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.