they will not be taxed any more.

Taxes will be aimed at the dirtiest engines.

People traveling above and beyond their personal allowance will pay a higher rate of tax on air travel.

All the extra tax raised with this tax will be taken off other taxes. So for every billion raised will be used to reduce tax elsewhere.

Now going back to Gordon's speech to the Green Alliance. In it Gordon will criticise the Conservative position thus:

"Changes must be considered, costed, credible and consumer friendly not ill-conceived, short-termist, unworkable and unfair."

Well let us consider his critique:

I wont go into whether it is costed, it is after all a consultation paper, it does have to be credible, and if Gordon can highlight how it is not credible, lets here it.

Consumer friendly? Well the idea here is to reduce consumption surely?

Short termist? Umm? What like reducing tax on air travel one year and then increasing it a few years later on the grounds you now want to save the planet? Oh, and failing to pass the relevant legislation to make it legal whilst just using the money to will the treasuries coffers?

Unworkable? I am not sure Gordon has carried out a full analysis of how these proposals will work, largely because the consultation paper has not been published. Clearly he is talking nonsense.

Unfair? In what way exactly?

Currently Gordon Brown is either just raising yet another stealth tax with is currently illegal hike in airport taxes or his aim is to raise airport taxes to such a level as to reduce demand.

Airport tax at the moment is per journey. So if you raise the tax to stop some people flying the first to suffer will be the poor who will be taxed put of air travel all together. Is that fair? No.

On the other hand the Conservative proposals will allow everyone some tax free flights and aim to hit the more frequent and presumably wealthy fliers. Looks a lot fairer to me.

Mind you I don't suppose it will help that Director of the Green Alliance, Stephen Hale has said "the Conservatives' proposals on aviation fuel would take them ahead of where the government are at present, if they see it through."

You can read the BBC's report here.

The shame of it all is of course that Gordon, and indeed the Labour party could have waited to see more detailed proposals, but instead just wishes to be combative.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cash for Peerages, Has the Sunday Times got something?

The Sunday Times has this article, with the headline "Blair aides ‘plotted’ to foil police". It seems that the attempt to foil the police was not the latest leak (See here and here), on which Fraser Nelson has some interesting insight in this article in the Spectator, but the overall nature of Number 10's staff cooperation with the police inquiry.

Fraser speculates in his article that maybe staff at Number 10 are turning on themselves.

The Sunday Times is somewhat more forthright.

Firstly it alleges that Lord Levy tried to get other staff to lie over his involvement in recommending people for honours. As I have made clear in a previous article here, Lord Levy recommending someone for an honour is not legally an issue, and he need not have been worried about the police knowing that. Unless, which I will come to later.

The allegation that Lord levy tried to get people to lie to the police is a very serious one. I do hope the Sunday Times have good evidence to back up their claim. I know that Lord Levy's lawyers at Bindman partners read this blog, I suspect they will take the Sunday Times somewhat more seriously.

In short, if there is not a writ for libel issued against the Sunday Times by say, Tuesday of next week, things are looking bad for Lord Levy. Of course if they just spout the Abu Hamza defence again we will all draw our own conclusions.

The other key point raised is the potential for charges under the 1925 Honours, Prevention of abuses act against Lord Levy and Sir Christopher Evans.

I must stress that this is a remarkably easy crime to avoid. In order to make out the offence there needs to be evidence of a bargain being struck (Well we do have that P or K note).

I do not know how much of the article is speculation. What is clear is that the Sunday Times can't go around boldly asserting that Lord Levy asked people to lie to the police on his behalf without some evidence, otherwise they will get sued.

Oh, and at the bottom of the article there is a bit on how government wants to merge all the watchdogs that have given it such pain into one big one. No doubt this will cause some concern. On the upside the new body will be entirely responsible to parliament, not to the Prime minister.

You can read more on the cash for peerages saga here.

Hat tip to Witan on for the link to the Sunday Times article.

Update 10:20

The Independent on Sunday has this article which says that Lord Levy feels let down and may "turn on Labour". That would be one of the canaries singing and could deepen the crisis. I have always suspected that if the police had enough to charge someone then that someone would suddenly become very cooperative. I wait with baited breath!

It also has this little nugget at the end of the piece:
A senior figure close to the probe said the issue of whether both main political parties broke the law by hiding donations as "loans" was still "live".
Well we have not heard much about offences under the 2000 Political Parties, Elections and Referendum act recently but I certainly think it could be fertile ground for the police investigation.

Hat tip to Dez on for pointing it out.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Impact of The New Media

The Adam Smith Institute held a reception on Monday the 5th of March, entitled "The Impact of the New Media". It was interesting. The Adam Smith Institute blog has its own write up here, but this is my take.

The event was supposed to start with a half hour of discussion followed by drinks, but was far more civilised than that, starting with a half hour or so of drinks, followed by the discussion followed by more drinks, until they ran out when we all piled next door to the pub.

Stephan Shakespeare of 18 Doughty Street and YouGov fame kicked off.

He made a number of points. Now the BBC is allowing its content to go out on YouTube, it in effect allows itself to be undermined. Once it is there anyone can comment on it, and indeed use it to their own ends. Blogging it seems is undermining traditional media.

He then moved on to discuss how blogging would affect future elections. Apparently in a survey of young people they were asked if they had to give up one of the following 3 things, television, mobile phone or Internet which would it be. Overwhelmingly it is the television. It seems clear that the new media is going to grow and grow.

Interestingly, whilst blogs allow anyone to have a voice, that is not quite the case with places like Conservative Home, or 18 Doughty Street, both of which, in Stephan's view allow people just below the existing establishment to have a voice. It does still widen the political discourse though.

Stephan also feels that this will see the audience fracturing. After all there will be much more choice and many more providers. That being the case the big providers now will lose audiences to various Internet sources. This, Stephan felt would lead to a fracturing of politics as well.

I agree with a lot of what Stephan said, but am not convinced that political parties will fracture because there is a lot of advantages to the big coalitions that political parties are.

Fraser Nelson of the Spectator spoke next. he felt like a beta max salesman addressing a VHS conference!

Blogs it seems have shaken the dead tree press. For example Recess Monkey posted this story on Monday just after midnight alleging Margaret Thatcher was dead. Now that had many on the blogosphere running around in a blind panic trying to find out if there was any truth to it. What I didn't realise but Fraser told us, was that it had the same effect on fleet street with panicked journalists ringing around trying to find confirmation. When Margaret's team switched their mobiles on in the morning their answering service was full of messages asking if she was dead. Of course Recess Monkey was the victim of a hoax, and published a not very complimentary retraction here.

Fraser also highlighted the fact that the blogosphere is littered with the blogs of dead tree journalists which are going nowhere. It seems they just don't get how and why blogs work.

It seems that the new media is taken more seriously by politicians, or at least team Cameron. The Cameroonians believe that new media gives more direct access to people and are less concerned with the dead tree press and MSM. New Labour on the other hand are still in thrall to Fleet Street.

Tim Worstall made a couple of interesting points. If blogs destroy the establishment they will become it. However Tim thinks that bloggers will infiltrate the media, by being invited to write for it! (note to editors, if you want to to write an article for you, all you have to do is use the Email Me link on the right, and let me know how much you will pay :) ) So Fleet street will not be packing its bags and going away.

Bruce Anderson was also there, and piped up with a few interesting and amusing observations. He believes that the DTP and MSM have lost their monopoly. Blogging should make the MSM do better and keep it on its toes.

Bruce also had some amusing observations on the spectator. Apparently Boris Johnson was a lightweight editor, but under Matthew d'Ancona the editing is leaden.

Apparently, according to Bruce, the Spectator oscillates from tedium to sycophancy. I don't think Bruce is Matthew d'Ancona's biggest fan, but I may be wrong.

During the questions session afterwards someone who seemed to be from the DTP popped up to ask how bloggers intend to make money from their blogs? With things like pay per article? I popped up to say I don't think most bloggers care. It is true if a blogger gets a lot of traffic they might sell advertising, but that is no why we blog.

Afterwards I had a few conversations with people. One such was with Nicholas Jones, a journalist formerly of the BBC for some 30 years. He was expressing some concern over the way the Murdoch empire is looking to set the news agenda both for the MSM and the blogosphere by buying up big stories like the Jane Goody interview and the cockpit video of that friendly fire incident. His concern was that this arm of the media is unregulated. If they get their websites together and he feels they will then they could be more influential at the next election.

There is some truth is this view. After all we also had the Guardian breaking that police 'brutality' story on Wednesday via Newsnight. In many ways news papers who have been eclipsed by both TV and radio are now hitting back with websites with multimedia content.

That said I am not quite sure how much of a problem this is. After all we have blogs like Guido's and Iain Dale's setting the agenda as well. In many ways I can only see the power of blogs increase and whilst Murdoch's empire may grow at the expense of his rivals the market place for news and opinion is now forever changed by blogs.

I mentioned some of the bloggers I met at the event in this article here, but others I met include Andrew Dodge, Perry de Havilland of, and Philip Chaston of the bewilderness blog.