Wednesday 30 December 2009

What a waste

In this part of Sussex we face a waste crisis. LibDem controlled Lewes District Council would like to recycle more of its waste than it does. But it's not allowed to. Conservative controlled East Sussex County Council has used its power to limit the amount of recycling that the District Council is allowed to do. Let me repeat that, just in case it is so counter intuitive that you didn't take it in. The County Council is using its legal powers to prevent the District Council from recycling.

Why would this be? The answer is massively obvious if you live here. The County Council is pressing ahead, against united local opposition, with building an incinerator at Newhaven. And for incinerators to be profitable, they need lots and lots of waste to burn. And it has to run at a profit because of course it is going to be privately run - by Veolia. I particularly like the part on the Veolia site where it says "Did you know? In the UK we only recycle 30% of our household rubbish." Not in Lewes - we're only allowed to recycle 27%, because the County Council wants to make sure the incinerator makes a profit. (To be technically correct, it's all to do with credits. The County Council gives the District Council credits for 27% of its waste recycled, but not for more. Which means that, without the credits, it's too expensive to recycle more.)

And there's more. The County Council, having run out of other options, now proposes to use land raise to store all the rubbish it won't let us recycle. It has identified several sites around Hellingly, Halland, a woodland site near Laughton and other places. They don't want to think about anaerobic digestion, for instance, and they certainly don't want to think about recycling more, so they're going to have a jolly good go at wrecking our countryside.

Meanwhile, local Conservative Parliamentary candidate Jason Sugarman provides his own unique spin. Being a Cameron Conservative he has to pretend to be green, so he takes a pop at Lewes District Council: "in the Lewes district ... the Lib Dems have left us with one of the worst recycling results in Sussex". Yes, Jason, perhaps more recycling would happen in Lewes if your friends on the County Council let us recycle more. Perhaps you could have a word with them? But I suspect you're more interested in maintaining a piece of spin of which David Cameron would be proud.

Monday 28 December 2009

Thanks, Dave - best laugh I've had all year

David Cameron tells us that there is little difference between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats nowadays. Now that I've finished laughing, I'll just point out some of the differences. He thinks both parties are "motivated by pretty much the same progressive aims: a country that is safer, fairer, greener and where opportunity is more equal". If only the Conservatives were.

Fairness: Liberal Democrats want to take millions of the poorest British people out of tax by increasing allowances. Conservatives want to increase inheritance tax allowances for the richest people in the country.

Liberal Democrats want a voting system that more fairly represents people's intentions. The Conservatives want none of it. In fact Cameron was self contradictory in his message. He said he wanted to work together, and then he said that coalition government would not work - he wants to be the only party in power.

Fairness also includes openness. He could start by clearing up the issue about the tax status of his chief funder, lord Ashcroft, whose money he is using to buy the next election. He could also clear up the issue of the precise origin of all that funding. But he won't.

Fairness also includes keeping your promises. The Conservatives made promises about Ashcroft's tax status when they put his name forward for a peerage, and those promises have not been kept.

Fairness: Liberal Democrats want a fairer, better NHS. Cameron is content to head a party whose representatives go around saying that the NHS is a sixty year mistake.

A fairer Britain with opportunities for all is not in the mind of at least one of Cameron's candidates, who refers to everybody not fortunate enough to have gone to Oxford or Cambridge as "potted plants".

No, David, I do not believe that you want a fairer, greener or safer Britain - except one where it is safe for the elite to make more money. You worked in PR before and you're still working in PR now.


Boxing Day always reminds us of the issue of hunting with dogs. Sara Scarlett, in Liberal Vision on Boxing Day, called the ban on hunting with dogs illiberal. I don't agree with that. I see the issue as split into two parts. One is about human rights and freedom. The other is about animal welfare. If it were just a question of freedom, I would have no problem at all. Hunting with dogs would be to me like Morris dancing. I have absolutely no wish to do it, but if you want to dress up in funny clothes and parade around the countryside flaunting your silliness, I will defend and indeed celebrate your right to do so. But it is not just about freedom, it is also about animal welfare, and there we have a problem. Nobody has a right to be cruel to animals - in my opinion. Other people might think they do, in which case that has to be debated. As it stands we have a long tradition in this country of legislation to prevent cruelty to animals in all sorts of ways. Hunting with dogs cannot be exempt from that tradition. It is, of course, open to debate as to whether hunting with dogs is cruel or not - many maintain that it is not. For me a pursuit designed to take as long as possible (otherwise it would not be any fun) is designed to cause maximum fear in the animal pursued. I'll concede that it is debatable, but that is where I stand. And I will not for a moment accept that an argument so based is illiberal. The animal kingdom is part of our concern as well as the human.

Sara raises some other powerful issues, notably the issue of rural poverty, and the issue of unintended consequences. Both of them are valid and deserve our attention. Sara suggests that in terms of animal welfare the act has been counter-productive. The claim is disputed in the comments, but let us accept it at face value for the moment. She also claims that jobs have been lost and the rural economy has suffered. The claim is again disputable, but let us for the moment accept it. Both these issues are not the result of the act per se, but of the way in which it was couched and implemented.

The Hunting Act stands with reform of the House of Lords as showing up Tony Blair at his worst. Not in terms of class war, or in terms of doctrine, but in terms of ability to get things done. Blair's ability to bring people together and to forge a consensus was one of his greatest political strengths. He did a brilliant job on the Labour Party. He was undoubtedly very good at it. His weakness though was that he *needed* to find a consensus. He failed to recognise with both hunting and the House of Lords that there were people who would make a point of disliking any move for reform, and he failed therefore to move as quickly or as decisively as he could have done.

The fact that the Hunting Act was never accepted in some quarters is not Tony Blair's fault (though some of its weaknesses are), but that fact is at the root of the issue of any backlash on animal welfare. Rather than accept the spirit of the legislation, those responsible resort to indiscriminate tactics such as poison, while failing to look at control measures in a professional and calm sighted manner. Perhaps the Act could have provided funding for better methods; that might have prevented some of the current cruelties. But my point is not that the Act should not have happened, but that it should have been better drafted.

The issue of rural poverty is, I think, a non sequitur in terms of animal welfare. If rural poverty is an argument against preventing hunting with dogs, then urban poverty ought to be an argument against preventing bear baiting, or dog fighting. It isn't. If a loss of jobs was demonstrable at the time of the Act, then that situation could have been ameliorated by funding for rural improvement, either in the Act or by other means. Again, the issue is not that the Act should not have happened but that it should have been better implemented. In any case, either way, Liberal Democrat policy to lower taxes for poor people, whether urban or rural, is better and more coherent policy than either Labour or Conservative offerings. It is a far better way to move against rural poverty than bringing back hunting with dogs.

Thursday 24 December 2009


Avatar has hardly any plot, and what there is has as many holes as a good Gruyere. Characterisation is thin, in fact the word cardboard would come to mind if they weren't all electronic. The 3D adds little enhancement, certainly not enough to outweigh the disadvantage of having very heavy solid plastic specs slipping down my nose throughout. The half arsed green message just about keeps itself above being ridiculous.

Having said all that, I loved it. It's just a great simple story, with magnificent effects, and in places some pretty decent music. It's all about the effects, and if that's what you go for, fine. If you want something a bit highbrow, don't even think about Avatar - that's not what it's for. If you want a rip roaring ride, go for it. I did - it was great.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Carter Ruck and Trafigura do their thing again

It really is a very clever viral marketing campaign, making sure that lowly unpaid bloggers like us do their work for them, ensuring that Trafigura's activities around the world get a lively and informed audience.*

Watch and weep.


then read this pdf of the original story.

*Just in case you hadn't noticed, you needed your irony button switched on to read that first paragraph.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Things that happened this week: nothing to hide, still a lot to fear.

Thanks to Durham police for clearing this one up. Having your DNA taken could harm your prospects even if you're an innocent person. A police person was quoted this week on the issue of mephedrone, a substance which it is legal to be in possession of. "In Durham police have taken a stance and anyone found with it will be arrested on suspicion of possession of a banned substance.... They will be taken to a police cell, their DNA and fingerprints taken and that arrest, depending upon enquiries, could have serious implications for example on future job applications". This revelation comes courtesy of the Register.

Things that happened this week: Tories do not disappoint

Every time Dave tries tot ell us the Tories have changed, yes, we have, honest, guv, his own party conspire to undermine him. And he helped himself dig his own pit this week.

Are the Tories competent? Not competent enough to avoid using phony information at Prime Minister's Questions. Tory claim on Islamic school dismissed.

And has he stopped them being nasty? Not if Lord Monckton is anything to go by, Persistently and loudly comparing a young Jewish man to the Hitler Youth. Climate denier unmasked: Tory peer calls Jewish climate activists "Hitler Youth".

Still incompetent, still very nasty.

Things that happened this week: you couldn't make it up

The police stopped and questioned a photographer going about his business in London: Photographer quizzed by "armed" police near Bank of America. Nothing unusual there as Britain#s finest have so little to do nowadays other than harass innocent snappers.

But then an ITN film crew went to do a story about that event - and they were stopped too. ITN film crew stopped while covering photographer story.

And that was after ACPO reminded police this week that taking photographs is not illegal.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

BBCQT and balance

So let's get this right. I have had the same jobsworth letter as other people in response to my complaint about them dropping Jo Swinson from Question Time. Part of it is as follows:

"... reflect a change in the prominence of some of the issues due to be discussed on the programme and in order to facilitate debate by having representatives willing to question the central political consensus on these issues, of which the Liberal Democrats are a part"

It is quoted in full elsewhere - Stephen's Linlithgow Journal and Mark Reckons.

So the programme was in Scotland and contained a few Scottish issues. So the BBC dropped one Scottish person, Jo Swinson, for another, from the SNP, while retaining two English right wingers, David Davies and Melanie Phillips. That's what they call balance.

And what issues were discussed. Well, predictably - because that's what we were complaining about - the Iraq War was discussed, as the Chilcot inquiry started that week. The Libdems are the only mainstream party to have consistently opposed the war right from the beginning. if that does not give us a distinctive edge, what does? We are certainly not part of any "central political consensus" on that one.

What other things did we discuss? Well, the banks getting away with more. Hmmm, don't we have a distinctive position on that one. Let me try to remember, oh yes, we have Vince Cable who was telling both the other parties that things were going to go wrong while Labour tried to ignore all the signs and the Tories were too clueless to notice. And then we have Vince Cable telling them how to put it right with Labour tacitly admitting he was right by adopting his policies and the Tories desperately trying to forget their predictions that the remedy would make things worse. If there is any kind of central political consensus there, it is because we made it.

What else? The only really Scottish thing on that I remember now was the SNP's policy on alcohol on which we have a clear difference of opinion with them, and an alternative policy. What a good opportunity it would have been to have two Scottish people debating a Scottish issue. But no, we had to listen to the English right wingers David Davies and Melanie Phillips instead. If that's what the BBC call balance, they're living in a tilted world.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Man U fans

Hearing the Man U fans shout "Freak" every time Peter Crouch went anywhere near the ball reminded me how cheap they are.

Monday 30 November 2009

St Andrews Day

Is it just me, or is there something ironic about the Foreign Office commemorating St Andrew's Day just when the SNP want a referendum?

Saturday 28 November 2009

Raising a glass

When I was reminded that today is the anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's resignation as Prime Minister, my first thought was "How do we celebrate?" And I will be raising a glass tonight in memory of having finally got rid of her as PM. But overall I think it's occasion for a more sober and reflective reaction. Because although we got rid of her, we didn't get rid of her legacy. We didn't then and we still haven't now.

She did some good things - freeing up the economy in general was a good thing. She went too far in this. An example is the licence given to bankers to drive us into recession by not giving a damn about prudence. Her opposition to Communism was a good thing - and eventually vindicated - but again she went much too far in vindictiveness towards any philosophy that didn't chime with hers. Women's rights didn't get too far under her reign.

But overall the worst part of her legacy is one we have hardly escaped at all, and it doesn't look as if we will in the foreseeable future. That is the pernicious poison that entered the nation's soul - a philosophy that greed was good as long as you could find a way of dressing it up, a view that the only person that counts is "me" (while all the time pontificating about family values, as long as they were for other people - remember Cecil Parkinson and his secretary). The sheer nastiness and hypocrisy of her reign was mirrored in the actions and activities of thousands of others, and was worked out in the enrichment of half the country at the expense of the other, poorer half. That viciousness is still alive in the attitudes of many people in this country today - not just Conservatives, though sadly many of them seem to echo those ideas and nonprinciples.

I will raise a glass to the end of Thatcher's reign, but unfortunately not to the end of Thatcherism.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Darwin, climate, DNA and ID cards

Darwin's Origin of Species was apparently published 150 years ago today.

Our ability to understand science hasn't increased by much since then judging by the cranky arguments put forward by climate change deniers.

On the other hand the British public is showing an admirable sense of scepticism about ID cards - only 538 early adopters have signed up for one so far.

But then they probably have your DNA anyway.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Mobile phones in India

India is apparently set to pass the one billion mobile phones mark in 2015. That's a lot of phones.

Think how many customers' data T-mobile could sell if they were active there. I still haven't had a reply from T-mobile to my email asking whether mine had been sold.

Monday 9 November 2009

I think I agree with Anne Widdecombe

And I don't often say that. I heard her on the radio, so I don't have the exact words, but she was saying that the Kelly recommendations on expenses are basically a dog's breakfast and will get changed the next time somebody has a sensible look at them.

The one that I find particularly illogical is the ban on employing relatives. It may turn out to be politically necessary, given the mood of the public, and the determination of our political leaders to be hairier shirted than thou, but I don't think it is administratively necessary or sensible. Leaving aside the reductio ad absurdum about where you draw the line, I think it is a bad principle. OK, some MPs have abused the position, but it's those abuses that should be dealt with, not the entire system. People break the speed limit every day but we don't ban cars because of that. The case everybody remembers is Derek Conway, whose action in paying his son a full time wage out of public funds to do nothing was frankly fraudulent and should have been the subject of legal action. If it couldn't be, then the accountability and enforcement of the system needs to be changed, not the system itself. People paid with public money should be subject to rules of accountability, like timesheets, and rules of enforcement, like spot checks, carried out of behalf of their employer, the public. If they're not prepared to put up with that, then they can get jobs elsewhere. If they want to take public money for the job they do,m then they should be subject to scrutiny. Proper scrutiny rather than banning the whole practice is the sensible and proper answer here.

How to make William Hague look shifty

Ask him about Lord Ashcroft's tax status.

Watch him wriggle on the Andrew Marr show. And then ask yourself why the Independent, of all papers, is suddenly being nice to the Tory party with the headline: "Tories finally come clean on Ashcroft tax status"

It quotes William Hague as saying: "My conclusion, having asked him, is that he fulfilled the obligations that were imposed on him at the time that he became a peer." He added: "I imagine that [paying taxes in the UK] was the obligation that was imposed on him." And they call that coming clean.

The exchange, as I have it, starts at approx 1:16:20 and goes like this:

Marr: Do you know whether he pays tax in this country yet?
Hague: er ummmmmmm I'm sure he fulfils the obligations that were imposed upon him at the time he became... a peer...
Marr: So does he pay taxes in the UK?
Hague: I have... I have asked him, and my conclusion having asked him is that he has fulfilled the obligations laid on him at the time.
Marr: That's not quite the question.
Hague: As far as I...
Marr: Have you asked him?
hague: I have asked him, because I've been asked whether I've asked him before and my conclusion having asked him is that he fulfils the obligations that were imposed upon him at the time he became... a peer.
Marr: so does he pay tax here?
Hague: well, that, well....(that pause there is very telling) I imagine that was the obligation that was laid on him at the time...
Marr: So you think he does.
Hague: So I think he has fulfilled what was asked of him .... You can't expect me to know the details of somebody's tax affairs, but I have asked him and he has.
Marr: You must have asked him - it's a yes or no.
Hauge: I have asked him and he has fulfilled the obligations, which include...
Marr: So he could be your foreign policy adviser to you and there would be no problem as far as you're concerned.
Hague: Well, I'm not in the business of appointing foreign policy advisers, we haven't been elected yet.

Andrew Marr goes down in my estimation, by the way, for letting Hague off that hook so lightly. Why does Hague "imagine" - why doesn't he know? "You can't expect me to know the details of somebody's tax affairs", he says

Well, actually, yes, I can,

- when that somebody is the Tory party's primary bankroller
- and the party is using his money to buy the next election
- and the question has been asked consistently and dodged consistently for several years
- and your leader promises to be honest

then, yes, I do expect you to know precisely the tax status of the guy whose jets you borrow.

But he didn't answer the question. He did the time honoured politician's thing of sticking to a formula that he had learned in front of the mirror, and then saying that that answered the question. And he didn't do it very well. And, frankly, if a politician with the experience and front of William Hague sounds embarrassed about the answer he is giving, there is still a question that needs to be answered.

Friday 30 October 2009

Drug policy remains a truth free zone

So with the sacking of David Nutt drug policy remains a truth free zone for Labour, and also for the Tories, as Chris Grayling says it was inevitable. Solutions aren't easy, but our politicians are paid to deal with difficult issues, and they're just dodging this one.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Motion sensitive lights

Theoretically I'm in favour of motion sensitive lights. Very good energy savers. But, now that I work in an office building that has them, I realise that they are work control devices. You're just settling down on the bog for a good read and the light goes out. You wave your hands around, but you can't turn it on again from inside the cubicle.... You have to go back to the office.

Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "motion sensitive".

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Trafigura travesty

In case you missed it, the Parliamentary question that the Guardian is not allowed to report on:

61 N Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.

Monday 12 October 2009

One rule for them...

From the Telegraph:

"Last night, the Lib Dems, who are confident that they avoided the worst excesses, stepped up pressure on the Conservatives by calling on George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, to pay an estimated £55,000 in capital gains tax which they claim he avoided.

"Lord Oakeshott said: "George Osborne's catchphrase at the Tory conference was 'We're all in this together'. Perhaps he should make that 'except Conservative shadow chancellors and founder members of the Cameron club who flip their million-pound properties to dodge a £55,000 capital gains tax bill.'"

Thursday 1 October 2009

Alan Grayson on American healthcare

With a hat tip to Next Generation Front Left, Alan Grayson deserves every minute of airtime he can get.

Wednesday 23 September 2009


The Beeb offers Eric Pickles insight into politics (timed at 16.30), as his reaction to Nick Clegg's closing conference speech. He says only the Tories offer the chance of "a progressive, liberal government."

Sorry, mate, but what the Tories offer is a Tory government, Eton bred and Eton led, not remotely progressive, not remotely liberal.

Friday 28 August 2009

Michael Martin gets his peerage

Hat tip to Conservative Home for this one, which hat tips in turn Nigel Fletcher.

Michael Martin's elevation to the peerage was slipped out in the London Gazette this morning.

Perhaps that'll give somebody the impetus to get on and reform the place properly.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

CCTV - wrong method, wrong purpose?

I'm no great fan of CCTV. But neither am I a great fan of sloppy reporting or sloppy debate. We are told that CCTV cameras are an expensive waste of time because they don't help solve crime - except in one case per thousand cameras.

There are two things wrong with this analysis, if I can call it that. The first is that the evidence reported suggests it's not the cameras themselves that are failing, but the way they're being used. If the cameras don't take pictures, as is reported, and if they're being examined by untrained people (though I suppose we should be grateful it's being done here, and not outsourced to somewhere like the Philippines or Iowa), it's not surprising that things slip through.

And secondly, solving crime is not the only purpose of CCTV (I assume). Part of the purpose must be the prevention of crime. I have not found anywhere in the current reporting any evidence of whether areas with CCTV suffer less crime. In fact I don't know of any statistical evidence about this, so if anyone can point me to some I would be grateful. The only evidence I know of personally is a chat with a town centre car park caretaker one day a few months after cameras were installed in his car park. He said that prior to installation he used to have to sweep up glass from car headlights daily. Since their installation that had ceased to be part of his job because people didn't vandalise car headlights any more. So, has crime in CCTVed areas gone down, or do we have a particularly insouciant class of criminal in this country that continues to commit crime despite the probability of getting themselves recorded doing it?

Monday 24 August 2009

On climate camps and policing

This is great. (Hat tip Chickyog)

The best bit is why they don't trust the police: "because every time we hold a protest, the police turn up and start hitting people".

Thursday 20 August 2009

Prison, compassion and civilisation

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, was freed from jail today. The BBC reports the words of Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill:

"Mr al-Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them.

"But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family in his final days.

"Our justice system demands that judgement be imposed, but compassion be available. For these reasons and these reasons alone, it is my decision that Mr Mr Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 for the Lockerbie bombing, now terminally ill with prostate cancer, be released on compassionate grounds and be allowed to return to Libya to die."

I believe he got that decision completely right. The grounds for it are the same as the grounds for the release of Ronnie Biggs, which I believe was also completely right. The background to the reasoning is different in the two cases, but is founded on the same principle.

In my view the consistency of the government's treatment of Ronnie Biggs goes back to the point at which he started moves to get back to this country in order to receive treatment on the NHS. There were people at that time saying he should not be allowed it, he should rot, etc, etc. But the decision to allow him back and to give him treatment was a supreme example of the British way of doing things. Ronnie Biggs was, and unfortunately still is, idolised by some because he beat the system. Newspaper pictures of him sipping champagne and pretending to a lifestyle that he rarely actually attained fed this delusive stance. When he returned to this country, he received his right, as a citizen of the UK - any citizen, whatever their moral or legal status - to treatment on the NHS. And in doing so we demonstrated that the system was then and always had been immeasurably better than that failed criminal and morally bankrupt person.

To my mind the same logic applied when it became apparent that he was terminally ill. (I am assuming that he actually is and hasn't been able to pull a Saunders.) There are rules that apply, and prisoners who are terminally ill are released from prison provided certain criteria are met. Biggs met these criteria so he was released, and I'm very glad that Jack Straw accepted the recommendation to release him and didn't try to do a Daily Mail. I am not glad for Biggs; as far as I am concerned he is contemptible. But I am glad because Jack Straw demonstrated again that the system that we have in this country is one to be proud of.

There is an argument that, because Biggs counts as a sort of celebrity prisoner, perhaps some political criteria should apply and he should perhaps be treated differently. It is a respectable argument but, without going into details, not one which, to my mind, applies in this case.

Now to al-Megrahi. (I will work on the basis that he is guilty, though I accept that there are arguments that he might not be.) The same two issues apply. Is he being treated according to the normal criteria? And are there arguments for saying that the normal criteria should not apply because of the nature of the case?

As far as I can see, he is being treated according to the normal criteria. These dictate that in his current state of health, he should be freed. Being free, he is then free to travel wherever he wishes. British law, quite properly, does not detain free people within these shores.

Should he be treated differently? Two reasons might apply. The first is that his crime was so heinous that he must be singled out from other criminals. The second is that political considerations might dictate that, in the fight against terrorism, it is legitimate and practical to apply different rules.

As to the first, I do not believe that a crime becomes more heinous simply because larger numbers are involved. Any murder is a terrible tragedy for the victim, for their family and for their friends. The fact that it has happened to 270 people instead of one does not make it materially different. On that basis it was quite right that al-Megrahi was treated according to the normal criteria.

The second issue is more complex. Many political issues may come into play. I take the view that any "political" element to the decision should be based on the classical practice of looking at what is in Britain's interests at this particular time and in these particular circumstances. Much will then depend on what one's view is of Britain's interests. One view weighs large for me. It is that, at this time it might be in Britain's interests to demonstrate to the world in general, to our own people, and to many in the Middle East, that we do things properly. Even when people blow planes out of the skies over our territory, we will not be pushed away from a path of consistent and civilised behaviour. We may change minds. Even if we don't, it was the right thing to do. I have no idea if political considerations came into play here, and if they did, I have no idea if this particular principle was among them. If it was, we have demonstrated again that our system is better than the criminals and others who seek to subvert it, and I am proud of that fact.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Pot and kettle?

The Financial Times takes a pot at political blogging today (hat tip Tim Montgomerie).

This is one of their introductory sentences: "Readers can, if they so wish, live within a bubble where they are presented only with streams of evidence that support their prejudices. This is a particular problem in political blogging, where the effects of this tendency are intensified by writers' habit of linking mainly to like-minded..."

I believe that I can improve the accuracy of this sentence with one change:

"Readers can, if they so wish, live within a bubble where they are presented only with streams of evidence that support their prejudices. This is a particular problem with newspapers, where the effects of this tendency are intensified by writers' habit of linking mainly to like-minded..."

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Violent crime, The Mail and Harriet Harman

The Mail says it's wrong to teach boys not to hit girls. Dressed up in the usual plicrecknessgummad verbiage and attacks on Harriet Harman. I think they mainly don't like it because it was her idea. The Enemies Of Reason has done a very good job of fisking the whole thing. But there's just one small feature I would like to comment on. Part of the Mail's argument against teaching boys not to hit girls is that girls hit boys too. Here's their quote (suitably illustrated) "Police figures reveal a massive rise in the number of women arrested for 'violence against the person' offences which more than doubled from 37,000 ten years ago to 88,000 last year." So the immediate question is what proportion of all violent crime is that. Well, the Mail, to do it credit, does give us a proportion. In the previous paragraph it says "A quarter of all violent assaults in England and Wales are carried out by women". So the fact that three quarters of assaults are carried out by men is not a reason for teaching them not to, apparently.

And of course statistics are always murky. I've had a quick check through the crime figures on the Home Office's Research Development Statistics site. The latest figures for overall violence against the person (visible here in an Excel file) are 81% carried out by men, 14% by women, and 5% by both. The domestic violence figures are close to the Mail's so that, I assume, is the one they're using. That is 74% by men, 24% by women, and 2% by both.

Either way a massive preponderance of the violence is by men not by women, and something needs to be done about that. A summary of the report which sparked this "Saving Lives. Reducing Harm. Protecting the Public." is available here - and the full report can be downloaded from that page - it's a 1MB pdf.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Sounds like the Chinese are just like us then

From the BBC: China 'trusts prostitutes more'.

The article is better reading than the vacuously incomplete headline. I particularly appreciate the placing of real estate developers near the bottom.

My overall reaction, though, is "Are we surprised by anything on this list?" Answer: "No".

Bletchley Park

I often wonder how I can celebrate being English, and indeed being British, without idiots like the BNP thinking I'm on their side. But it's no good keeping quiet just because *they* happen to be waving *my* flag. So I thought I might state from time to time things I'm proud of, without any implication of scorning other peoples and what they might be proud of.

Now here is something to to be very proud of. I've been to many, many stately places and national monuments, but few made me feel the way Bletchley Park did. British codebreaking and British computing genius played an inestimable part in winning the war against Nazism.

The Bombe, designed to test Enigma rotor settings.

Alan Turing's office. Looking into a very ordinary office with a sense of awe because I was in the presence of greatness.

Colossus. In the presence of more greatness - in two ways. Not just the awe inspiring original, but also the dedication of the amateurs who have spent more than six years recreating it.

View from the American Garden across the lake to the huts.

The sad state of some of the buildings today, which illustrates why Bletchley Park needs help with funds. These Paypal and Worldpay links enable you to donate to Bletchley Park online.

There's more on what you can do to help at Saving Bletchley Park.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Downing Street on Twitter

I've been looking around the various government sites that are on Twitter. The first one I found was the Foreign Office. Then I found Communities. Downing St has an account, all about Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson. I've decided to follow FCO - it looks interesting. I thought about following Sarah Brown, who looks quite interesting, but I didn't feel up to it.

The FCO has currently 5745 followers, and is following 5452. Communities has 3829, and is following 3896. Downing St has 1,016,522 (good for you, smashing the one million barrier, Downing St), and is following ... wait for it... 499,931. Well, good for you again Downing St, for using Twitter the way it's meant to be used, as a two way channel. And whoever does the actual tweeting sounds like a pleasant helpful sort of person (go have a look). But I do wonder about the mechanics of following half a million people. His twitter stream must be scrolling at ninety miles per hour.

Or is there maybe another explanation? Maybe all those tweets are being fed in to a computer somewhere, so Downing St can build up "a picture". Maybe it's a cunning ploy to bring the database state in through the back door. Just a thought.

Friday 17 July 2009

Mr Call Me Green

Dave call-me-green Cameron went to Norwich today for a meeting on biofuels.

He went by helicopter. For a twenty minute meeting.

What a complete charlatan he is.

Hat tips to Andrew Reeves and Liberal Burblings.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Armed Forces Day

It's Armed Forces Day today. I didn't know about it till today. I don't know if that means I haven't been paying attention or it hasn't been very well advertised. It certainly should have been advertised. I don't think our armed forces get enough appreciation from either the government or the public. I remember, though I don't have links to them now, various stories in recent months about soldiers being advised not to leave their barracks in uniform because of the prevalence of abuse. That shouldn't happen; our forces should be respected for the job they do for us, regardless of what we think about the political decisions that lead to their engagement.

My daughter has just told me they announced it at Wimbledon before start of play, which was nice.

Monday 22 June 2009

Stephen Hester and RBS

Bankers must have heaved a glutinous sigh of relief when the MPs' expenses row came along and took the spotlight off them. But, swings and roundabouts, as soon as the MPs get their heftily holed ship just about on an even keel again, bankers go and put themselves back in the spotlight. And it doesn't look as if they've changed a bit.

It looks to me as if noses are still well in troughs, and the troughs are still gargantuan. RBS will be paying Stephen Hester close to £10 million if he gets things right. Getting it right will involve upping the share price and keeping it there for a while, so that the government can recoup some of their investment on behalf of the taxpayer.

After a bit of thinking, I've decided I'm not against huge sums of money being paid to people providing they earn it. Will Stephen Hester earn his? There are some interesting questions about that. I'm afraid I'm not persuaded by the argument that the board, led by Sir Philip Hampton, are paying a truly exceptional sum for a truly exceptional talent. They might be for all I know, but that argument has been discredited by being used too often of the mediocre talents, like Fred Goodwin, that got us into this situation in the first place. I have no way of knowing if Hester is a truly exceptional talent.

The exceptional talent argument is also suspect in its basis. Does an institution as massive as RBS really rely so heavily on the talent or otherwise of one person in one position? Does it not also rely on the talent and commitment of thousands of others, right down to cashier level - you know, the ones who, occasionally at least, actually meet the customers? Should they not also be rewarded commensurately?

But, OK, for the moment, let us accept that one man will make so much difference that it is worth trolling out £10m for him. Even so some questions still spring to mind. The answers to the questions I still have may be available, but I haven't been able to find them. There seems to be a lot that we still don't know about exactly how things are going to work.

The package is £1.2m in salary, £2m in annual non-cash bonus payment (what can you get that's non-cash and is worth £2m?), and up to £6.4m in bonuses if he achieves certain objectives, which appear to be nearly all, if not all, reaching certain share price thresholds. The share and stock options will be made in the 2009 pay package but can only be redeemed in three years' time. Also the bank retains the right to claw back the incentives if they don't believe that the share price has been raised by sensible decisions.

Now in essence, that seems like the beginnings of a sensible scheme. There is actually a series of tangible targets, rather than the directors just signing on the bottom line of a silly deal that gave the CEO squillions of pounds of the shareholders money regardless of success or failure. And the targets are for the future, not for now, so decisions have to be made that will have long term effect. And finally, there is a get out clause for the directors, that enables them not to pay if the decision making process that leads to the targets being met is seen not to be sensible.

But to my mind there is one big weakness and one big absence in what has been reported so far. The weakness is that the system is still in place where the corporate directors all fill each other's pockets in one big merry go round. What will happen if we get to three years' time and the share price has got to 70p, but it is obvious that it has been got there through a process that has done the bank no long term good? The discretion lies with the directors as to whether to withdraw the bonuses. Will they? Or will they allow them knowing that not to do so, to show some backbone about it, would put them out of kilter with all their friends on the corporate gravy train. Will those directors be kind to Stephen Hester because they know that if they are not, corporate doors will suddenly start closing on them all over the UK, and their gravy train lifestyle is suddenly put in jeopardy? The system, the elitism of the inner core has not changed, has not even been dented. I doubt if they will have any wish or any motive to rock the boat.

And the missing bit is any word about what will happen if he fails. If the share price still bumps along at about 35p, if lending does not pick up, if new business does not come in, he will still have been paid over £1m for a year's non-success. What happens if the share price drops? What happens if the unthinkable comes to pass and the directors decide he needs to go? Will they sack him, or will they let him resign? How many months salary in lieu of notice will he walk away with? It ought to be none - on a salary of £100,000 a month, he ought to be able to put a bit aside. But I'll bet that in the details we haven't been told yet there will be a nice comfy parachute. Not as gross as Goodwin's, even RBS don't have the face to do that again. But will there still be a pension for him? There is no word on that, yet, and I do not think that is a good sign.

Friday 19 June 2009

Did you want this computer?

Well, you can't have it.

Paint It Black

I see expenses and I want them painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see homes walk by flipped in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes
I see a line of MPs, they're all painted black
With moats and islands never to come back
I see committees turn and quickly look away
Like an old Speaker it just happens every day
I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my Telegraph and it's been painted black
Maybe they'll fade away, refuse to face the facts
Its not easy facing up when your whole world is black

With apologies to the Rolling Stones

Thursday 18 June 2009

It's only one step

But it's a very significant one. The Home Office has delayed awarding the big contracts on ID cards until after the next election, the Register (my favourite techie source, reports. (Hat tip Costigan). I wouldn't say, like Costigan, that the battle is over. Far too much can happen between now and then - even the possibility that the Conservatives could get into power and then find a reason for changing their minds. Stranger things have happened than a Conservative government finding a sudden liking for things that centralise power. And stranger things have happened than them saving the necessary cash by axing a few wards and blaming somebody else. So a step has been taken but we need to maintain vigilance and pressure.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

The Telegraph and the eyeliner story

So I've had a nice letter back from the Telegraph in response to my complaint about their treatment of Jo Swinson. They say it was written "with care and in a way that will (sic) be readily understood by our readers". Written with such care that both the BBC and the Guardian (mislaid the link) misunderstood it.

They also say the facts are not in dispute.

They end by saying that there was no breach of the PCC Code of Practice.

In other words, they haven't done anything wrong and they haven't broken any rules. Does that sound familiar?

Sunday 31 May 2009

The Observer half endorses us, Rawnsley doesn't

I have decided that I am no longer going to be grateful for small mercies.

It is a small mercy that Andrew Rawnsley has said very nice things about us in the Observer today. He says the LibDems alone are truly serious about electoral reform. He skewers Cameron for his non-credentials on the issue. He excoriates Brown for his puny record on constitutional reform and his opposition to voting reform. He says quite correctly that the Liberal Democrats are the only party that has been consistently in favour of transparency about expenses. (How David Cameron must wish for a bit of Stalin's power to rewrite history so that he could forget the Conservative attempt - abetted by Labour - to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act). He says if you want serious constitutional reform you should vote LibDem. And then he says - "This is not an endorsement of the Lib Dems." I'm sorry, Andrew, but why can you not bring yourself to give us an endorsement? Where is the logic in saying all that you have just said, and then saying that you are not going to give us your backing? You have just become a microcosm of the self defeating political behaviour of this country. Yes, we're great, you say. Yes, we are the party with the consistent policies on green issues - which you like. Yes, we are the party with the consistent policies on the economy - which you like. Yes, we are the party with the consistent policies on poltiical reform issues - which you like. Yes, we are the party - the only party -with the consistent policies on transparency issues - which you like. Yet, you are still not going to endorse us. Why not, Andrew? Why not? We are the party with the answers you like on environmental issues, on reform, on transparency, on Europe, miles ahead on the economy. Stop being so mealy mouthed. Put us in power and give us a chance to show you what we can do.

It is also a small mercy that the Observer has editorially endorsed us for Europe on Thursday. That's nice. Here's what they have to say.

"On the environment, on civil liberties and on the mounting debt bubble, the Lib Dems were quietly but consistently ahead of the Westminster curve.

"Likewise on transparency. In 2007, they opposed the Conservative move, tacitly encouraged by Labour, to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act. The Lib Dems alone took a party line for openness.

"That is worth recalling as Mr Cameron and Mr Brown engage in an unseemly scramble for reformist credentials."

And yet despite being accurate about our policies and our consistency on major domestic and international issues as well as Europe, they have only endorsed us for the European elections. They haven't said a word about the local elections happening on the same day. Why ever not? We have a great record on local government as well as all the nice things they said about us in their editorial. But still only half an endorsement. I said it to Rawnsley, so I'll say it to the Observer. We know we can do it. You know we can do it. You've just given all the reasons why we can do it. Give us your backing and give us a chance to do it.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Dorries is back

I'm very glad that Nadine Dorries' blog is back up. She should never have been taken down in the first place. But, my, what a pile of self pitying drivel.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Meanwhile on the duck island front

Hampshire's Daily Echo has an article on how you can build a duck island just like Peter Viggers' for £20. Read it here.

Hat tip: I spotted this on another blog, but I regret to say that I have lost the link now. (Got carried away writing letters of complaint about the treatment of Jo Swinson and Nadine Dorries.) Whoever it was, if you let me know....

Nadine Dorries

Nadine Dorries' blog has been taken down at the request of the Daily Telegraph. This is quite shameless behaviour by the Telegraph. They started out doing us a service by publishing a lot of detail about MPs' expenses that might well never otherwise have seen the light of day. But they have really taken their eye off the ball since the first few revelations. They must have about 200 decent stories to tell about moats, duck houses, flipping and mortgages, but they have started to fabricate stories around the flimsiest evidence. To be fair, they have published a few saints as well as the many sinners, but it seems they are more interested in finding more sinners than in telling the truth. Their treatment of Jo Swinson, dipped in sexism and innuendo, demeans them, and so does, now, their treatment of Nadine Dorries. Dorries is a Conservative, a fairly right wing one, and I am a Liberal Democrat. I disagree with practically everything she says. But I defend absolutely her right to say it. The Telegraph have used an imbalance in the law to compromise freedom of speech. They should be ashamed, but I doubt they will be. They are now flirting with gutter politics as well as with gutter journalism.

Friday 22 May 2009

Who said, and when?

Who said "It is difficult to think how much lower our collective reputation might sink" and when?

It was Frank Field, in January 2008. The quote is from a BBC report at the time. (Hat tip to Liberal Vision for that one.) The occasion was the outing of Derek Conway's little scam. For more details of that, go to A Man For All Sleazons, and scroll down (you'll have to scroll a fair way to get past all the other Tory crooks.

Thursday 21 May 2009

The matchless Anthony Steen

Tory MP Anthony Steen reckons it's all the wretched government's fault for introducing the Freedom of Information Act, because otherwise he wouldn't have been caught. Listen here - it's priceless. When the election comes this deserves to be played over and over again.

Thursday 14 May 2009

The hope, the despair

So, after all the hype and the preparation, all the promises and the optimism, all the hopes of glory, the UK bows out once again before the semifinals, beaten by the likes of Russia, China, Belarus and even weedy North Korea. Yes, Cryptohippie's "Electronic Police State - 2008" gives us a mere fifth place in the world rankings. No doubt some among us will try to save some vestige of self respect by noting that we are the top non ex-Communist state in the rankings, and no doubt some of us will be heartily cheered that England and Wales did so much better than the pusillanimous Scots (a pathetic thirteenth place). But, frankly, what is that worth? After all the time, money and effort we have poured into this, after all the promises of turning us into a centre of excellence, a world leader in the business of spying on our own citizens, all the investment, all the assurances that we would recover our greatness in the world, our position as a leader among nations, we still end fifth, behind a bunch of ex-Commie panelbeaters.

Of course they started with an advantage. Not so long ago, we were a relatively free state. The Commies were light years ahead of us in intrusion, surveillance, detention without trial, setting husband against wife, father against son. To be fair we've made up a lot of ground since then. We can give them a run for their money on CCTV any day; in kettling we are world leaders, and on ID we are making significant inroads. And we can be proud of the efforts our police are making to break down community cohesion and make sure that nobody trusts anybody else. But the fact is that we are still less professional than they are, less ruthless, less unforgiving, less perfectionist about the little things that really matter.

Take this example - the police try the professional approach of getting surveillance data on anybody doing anything, and some bumped up bureaucrat tells them off. That's not the sort of attitude that wins world titles, is it?

And this case, where the Met did their job, tightening the screws on all forms of learning and self-expression, and then when they had it in the bag, they actually let themselves be manoevred into removing the boy's data from their database. You wouldn't find the Russians or the North Koreans doing that would you?

The moral is clear - we have to raise our game, if we are to take our rightful place at the head of the world ranking for electronic surveillance.

Readers of this post who cannot understand the concept of irony might like to look it up on Wikipedia.

The joys of a silent keyboard

I went to a conference recently on Technology for Health Systems Strengthening (THeSyS). Not a huge conference, about 30 people altogether. (Great conference - really enjoyed it.) There was the usual request to turn off mobile phones, but I noticed that several other people didn't so I didn't either. That suited me because I was able to use my WAP connection to twitter and text from the conference to various people.

This post is partly about manners, partly about psychology and partly about technology. Manners first. I knew I was OK in a sense because my phone is set not to make any noise. Texts arrive silently, and phone calls are set to vibrate. Other people don't have that, and apparently don't know how to set their phones to silent for the duration of the conference, so we did get a couple of interruptions from quirkily individual ring tones.

I continued to work on the assumption that my phone was OK, and I sent a series of tweets during the two days of the conference. You can find them in my Twitterstream.

I was recently at another conference where one of my fellow delegates was using his computer to microblog from the conference. Fair enough, but he said afterwards he thought it was acceptable because he was typing quietly. I was sitting four seats away from him and the noise of his keyboard was enough to distract me from what the speakers were saying (combined with poor acoustics and speakers who mumbled a fair bit...) He seemed to take exception to being told that. I think part of the issue here is that people don't hear their own noise - what's quiet to the creator can be quite a nuisance to somebody else. But it points up the need for an etiquette of conferencing.

I noticed by the same token that once I was using my mobile phone this way, I became a lot more tolerant of other people's. When other people's go off in meetings I usually find it a complete wind up. In fact I don't go into the quiet carriage on train journeys, because they're never actually quiet. There is always a succession of idiots who don't care what noise they make or haven't noticed that it's a quiet carriage, and that makes my blood boil so much that it's not worth it. Not all phone users are like that, but there is a sufficient minority who really don't care about other people to make it difficult for all of us. But this time I minded a lot less. I almost completely forgave the mangled sound of REM. I guess that it was infrequent enough and gentle enough not to interrupt the flow of the conference. And I was involved as well, so not only could I not complain, I didn't actually want to.

Those two experiences have set me wondering about what to do next. I was intending to buy a netbook to do my mobile computing on. I had thought I might continue to use my phone for conferences, but it's quite clunky. Its chief benefit is that using it is silent (as opposed to just "quiet"). But texting takes an age. I have an HTC TyTn, with either a stylus or a full, but minute, keyboard. I can use either with facility but both take a while. And connectivity is often a pain. I lost count of the number of times I rebooted it at THeSyS just to try to get a connection again. This may have distracted me from the business of the conference - I don't think it did much as I have 13 pages of notes. So I have begun the search for a computer with a silent keyboard. Not many of those about - maybe there's a gap in the market there.

Friday 24 April 2009

"Tory MEP's expenses..."

Himmelgarten Café exposes in detail the huge scale of sleaze in the case of Tory MEP, Den Dover, outlined in less detail in my previous post.

I think it is very important in these days when the focus is turned on Labour sleaze, not to forget what the country might end up replacing them with. It would be very definitely a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.

Friday 17 April 2009

A man for all sleazons

This may seem an odd time to talk about the Tories when attention is concentrated much more on Labour's misdoings, but I think a comparison is instructive. What is going on in Labour at the moment has been called a tsunami, but, if that's a tsunami, I cannot think what word could be used to describe the continuing tale of Tory corruption and nastiness. A little while ago Mark Pack asked if anyone believed that the Tory party had really changed. I certainly don't. There is a wave of new Tories coming to the fore who cut their teeth on Thatcherite moralism (which carries its own acute dangers), but they don't appear to have much in common with other elements of the Tory party that David Cameron has been vainly trying to make presentable. I'm sure that there are in this country a lot of decent, hardworking and well minded people, who simply have different opinions from me about levels of tax and benefit (they want both lower), the right way to run the economy (they want more laissez faire - or is it less nowadays?), the European Union (I want it better run, they want to be out of it) and so on. One of the biggest problems in this country's political landscape currently is that so few of those people are represented by decent hard working and well minded politicians. The swamp of corruption in the Conservative party that Thatcher bequeathed to Major and that finished him off does not seem ever to have left them. In fact it seems to have allied itself to a meanness of spirit and simple nastiness that gives the Conservative party at large a peculiarly charmless character.

I've spent a little while collecting examples, and I present here a simple list. I had assumed that at some point the list would end, when all the sleaze and the nastiness had been squeezed out of the Tory party. But the worrying thing is that it doesn't end, it just keeps on going. I may well have missed some out; I'm sure my readers will enlighten me.

We'll start with the man at the top, Lord Ashcroft. (Yes, he is at the top, whatever David Cameron thinks.) When Ashcroft was made a lord it was after a promise from the Tories that he would be domiciled in the UK and be a UK taxpayer. That was in 2000. For nearly a decade he has simply ignored that promise. He has recently, and grudgingly, let it be known that he pays tax in the UK. That is a different thing from being a UK taxpayer, and Lord Ashcroft is not ignorant of the difference in meaning between the two forms. So basically we get this recurring theme of one rule for the Conservatives and one rule for everybody else. As the self appointed guardians of the country's moral fibre, they lecture the rest of us endlessly about morality, telling the truth, keeping promises etc. But when it comes to the Conservatives, it's OK for them to break promises.

Then there is the issue of the origin of the money that he is giving to the Conservatives, which is - at long last - under investigation by Parliamentary authorities. The Channel 4 Dispatches team demonstrated that the money is transmitted to the official donor Bearwood via a long and circuitous chain of companies. If there were no need for deception, there would be no need for the chain. And if it were all above board, Lord Ashcroft could simply demonstrate where it comes from openly and transparently. He refuses to do so.

And at the cheaper end of the scale in 2000, we have Conservative MEP Robert Goodwill (now an MP for a Yorkshire seat) when he divulged a particular scam: he would buy flights to Brussels for £250 and claim the allowance for a full-priced ticket of £500. He said in defence of this: "I can pocket the difference and, as a capitalist, also as a British Conservative, I see it as a challenge to buy cheap tickets and make some profit on the system." (The Times, 28 February 2000)

Moving on to 2002, Michael Trend was forced to resign as the Tory MP for Windsor in 2002 after it emerged that he had claimed £90,000 for a fictional second home. He lived in his constituency but told parliament his 'main home' was a friend's address in London, allowing him to claim additional costs allowance on the Windsor property. When it emerged that he had broken the rules, Trend was forced to stand down as an MP. Fraud.

Returning to the lordly theme, we move on to Lord Laidlaw. This is a simpler case. In 2003 Lord Laidlaw gave a written undertaking that if he were made a lord, he would be domiciled in the UK and be a UK taxpayer. He was duly made a lord. He still lives in Monaco and pays taxes there. A promise was made and a promise is broken every day he continues to refuse to honour it. That's just cheap. But we have not had one word of condemnation from David Cameron. Not only that but they continued to take large quantities of money from him for a long time after he broke his promise.

2006 - James Gray, MP for Wiltshire north, while his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, left her for the woman he had been having an affair with for some time. Said lover was then in 2008, according to the Daily Mail, installed as his office manager. They call themselves the party of the family.

2008 - Giles Chichester steps down as leader of the Conservative group in Europe (but does not have the party whip withdrawn) after it emerged that he had paid more than £440,000 of allowances into a company of which he was a director. Chichester denies any intentional wrongdoing and said the payments were simply "a whoops a daisy moment" - a whoops a daisy moment that lasted several years.

And on the same theme we have Den Dover, Conservative MEP for North West England. You have to admire them - when they cheat they cheat big. He had £758146 paid to company run by wife and daughter. And apparently he still hasn't paid it back. He had the whip withdrawn. But that's not the point (and this is a recurring theme). When he was practising his large scale cheating, he was not only in the Conservative party, he was one of its highest representatives.

Then we have Derek Conway, famously paying his son over £40000 to do research for him, while said son was a full time student at Newcastle University. The whip was ostensibly withdrawn, but apparently said whip still advises Conway how to vote.

And they don't mind where they get their money from. I quote New Northumbria, who I think is quoting someone else, "Alan Duncan, the shadow business secretary, also faces questions over a donation of almost £160,000 from Ian Taylor, an oil magnate whose company was fined for trading in Iraq in defiance of sanctions. The donation was registered with the Electoral Commission as a gift to the Tory party. But a spokesman for his firm said he had made donations to Duncan’s private office."

For a bit of light relief from corruption, let's go back to the nastiness front for a moment. Alun Cairns, South West Wales AM, doesn't like Italians much. He thought "greasy wops" was an acceptable way to describe them.

Back to sleaze. I was going to leave Caroline Spelman out, till it became obvious that she was trying to cover up something much more persistent than a mistake. Nanny being paid for out of public funds, and a party aide being paid for out of public funds. Over a considerable period of time.

Back to nastiness. Nigel Hastilow, while the Conservative candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, said Powell was right. he got thrown out, but the point is that he'd already risen to being a PPC when he made those comments.

Jacqui Lait. It seems almost pointless to pick out any one MP in the expenses scandal, but Jacqui Lait puts even Geoff Hoon's chutzpah to shame. £100000 for a second home when her constituency is half an hour's drive from the office. At least she didn't try to justify it like Eric Pickles did.

Back to the nastiness again. Philip Lardner rose as far as being Tory PPC for North Ayrshire and Arran before saying that Ian Smith was a great man and Edward Heath a rat. OK, he was suspended, but how did he get there in the first place?

Probably the piece de resistance in the nastiness stakes, Ian Oakley. The Conservative PPC for Watford for three years ran a sustained deliberate and vicious campaign of harassment and intimidation against local Liberal Democrats. When he was charged the Conservatives said goodbye to him and then refused to comment on the basis that he was no longer a member of the party. But he was when he was carrying out his persistent and vicious campaign. 68 offences were taken into account. Another 75 have not been cleared up, which means either that he was even worse than he has confessed or he had help. But David Cameron has never apologised for that whole sick episode.he was recently put on the spot in Watford and demonstrated the fine political art of using the word sorry without actually apologising.

Spongerjibe. Tory candidate Glenn Broadbent types in Facebook, apparently before engaging his brain, "Proud to be English and sick of paying tax to support lazy people, imported spongers and subsidising the Scots and Welsh". They made him say sorry, but now we know what he really thinks.

Nadine Dorries. What she did was not exceptional by cesspit standards - she fell foul of rules about making a clear separation between Parliamentary commentary and party political material. I mention it only to illustrate the attitude that is so prevalent. She was censured by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner on three counts. But she now says of this incident that she was "completely cleared". As Mark Pack says in his account of this episode, "'Completely cleared' or found to have breached the rules three times? It’s so easy to confuse the two."

And let us not forget that David Cameron himself is not above, er, mistakes in this regard. Until he was found out and stopped, he used Parliamentary facilities to host fund raising events for the Conservative Party. Cheap stuff, to be honest, certainly by the standards of some of his party chums mentioned above, but what is significant is this easy assumption the Conservatives fall into that if it belongs to Parliament it belongs to them.

Another example is their "creative" use of Parliamentary funds to campaign in Cornwall by making Mark Prisk, the MP for Hertford and Stortford, the "shadow minister for Cornwall" and using Parliamentary funds to pay for his campaigning trips there. There is no minister for him to shadow. He was apparently born in Cornwall. OK, if the Tories want a Cornish man to campaign there, fine. But could they not get one of their billionaire donors to pay for it, instead of getting the taxpayers to?

Then we have vote fraud. Conservative activist John Hall was convicted of vote fraud carried out in Hampshire during the 2007 election. For the 2005 election Tory activists used empty houses in a voting scam. 6 Slough Conservatives committed electoral fraud in the 2007 elections. It happens in all parties sometimes, but so many?

And we go on. Daniel Smy, former deputy chairman of South Dorset Conservative Association, found guilty of theft and forgery in 2009.

Then from the Leicester Mercury, "Robert Fraser, county councillor for Groby and Ratby, said Romanians would "stick a knife in you as soon as look at you", and that some Europeans "make the Irish look like complete amateurs". What makes it worse is that Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell doesn't think that's racist.

And another example which I can't put better than Antony Hook did, so I'll quote him:
"Guess which party has a Councillor in Kent who said this: "white skin like the British", "you are English, you’re entitled to f*** all"? BNP? National Front? British Union of Fascists?.... Let me introduce you to Conservative Councillor from Dover, Roger Walkden." Apparently Councillor Walkden was joking...

I think that's as far as I want to go at the moment. But, sad to say, I don't think this story is going to stop.

Just for the record, here are a few that I do not count under the categories of corruption or nastiness, which people may remember and wonder why they haven't been included.

Andrew Pelling - lost the Conservative whip after allegations that he beat his pregnant wife. He was arrested but not charged. Subsequently he took leave of absence to be treated for depression and has announced that he will not stand for election again. At best this is a story of a man who cannot cope and who deserves our sympathy - on the premiss that the allegations about wife beating are unsubstantiated. Or it's a case of nastiness but unproven.

Bob Spink is evidence of the very rightward leaning Europhobic end of the party. He left in 2008 to join UKIP - I have the impression jumped before he was pushed. He now doesn't like UKIP, apparently denies that he ever joined them, and sits as an independent. The fact that he's been shoved out in the boy Cameron's attempt to whitewash the party doesn't make a great deal of difference - he was clearly perfectly comfortable in the Conservative Party till 2008.

George Osborne and that meeting with Deripaska. I don't believe that anything untoward happened here. I think the most we can convict Osborne of is naivete. But, unfortunately, stunning naivete.

The councillors Bourne - Conservative councillors in Wolverhampton, and on the board of governors of the local C of E school, while selling sex at home on the side. It was a big scandal at the time. As a liberal, I see nothing wrong with what people do in their own time as long as it doesn't hurt other people. They would be open to the charge of hypocrisy if they pontificated about family values while doing what they do - but there is no evidence of them doing that.

I live near Brighton...

... and old age is not that far away. I might end up in the Royal Sussex in a dodgy geriatric ward. I hope to God I won't, but if I do, I'd far rather be looked after by Margaret Haywood, than by the bunch of self serving nonces who have taken away her right to be a nurse.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Well done Daniel

If only everybody could be as forthright when they got things wrong.

Sunday 12 April 2009

McBride, Brown, Cameron..... Oakley?

So David Cameron is furious with Gordon Brown and is demanding an apology from him. He should get one. McBride's cheap little scheme has no place in politics.

On the other hand, the Conservative PPC for Watford carried out a vicious and criminal campaign of vilification and intimidation against Liberal Democrat party members, deliberately and persistently sustained over three years before he was finally arrested, charged and convicted of those crimes. And we have not had one single word of apology from David Cameron. We are still waiting.

Gordon Brown should apologise to David Cameron. Not least because he can take the high ground.

Because David Cameron is a hypocrite.

Update: Eaten By Missionaries points out that David Cameron has apologised, albeit seven months late, and only when he had no alternative, having been put on the spot publicly in Watford. But, examining the record in the Watford Observer, what it says he says is "I am extremely sorry about what happened. Of course I regret what has happened. I think everyone on the Conservative Party regrets what has happened." That strikes me as a typically political choice of words. He's sorry "about" it, but he's not sorry "for" it. On the assumption that the Watford Observer is accurate, he still hasn't actually apologised.

An Easter message to everyone, but primarily to fundamentalists...

... of all persuasions. I do not know what will happen when I get to heaven. I am fairly sure that I will meet my maker. What will happen next? I will suffer an extraordinary pang of monumental guilt for the things that I have done and not done. It will not last a moment. My knowledge of physics makes me sure of that; the chief ingredient of time is limit, and God is beyond limit, so I am sure that when I meet him, it will be outside time. So my pang of guilt will probably take no time at all, though it will equally probably encompass the whole universe. The guilt is there because he knows all that I have done and not done, and I can no longer hide from it. And then, I think, he will welcome me. He will say, "You have let me down, but you can still stay".

So I think. There are quite a few million fundamentalists, Christian, Islamic and of other kinds around the world who are certain that this will not be my fate. They intend to meet their maker, and I will apparently not be there, because I do not share their particular version of certainty. That applies to all sorts, not just to Islamic ones who blow people up because they do not agree with them, but also to Christian ones who murder doctors whose practices they disagree with, and think they have the right to beat their wives, to Jewish ones who flatten other people in their tanks, to Hindu ones who think it is justified to murder Christians, and so on, and so wearily on. So this message is addressed to them. I do not flatter myself that this blog is the first stopping place of those of the fundamentalist persuasion here there and everywhere, but perhaps it will get noticed somewhere by someone, and if I sow a tiny seed of doubt in the mind of even one person of fundamentalist persuasion, then this post will have done its work. Because one thing I am sure of is a lack of certainty in this life and about the next, and those who think they have certainty do not in fact have it. What they have is tunnel vision.

So if anyone of a fundamentalist mindset is reading this post I ask them to think of what will happen when they enter heaven. Virgins to right and left, pots of honey, mango dip, nectar.... Let me just suggest a different possibility. Read on, don't be scared. After all, you know you're right, so what harm can I do?

You will get to heaven. You will probably experience the same monumental pang of guilt as me (after all, even fundamentalists aren't perfect.) And then God will welcome you. But what he will say to you will be different to what he says to me. To you he will say, "What on EARTH did you think you were doing in my name?" Then, I think, you will feel a cataclysmic pang of guilt. He will say, "You can stay", just as he says it to me. He will say, "The virgins are over there". (Fundamentalist heaven seems to be primarily male and therefore one assumes that the virgins are female. But I think the fundamentalists will be surprised to find that the virgins are of both sexes.) "But first", God will say, "I want you to come over here and meet all the people who you killed, and maimed, and executed, and slaughtered, and beat, and tortured, and crippled, and disfigured, and scarred, and made miserable, and blocked in their life, and passed by on the other side, and mocked and belittled, and enslaved all because you did not read my beloved [insert here Bible, Koran, Torah, Veda, text of your choice] properly.

"You tried to trap me in the words. Me. I who exist beyond time and space, beyond language. You were determined to see me in the words. Did you never think to look through the words rather than at them?"

And then, it is my profound hope, you will feel ever so slightly foolish.

God will say, "Go and meet those people now. It will take you a long time. It will take you forever. And ask them, humbly, to share my heaven with you."

Still certain?

Tuesday 7 April 2009

What kind of trouble were the police expecting

The Guardian now has video evidence of a police assault on Ian Tomlinson. It's difficult to know what to conclude from the evidence that we have so far, but I suspect that the police had probably been prepared for battles that did not materialise and were having a hard time keeping their own adrenalin under control. Whatever the reason this kind of attack is inexcusable.