... What would have been the point?
Thursday, 19 April 2012
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
Readers will have noticed that transmissions have become infrequent of late. I regret that I will continue to be busy elsewhere for a little while, but fully intend to return to the fray when I have time - perhaps in a month or so.
I shall endeavour to drop in from time to time to publish comments. In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Posted by Elliott at 8.4.08
Monday, 31 March 2008
As reported by the Daily Mail today:
Unelected bureaucrats will be handed draconian new powers to hit people with fines of thousands of pounds without ever needing to find them guilty.The paper isn't exaggerating.
According to the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill as it currently stands, a "fixed monetary penalty" may be imposed by a regulator
where the regulator is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the person has committed the relevant offence.So unprecedented extra-legal powers are to be conferred onto - well, onto whom, exactly? The paper mentions 27 regulatory bodies, but according to Section 36 of the Bill, powers will be conferred on a list of 27 "designated regulators", plus any other body which
has an enforcement function in relation to an offence ... contained, immediately before the day on which this Act is passed, in an enactment specified in Schedule 6.Schedule 6 lists 142 pieces of legislation going as far back as the 1930s, from the Accommodation Agencies Act of 1953 to the Zoo Licensing Act of 1981.
In other words, this is a bureaucratic land grab on a scale which the Mail's journalists have failed to comprehend: the wholesale empowerment of our state machinery to deprive us of our property without trial.
The only other mistake the paper makes is to assert that this further curtailment of our rights and protections is hidden away in "the small print". In fact, it is the vestiges of the government's promise to "lift the burden of red tape on business" which barely scrapes into the bill.
Subsection 1 of Section 70 (out of a total of 75) states that regulators must not
(a) impose burdens which are unnecessary, or (b) maintain burdens which have become unnecessary.However, as Subsection 2 makes clear:
Subsection (1) does not require the removal of a burden which has become unnecessary where its removal would, having regard to all the circumstances, be impracticable or disproportionate.So even this sad afterthought looks unlikely to lead to one single piece of red tape being undone.
To add insult to injury, the first part of the bill is concerned with establishing a new regulations quango called the "Local Better Regulation Office".
For the government to claim that this hideous law amounts to a lifting of red tape is typical of the contempt in which it holds the electorate.
Posted by Elliott at 31.3.08
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Today saw a statement about national security given by a Mr Gordon Brown - our usually invisible Prime Minister - to the House of Commons.
It shows, beyond all doubt, that he has no real idea what is going on; no understanding of the threats facing the country; and no clue what to do about them.
Let's start at the top.
For most of the last half century the main threat was unmistakable: a Cold War adversary ... Now it comes from loosely affiliated global networks that threaten us and other nations across continents.A half truth at best. As the leader of our country should be aware, the primary terrorist threat to it is measurably home-grown.
Mr Speaker, the foundation of our approach is to maintain strong, balanced, flexible and deployable armed forces.Not really. The foundation of our defences against a largely domestic terrorist threat is vigilance and good policing. I agree that a strong military capability is a necessary asset in a forever unpredictable world, but if you believed that too, Prime Minister, you wouldn't have cut the defence budget. Again.
To harness a much wider range of expertise and experience from outside government and help us plan for the future we are inviting business, academics, community organisations and military and security experts from outside government to join a new National Security Forum that will advise the recently constituted National Security Committee.Bigger talking shops; more jobs for the boys. Prime Minister, the failure of any terrorist to cause harm since July 2005 suggests that the domestic security framework isn't broken. Don't try to fix it.
I can tell the House that Britain will be at the forefront of diplomatic action on nuclear weapons control and reduction, offering a new bargain to non-nuclear powers.Diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran getting the bomb began over a year ago and, in the absence of any willingness to use force, were doomed from the start. I don't know if you've ever listened to the speeches of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Prime Minister, but your brand of craven multilateralism just isn't going to cut it with people like him.
So in the same way that we have military forces ready to respond to conflict, we must have civilian experts and professionals ready to deploy quickly to assist failing states and to help rebuild countries emerging from conflict, putting them on the road to economic and political recovery.More jobs for the boys, in what amounts to your only original contribution to foreign policy - and even that was announced two months ago. The EU and NATO won't be joining you in your mission, Prime Minister, because in the absence of a colonial administrative framework it's a patronising, unworkable - indeed, downright stupid idea.
I can tell the House that Britain will start by making available a 1000-strong UK civilian standby capacity - that will include police, emergency service professionals, judges and trainers - for this work.
And I am calling on EU and NATO partners to set high and ambitious targets for their own contributions.
We need to be able to tackle the underlying drivers of conflict and instability ---- in particular: Poverty, inequality and poor governance...Insofar as it isn't meaningless, Prime Minister, that is ignorant, arrogant dogma.
But then, we shouldn't be surprised. Since his first speech on the subject as Prime Minister, Brown has revealed himself to be a foreign policy illiterate.
As with many other areas of public policy, when it comes to foreign affairs our disaster-prone son-of-a-manse is woefully out of his depth. Let us hope he is swept out of power before he manages to do any more real damage.
Posted by Elliott at 19.3.08
Tuesday, 18 March 2008
I've just seen the reported results of a European poll from yesterday's FT, and the paper seems to be suggesting that they favour Mr Blair's chances of being the first President of Europe - at least when compared to Jean-Claude Juncker (who?), prime minister of Luxembourg (where?)
In an article penned by the splendidly-named James Blitz, Britain's pre-eminent eurofanatical paper made the following observations:
A clear majority of citizens in nearly all the large European Union states believe the EU must choose a high-profile figure as its first president ... a Harris poll for the FT shows that more than three-quarters of people surveyed in France, Italy and Spain believe the job must go to a high-profile figure who can represent the Union effectively - a view which was also supported by 50 per cent of Britons ...Merkel, of course, isn't available - she's got a proper job. Which at this stage makes Mr Blair the people's choice.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Tony Blair, the former British premier, are the only two politicians who get a clear level of support in countries that are not their own.
The polling on potential candidates deals another blow to Mr Juncker. Although 7 per cent of Germans want him to be EU president, he fails to receive the backing of more than 1 per cent of people in any other state.Unfortunately for Tony Blair, however, the EU is known for its tyranny and corruption rather than any democratic tendencies.
On that basis, this poll means I'm putting my money on the undistinguished nonentity from the obscure tax haven ...
Posted by Elliott at 18.3.08
Monday, 17 March 2008
The Sunday papers would have made depressing reading for occupants of the government benches. Both the News Of The World and the Sunday Times carried polls under headlines which speak for themselves: "Tories 15 Year High" and "Support For Labour Hits 25-Year Low" respectively.
The detailed responses to ICM's poll for the NOTW are not yet available, but those given to YouGov, which ran the poll for the Times, make for fascinating reading.
The voting intentions themselves are a stark indication of weariness after nearly eleven years under the Labour yoke, with an appalling nadir of 27% for the government as against 43% for the Conservatives and a deservedly limp 16% for the Liberal Democrats.
Delve into the detail, however, and you find not only frustration with a tired-looking incumbent party, but a clear feeling that tax and spend politics has now been comprehensively tried, and has dismally failed:
- 60% agreed that "taxes can be cut without public services suffering because it is perfectly possible to run our public services more efficiently", twice those who thought that "In practice tax cuts that lead to less money being spent on the public services would mean that our public services suffer".
- 67% of respondents said that taxes in Britain are "Too high; the Government should tax less and spend less".
- 77% said they supported "Requiring everyone claiming incapacity benefit to attend a "work-focussed [sic] interview" to check whether they should continue to receive the benefit".
In the 1990s, Tony Blair and others talked a lot about a "new kind of politics" which they called the "Third Way". This was supposed to mean striking a balance between supporting free enterprise and working to ensure social justice.
In practice, of course, what it meant was Labour Lite: not delivering a knockout blow to the productive, private sector of the economy as in previous socialist episodes, but rather strangling it slowly with the dead hand of the state.
Being more subtle than the smash-and-grab of earlier Labour eras, it took people longer to see the problem, but now that it has been recognised Labour Lite, like its more rugged predecessors, is dead.
Britain has at last realised that the Third Way - insofar as it ever really existed - was a cul-de-sac.
Posted by Elliott at 17.3.08
Sunday, 16 March 2008
A priest has been attacked in the grounds of his church, in what police described as a "faith-hate" crime.ATW was irritated by the designation of the criminals as "Asian", and understandably so. As the fuller reports out on the cowardly attack today confirm, it was the faith, not the ethnicity, of Canon Ainsworth's assailants which was the salient thing about them:
Canon Michael Ainsworth, 57, was injured by two Asian youths at the church, in Tower Hamlets, east London.
The church had previously been targeted when a brick smashed a window during a service. Allan Ramanoop, a member of the parochial church council, said: “On one occasion, youths shouted: ‘This should not be a church, this should be a mosque, you should not be here’. (Telegraph)Parts of east London have of course been solidly Asian / Muslim for many years. It is to be profoundly hoped that these anti-Christian attacks represent a temporary aberration on the part of a stupid minority of young men. After all, as I have noted before, Britain has an enviable record of integrating young Asians of all faiths, and most of us rub along just fine.
A local newspaper noted this in its level-headed coverage of the incident:
Canon Ainsworth wanted to emphasise the positive relationship he has with the large Asian presence in his parish and to play down the behaviour of disaffected youths.So what should be done?
He is also a governor of St Paul's School in Whitechapel, where 70 per cent of the pupils are Asian ...
The Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme, who used to work with Mr Ainsworth, said: "I would want to see a condemnation of this cowardly behaviour by senior Muslims in the community ...Indeed. And alongside the imams, the teachers, friends and relatives of those responsible for these outrageous acts of religious violence should make it clear to them that they live in a society where such things are not to be tolerated.
The rest of us - and the media in particular - can help them in this task by facing, and stating, the facts: young Muslims have been vandalising a London church and have now assaulted an Anglican clergyman.
The majority of sensible, law-abiding British Muslims will quite rightly be shamed by the regrettable association of their religious identity with such despicable acts and prevail upon young Muslim hooligans to behave themselves.
They will thereby have forestalled any risk that other, perhaps equally noxious elements in our society will not echo the hooligans' call: "this should not be a Muslim country, this should be a Christian country, you should not be here".
Posted by Elliott at 16.3.08
Friday, 14 March 2008
Some of the government's tax raising agenda in this week's budget has been justified on the grounds that it is "good for the environment" as it will help prevent "anthropogenic climate change". For this reason I thought it timely to remind ourselves why the idea that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last few years has led to an increase in global temperatures is poppycock.
1) The ice core record clearly demonstrates that increases in global temperatures precede increases in atmospheric CO2 by periods of several hundred years.
Take the word of Prof. John Mitchell OBE FRS, Chief Scientist at the UK Met Office (a major beneficiary and champion of the global warming agenda):
Over the several hundred thousand years covered by the ice core record ... changes in temperature did drive changes in carbon dioxide.
2) Palaeoclimatological evidence, which is grounded in the geological study of very long periods of time, shows that over multi-hundred-million year periods there has been no connection between temperatures on Earth and atmospheric CO2 levels.
An article called "Climate And The Carboniferous Period" uses data from Yale geologist R A Berner and University of Texas geologist C Scotese to demonstrate this:
The Carboniferous Period and the Ordovician Period were the only geological periods during the Paleozoic Era when global temperatures were as low as they are today. To the consternation of global warming proponents, the Late Ordovician Period was also an Ice Age while at the same time CO2 concentrations then were nearly 12 times higher than today -- 4400 ppm. According to greenhouse theory, Earth should have been exceedingly hot. Instead, global temperatures were no warmer than today.
3) Climate models based on anthropogenic warming have been proved wrong.
All major computer climate models have predicted a constant, steady increase in temperature from the end of the 20th century based on continuing increases in atmospheric CO2.
The actual data from major scientific institutions for the 21st century (so far!) - as presented by professional meteorologist Anthony Watts - show quite clearly that the Earth's temperature has in fact remained constant.
In other words, as those of us languishing through the coldest winter for many years could attest (e.g., e.g., e.g.) the climate models based on all that bad science are straightforward, if expensive, junk.
So why are we all being forced into costly and inconvenient changes in lifestyle?
As Canadian journalist Peter Foster put it recently in his article "The New Road To Serfdom":
It was a combination of the success of the environmental Left -- in particular activist non-governmental organizations -- in stoking the concerns of the electorate, and of the desire of bureaucrats and policy-makers to stay relevant, busy and in power ...Don't fall for it. Be sceptical; be informed; challenge the unholy alliance of leftists, environmentalists and control freaks behind the global warming scare with the facts.
The environmental movement has also been astonishingly successful in co-opting education systems, and highly skillful at exploiting universal psychological tendencies to social conformity and deference to "authority" ...
The new Left ... has thus co-opted a huge coalition of self-interested or naive supporters, who are attracted by the prospect of preening as saviours of the planet. Together they are threatening to carry the globe down a new road to serfdom.
I hope this post will help you to do so.
Posted by Elliott at 14.3.08
Wednesday, 12 March 2008
New chancellor, same old smoke and mirrors.
The media has spotted that Alistair Darling has pushed up sin taxes and cut his growth forecast.
What they haven't noticed - because he somehow failed to mention it in his speech - is that the loss in revenue from lower growth is to be made up largely by swingeing cuts in the defence budget.
Buried in the text of the Financial Statement and Budget Report - as usual - is an estimated £5.8bn shortfall in government revenues relative to last autumn's Pre-Budget Report (p. 187), which will largely be made up by a £3.3bn cut in defence spending this year (p. 197).
That's a cut of over 7% from 2007-08.
This is what Darling actually said about defence:
The Defence Budget has seen the longest period of increased spending in a generation.And that's it. While the numbers might very well be technically correct, to suggest that you're increasing spending while hiding the fact that you're actually putting through a massive cut amounts to deception.
This year we again expect to spend over £2 billion more supporting our troops on the front line. Including around £900 million on military equipment.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families.
We are deeply proud of the bravery, professionalism, and courage they display in serving our country.
Gordon Brown, of course, pulled exactly the same stunt last year - though admittedly on a less breathtaking scale.
Mr Darling: you have misled the House, deceived the country and betrayed our fighting men and women abroad.
Your master must be proud.
Posted by Elliott at 12.3.08
Monday, 10 March 2008
Gordon Brown's penchant for disappearing from view during times of crisis has become proverbial. Of late it has entailed his near-total invisibility (save for his weekly outings at Prime Minister's Questions, which he not surprisingly detests).
So how delightfully apposite to read in the Telegraph that Madame Tussauds has decided not to commission a waxwork of the reclusive son-of-a-manse since "he has not made a sufficient impact on the public":
Ben Lovett, a spokesman for the tourist attraction, said: "We have decided not to create a wax figure of Gordon Brown at this interim stage ... we will not make a Prime Minister until after the General Election as this is the best possible indicator of public opinion and popularity."And to rub salt into the wound, the report ends by noting:
Still one of the most popular attractions at Tussauds, Mr Blair remains labelled as "Prime Minister of Great Britain" and stands next to President George W Bush of America and the other world leaders.Even if Madame Tussauds were to commission a waxwork of our rather wooden PM, however, I doubt whether it would ever actually be made.
He would be too busy hiding under the table to sit for it.
Posted by Elliott at 10.3.08
Friday, 7 March 2008
The students of University College London have passed a nasty little motion against allowing the armed forces to recruit from among their number:
The UCL motion, proposed by Sham Rajyaguru, stated: "This Union believes that because the British military under the Labour Government is currently engaged in an aggressive war overseas, for the Union to use its resources to encourage students to join the military or participate in military recruitment activities at this time would give political and material support to the war."Well - to be fair - a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of the 27,000 strong university has passed a motion:
The resolution was passed by around 80 to 50 votes.Lest we think this spokesman a hyperbolic Bushitler stooge, a quick trawl of the miracle that is the Google cache yields the following admonitory vignette on ringleader Sham Rajyaguru:
A spokesman for UCL Union accused a group of "hard core", Left-wing students of orchestrating the vote. "It's quite a silly thing," he admitted.
I'm Sham, 16, Socialist git. I hate everything especally [sic] YOU.Politically active students, of course, ordinarily are "quite silly". Some of those who once fell into that mephitic category are now running the country - into the ground.
Not that I have anything against UCL. (Some of my less academic school friends were constrained to study there.) But as this news demonstrates, students can be a noisome and unworthy bunch.
The time has come to amend the 1969 Representation of the People Act, which that old crook Harold Wilson erroneously believed would swing him the 1970 election. 18 to 20-year-olds should still have the vote - so long as they're not in full time education ...
Posted by Elliott at 7.3.08
Wednesday, 5 March 2008
The Telegraph reported today that Gordon Brown has announced a review of the Barnett formula on Scottish public spending, which it claimed means that an annual £1,500 more per head is now spent north of the border.
The vitriolic and ill-informed row which this provoked between English and Scottish readers in the comments indicated that the time had come to have a look at the facts. Do the Scots get more public money? Are they subsidised by England? And what about North Sea oil?
The first question is easily answered by a Treasury document called "Public Expenditure Statistical Analysis (PESA)". Latest figures - those for 2005-6 - show that the answer is "yes".
On the basis of the 87% of government spending which it is possible to account for by region, the Scots received £8,179 that year as against £6,835 for us Sassenachs (actually a difference of £1,344).
The second question is harder to answer. Identifying Scottish revenue is tricky. A report from the Scottish Executive, however, gives an informed estimate of £36.4bn for 2004-5 (excluding oil revenues).
Including £5.2bn of North Sea oil revenues would have given a Scottish government total income of £41.6bn.
The other side of the equation is simpler. The Treasury gives UK total managed expenditure of £491bn for that year. Multiplying this by the Scottish share of identifiable spending by region - 9.6% - gives total Scottish expenditure of £47.1bn.
Add in 9.6% of the UK's annual £31bn of debt interest and this gives an approximate Scottish budget of £50.1bn.
So even including all North Sea oil revenues, an independent Scotland would have had a budget deficit of £8.5bn a couple of years ago. At about 10% of Scottish GDP that is much higher than the UK's 3% (and completely unsustainable).
We could say, then, that England "subsidises" Scotland to the tune of 7% of Scottish GDP, or about £6bn per year.
On the North Sea oil question specifically, revenues were given as £9bn for 2006-07 in last year's Pre-Budget Report. They may well be even higher this year, but peaked over twenty years ago and fell as low as £1bn in 1991-2. So reliance on this source of revenue is a double-edged sword (and even the record oil prices seen recently would not have bailed Scotland out of its fiscal black hole).
For the modern British economy as a whole - contrary to what some seem to believe - oil revenue is irrelevant.
Finally, some Scots wondered why Westminster seems so keen to preserve the Union.
The answer is simple: Labour needs its Scottish seats.
That's the real benefit of breaking up the Union for England. £6bn is a rounding error for our public finances, but a fatally wounded Labour party - now that's worth having.
Posted by Elliott at 5.3.08
Tuesday, 4 March 2008
Margaret Hodge - who in one of those satisfactory accidents is MP for Barking - has come under deserved fire for bashing the Proms:
The audiences for some of many of our greatest cultural events - I'm thinking particularly of the Proms - is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of [Britain's cultural identity].This is nonsense, of course. The Proms represent one of the largest celebrations of classical music in the world, attracting talent from all parts of the globe.
If Hodge thinks the audiences are all white middle class fogies of a certain age, she can't have been to many. Not that an opportunity to bash the middle class should be passed up of course, if you're a politician of a certain stripe.
Yet according to the Guardian's obligatory pre-leak of her ill-informed blithering, her attack extended much further than the Proms series:
She will also propose that a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII to the throne next year could be an opportunity to explore the strengths and weaknesses of British history...What?! Our history is a fact. Studying it should illumine our own time and educate us about the origins of the society we live in. It is not - not! - an opportunity to apply cheap value judgements to past events based on modern pieties which may themselves prove all too transient.
Someone who speaks of the "strengths and weaknesses" of history, rather than the similarities and differences between historical attitudes and our own, is talking a language they do not understand.
She also said of Henry VIII that
a deeper understanding of his reign may help the important debate on England starting to emerge.Again: what?! England is a country - and a rather fine old one at that - not a debating point. A deeper understanding of its history would indeed benefit those trying to run it - starting with Margaret Hodge herself, perhaps.
Apparently this woman is our Minister of Culture. Clearly one of those departments which, in the manner anticipated by Orwell - that's George Orwell, an old writer, Mrs Hodge - stand for the opposite of what their title suggests.
Posted by Elliott at 4.3.08
Monday, 3 March 2008
Yesterday, polling data from ten constituencies showed that a whopping 89% of British voters are against the Lisbon treaty. (The news was accompanied by one of those colourful protests in which people climb to the top of something.)
Yet the parliamentary arithmetic makes it almost certain, through the likelihood of Liberal Democrat eurofanatics outnumbering Labour rebels, that the treaty will become law.
This is what European politicians have come to call the "democratic deficit". An older word for it is "tyranny".
In the 2006-2007 parliamentary session, over 80% of laws passed over Britain originated abroad (36 bills received royal assent as against 159 pieces of EU legislation which were introduced by statutory instrument).
These laws are promulgated by an unelected bureaucracy on which the only democratic check is the largely toothless scrutiny of a travelling circus of embezzlers for whom barely 45% of the electorate see any point in voting.
The tyranny of King Charles I was obvious in that it involved the suspension of parliament for eleven years. The tyranny of the EU, operating through parliament, is more subtle - though as the passing of Lisbon in the teeth of massive popular opposition will demonstrate, no less absolute.
How dare our elected representatives elect not to represent us in this way! No wonder more and more of us aren't bothering to vote for them anymore either.
It's enough to make you join the record numbers of people leaving the country every year.
Posted by Elliott at 3.3.08
Oh dear, oh dear. What a storm of outrage there has been over the Russian elections!
Nobody is suggesting that a completely free and fair election would have yielded a different result. Nonetheless, "restrictions on opposition candidates and bias in the state media made the contest unequal" (Telegraph); "the poll was marred by violations" (BBC); "regional and local officials had compelled many public sector workers to vote for Medvedev" (Guardian).
The body all these outlets have been quoting - the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe - had the following to say on the subject of electoral fraud in the United Kingdom:
It is clear that the electoral system in Great Britain is open to electoral fraud. This vulnerability is mainly the result of the, rather arcane, system of voter registration without personal identifiers. It was exacerbated by the introduction of postal voting on demand [in 2001] ...That was in January, and you can find it at the House of Commons library here - tacked on to a depressing litany of episodes of vote-rigging and electoral fraud covering most of this country over the last few years.
So our own polls have been "marred by violations" for ages. Not to mention the often absurd and well-documented liberal bias in our own "state media".
Oh, and let's not forget the 100,000 Scottish voters who were summarily disfranchised during last May's elections to their mini-parliament through failures in the (untried) electronic voting system.
Before getting too carried away about Russia's electoral shortcomings, therefore, it would well behove Britain's press pack to pay heed to our own recent history of electoral criminality, media bias and administrative incompetence.
Once, we in Britain could look with disdain at unsavoury electoral goings-on abroad. That time, sadly, is long past.
Posted by Elliott at 3.3.08
Thursday, 28 February 2008
How long will it take for people to realise that British health care is rationed, not free, at the point of delivery? That our health "system" prioritises political imperatives over the objective of healing the sick?
More grim proof of these truths came with news today that Dorothy Simpson, a 61-year-old grandmother from Yorkshire, is to be denied a £5,000 operation to cure her potentially debilitating heart condition because a hospital guideline deems she is too old.
Perhaps the NHS might consider funding her treatment out of cost savings achievable by abandoning its propaganda activities: the notorious anti-smoking campaigns, the ongoing campaign against the overweight and the incipient campaign to outlaw drinking?
Perish the thought! British people are stupid and unworthy, and we must be hectored and coerced into living in the manner prescribed by the apparatus of the state. In fact, as the then health secretary declared a year ago, treatment should be denied to those very groups to support them in their decision to mend their ways.
The motto of British medicine seems fast to be becoming, "denying treatment to those who need it most".
Or what about the brainwave of some cancer specialists last year - that patients who can afford it should be allowed to pay for treatments which government rationing meant they couldn't get for free? Wouldn't this free up more tax money for deserving cases like Dorothy Simpson?
Again, perish the thought! British health care is to be resourced through an unwieldy, inefficient and inhumane centralised structure, or not at all.
The NHS will not be fixed until there is widespread recognition that it is, in some ways, broken. I wonder: what are the chances of that happening during Dorothy Simpson's lifetime - however long the bureaucrats decide that ought to be?
Posted by Elliott at 28.2.08
Saturday, 23 February 2008
In a story which has gone entirely ignored, Brigadier Andrew Mackay, commander of British forces in Helmand province in Afghanistan, has gone on the record to say that the Taliban are "worn down" - that after months of gruelling conflict our enemies are at last feeling the pinch. As the Times reports:
British troops in southern Afghanistan have “worn down” the Taleban and forced them to abandon many of their key strongholds in Helmand province, a senior commander said yesterday.Foreign fighters, such as those feculent traitors from the UK who were heard by the RAF among the Helmand Taliban earlier this month "speaking in clear Bradford and West Bromwich accents".
Brigadier Andrew Mackay, commander of 52 Brigade, said: “The Taleban are now suffering from a lack of manpower and that is why they are having to rely on foreign fighters."
"They are also now operating outside their normal areas because they lack support from the local populations.”In other words, they are losing.
So there is, at last, a sign of hope in Afghanistan. With persistence, there will be cause for celebration.
Why has this story not received more attention? What does the media establishment have to say about the conflict?
Sadly, it has become the pattern of modern journalism that coverage of good news from the front line barely makes it into print, whereas ill-informed speculation by people who seem determined that their side should lose is allowed to dominate the comment pages.
To give one example, the Times itself published a preposterous piece by tired by-the-numbers hack Sir Simon Jenkins three weeks ago. Under the inspiring title, "Fall back, men, Afghanistan is a nasty war we can never win", the dotty knight had the following drivel to spew:
The American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, flies to Britain this week to meet a crisis entirely of London and Washington’s creation. They have no strategy for the continuing occupation of Afghanistan. They are hanging on for dear life and praying for something to turn up ...Of course, Sir Simon's ramblings were probably echoed all over the British media - his was merely the particular piece of poppycock I happened to catch at the time.
Every independent report on the Nato-led operation in Afghanistan cries the same message: watch out, disaster beckons ...
More soldiers will simply evince more insurgency ...
There is no sensible alternative to ending military operations ...
While hope for a victorious outcome in Afghanistan builds with every hard-fought battle won by Britain and America's exceptional armed forces, critics like Jenkins can only harp and cavil.
They would be better advised to keep up with the facts, listen to men like Mackay and support the valiant efforts of the civilised west to thwart the evil of backward Islamic theocracy in south Asia as elsewhere.
Perhaps the day may come when war reports are given the higher profile and blustery opinion takes a back seat. But that, alas, would seem to be a hope too far.
Posted by Elliott at 23.2.08
Friday, 22 February 2008
The murder of Sally Anne Bowman in 2005 was a terrible crime and it is to be hoped that Mark Dixie, her killer, remains incarcerated for the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, the case has renewed calls for the rest of us to suffer as well:
Detective Superintendent Stuart Cundy, who led the Bowman investigation, said having the DNA of everyone in Britain on file would speed up arrests and cut down on further offending.The cost and imposition of such an authoritarian measure should be enough to render it unconscionable, but there is another reason. It wasn't the DNA evidence alone which would have tended to incriminate Dixie:
Dixie, who was sentenced this afternoon and told that he would have to serve at least 34 years in prison, had a string of previous convictions for sex offences. Detectives believe he may even have killed while living in Australia in the 1990s.And again:
His fantasising about the sex killing on an earlier occasion, when he performed a sex act over newspaper pictures of blonde Sally Anne, helped convict him.As well as Sally Anne's murderer, then, Mark Dixie is also a convicted sex offender and pervert who might well have killed before.
Dixie filmed the act and the recording was discovered among his belongings in the barn of the Horley pub [where he was arrested for another offence in 2006].
There can be no objection to keeping the details of such filthy vermin on file. Those in the British justice system who would want to catalogue the whole country, however, would be well advised to stick to persecuting the scumbags, which is what we pay them for.
As I have written before, it is laudable that parliament has resisted calls for a universal rollout of the DNA database in the past.
It should continue to do so.
Posted by Elliott at 22.2.08
Thursday, 21 February 2008
The EU may not have anything to teach the UK about constitutional affairs but it could give us a masterclass in corruption.
We Brits made the most awful fuss over the venal Derek Conway, who was at least relatively modest in his fraudulent squandering of taxpayer thousands (as opposed to the government at large which hoses away billions every week).
But he has nothing on his equivalents in that pointless travelling circus which calls itself the "European Parliament". As the Telegraph reports:
A secret European Parliament report has uncovered "extensive, widespread and criminal abuse" by Euro-MPs of staff allowances worth almost £100 million a year.That figure is arrived at by multiplying £125,000+ a year in staff subsidies by the 785 members of the circus. (You will recall that Mr Conway embezzled less than half that amount over a period of a few years.)
It's not only the scale of euro-fraud which puts our own MPs' efforts to shame, it's the magisterial way in which the Europeans cover everything up. Whereas the Conway affair was fought out openly under the glaring scrutiny of the entire British media:
Only Euro-MPs on the parliament's budget control committee are allowed to see the report.Blimey. So do we need to send in Daniel Craig?
To do so, they must apply to enter a "secret room", protected by biometric locks and security guards. They may not take notes and must sign a confidentiality agreement.
Au contraire, according to one EU spokesman. That would be overreacting.
"The document is not secret. It is confidential," he said. "It can be read by Euro-MPs on the budget control committee, in the secret room but not generally. That is not the same as a secret document nobody can read."Quite. Not secret, just ... Discreet.
So we should be grateful for the indiscretion of Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP and one of the select few to be allowed access to the non-secret report in the secret reading room. As he told the BBC:
When I looked at this report my first reaction was to laugh at the outrageous extent of the abuses. [Strange sense of humour, these Lib Dems.]Indeed it is. Bigger than the Conway scandal, and better handled by the Continent's equivalent of Sir Humphrey.
Then that feeling turned to anger ... I think the allegations within this report from our own auditors should lead to the imprisonment of a number of MEPs. I think it's embezzlement and fraud on a massive, massive scale.
What an education for the British people to see the Eurocracy doing what it does best!
Posted by Elliott at 21.2.08
Thursday, 14 February 2008
What hollow laughter the following story provoked:
Bungling Whitehall officials got their Newcastles mixed up and gave £2.7 million meant for the North East city to its namesake in the Potteries.It's bad enough that the government's thirst for our tax receipts is unquenchable - and now we discover it can't even piss them against the right wall!
Newcastle-under-Lyme, population 74,000, was handed the cash instead of Newcastle upon Tyne ...
And what does it say about the modern civil service that someone could make so basic a mistake: are their efforts solely focused on Scotland and Wales? Is the standard, or perhaps the content, of the modern geography syllabus to blame? Or are there so many bureaucrats employed nowadays that the "Department for Communities and Local Government" is left hiring the dross?
Whatever the explanation, it is a sad comment on the incompetence now endemic in Britain's government that nobody seems to have been surprised by the news ...
Posted by Elliott at 14.2.08
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
From the money section of the Telegraph comes the following gem:
One of Britain's richest residents says he will leave the country if the Government brings in its controversial new charges for non-domiciles.That insulting old canard! The rest of us who pay school fees happen to pay tax as well, Smurfo. And I suppose you use your own personal air traffic control service when you fly in and out on your private plane? And does your limo travel on your special, private road network?
Dermot Smurfit, the Irish paper tycoon, is investigating moving to Monte Carlo or Switzerland ...
"This is no easy decision. I have five children in England all at private school — I don't place any burden on the state.
The hideous buffoon ends his preposterous complaining with the following, shocking howler:
I have contributed huge amounts to the country and pay significant taxes, about £150,000 a year.The article also mentions in passing that moaning parasite Smurfit is worth up to half a billion pounds.
£150,000 in tax in that context is - well - modest, at best. In fact, a UK taxpayer would contribute that amount in PAYE on an annual income of a little over £380,000 - about normal for a senior executive, successful consultant, leading professional, top civil servant etc.
And that's before you add in the VAT, stamp duty, local taxes and other levies that they all pay - and which smug Smurfit has doubtless included in his embarrassing estimate.
If he fancies life up an Alp or on a boat, good luck to him. But he should surely realise that paying £150k in UK tax is a far, far better deal than his fellow residents would get - and so far more than he ever deserved.
A couple of other whining ninnies weigh in towards the end of the piece:
Lord Paul, the Indian-born steel tycoon, who is Gordon Brown's most generous personal backer [funny that] ... Sir Gulam Noon, who has backed Labour with more than £450,000 and was nominated for a peerage by Tony Blair [well, stone the non-doms] ...I understand that these freeloading billionaires might want to defend their inexcusable tax status. Despite the peerages they bought in the last few years they are clearly without honour and their greed must be insatiable (perhaps they need counselling). But they must realise that to anyone with a brain they're about as sympathetic as Marie Antoinette.
Ah but then, this is the government we're talking about, isn't it ... ?
Posted by Elliott at 12.2.08
Monday, 11 February 2008
I have already written once about Britain's "non-domiciled residents": people who live here in proliferating numbers while avoiding tax comprising double-figure billions through a loophole which is unique in the world, to the benefit of nobody in this country beyond a select few estate agents, charter companies and West End boutiques.
After a sludge of apologists in the weekend press have tried to defend the indefensible, however - and the Times leads with more drivel this morning - I must return to this grubby, distasteful subject again.
The ill-informed, or downright lying commentators who say non-domiciled status is an important benefit for the economy are most vociferous in their pleading when linking it to high finance.
The notion that the non-dom loophole was somehow relevant to the health of the City began as Labour spin against Conservative proposals to do something about closing it. This is, and always was, the most abject, laughable rubbish.
For those who might be taken in: there are two foundations on which the City rests, and two alone. The first - an accident - is that it is an English-speaking marketplace which fills the inconvenient gap between the Tokyo close and the New York open. No global finance firm could afford not to have a presence in Europe: they all need to take advantage of trading hours during this time.
The second, which began by design and has become a fragile inheritance, is that our marketplace is relatively lightly regulated and flexible. It is this, together with our speaking English, that keeps global finance in the City rather than Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt.
Glaringly unfair tax breaks for those who need them least have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
I believe - strongly - in smaller government, lighter regulation and lower taxes (and in no EU as a condition of achieving all three). I also believe in fairness, paying my way and equality under the law, and that's where the non-doms and I part company.
Indeed, as a City worker myself with a foreign-born wife it would benefit me in a narrow sense to take advantage of the non-dom status which some people would have you believe is responsible for keeping me in London. But I don't: I pride myself in my honesty and sense of fairness, and I would be ashamed to.
And besides, there are already a number of ways in which people can legitimately avoid tax and to which I have no objection. The use of family members' allowances, gifting, trusts and so on is perfectly acceptable as these harmless methods of avoidance are open to all of us. If tax avoidance is so important to you there is always non-resident status, too, under which you can not pay any UK tax provided you don't live here for most of the year.
If the government want to bolster the City, they might choose to extend the preferential tax treatment enjoyed by these freebooters to the rest of us who work there. Or they could block all further EU financial market regulations, abolish the FSA and revert to a system of self-regulation under the supervision of the Bank of England, scrap stamp duty on financial transactions (including on property), allow tax relief on financial product development and adopt a flat tax across all forms of income and capital gains.
The first option is unconscionable. The second requires knowledge and courage, two things conspicuously lacking over the last ten years. And the third option - proceeding with the current inequitable and obsolete arrangement - is an insult to the substantial majority of those who work in finance and are not able to take advantage of the loophole, and indeed to all the honest, hard working taxpayers who really keep this country on its feet and represent the body of the British people as a whole.
Even more insulting than the argument that this country's prosperity is in the gift of a few thousand kleptocrats and tax fiddlers is the notion that non-doms make enough of a contribution through the taxes which they do pay and the services they consume.
You pay VAT? Wow! Guess what? So do the rest of us! You use private schools and pay for private medicine? Wow! Guess what? So do the rest of us - and we still pay taxes on top!
Finally, it is worth reiterating a fact which has somehow escaped mention in the media of late. There is one other group in Britain which benefits from the non-doms' presence: the Labour party.
Many of the wealthiest non-doms, whose profits from the loophole are the most immense, are or have been major donors to the government: Lakshmi Mittal, Gulam Noon, Christopher Ondaatje and doubtless many more.
The non-dom tax loophole is a major and growing blight. It is irrelevant to the success of the City; it is unnecessary as there are many other, fairer means of tax avoidance; it is unfair as it allows people to live here permanently without paying their dues like their fellow residents; it is, in short, totally out of place in a respectable, populous, diverse, modern country like the UK.
It should be closed forthwith.
If you are a non-domiciled resident of these islands and you are reading this, you have my sympathy - up to a point. Nobody likes having their candy stolen. But if there were an ounce of honour or integrity in your character, you would either become non-resident (and slither off to some trashy tax haven should you wish), or start paying your way - like everyone else who lives here.
In fact, if they weren't being bribed to keep the loophole open, the government would do well to write to all the non-doms in Britain saying just that. Stump up - or else up stumps to Monaco, or Liechtenstein, where you belong.
UPDATE - Read ludicrous non-dom whingeing about losing the right to live here permanently tax free - here!
Posted by Elliott at 11.2.08
Thursday, 7 February 2008
Climate change notwithstanding, thinking man's beardie Dr Rowan Williams whipped up a storm earlier today when he opined that Islamic law should be adopted in the UK.
At the same time, it emerged that colourful Islamist cleric Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi will not be allowed into Britain on a medical visa.
Dr al-Qaradawi appears to have fallen victim to David Cameron's taunting of Gordon Brown last week, though the Conservatives bear no responsibility for the Archbishop's views expressed on a BBC programme this afternoon.
There has already been a deal of comment about both of these clergymen, not least from the agreeably predictable Muslim Council of Britain (who are for Dr Williams and against the exclusion of Dr al-Qaradawi).
I agree with them that it would have been preferable to have admitted al-Qaradawi. We should have allowed him a platform and then afforded him medical care in prison should he have abused it. After all, though the danger from "preachers of hate" has been all too apparent for some time, we have nothing to fear from words in themselves.
Indeed, freedom of speech is important. What Dr Williams has clarified is that it is now equally vital in the case of both priests that we absolutely disregard what they have to say.
Posted by Elliott at 7.2.08
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
With the connivance of the "Liberal" "Democrats" it looks likely that Britain will ratify the Lisbon treaty soon. The recent collapse of the Italian government, however, together with Belgium's ongoing political crisis raises the question: do the polities of Continental Europe really deserve to have any influence at all over the constitutional affairs of the United Kingdom?
In answering this question it is instructive to consider the constitutional pedigree of our European neighbours. In no particular order, here is a list of the dozen other EU member states with populations of over 10 million people, together with the form of their government, the date at which their constitution was adopted and the form of government which they enjoyed previously:
Italy - republic with constitution dating from 1948. Formerly a dictatorship.
France - republic with constitution dating from 1958. Formerly an occupied territory.
Germany - federal republic with constitution dating from 1949. Formerly a dictatorship.
Spain - constitutional monarchy with constitution dating from 1978. Formerly a dictatorship.
Greece - republic with constitution dating from 1975. Formerly a dictatorship.
Belgium - federated constitutional monarchy with constitution dating from 1993 (further changes pending). Formerly an occupied territory.
Holland - constitutional monarchy with constitution dating from 1815 (thoroughly revised in 1983). Formerly a vassal state of France.
Portugal - republic with constitution dating back to 1976. Formerly a dictatorship.
Poland - republic with constitution dating from 1997. Formerly a vassal state of the USSR.
Romania - republic with constitution dating from 1991 (thoroughly revised in 2003). Formerly a vassal state of the USSR.
Czech Republic - republic with constitution dating from 1992. Formerly a vassal state of the USSR.
Hungary - republic with constitution dating from 1949 (thoroughly revised 1989-90). Formerly a vassal state of the USSR.
Not a hugely impressive record, is it? A collection of former dictatorships, occupied territories and puppet states with an average political age of 44 - and that's with being pretty generous to the Netherlands and Hungary.
This is not to be xenophobic, of course: simply Britannophilic. England was a united kingdom as far back as the early 10th century; constitutionally, our common law dates from at least the mid-twelfth century, our written constitution began with Magna Carta in 1215, and our parliamentary democracy dates from later in the 13th century.
And needless to say, there has not been a battle in Britain since 1746, nor a dictatorship since 1660, nor an occupation since 1066.
So while we have an enormous amount to learn from our Continental friends and allies, many of whom are of course old and venerable countries, about all sorts of other things, the idea that they have anything at all to teach us about our constitution is nothing short of lunatic.
Indeed, if the EU were a body which listened rather than dictated, we might have a good deal to teach it. But then, Europe has a fine tradition of dictatorship, doesn't it?
Posted by Elliott at 5.2.08
Monday, 4 February 2008
Bugged by the bugging (non-)story and with little other news of interest, now is the time to reiterate my unequivocal prediction that Hillary Clinton will secure the Democratic presidential nomination and begin next year in the White House.
With the polls showing a dead heat between her and Barack Obama this is as bold a forecast as when I first made it (in the immediate aftermath of Obama's decisive victory in the Iowa caucuses). I have three reasons for sticking to my guns:
1) On the evidence of the New Hampshire result, opinion polls may be understating the level of support for Senator Clinton.
2) While the record turnout seen in the Democratic primaries has had no clear beneficiary so far, my guess is that with Obama having attracted all the momentum this year and closed what was once an unassailable poll lead for Clinton, the fear of losing among Clinton supporters will prove a more powerful emotion than the hope of winning in the other camp.
3) The presidential primaries represent a gruelling contest for the highest political office in America. They will be won by the best politician - defined as cynically as you like - available to the country at the time. That's Clinton.
It's the last point which lay behind my initial call, and while I'd be happy to be proved wrong I don't think Obama's time has come just yet.
Posted by Elliott at 4.2.08
Friday, 1 February 2008
The disgrace of Derek Conway has indeed been a sorry affair. Its most interesting aspect for me has been the way in which every report has mentioned that he embezzled taxpayers money (e.g. Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Mail).
This is presumably harped on because it is supposed to make his offence more lurid. By this logic it is not the fact that Conway is an MP and a fraud which is so opprobrious as that he is an MP and a plunderer of the public purse.
I agree that it is deplorable that taxpayer's money should be misappropriated. What makes me even more angry than the case of Mr Conway is that this has become the business of half the government. (I recently discovered the excellent "Burning Our Money" blog which carries egregious examples of how taxpayers' money is abused almost daily, e.g. here.)
Why should I as a taxpayer really be any more angry that part of the money which is taken from me by the state goes to subsidise an undergraduate's nights out rather than, say, the Health and Safety Executive's recent ladder amnesty, or the Learning and Skills Council's report on the possibility of establishing a trade body for equality and diversity professionals?
By all means let us castigate Derek Conway for his grasping, underhanded and dishonest behaviour. But how absurd that most of us have also been bemoaning his embezzlement of public money while tacitly conniving in our enormous government doing exactly the same thing on an infinitely grander scale every day.
As a postscript, I note that the Mail's coverage contains a clue as to why Conway's affairs might have been brought to the public's attention to begin with:
He has been in the Commons since 1983 and in recent months has been talked of as a future Speaker.Not any more.
Posted by Elliott at 1.2.08
Tuesday, 29 January 2008
Labour has admitted it had abandoned its historic commitment to eliminate mixed-sex wards from NHS hospitals.These people have had more than ten years to implement this commitment. Obviously they've been far too busy lecturing us on the perils of the Demon Drink and the virtues of a government-approved diet to sort out the expensive mess they've made of actually running the health department.
Health minister Lord Darzi of Denham told the House of Lords that the key manifesto pledge repeated in 1997 and 2001 was "an aspiration that cannot be met".
In fact, all our politicians at the moment seem to be thoroughly transfixed by tit-for-tat accusations of financial impropriety against Alan Johnson, Derek Conway and a host of others.
Given that this is what most of them seem to enjoy best, and is doubtless the most that many of them are capable of, perhaps it isn't surprising that the tedious and complex business of running the country can end up being neglected for a decade.
Maybe if we paid everyone in Westminster and Whitehall to do nothing for a year or two, things might improve. As it is the country is sinking under the combined weight of their interventionism and incompetence.
Posted by Elliott at 29.1.08
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Another month, another story about Britain's alcohol "problem".
This time it's the news that a change in the way units are measured means that record numbers of us are drinking more than the (revised) safe limits. As the Telegraph reports:
The figures show 31 per cent of men - 7.1 million - are drinking at hazardous levels ... Twenty per cent of women, or 4.9 million, are classed as hazardous drinkers ...As the report doesn't point out, the logic here is absurd. If I decide to increase the length of an inch by 20%, it doesn't make me thinner.
Funnily enough, exactly this point is made by the good old Office of National Statistics in the press summary of its latest household survey (where the figures ultimately come from):
It should be noted, however, that changing the way in which alcohol consumption estimates are derived does not in itself reflect a real change in drinking among the adult population.Indeed. Furthermore, on the basis of figures compiled using old unit values which can thus be compared to previous years:
The proportion of men drinking more than 21 units a week on average fell from 29 per cent in 2000 to 23 per cent in 2006. There was also a fall in the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units a week (from 17 per cent in 2000 to 12 per cent in 2006).The fact is, then, that alcohol consumption is falling in Britain among men and women and has been doing for some time.
This might in part be because British guidelines on safe levels of consumption have been revised down over the last 30 years to become some of the most restrictive in the world.
Far from being a drinker's paradise in which alcohol abuse is spiralling out of control, we are a relatively sober nation - and getting drier all the time.
Sadly, this is not the message you will be hearing from our sensationalist media. Witness last summer's hysteria over binge drinking amongst young people: complete rubbish, as this week's ONS data shows that alcohol consumption has been falling steadily among 16-24 year olds too.
The government already intends to stigmatise drinking. They are being lobbied to do so by a powerful new consortium of health fascists. The media should be reporting the facts - attacking and not helping this unholy alliance impose itself upon us in the name of a problem which is entirely fictional.
It's enough to make you turn to drink.
Posted by Elliott at 23.1.08
Monday, 21 January 2008
It would appear from his speech in New Delhi today that our prime minister has lost none of his fabled sense of humour:
The World Bank needed to strengthen its focus on poverty reduction, while also becoming "a bank for the environment", involving a multi-billion pound global climate change fund to finance low-carbon investment, he said.Ha! Ha! And this on a day which also saw the latest uncertain proclamation from the "Tripartite Authorities" on that very debacle.
Mr Brown argued that the IMF should focus on surveillance of the global economic and financial system to prevent crises, such as that affecting Northern Rock in the UK.
If a man can't serve two masters, the Rock crisis certainly shows that a bank can't serve tripartite authorities. It would be nice to think that Brown had learned this lesson, and in the process had time to reflect on the dire consequences of adding an unnecessary dose of untested government (the FSA) to fix a system of informed and credible self-regulation in the City that wasn't broken.
But - no. More government is always the solution to psychologies such as Brown's, and the bigger the better. A local banking failure which the Bank of England could have pre-empted with a forced takeover behind the scenes became a national embarrassment as its division of responsibilities with the Treasury and Britain's new "super-regulator" paralysed decision making. Imagine where we'd be if we'd have had to wait on the opinion of the IMF too!
How very droll. Still, the international stand-up circuit doubtless beats being in parliament for important constitutional debates ...
Posted by Elliott at 21.1.08
Sunday, 20 January 2008
The Rt Hon Alan Johnson, MP, Secretary of State for Health, warns us in the Times today that Britain is facing an epidemic.
Needless to say, this is something of an exaggeration. Were people dying in huge numbers from bird flu, BSE or whatever other voguish terror, we would have read about it on the front page rather than in a motley columnette at the foot of page 94.
What Mr Johnson meant was the obesity epidemic, which is to say the government doesn't like how chubby we are.
Lest we forget why this is any of the government's business, it is of course out of public largesse that the shining beacon of global excellence that is the NHS deigns to treat us when we fall ill. It must be terribly galling for our lords and masters such as Mr Johnson to contemplate having to waste even more of the government's money treating us for conditions which we could avoid simply by allowing them to dictate the minutiae of how we live. As he himself puts it:
It is not the government's job to hector or lecture, but it is our duty to give people clear and transparent information, and to help and support them in their endeavours to make sure they and their children can pursue a healthy lifestyle.This has ominous echoes of a speech made two years ago by Patricia Hewitt, then also Secretary of State for Health, who later went on to suggest denying certain treatments to the overweight, among others.
People increasingly know that their health depends on what they do themselves, not just on what the NHS does for them. But they want government helping and supporting them ...These formulations clearly derive from some civil service lexicon to be deployed whenever it is suggested that our absurd health bureaucracy is overreaching itself. I'm not so sure we'll be that easily fooled: the word "supporting" is pretty obviously being used in the sense of "the Inquisition is committed to supporting the decision of heretics in Spain to recant", or "the Hitler administration is actively engaged in supporting the relocation of the Reich's Jewish community."
A better answer than mass popular indoctrination and control would be to introduce charging for certain weight-related treatments. Those who consume more healthcare resources as a result of their intemperate ballooning would therefore still have the option of getting treatment and the rest of us would not be burdened unfairly.
To charge rather than deny could become a new general principle of British healthcare, ultimately perhaps bringing about accountability, decentralisation and a real transfer of power to patients - and away from the Heath Department and its offensive designs on the freedom of the people of this country.
In the meantime, I have a suggestion whereby Mr Johnson might afford us at least a temporary respite from governmental hectoring and control.
The peoples of Tonga, Fiji and the rest of the Pacific islands, where obesity has been prevalent for many years for partly cultural reasons, would doubtless welcome a fact-finding mission from Britain. The Health Secretary might find he enjoys it, and the departure of Peter Hain from government in the not-too-distant future will in any case require new ministerial representation by the permanently tanned.
I'm sure it would beat cobbling together embarrassing, illiberal cant for the weekend press.
Posted by Elliott at 20.1.08
Thursday, 17 January 2008
As I noted when our Foreign Secretary announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats back in July, our bafflingly cack-handed diplomacy towards Russia is of a piece with a foreign policy which has degenerated into a complete shambles.
Before turning to Labour's shamefaced climbdown today, let us remind ourselves of the sequence of events.
- In 2000, Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, flees from a Russian jail sentence and is given asylum in London. He joins the circle of billionaire Russian dissident Boris Berezovsky (link).
- In November of 2006 Litvinenko is murdered in London by exotic means in a case which transfixes the nation (link).
- In May the following year, British authorities identify Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB agent, as their prime suspect and request his extradition to face trial in the UK (link).
- A month later, the Russians refuse the extradition request. This was widely expected as the extradition of a Russian citizen is against that country's constitution.They leave the door open to a joint Anglo-Russian prosecution of Mr Lugovoi in Russia (link).
- On 16 July the new Foreign Secretary overreacts absurdly, announcing the expulsion of four Russian diplomats "to bring home to the Russian Government the consequences of their failure to co-operate", while acknowledging that Russia had no treaty obligation to grant the British extradition request (link).
- Russia responds with anger and incredulity, pointing out that Britain had refused twenty-one of her extradition requests in the recent past. (link).
- Soon afterwards, Russia responds with a tit-for-tat expulsion. Relations between the two countries have now reached a post-Cold War low (link).
- In December, Russia further retaliates by demanding that most of the British Council's offices in Russia be closed (link).
- Later the same month, Russia threatens to withhold pictures from an exhibition planned for London's Royal Academy of Art over fears that British law would permit ownership claims to prevent their return. (link).
- As 2008 begins, Britain defies the Russian demand to close British Council offices. Staff from the offices are subsequently questioned by the FSB (link).
He said cultural activities should not become "a political football" so he had decided not to take similar actions against Russian activities in the UK and said the British Council would continue its work in Moscow.What, Mr Miliband? Not expelling any more diplomats? Not imposing sanctions? Declaring war?
He added: "Russia's actions against the British Council are a stain on Russian's reputation and standing."
Needless to say, Miliband's feeble whining was echoed by both other parties. Can they really be so stupid as to have missed the story here - that the British government overreached itself absurdly (not to say dangerously), and at last has realised it had to back down?
To recap for a moment: Britain is a lovely, wealthy, reasonably powerful country with a high-tax, high-spend economy and a weak government with no will to use military power against its enemies. Russia is an anarchic, paranoid, powerful country with huge surplus energy earnings and a hard line president who enjoys a domestic following of which other elected politicians can only dream.
In other words, pick a fight with Russia and we were only ever going to lose. Add to that the fact we had little or no cause for the fight and you have one of the foreign policy conundrums of the decade.
(As I've said before, compare this simply to our disgraceful appeasement of Iran last spring, a medieval basket case and pariah guilty of an act of war whom we have the power to crush utterly but were happy to let off without so much as a single expelled diplomat ... )
The Foreign Office should have been able to tell Miliband this. Indeed, if you want a conspiracy theory, they might have encouraged their callow leader in his ludicrous sabre-rattling antics to defend themselves against Labour's swingeing cutbacks:
"Diplomatic crisis, Secretary of State? Oh dear me, but if only we hadn't had to pare back our Russian coverage, perhaps we might have been able to discover some means of forfending it ... "
Either way, it looks as though the British government is now facing facts, and I for one fervently hope this is the last we will hear of a "new Cold War" with an interesting as well as powerful neighbour from constructive engagement with whom we should rightly continue to profit.
Posted by Elliott at 17.1.08
Wednesday, 16 January 2008
In widely, if wearily anticipated news, the Charity Commission has announced its intention to interfere in the running of this country's so-called "independent" schools.
The Charity Commission is publishing guidance which will require charities to demonstrate that they are not "exclusive clubs" ... "There is a two-way relationship between charities and society - registered charities enjoy considerable benefits in terms of their reputation and the tax advantages that go with their status," said the Charity Commission's chairman, Suzi Leather.Note to Ms Leather: they aren't clubs, they're schools. And if you have a problem with exclusivity, why not pick on - say - guide dogs for the blind? What have they ever done for the sighted majority?
As to reputation, I doubt that Eton or Westminster would suffer much damage on that front from anything that Ms Leather and her band of class warriors could possibly say or do.
That goes for the tax breaks too, actually. The figure of £100m in lost reliefs would hardly touch the sides of an industry with an annual turnover of over £6bn. (If spread evenly across all schools, the loss could be compensated for by a 1.6% increase in fees.)
So the Commission may talk loudly, but it carries only a tiny, withered little stick.
I doubt very much whether those involved have any idea what it is they're attacking either: quite simply, the best schools in the world.
An OECD survey called the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) from 2006 surveyed 15-year-old schoolchildren across 57 countries and awarded points for their skills in reading, maths and science. While Britain's state schools scored around the 500-point average in the three areas, our independent sector, with scores of 576, 570 and 598 respectively (data), beat the top country in each category: Korea in reading (556), Taiwan in maths (549) and Finland in science (563) (tables).
In fact, I'd like to see our private schools call the Charity Commission's bluff. Renounce their charitable status. It's simply not worth the candle.
Who knows - perhaps a proliferation of deregulated private schools would result, which over time would drag the average standard of British education back up again - rather than levelling it down.
Posted by Elliott at 16.1.08
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
A police officer has been forced into resigning after he gave a Muslim colleague a pack of bacon and a bottle of wine as a joke present during a Christmas Day party.It would appear that Luton's Muslim community does not feel it requires the cultural patronage of its local nick, and that is gratifying. It is a shame that the "senior officers" concerned do not take note of this, temper their vicarious sensitivity and reinstate Mr Murrie.
Pc Rob Murrie gave the gift to his colleague as part of a "Secret Santa" at Luton station ... However, even though the Muslim officer did not complain and thought the present funny, senior officers in the Bedfordshire force were not amused. They declared that "behaviour of this nature is not tolerated" and welcomed Pc Murrie's resignation.
The 26-year-old officer said he had "no choice but to resign" - after six years in the force - given the current politically correct climate in policing ...
Shishu Miah, general secretary of the Bedford Jame Mosque, said: "I do not condone what he did but the officer clearly made an error of judgment and should be forgiven."
The episode is even more puzzling in the light of the aversion to resigning displayed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner (and de facto head of the police in Britain), Sir Ian Blair. We all chortle to remember how this affable figurehead joked about his toughness and limpet-like qualities after his force mob-handedly gunned down an innocent foreign national going about his legitimate private business on the streets of our capital city.
Jean Charles de Menezes was killed; Arshad Mahmood received a joke present of some bacon. And while the most senior officer of them all can go on the radio and make merry at his own brazenness, the minions who actually do the policing are evidently expected to fall on their swords at the drop of a hat.
The police should be less worried about the legacy left by "institutional racism" and more concerned with this institutional fatheadedness and injustice. The fact that Blair is staying and Murrie has gone shows that their priorities are exactly the wrong way round.
Posted by Elliott at 15.1.08
Monday, 14 January 2008
This weekend the world saluted the life of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, who died on Friday at the age of 88. As the Telegraph's excellent obituary records:
The Himalayas were very much more remote than they now are when Hillary first visited them in 1951.Indeed. In fact, so many people have scaled the summit since that regular clean-up climbs have to be mounted, much to the chagrin of older explorers. You can even book a guided climb over the internet.
Climbing the mountain remains fraught with risk, and people still die in the attempt. But the riskiest ascent was, of course, the first:
Hillary led George Lowe and George Band up the Khumbu icefall - perhaps the most dangerous part of the entire climb - and established Camp III, the advanced base camp, in the West Cwm.In other news, Paul Waugh, a heroic coastguard who rescued a 13-year-old girl stranded on a North Sea cliff, quit his job.
But he had a narrow escape when the ice gave way as he was moving loads up to this camp, plunging him into a crevasse. Fortunately Tenzing, who was following, thrust his ice-axe in the snow, and whipped the rope round it in good belay. It tightened just in time to prevent Hillary being smashed to pieces at the bottom of the crevasse.
Despite receiving an award for his bravery, and being credited by the girl he rescued with saving her life, his bosses at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency chose only to censure him for his recklessness. When he resigned - citing "immense pressure" from his superiors and claiming they had even put him under investigation - they had the following to say:
The MCA is very mindful of health and safety regulations which are in place for very good reasons ... our responsibility is to maintain the health and welfare of those who we sometimes ask to go out in difficult and challenging conditions to effect rescues.Hang on. If nobody was prepared to put themselves in harm's way - or jeopardise their "health and welfare" in the jargon of the bureaucrats - no rescues would ever take place! Forbid danger and you prevent heroism; it is, by definition, not something which can be made safe.
The MCA is not looking for dead heroes. As such, we ask our volunteers to risk assess the situations they and the injured or distressed person find themselves in, and to ensure that whatever action they take does not put anyone in further danger.
The health-and-safety crowd have long disgraced themselves with such nonsense as advising people how to climb ladders and banning ways of remembering the dead. When their hysterical (and in this case deeply illogical) diktats start to menace the living, however, it really is time for us to throw them over.
What would Sir Edmund Hillary have made of it? If there had existed the same jumble of regulations and risk assessments in the 50s, perhaps he would have stuck to keeping bees.
Posted by Elliott at 14.1.08
Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Back in July, Gordon Brown announced the second government consultation on cannabis reclassification in as many years. Though it will be a couple of months before this is complete, the government is now apparently testing the waters on reclassifying the drug as Class B, regardless of what its own review says.
To recap: in 2001, then Home Secretary David Blunkett decided to reclassify cannabis as a Class C substance, which if the law were properly enforced (and it isn't) would have had some impact on maximum sentencing and so forth.
This decision was so controversial it was timidly held over until 2004.
In 2006, new Home Secretary Charles Clarke dithered over reclassification and announced a review. This, however, recommended no further change. A second period of dithering, bringing its own review, was begun by even newer Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and - here we are.
And yet we are told that the latest episode of confused, paralytic vacillation over drugs policy represents a "tough stance" from Gordon Brown.
The fact is that the government won't have a "stance" on cannabis at all until it has enough feedback from the hints it's been dropping today to decide what it might be more popular for it to be seen to be doing. In the meantime, two no doubt costly reviews may or may not be ignored for the sake of a U-turn which may or may not be made in the matter of a trap the government managed to lay for itself a few short years ago.
Surely even the most spaced out wacko in Britain couldn't mistake this for leadership?
Posted by Elliott at 9.1.08
Tuesday, 8 January 2008
In news today:
Almost half the colleges checked on an official list of approved providers for overseas students have been struck off, the government has said.Good news! Student visas are a notorious loophole in migration policy. Perhaps the government might be doing something to address its hopelessly shambolic mismanagement of this important area of national life.
Following fears about bogus colleges, the government said it had inspected 256 colleges since 2005, leading to 124 being removed from the list.
Or so you might think.
As the BBC went on to report:
There are about 2,000 private colleges on the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills' register ... [it] remains unclear how many of the remaining 1,750 colleges have ever been physically inspected before or after inclusion on this register.This isn't at all surprising when it appears from the FAQ section of the DIUS Register website that the department relies in large part on complaints about bogus colleges from the public which it then passes on to the Home Office.
Among those currently on the list is a college whose website content is mostly links to services including online gambling.
So we have some way to go before the government fulfils David Blunkett's commitment to "crack down" on bogus colleges made back in 2004. And why did he announce the crackdown?
In 2000, entry and visa procedures were streamlined [sic] ... Baroness Blackstone, a higher education minister, announced that immigration officials would now normally give students permission to stay for the full duration of the course rather than six months when they arrived. They would not now have to seek permission from job centres to work part-time during terms or full-time in the holidays, and spouses and dependants would also be able to work here.Marvellous. The government took a loophole, expanded it, waited a few years, realised it had caused chaos, announced a "crack down" and introduced a limp registration system to solve the problem.
What we now discover is that the problem has not been remotely solved, that half of these approved colleges are in fact ticket kiosks allowing people into the country for money and that the modest purge associated with this discovery is presented as some kind of success.
Worth 40% of anyone's GDP.
Posted by Elliott at 8.1.08