Saturday, November 29, 2008

Timeless Balls

The Times is carrying an interesting story about Ed Balls allegedly working for Gordon Brown before he became an MP. Apparently, if Balls was working for Brown while being paid to do so by a charity - in this case the Smith Institute - he would have been in breach of electoral law. But the story caught my attention for a different reason; mainly the fact that Balls has only been an MP since 2005. I find this staggering; his smug appearance, snivelling personality and highly punchable face have become such powerful reminders of Labour's attitude to politics that I honestly thought he'd been there from the very beginning.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Staggering Times

First of all, apologies for the lack of posts this week. I have been burning the midnight oil and work and haven't had time to blog.

Moving on to the Damian Green story, I'd like to look at something the press hasn't really covered. There are many things about this story that just don't seem right; 9 anti-terrorism officers arresting a middle-aged MP at his home in Kent; the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister claiming to know nothing about it; the Speaker of the House of Commons letting police search an MP's private office. There are so many things about the story that stink it's a wonder that people haven't started gagging when reading about it. But something that seems to have been missed is the alleged offence Green was arrested for; that of Misconduct in Public Office and a Conspiracy variable of it. Here are some highlights of the CPS guidance on this offence:

"It should always be remembered that it is a very serious, indictable only offence carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. A charge of misconduct in public office should be reserved for cases of serious misconduct or deliberate failure to perform a duty which is likely to injure the public interest." I don't think anyone could question whether these requirements have been met. In fact, they look so far removed from this case one has to wonder why on earth this offence was used as cause for arrest. Admittedly charges have not been brought, and the CPS guidance technically refers to factors to be considered when preparing a charge, but the fact that the case looks so weak to begin with is relevant. Could you really say that this was a case of 'serious misconduct', or that public interest was at risk? Not a chance in my book - if anything, Green was acting in the public interest by leaking documents the government wanted to keep secret.

"The threshold is a high one requiring conduct so far below acceptable standards as to amount to an abuse of the public's trust in the office holder." If anything, wouldn't Green's actions see him gain public trust? The government has kept information quiet because it was politically embarrasing, but which also related to issues of great public concern. Does leaking information that is awkward for the Labour Party but of obvious public interest really qualify under this requirement?

"There must be a breach of duty by the officer, [which is wilful and which is such that the conduct is] an affront to the standing of the public office held." In other words, the conduct must be the opposite of what is expected from the person in question. But leaks in politics are like grains of sand in the desert. During the mid-90s it was often joked that Robin Cook had an army of moles inside government departments; they are very much par for the course. And what about the BBC's Robert Peston leaking potentially harmful economic information, or the government leaking they were considering a £1,000 Christmas windfall in the PBR? These things are leaks, but it seems that leaks are only not allowed if they are propagated by Conservative MPs, rather than journalists or the government.

If Damian Green has done something seriously wrong without a reasonable excuse, then of course the law should apply in the correct fashion. But at the moment it looks as though he has been arrested for doing something that is simply part of politics, and for making the government look bad. He seems to have been arrested for doing his job.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Joker Brown

Well that was interesting wasn't it? A trillion pounds of national debt, NIC hitting low to middle incomes by £4 billion, and increases to alcohol duty and income tax for the sake of a temporary cut in VAT. George Osborne was on fire today. And doesn't this picture sum up what is wrong with Gordon Brown? Taken from the front page of the Telegraph, we see Darling and Cooper looking solemn while Osborne smashes into them. Brown, on the other hand, seems delighted with something. Maybe it's the thought of Darling taking the blame for his mistakes, or maybe he's just a lunatic? Who can say?

Where Is Darling?

I have decided not to blog on the PBR today; at least until we've actually had it. Even then, I'm sure my points will be explained by plenty of people who write better than me, and who know more about the issues. But one thing that has been so interesting about all this is the complete absence of Alistair Darling. He has given the odd interview or soundbite, but all the noise has been coming from Gordon Brown. When Brown was still Chancellor he ran the show on PBR day - not Blair - which just shows what a megalomaniac he is to still be doing it. So the BBC - always keen to help out Labour - have made an effort to remind people that Darling still exists, as this picture next to a Brown quote shows. How nice of them.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Home Office Logic

This story reveals that the penalty for not updating your information on the ID Card database could be as much as a £1,000 fine. But for me the more interesting aspect is how the Home Office don't actually seem capable of justifying their widely promoted idea that ID Cards - and the National Identity Register - will protect us from identity theft. A spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service - part of the Home Office - said this:

"The National Identity Scheme will bring real and recognisable benefits for British citizens by offering a more convenient way of proving identity and helping protect people from identity fraud."

Leaving aside the fact that here we see yet another example of a Civil Servant pushing the government's agenda - when the hell did this become okay? - there is another issue here. There is absolutely no way ID Cards will prevent identity fraud; in fact, should the database become corrupted, infiltrated or lost on two fucking CDs in the post, there's a good chance every single one of us will be the victims of identity fraud of some kind. Let's take a look at the Identity and Passport Service's website, with my comments in sexy red:

"Criminals can copy personal information (from a bank statement, for example) or steal or forge the documents – such as utility bills – we currently use to prove identity." True, but the introduction of ID Cards will not stop bank statements or utility bills being produced by banks and utility companies. And the way identity thieves get ahold of these documents is by going through rubbish and intercepting post; not robbing people on the way to the bank.

The National Identity Scheme is designed to be far more secure than anything we use at present. Security is built in to the system in the following ways:

"- Biometric data is held both on the card and in the National Identity Register (NIR). A criminal may steal your card, but your unique biometric data cannot be taken from you. Anyone trying to make a major financial transaction, for example, would have their biometric data checked against that held in the NIR. If they were not the registered cardholder this check would fail." But all this means is that this particular type of identity fraud would be prevented; when a fraudster actually poses as someone in the bank. It doesn't stop them using your information to apply for a false driving licence, passport or TV licence. It just means that identity fraudsters will find a new way of working within the parameters of the ID cards.
"- Each ID card has a PIN known only to the cardholder." So what? So do Chip and Pin cards, and the evidence suggests that credit card fraud has actually gone up since signatures were done away with.
"- Each card also has a biometric image of the cardholder’s face. This looks like a photograph and can be used for a quick visual check that the customer presenting the card is the genuine cardholder." That's what they say about passports too, but that time my brother and I checked in for a flight by accidentally using each other's passports suggests otherwise.

We expect the increased security offered by the National Identity Scheme to:

"- make it far more difficult to commit identity theft and fraud." They assume.
"- act as a deterrent for the future." It will deter people from certain types of identity theft and move them towards other types. You will never stop the problem with ID Cards.
"- make it much easier to catch and prosecute those who attempt identity theft and fraud." How, exactly? ID Cards are going to be optional, apparently. So do you really think that people planning a life of crime - and most identity thieves are career criminals - are going to sign up to have their fingerprints and other information put on the database?

The simple truth appears to be that the people responsible for introducing ID Cards are resting a substantial amount of their hope on the fact that the scheme might prevent identity fraud. So the fact that their arguments on this front are so easy to shoot down is almost disturbing in itself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jacqui Isn't Getting Any

Only a sexless leftie freak could see the logic in Jacqui Smith's latest policy idea. In essence, she wants to allow police to name and shame men who are seen kerb crawling, by printing their identities in local newspapers and on posters. Leaving aside the fact that this is a colossal waste of time and resources, what we see here is yet more prying into your private life. I don't think men visiting prostitutes is a particularly good idea, but if that's what they want to do then I'm not going to stop them. And if they want to tell their wife/partner, that is a matter for them and them alone. This scheme essentially turns the police and the government into arbiters of private sexual behaviour. What's next; a man from the Home Office coming to check how many times you thrust when humping your wife?

The other plank of this policy is to make it an offence to pay for sex with a woman who is 'controlled for another person's gain'. In other words, it will be a criminal offence to pay for sex with a prostitute who is 'managed' by a pimp or drug dealer. Yet again there is a lack of logic here. First of all, this technically covers brothels which are run by collectives of women; in fact the English Collective of Prostitutes (quite possibly the most amusing Trade Union in the world) has said as much. Secondly, it creates yet another situation where word of mouth is going to be the only evidence in a court of law. All a man needs to do is say: "I asked her if she had a pimp and she said no", and he's got a perfectly valid defence worked out. I suspect an astoundingly low rate of conviction as a result. And, leaving aside the problems it will probably cause for the prostitutes themselves, it also shows how Jacqui has completely missed the point. A large number of prostitutes are foreign, and are controlled in slums and ghettos by foreign pimps who usually double as people smugglers. But the ones who are UK-born and bred tend to work as prostitutes to pay for a drug habit, booze or even just food and shelter. Prostitution is a social problem created by social conditions, and you don't cut it out by making criminals of the men who use them or by making it much harder for the women to earn money. That'll just drive it even more underground where working conditions will get worse and their outlook will become even more bleak.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gordon Knows Best

Gordon Brown's Stalin-like lust to control everything around him never ceases to amaze me, and this time it's our organs he's after. I know everyone is focusing on G20 stuff today, which is why I'm looking at this story instead; to stop it getting swept under the carpet.

As you may have read, the Organ Donation Taskforce appointed by Gordon Brown recently reported that presumed consent for organ donation should not be introduced in the UK. Dr. Paul Murphy, a member of the taskforce, had this to say:

"It has the potential to undermine the concept of donations as a gift, to erode trust in NHS healthcare professionals and the Government, and negatively impact on organ donation numbers."

Pretty conclusive stuff, I thought. But Gordon doesn't seem to have any interest in what his own taskforce has to say, arguing:

"While they are not recommending the introduction of a presumed consent system, as I have done, I am not ruling out a further change in the law. We will revisit this when we find out how successful the next stage of the campaign has been."

In other words, he's going to ignore them and keep banging on about this issue until he gets what he wants. Just what is this next stage of the campaign going to be? Trial runs perhaps, which will no doubt force people on to the donor register against their will. Or spending our money on a publicity campaign to tell us why we're wrong and Gordon is right? Who knows.

And it is most obvious that Gordon Brown intends to force this on us eventually when you look at the target he has set:

"The proposal is that we double the number of volunteers to 50 per cent. If we can't get there quickly, then we will return to the proposal I have put forward, which is a presumed consent system."

Yes, you read that correctly. He wants to double the number of people on the donor register in a very short space of time. To give you some figures; there are currently nearly 16 million people on the register; over 2 million more than the total votes Labour won in their 1997 landslide, to give just one comparison. And to accumulate those 16 million people has taken over 30 years, from the introduction of the Kidney Donor Card in 1971; the current register was established in 1994. What all this shows is that Gordon Brown has set an arbitrary and almost ridiculously unobtainable target to justify forcing his plan on the country.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Substantial Bollocks

You have to hand it to Douglas Alexander - Secretary of State for International Development and brother to the only fish ever to lead a political party in Scotland. He has written an article for the Telegraph today which is so full of crap it would probably shit its pants if it laughed. I'll come on to the best bit in a moment, but have a read of the article and then read this paragraph again:

"In the next election we will have substance because we have experience and a serious leader. And we show substance as we confirm to the electorate that we understand that the world has changed, and we have the ideas and the policies that can equip Britain to master those changes."

There's something deliciously ironic about a paragraph stressing the importance of substance appearing in an article which contains absolutely none of it. But the thing I really like about it is the way in which Alexander is trying to spin the Labour narrative that Obama won the US election because:

"At the core of Obama's campaign was a belief that only progressive politics had the answers to the challenges of the time. Relentlessly, he made the case for government action in responding to the problems faced in the economy, in energy and environment policy, in education and in healthcare."

The reason he is doing this is, of course, obvious. The only way Labour can sycophantically attach themselves to Obama is by trying to hijack and present his campaign as one built on 'progressive' politics. There's nothing progressive about Labour's plan to tax us all up the wall, give a bit of it back by taking out a gigantic loan on our behalf, and then asking us to pay it back with interest in a couple of years, but that's another issue. The simple truth is that the moment Obama's 'change' message becomes an issue, Labour - as the incumbents - are left pissing in the wind. So I think it's time for Alexander to take a look at Obama's website, which is currently displaying this little image:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Brownies Everywhere

The Spectator has coined the term 'Brownies' for all those little lies Gordon Brown likes to tell, but which for some reason journalists rarely pick him up on. At his monthly press conference this morning the Prime Minister was unloading Brownies like a dealer at Woodstock. Commenting on the Conservative proposals unveiled this morning to help companies through the recession - essentially cutting the amount of National Insurance they pay if they hire the medium/long-term unemployed - Brown said:

"They can't show definitively how they can guarantee to pay for it."

It will be paid for by not having to give those same unemployed people their unemployment benefit anymore. Also, considering this is the man who is going to borrow money to pay for tax cuts, the richness of this comment is staggering. He has spent years jeering at the Conservatives - however well-budgeted their proposed tax cuts might be - only to offer a barrage of unfunded tax cuts himself, paid for by increasing the national debt.

He also said:

"A fiscal stimulus means you are prepared to add to borrowing in conditions where you have low national debt," and that funded tax cuts "[were] not a fiscal stimulus."

There are many things wrong with this statement. First of all, fiscal stimulus is defined as 'a tax cut and/or an increase in government spending'. It does not automatically involve borrowing; it can be a funded tax cut. Funny that a man who was Chancellor for 10 years didn't know this. Also, national debt is not low. This graph from the Office of National Statistics is useful in this respect:
Expressed as a percentage of GDP, the national debt was 43.4% at the end of September 2008, which is roughly £645 billion. At the end of September 2007 the debt was a much smaller 36.2%. The highest it has ever been was in 1997 when it was 44.2%, so the debt is getting close to that level once again. For Brown to say that national debt is low isn't just dishonest - it's a barefaced lie. As a final point, see those pink dots on the graph above? They highlight where Gordon Brown is telling us the national debt is; a conclusion he has reached by magically leaving Northern Rock out of the equation. Yet another lie from our deceitful Prime Minister.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ed Hates Parents

First of all, an apology for not blogging over the weekend. I wanted to do a little Remembrance Sunday post but was out for the entire day doing various things. Now, back to business.

Just a fortnight after claiming unjustified success in the war against poor behaviour in schools, Ed Balls has a new outlook on the issue. He has decided to blame parents for getting in the way of schools disciplining their children. He said:

"Schools are doing a fantastic job of turning around poor behaviour, which is crucial to improving results. However, we need parents to continue to play their part. When I talk to heads they say behaviour is one of their main concerns. Some talk of giving detentions to pupils only for the parent to come in and demand their child is let off. Whilst the vast majority of parents work well with schools, a small minority are not supporting heads to maintain discipline."

I would agree with him that some parents certainly do behave in this way. Even I remember from my days at school how a couple of unruly pupils were never punished because the teachers knew how much crap their parents would kick up. It honestly wasn't worth their time and effort. But overall, this is classic Labour bollocks. Rather than address the real problems that cause misbehaviour in schools, and indeed the rules and regulations that prevent teachers from dealing with it; Balls finds one factor that contributes to a tiny percentage of cases where poor behaviour goes unpunished and focuses entirely on that. If he really wanted to help teachers deal with badly behaved pupils - and their annoying parents - he could just repeal section 52 of the 2002 Education Act, which means that parents have the right to appeal the expulsion of their children. But that would be far too sensible.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Do As I Say; Not As I Do

It seems that Hazel Blears's speech to the Hansard Society has been reported in two halves; with most media outlets focusing on her comments about blogs. Therefore, I managed to miss what she said about 'career politicians'. She said:

"There is a trend towards politics being seen as a career move rather than call to public service. Increasingly we have seen a 'transmission belt' from university activist, MPs' researcher, think-tank staffer, special adviser, to Member of Parliament and ultimately to the front bench."

"We need more MPs in Parliament from a wider pool of backgrounds: people who know what it is to worry about the rent collector's knock, or the fear of lay-off, so that the decisions we take reflect the realities people face."

So I thought I'd take a look at Hazel Blears's career to make sure she doesn't fall into her own trap. Here we go:

1977 - Completes CPE (the professional course for solicitors) at Chester College of Law.
1978 - 1980 - Trainee solicitor working for Salford City Council.
1980 - 1981 - Worked in private legal practice for a year.
1981 - 1983 - Solicitor working for Rossendale Borough Council.
1983 - 1984 - Solicitor working for Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council.
1984 - 1992 - Elected member of Salford City Council.
1992 - 1996: Chairman of Salford Community Health Council.
1997 - Elected Member of Parliament for Salford.

Her route to Parliament isn't exactly the same as the example she has given, but then her example is a fairly common route for Conservative MPs (and a few Labour ones). Hers is still a pretty standard route for a Labour politician though; council employee, to council member, to council chairman, to MP. So it seems that the one year she spent in private practice is the only period of time when she wasn't working in politics.

Assorted Nonsense

I'm going to do a little poking towards Guido today; not that he really needs the traffic. First of all, I'd like to draw your attention to his brilliant rebuttal of Hazel Blears's attack on blogs. Her attack seems to be based on the grounds that the political blogosphere in the UK is lead by the right and doesn't support the government. Guido does a far better job of demolishing her suggestions than I could, and his article is well worth a read. Note that her comments would seem to tie in with Peter Mandelson's mullings about bringing UK domain registration under government control. Spooky stuff.

Guido also draws attention to a video made by some Labour diehards/spivs. I won't link it here because I don't want to add the the number of people actually watching this nonsense. You can see it via the link if you so wish, and it pretty much consists of the usual snide jabs at the Conservatives. But the bit I found most interesting is how the video criticises George Osborne, with the captions: "Has a history degree" and "Once worked in Selfridges".

Now, maybe I'm missing something here, but why does George Osborne's history degree mean he won't be a good Chancellor? I seem to recall that a certain Gordon Brown has two history degrees - an MA and a PhD. And the current Chancellor has a law degree - an LLB. In fact, the only people in the Cabinet with any sort of economics qualifications are the PPE graduates and Ed Miliband, who studied it at a postgraduate level. I'm not saying what degree a Minister has is relevant to their job at all; this is precisely why the Civil Service exists. But some consistency from Labour wouldn't go amiss. And as for the 'Selfridges' comment, I trust we can take that to mean that Labour are now against people who have had ordinary jobs becoming Ministers of the Crown? Postman and shelf-stacker Alan Johnson might want to have a word with them about that.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Liam Byrned

Mr. Byrne, I wonder if you can explain this article by the BBC's Justin Parkinson? In it he points out how Gordon Brown's pledge at the Labour conference which:

"... promise[d] broadband access to all learners aged five to 19 whose families qualify for the help", and which "involves a "free laptop or other computer with relevant software and hardware" bought with a Home Access voucher, as well as technical support."

Was pretty much a copy of a pledge he made in 1999:

"The plan was to allow low-income families to lease subsidised laptops - then usually costing at least £1,000 to buy - for about £5 a week from their employers. Firms were given tax breaks if they provided old computer stock, which had been upgraded, to employees for home use."

So not content with using troops for political posturing, Gordon Brown also lies about being nice to poor kids. Maybe we should come up with a Dickensian nickname for him; something wonderfully onomatopoeic like Miser Grumblebroon...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Liam Byrne's High Horse

The Telegraph is reporting the details of an internal Conservative memo from James O'Shaughnessy, Director of Policy and Research, which read:

"It won't have escaped your notice that the Government has been very active in announcing new policies in the last couple of weeks. As befits the return of Mandelson this is mostly spin. However, they are filling the newspapers and we need to respond. We need ensure we have a strong and steady flow of our own policy ideas, speeches and announcements to release between now and Christmas. Please note that these do not need to be economy themed. Nor do they necessarily need to be brand new. Ways of refreshing existing policy, perhaps a policy we announced previously but didn't get much attention, can be very successful."

It might not be the most honest way of getting policies heard, but O'Shaughnessy has a point. With Gordon Brown parading himself all over the world as some sort of economic saviour - which is about as rich as Christmas cake - the Conservative message has been pushed to the back pages in recent weeks. By continuing to mention policies, both old and new, the Conservatives hope to get some of the media focusing on them once again, but also aim to combat Labour's nonsense assertions that they don't have any policies.

Liam Byrne, unsafe driver and Minister for the Cabinet Office, had this to say:

"This is yet another example of the Tories attempting to distract attention from the fact that they have no coherent proposal to deal with the current global economic turmoil. Families need to be on the look out for slick Tory PR that doesn't include any new answers for the challenges we face. This is pretty desperate from the Tories - instead of focusing on how to deal with today's issues they are rehashing the same old policies."

First of all, is anyone else as bored as me with all this 'the Tories don't know how to get us out of this mess' nonsense? Leaving aside the fact that quite a few ideas proposed by the Conservatives have been adopted by the government, Byrne's logic is akin to a murderer criticising the police for arresting him instead of helping him bury the knife and flee the country. The Conservatives have been quite detailed in their plans to prevent this sort of thing happening again - see George Osborne's speech last Friday, for example. And they are, rightly, attempting to make sure the public see Labour as responsible for the mess they have largely caused. The Conservatives don't have to come up with a solution because it's not their mess, and you don't offer to clean up somebody else's shit.

But it is Byrne's second point that really takes the biscuit. Apparently the Conservatives are all about slick PR, and are just rehashing policies. Leaving aside all the evidence to the contrary, particularly Osborne's aforementioned speech, this is is hypocrisy on a staggering level. Does Byrne not remember what happened last year during the Conservative conference? Does he not recall Gordon Brown trying to divert attention from the Conservatives by going to Iraq to announce the withdrawal of troops who were largely already home or set to come home anyway? Has he chosen to forget Brown's promise to make troop announcements to the House of Commons? And does he think that playing politics with the lives of troops is a lesser crime than pointing out that the Conservatives have plenty of policies, that they are right for this country, and that the government is desperately trying to save it's own arse?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Another Minister Blames You

Caroline Flint, Labour MP for Don Valley, Minister for Europe and enthusiastic user of swear words, would like to remind you to use your local Post Office. During a visit to a Post Office in Branton Caroline said:

"We are lucky in Don Valley that we have local post offices in most outlying villages and towns. But it is too easy for residents to take their local post office for granted. Mike and Barbara Fussey have made a welcome investment in modernising this branch to improve the service for customers. My message is if you value your post office use it."

Yes, because the general public are known for taking their post offices for granted. There hasn't been a massive national campaign to stop the government closing 2,500 Post Offices or anything like that. Oh, wait, there was. In case you were wondering, Caroline did indeed vote for those closures, and also voted against a motion which stated that the House of Commons:
  • Regrets the proposal to close up to 2,500 post offices.
  • Recognises the vital role post offices play in local communities.
  • Notes the concern and unpopularity amongst the general public of closing such a large portion of the network.

Caroline has a scroller at the bottom of her website that shows how she has voted on various issues. Perhaps she should add 'voted to close local Post Offices' to it?