Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Lack of Service Industry

I broke the law this weekend. Or to be more specific, the chef who cooked for me at Côte in Sloane Square broke the law. Apparently.

You see my wife and I were staying with friends nearby and had our hearts set on a breakfast of eggs benedict and other usual suspects. But after watching the last session of the test match in India, we were later out of the house than planned and arrived at a cafe on the Kings Road a whole six minutes after midday. The cafe in question was Blushes.

We sat down and were handed lunch menus. Wanting eggs and all that jazz, we asked if they were still serving brunch. Our (naturally) foreign waitress told us that they were not. What a shame, thought I. Nope, they finished serving breakfast at noon.

At this point I still had enough to be annoyed about to write this post. I found it bizarre that in a service industry, where repeat custom and tips are paramount, a little leeway over six minutes was not going to be possible to satisfy four customers who wanted to spend some money in their establishment buying brunch. Nope, there was no "I'll see if the kitchen can do that for you" that I expect and get in my local pub and anywhere that actually knows the value of proper service and that customers have very long memories that will keep them either away or keep them coming back again and again.

But the best was yet to come. You're going to love this. I nearly weed myself it was so good.

The response to my question of whether we could order instead from the breakfast menus she presumably was still in the process of clearing away…?

"It's illegal to serve from two different menus, so we cannot serve you breakfast during lunch"

Absolutely amazing. Illegal. I haven't looked it up. I already know, as do you, it is total and utter bullshit made up on the spot by a fucking moron with an issue with the truth ("Sorry, I can't be fucked to ask the chef"), no grasp of the concept of customer service and a tiny bit of power.

What did she get for her troubles? Well for starters I politely pointed out everything she was saying was pure unadulterated lies and she might want to not utter those words again lest every person in Chelsea come to realise she has the mental capacity of a slug. Then four paying customers got up, left her restaurant and spent their money 100 metres up the road. About £60 if I remember correctly. Nothing enormous, but we are in our early 30s, so in repeat custom I reckon that's going to add up over the next 50 or so years.

So the chef of the next cafe along, who were happy to serve us even after they were taking orders from their lunch menu must have broken the law. Or she was a dunce.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Fancy a Cuppa?

I have spent a lot of time in Starbucks recently. No, I hear you ask, I am not there protesting at their UK tax position. Nope, couldn't really give a crap. Tax in many ways is a service that countries offer - part of the tertiary industry - and big ol' multinationals and international billionaires can shop around for where they can get it the cheapest just as Nadine Dorries clearly does for the best price for a pint of milk.

It is not a simple race to the bottom as such, because Government procurement departments (civil service run) are the only ones that automatically believe that the best product is the cheapest one - an interesting strategy to ensure quality goods and services, always defaulting to the lowest bidder; guarantor of real quality. Anyway, I digress… point is rich people and companies have the option to massage their tax around and chose where to pay it. Every country's exchequer would like their revenue service to be the one the companies and individuals chose to pay the bulk of their tax to. So countries need to produce a system that has a sensibly low rate of tax to attract people to pay it there and avoid the costs of avoidance schemes. It still has to be high enough to bring in some revenue though (a 'fair' amount, no wonder).

So the move towards 20% corporation tax (too slow for my liking) is geared towards making " Britain open for business" as George says. If someone is legally exploiting tax loopholes you have options: firstly, try to close all loopholes, or secondly, to remove the need for them to find those loopholes. Clearly a mix of the two is needed and the balance as ever is the key.

Now brazen tax avoidance schemes should probably be sought out and closed, but really what is required is a total rewriting of tax law. Only then, when you can restart legislation and therefore have a good grasp of it and what it is intended for, can you stand a reasonable chance of staying ahead (or at least not too far behind) the clever accountants. Much of our tax legislation was written for a world very different from today - adapt to survive and all that.

But in the meantime, perhaps look at why people go to these lengths - it is because the cost of avoiding is still worthwhile to pay their tax elsewhere (like the Netherlands in Starbucks' case). It is all very good saying tax rates should be high because these companies earn so much, but as can be seen from the reported tax receipts from the Googles, Amazons and Starbucks of this world, grandstanding over 'fair' rates of tax turns companies away from the door of HMRC, and rightly so - they have a duty to their shareholders to maximise profits, part of which is minimising tax. Simples.

Those calling for higher tax rates (personal and corporate) remind me of a moron (pick your favourite, there are many) on Dragons' Den insisting on retaining a greater share of their company in exchange for Duncan Bannatyne's money and thus walking away empty handed. Taking the moral high ground and keeping a 100% share in fuck all will earn you less than realising where the power in the relationship lies, meeting half-way and walking away with a reasonable share of something. If you insist on slicing open the golden goose, all the others will find it more attractive to migrate. But I really wanted to talk about hot chocolate.

You see I am changing jobs so I have been meeting lots of very helpful people which generally happens in coffee shops. Now here I try to sell my various positive personal traits (or ones I pretend to have), like integrity. Problem is, I always get off on the wrong foot on the whole integrity thing. This isn't because I used to hang out with PR gurus or TV presenters in the 70s, or because I swipe the charity box from the counter. Instead it is because as you well know if you have ever been in a similar position, you are only permitted (under "the rules") to ask if someone can spare time for a chat over a coffee.

And I hate cofffee.

Loathe it.

But you have to ask them for coffee. You see, if my wife and I bump into you whilst out walking/shopping/whatever, we might invite you round to our house for a cup of tea. This is within "the rules". If coming round to somebody's abode is in the frame, invitations for tea are de rigueur. If you have perhaps come round for dinner and the end of the night is approaching, I am permitted to offer you an array of hot beverages. I am perfectly entitled, for instance, to ask if you would care for a hot chocolate. And I wouldn't even get so much as a raised eyebrow.

Now try to swap those latter drinks into the work email… "Could you spare some time for a cup of tea?" Sounds weird. "Could you spare some time for a chat over a hot chocolate?" Sounds like I am odds on to propose marriage to my prospective drinks pal. Positively out of the question.

So I am stuck in this mire having to propose meeting for a beverage I would probably rather dip my crown jewels into than drink. I can only hope they don't realise my bare-faced lie when instead of asking for the very drink I coaxed them out of their office for, I sidle up to the counter and furtively ask for a medium hot chocolate, marshmallows and sprinkles, hold the cream. Damn these pesky rules...

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Full Court Press

So what do we all think of the Leveson report? Or perhaps more importantly, what do we think about what the important people and politicians of various colours are saying about the Leveson report? That's the key point really, seeing as not many of us will have read the 2,000 page dossier.

I did however, watch Hugh Grant's disarmingly charming performance in his new rom com on Channel 4 - "Taking on the Tabloids". I thought the initial storyline was good - principled, slightly rough around the edges but good looking nonetheless, foppish bloke in underdog struggle against big corporation. Unfortunately the love interest curiously never made it into the frame. I assumed she would work for said corporation; they'd initially hate each other but realise love is more important than their political differences and live happily ever after. Like the Coalition. But that didn't happen. He just talked about the press for ages. Some good stuff though.

Hugh and I agree that there's a difference between "in the public interest" and "of interest to the public", thought I don't know if he signs up to my idea that if you effectively make a contract with the press and those who read it that you make your money by their interest in your life (the Kerry Katonas of this world, for example), you have given up some of your rights to privacy. A Venn Diagram here would be most helpful, but I can't be arsed to draw one.

Before you get too tetchy, the long and the short of it is that if you are Jane Q. Taxpayer, the Sun or whoever has no right to publish photos of you topless on a beach on holiday. Yes it is a public place, but by living a non-public life you have a right to things that you put in the relative public space not being broadcast to the world. If you make money as a pop star or somesuch, and you are on the same beach, I reckon it's fair play for the Paps to snap you pups. This is because you put yourself in an overtly public place having got everyone interested in you.

It doesn't stretch to anyone naked anywhere (like for example the poor old Duchess of Cambridge) - if telescopic lenses etc are required to see you, you have gone to enough trouble to remove yourself from the public eye. That has to be then respected as private. And it's not just nudity, but details about your lives etc too. Private is private for everyone, but what is fair game from what is public is down to your 'contract type' and behaviour. It's a shades of grey argument (no, not that like that) which I covered in far more detail here.

So what do I think about press regulation? I'm not a fan. I would also point to the fact that most of the things we think are terrible that the press did were illegal already. Hacking phones is illegal. You don't need new statutes. Use the existing ones. The privacy law idea is always going to be hard to delineate. My 'common sense' approach might make sense (or not) but I imagine it would be hard to enshrine in law.

The press does some pretty despicable things, and there certainly appear to have been very few heads to have rolled, and often not the right ones. I would love to see a better watchdog rather than editors sitting in judgement of themselves. Putting the cat in charge of the cream rarely ends well - just look at the ongoing farce with MP's and IPSA as they continue to stick their snouts in the trough until they are found out (at which point they will apologise for our error in interpretation of their honest mistake and add some transparency that might not have been there before).

But I do not think statutory press regulation is right. Hague makes a very good point that it would do us no favours when trying to take the moral high ground overseas. You could go on forever with examples of when some aberration allowed Parliament to legislate at the thin end of the wedge with only the best of intentions but over time we wandered slowly to the thick end. Income tax started as a one-off levy to pay for the Napoleonic Wars - we all enjoy beating the French but this is taking it a little far (a childish example but you get my drift). Press regulation, as they say, is like pregnancy, and you can't be a little bit pregnant.

But what I really wanted to talk about, partly because I don't have an answer to the press problem; just a gut feeling that statutory regulation is wrong, will be a slippery slope, will have myriad unforseen negative ramifications and is in most cases unnecessary due to existing law, is who is talking about it.

I thought it was brilliant that Ed Milliwho has recently become clairvoyant. He didn't even need to read Leveson's report before he knew, he just knew, that everything in it would be just perfect. Nope, Ed wasted no time working out that Leveson would most likely suggest some form of statutory regulation that would be as unpalatable to the Tories as it would be impractical to apply. So he committed the Labour party (traditional defenders of liberty and freedom, no?) to supporting everything Leveson said and promise to enact any and all recommendations made. Why? Two reasons:

1. He doesn't have to make those decisions as he is not in power so he can make grandiose statements of intent safe in the knowledge they will simply remain just as that (traditional Lib Dem think).

2. It will make for discomfort for Big Dave.

Yup, the bit about Leveson I'm happy to say I have a view on is the behaviour of Red Ed, his party and many Lib Dems. No debate on what is a crucial political topic that could define an entire era, no sensible discourse in Parliament over potentially eradicating 300 years of press freedom. Nope, just political positioning for short term points scoring. One can only hope the British public are intelligent enough to see this and they are punished at the polls. My magic 8 ball suggests the outlook for that is gloomy.

Ed is also one of those who throws all his weight behind people like the McCanns, Christopher Jefferies, Hugh Grant - those who have suffered at the hands of the press. And they have. I should put that front and centre. I have the utmost sympathy for this category of people. I lamented in these pages the court of public opinion's riding roughshod over due process when Christopher Jefferies was essentially convicted of Jo Yeates' murder by the press before he was found totally innocent. But their very intimate involvement with press regulation, or lack of it, if anything makes them totally the wrong people to have at the forefront of statutory legislation.

We put people on trial before an unbiased jury of their peers and subject to the sentencing of a qualified, independent judge for a reason. We don't let the plaintiff adjudicate guilt nor set the tariff. We don't do an eye for an eye. This is not to say that people touched by something are not ever able to be impartial, but it certainly means they are unlikely to be.

People who's loved ones die from a particular disease will often fundraise solely for the charity representing the fight against it; it's human nature. I give more to fighting Alzheimer's and cancer because they are the ones closest to my heart. It doesn't mean that I'm a bad person, or that fighting cerebral palsey is not a noble cause. It just means I probably shouldn't be put in charge of the budget for  disease research for the whole UK: I'm likely to be biased.

People clearly have views - that's fine. MPs might feel one way or another about different diseases or nuclear deterrents or whatever. So might judges. They are expected to put aside their subjective views and examine everything objectively, from the point of view of their constituents and the country. If we think they are sucking at this, we vote them out. Pretty simple.

But the fact remains that those most affected by an issue will in general find it hardest to be objective about it. Which means they shouldn't be the people influencing law. So I say no to Sarah's Law, Megan's Law, Madeleine's Law or any others. Not what is in them - they have fine intent and may be perfectly good pieces of legislation (I am not an authority), but I think composing their content is better left to those professionally obliged to be impartial and experienced in the process of law-making. Is that crazy? I think not. If you would like all of that summarised in a much funnier 1 minute and 42 seconds - listen to Mitchell and Webb's view on it here. I suppose I should have just put that bit at the top and be done with it...

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The White Man's Struggle

So I'm going to leave the heavyweight political stuff for a moment - and on a day of such political importance too! I know, I hear you ask "surely you can't be passing up the chance to write about the election of the year?" And I am. Because I couldn't give a fuck. In fact, worse than that, I don't want to vote. No, scratch that; I don't want there to be a vote on sodding police commissioners.

I think it is a shit idea. I don't think accountability is a shit idea. I think politicising the role is a shit idea. A really shit one. What they are really saying is the police service, like other public services is not accountable enough. Once you get high enough, it's hard to get booted out. You have to work really hard at it - you know, start shooting innocent civilians - that sort of thing. But their fix is not to look at the way that the public sector (civil service, police, military et al) promotes, demotes, apportions credit or blame, but instead to put a political figurehead at the helm and get people to vote them in and out.

Now I have no idea for what reason people are going to vote either way today. Some will know of the candidate and like the cut of his jib. Not many I would wager. Others will perhaps vote based on what little propaganda there has been about - and what similar claptrap it all has been. Who was going to put out a leaflet saying they would like to be lenient on crime, on the causes of crime, would like to increase red tape and make the community a less safe place? All total cock. Identical, total cock. No, most likely the Tory supporters will vote for the Tory candidate, the Labour supporters for the Labour candidate and presumably the Lib Dems just think we should all just get along in the shangri-la that exists only in their heads so probably don't need a police force let alone put forward a police commissioner candidate. So the result will have sod all to do with policing, though will have an impact upon it, and everything to do with current political sentiment. Which is pretty stupid if you ask me.

But that's not what I want to talk about today, because it's not really worth the internet paper upon which I have already written it. Nope, today I am gong to bang on for a good paragraph or two about the struggle of the white man - or more specifically the white bread man - against the sandwich Nazis…

I like sandwiches. I like toast. So, it seems do many people. My academic research for this post has been running for a decade or so. As such, it is the most deeply researched topic I have ever written about in this blog by pretty much ten years.

If you were to glance about in the supermarket on your weekly shop (by which I mean the proper, edge-of-town-high-street-murdering-uber-market supermarket that we are all up in arms about but shop at anyway because it's convenient and cheap), you would see almost an entire aisle of bread, I would wager. If you were to take an approximate calculation at the ratio of white to brown bread you would see in the pre-sliced 'Hovis/Kingsmill cuboid of bread in a colourful plastic bag' area, it's about 50:50. By 'brown' I also include granary et al - essentially a nice Nick Griffin-style definition of 'everything not perfectly white and pure'. In the 'fresh out of the in-house bakery' area it's probably 80:20 to the whites (oh, how Mitt Romney would love to see those stats).

I've been doing this for years. The ratios are pretty steady. Brown (or non-white) has been on the rise in the last decade or so as we try to eat more healthily, but it has plateaued. So, it logically follows that demand is about 50:50 at best (for the brown supporters).

Fine. Have your bread any colour you like - very much a personal choice. In a restaurant my wife will always choose the nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and sawdust bread roll on offer (which surely barely makes it bread under advertising standards rules?) whilst I rootle around in the basket looking for something a child would put Dairylee on at lunch break. I have no objection to the healthy stuff. I just think it tastes like old shoes (though new shoes are not on my delicacy list either). I want the one pumped full of sugar and bleached to within an inch of its life. It's like the Coke/Diet Coke idea. If you're going to cheat, cheat big. What's the point of fannying about with Diet Coke? It's still not good for you, but the added bonus is it doesn't even taste good. They do create an amusing line in television advertisements though. Either way, it's pretty clear half the people who want bread want white bread, and half brown.

So why are all the fucking pre-made sandwiches in the world made with brown bread?

Do people who buy white bread only make breadcrumbs or croutons with it? Or toast it and add butter? Or feed it to the ducks? Are only brown bread purchasers turning these bread slices into sandwiches? Surely I cannot be the only person who likes white bread and can't be bothered to make his own sandwiches? Who did this definitive market research? It must be out there, because you can't get a white sandwich for love nor money. Everyone buys into it; supermarkets, petrol stations, newsagents, the lot. Half an aisle of white bread. Half an aisle of brown bread. Brown sandwiches. Bastards. The lot of them.

Every now and again you find a solitary white sandwich in there, probably with a crap filling, like egg and onion. Who is asking for onion in sandwiches? Or salads for that matter, but I digress…?

It upsets me. As you can no doubt tell. We are being discriminated against. We, the proud, unhealthy, white bread eaters of this world. We 50%. Our demographic is being under-represented in the sandwich industry. We need to stand up for our right to a proper pre-made sandwich selection, before it's too late.  I think I know how the suffragettes felt now...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Super-Sized Hospitals

You may have picked up on a theme in this blog that I think one should actually budget one's expenditure against one's income. This is as true for a country as it is for an individual. If you can't afford a new car, don't buy one. If you can't afford a new warship, don't buy one. Or of course, if you think you really need it (car, warship, whatever) more than something else, don't buy that instead. This is not revolutionary.

Which leads me to an article I saw recently bemoaning the fact that "hospitals are inadequately prepared to deal with extremely fat patients". Hospitals are probably inadequately prepared to deal with bombs going off outside them sending hundreds of victims to A&E simultaneously. Or some Hollywood viral epidemic. Lots of things really. Because they have budgets. Which we pay for. So they try to cover most eventualities, most of the time to give a good level of healthcare to the most people. That's the idea.

The article I read focused on a report in the Bulletin of The Royal College of Surgeons of England. It suggested many hospitals were in essence failing fat people - morbidly fat people - by not spending their (ironically) hugely bloated, but still limited resources on providing super-size stuff. Don't know about you but providing a bed that can take more than 28 sodding stone (the current limit of normal NHS beds), or as I like to call it, a small family, is lower down my 'to spend on list' than cancer treatment. So is providing wheelchairs which can take more than 25 stone. Or examination couches designed to take more than 21 stone.

There's certainly an argument that says taking a morbidly obese person to a veterinary hospital to be scanned in a horse MRI machine because they don't fit in the human one at the hospital is a good thing. That might be the kick in the capacious rear required to convince the person in question that losing weight might be an idea. But then I hear the caterwauling about dignity and human rights and other such tosh. You can see which way I lean but I certainly understand it may not all be black and white.

One can certainly argue over the fairness of costing the system lots of money (and thus costing the taxpayer lots of money) by intentional lifestyle choices. When it comes to obesity, you will get ill if you eat too much. Your body can't deal with the cholesterol, the fat, the extra weight on bones and joints etc. We aren't designed that way. And most people who are very fat (the vast majority - no pun intended) chose to be so. I don't mean they get out of bed and say, today I choose to be fat. I mean they choose to eat too much, too unhealthily and not exercise enough. There will be various reasons for going down this road, but it generally boils down to a choice.

It's about willpower. Go to any AA meeting. One of the keys to sobriety is acknowledging you can choose not to drink - you have the power, not the drink itself. Drinking or not drinking is the choice you make. Some will find it easier, some harder to make the 'right' choices. Some will be more prone to making poor choices, some will see it as the only choice, an escape - people who eat/drink/take drugs to get away from something. This is a running theme. The point still remains you intentionally do bad things to your body and John Q. Taxpayer picks up the financial bill.

As you see, the argument is not restricted to obesity, or even drugs and alcohol abuse. One could argue about the fairness of those others who place themselves in harm's way intentionally and expect the NHS to cover the costs - people who play contact sports, racing drivers, parachutists - you see where I'm going with this. The private sector answers this apparent inequality by assessing the risk of your need to claim based on your lifestyle and charging premiums accordingly. The non-smoking healthy jogger gets charged less than the free climbing coke addict. That's from each according to his likely need. That's not the NHS.

The NHS is about trying to fix people whatever, and if you pay your taxes but never need healthcare, bully for you, because you have your health. Which is very noble. But it's not affordable to provide 'total medicine' - every known cure, treatment and facility for everyone and hang the cost. So, I shall leave the question to you to mull over whether we are getting it right morally by funding unhealthy lifestyles. Are we encouraging this 'bad behaviour' by subsidising it? Maybe we have no right to say how people should live? Maybe we do if we are paying for that lifestyle? It is, I am certain, a divisive subject with good arguments on both sides.

What cannot be ignored though, is in a world where we cannot afford all things, we must prioritise. And I think there are going to be a great many things people want money spent on in the NHS before they want titanium re-inforced chairs for the obese. This is for the very same reason that increasing military funding in years when the nation is in no obvious direct threat is not a vote winner.

Especially today, Remembrance Sunday, we can see the gratitude and depth of feeling we in this country have for our servicemen, past and present. However, when it comes to Government spending almost everyone has an interest in the NHS (we all have a granny needing a hip replacement, or at least want to know there's an ambulance waiting to take us a well-equipped hospital should we have an accident), and 93% of us have an interest in public education (because that's where little Johnny will be going to school). But there are only about 150,000 military personnel in this country. When it comes to voting, we get selfish.

So I say, yes, we do need to recognise that our country's weight issue is spiralling out of control. Our morbidly obese has risen threefold in 20 years and is showing no sign of abating. We have huge issues will childhood obesity as we eat more unhealthily and become more sedentary with Xboxes beating playing in the garden. But whilst have to recognise the increasing girth of our population, I do not think the answer can be to simply accommodate it, not least because we have more important things to spend the money on, and not just within the NHS.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Limited Benefit of Children...

I've been storing up a follow-up post on the issue of child benefit - much of my previous work is here. I'll do it quickly because I don't see the point of repeating everything ad infinitum. The crux of the matter is whilst you have a right to have as many children as your body will allow (note that it is not a  right to have a perfectly functioning body, including reproductive ability), should the state (by which we mean the taxpayer) pay for all kids you wish to produce?

This is the argument raised last week by IDS with the proposal of the two child limit on benefits. There are various caveats, exemptions and anomalies to consider. Not least, the limit of two is one just being proposed as an idea. It is likely that it would only affect newcomers, grandparenting in those already beyond the threshold. I could imagine complications when talking about families with multiple parents - whose kids count, who gets the money etc. Triplets are rare but you can see the problem they might raise. Nobody says this would be easy. Nobody says it would bring in a vast amount of money either. The point that IDS is trying to make (and will probably fail to knowing the Tory party's failure to score open-goal policy wins and the predictable left wing media hysteria) is that the Big Society is about fairness, about responsibility, about one's own actions, not just about how much you can take.

I'm, as you'd expect, with him on this. And so should almost everyone. The majority of people in the country work, pay taxes and to one extent or other, budget their money. Asking them for support for a policy that asks for those being given free money (and welfare is just that) to have to live within their means like they do, or do something in return should be an easy win. This could be limiting to £20,000 net the contribution to rent (which the average worker on about £26,000 gross could never afford) gratis from the Government. Or it could be asking those claiming unemployment benefit to do some voluntary work to break the unemployment cycle and put them on a path to work. Or it could be asking them to pay for their own children if they want to have lots.

But the country is apparently not all behind this rather sensible idea. Nope - and you may forgive my lack of surprise - I heard on Any Questions on Radio 4 quite the opposite. It turns out this policy is one designed to give children cancer. And to force them to spend time with Jimmy Savile. Or something like that. I definitely came away from the programme with the idea this was a deliberately cruel policy designed solely to punish children. Cock. A load of it.

The argument put forward (and raucously applauded by the bus loads of morons the BBC source for an audience) by Dr Katherine Rake of the Family and Parenting Institute was that cuts in child benefits are unfair because they fall disproportionately on the poor. Yup. Because rich people don't generally get welfare; poorer people do. They just pay for it. It is the exact argument used by Nick Clegg and any of his lefty loon pals in the Labour or Lib Dems when any cut of any size or shape is devised which might remove one penny from the purse of someone who is of a financially lower status. They always say "same old Tories, looking to take it first from the poorest, and never from the richest", or to use his favourite phrase "from those with the broadest shoulders".

What Nick et al never mention is that those with the broadest shoulders are already paying a lot. We have started with them. It's called progressive taxation. Those with broad shoulders are paying massive truckloads of money. Dr Rake, and countless others like her, maintain that taking money away from welfare is de facto taking money away from poor children. Yes. To an extent. But it doesn't mean any cut in welfare is punishing children. Poor people often have children. Like rich people. And all the people in between. If you make any cut in welfare you are removing money from many families with children. This simple and obvious fact cannot be allowed to be trotted out as if it is proof that all welfare cuts are evil just because naturally the parents of some children will have been given less money. An increase in the top rate of tax was not touted as a punishment on the children of wealthier homes - but money was being removed (even worse than just less given, surely) from the homes of children. Child cruelty no? Of course not. Just selective lefty bullshit about which children matter and where cuts 'fall'.

If we double the welfare bill overnight (to about £400 billion, or what would then be about 1/2 of all spending) and then took a single pound off, that cut would fall 'disproportionately' on poor families. That fact does not make it a bad policy decision. It is simply because they receive the benefits that others have generally paid for. How they use that money is up to them. There is generally more than enough of it there to keep children fit and well. Just because some people will misuse their handouts and thus punish their own children does not mean we should never decrease the amount of money we give them (see this argument over state-aid for the poor children of nuclear-equipped and space-age countries). It is a senseless argument that the left are yet to confront. Mainly because the right seem to be struggling to make them do so and put it in the right terms.

Cutting one's coat according to one's cloth means adjusting what you spend based on what you can afford. Both Dr Rake and Charles Clarke mentioned they agree with the policy, but when asked how they pay for the Labour-induced deficit, they predictably trot out the same old leftie mantra of not properly defending ourselves by not renewing our nuclear deterrent, or raising more taxes from their favourite golden goose - 'the rich'. This is not cutting one's coat according to one's cloth. The point is that we are spending too much. We need to cut spending. We need to cut spending. WE NEED TO CUT SPENDING. This is CUTTING one's coat appropriately.

We do not have enough money (cloth) as a Government to pay for everything we currently have chosen to spend it on. We clearly have no chance of overnight increasing our tax take by 15-20% to match our spending 'requirements'. So we need to decrease what we spend (our coat). Welfare is a fucking enormous bill. The biggest in fact. It was never intended in its present form even by the most left wing supporters of its creation. It must be reduced. It is costing every working person in this country nearly 1/3 of all the money they hand to the Government in taxation. It is as unhelpful as it is disingenuous of the Opposition (inside the Coalition and outside) to suggest that it shouldn't be reduced - and their reasoning of "not punishing poor children" is as incorrect as it is corrosive.

What is being proposed is a move towards a sensible, affordable rebalancing where welfare stops being a comfortable lifestyle choice. The sooner the Tories can properly explain to the population of this country that cutting one's coat according to one's cloth is about budgeting what to do with what you reasonably have rather than about working out where you can get more money to pay for unaffordable idealogically-driven policies, the sooner we might have a chance of returning to being a country of producers, not just receivers.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Nosey Car-parkers

There's something I don't get. Well, there are many things I don't get; principally amongst them I suppose we could say High School Musical, going to football matches not to watch them but to fight instead and how Labour voters make it through the day without falling down more. But that's not what we're talking about today. Nope, today I thought I'd bring up something which has probably enfuriated almost everybody in this country at one point or other. Imagine the scene…

You are driving on a motorway to visit an out-of-town relative (if you don't like any of your relatives, perhaps imagine you are commuting to work - the key is the motorway, though it happens on A roads too). You start to see brake lights in the distance. You notice the traffic slowing. The last chance to avoid this traffic slips by your window, 3 lanes to the left as you have failed to decide quickly enough whether to come off at the junction and freestyle it through the back roads and are instead trapped in the outside lane by a procession of increasingly tightly-packed decelerating cars. You come to a halt. You issue an expletive and look at your watch. Okay, that's life. You have hit traffic.

You notice that on the other side of the road everything is flowing just fine. You wonder what is going on up ahead? Roadworks? An accident? Well, you're going to find out in an hour and 1.6 miles or so. It's an accident. That's a shame. "I hope everyone's ok" you think. Or if you're now running very late or have screaming children in the back seat accompanying your increased blood pressure, you may think less generously along the lines of "why can't whatever numbskull up ahead drive properly (like me, the best driver in the whole world) - that's an hour of my life I'm never getting back because he can't mirror, signal, manoeuvre" or something along those lines.

Then as you draw closer you notice that the flashing lights are not on your side of the carriageway. Nope. They are restricted to the hard shoulder 40 metres to your right, next to a car with a crumpled bonnet and a car with a smashed tailgate. "Has the accident been so violent as to throw a lorry fully across the central reservation and into 3 of the 4 lanes (motorway dependant) on your side of the road? Surely that is the only reason we have been crawling at a speed not fast enough to show up on either the speedo or the GPS? " you think.

Except you don't.

Because you now know why your side of the road is doing a mile per hour: So everyone can get a good look at what remains of the accident on the other side of the road.

Yup, it is generally the way that an accident screws up the side of the road it is on for a short amount of time whilst they move it out of the way, and then a far longer time on the other side whilst everyone rubbernecks on the way past. What a bunch of belters we are. Are we checking to see if it is anyone we know? Who'd want to find out that way anyway? Are we thinking perhaps we will identify the very situation our unique set of skills were put together for by God himself, ready to swerve to the hard shoulder and sprint across the carriageways to save the day?

Nope, we're all just a bunch of really nosey bastards. We want to look for the same reasons we watch hilarious home videos of chairs collapsing under brides, dancing troupes can canning off the side of a  stage, teenage would-be stuntmen just failing to clear the swimming pool in a single bound and why we like sitting on ski lifts watching the slopes below hoping people will fall over. Schadenfreude. Basically we're all gits.

All the You Tube-ing though costs us nothing. Yet as a collective mass, with slowing down to check on someone else's misfortune, we contribute to our own misery - the traffic jam. It's life's way of paying you back for being a git. Problem is, it catches out everyone on the road, git or not. Even the people like me, who don't feel the need to check out what happened. So, in my totally blameless case, non-git and un-nosey bastard that I am, when I pass the accident the reason I am slowing down is just to check what it was that other people wanted to look at thereby costing me an hour of my life. The gits. If only there were more people like me...


Friday, 19 October 2012

The Postman Used to Ring Twice

So the Royal Mail is thinking of scrapping its '2 tier' system for delivery in favour of a single 2 day service. Super. In other news… Labour are going to balance the budget and Andrew Mitchell is going to be the guest of honour at the Association of Police Authorities Christmas Ball.

Well those aren't entirely accurate comparisons. Thrasher Mitchell clearly isn't going anywhere near the plebs, sorry, the plods, if he can help it. However Labour certainly are going to promise to balance the budget just as Royal Mail may promise to fulfil the new pledge of a 100% 2 day delivery service for a price below first class. And they too are telling porky pies like you read about. Yup, you would have to be a moron (as the current polls tell us over a 1/3 of the country are) to believe either of these preposterous claims.

First class post used to be a same or next day delivery. Now it is not even guaranteed next day. So the service has gone downhill. Where has the price gone? Yup, you guessed it - through the roof. Second class post now averages out somewhere in the region of a week to deliver. Oh, I know you will still find the odd letter now and again that will be delivered quickly, but it is the exception, not the rule.

My point is, Royal Mail will be allowed to scrap the vestiges of the next day delivery and in compensation we will receive a lower price for the new universal mail. For all of 35 seconds. Royal Mail will then be granted another so-massive-it-can't-even-see-inflation-in-its-rear-view-mirror-as-it-laughs-all-the-way-to-the-bank price hike in the cost of the new 'first class' stamp. Because if the fastest you can pay for something to be delivered is now 2 days, this new 'used-to-be-called-second-class class' is their de facto 'first class'.

Yup. And then, you will notice that as the complaints start rolling in that the 2 day guarantee isn't being hit they'll point you to the very small print that states they'll try really really hard to deliver within 2 days, but if they don't make it, it's the thought that counts. What a load of old cock. Quite simply, if Royal Mail are allowed to do this all we will get is a worse service that within a very short space of time will cost more.

Why do I hold such a cynical view? Because my friends, I like many of you have sat in my house, watched the postman walk up the drive and without so much as a knock on the door let alone 2 rings on the bell, post a "sorry you weren't in, please drive miles to collect the mail someone has paid the correct postage to have delivered to your door, oh, and visit only during the hours most inconvenient to you" card (they've shortened it to the bare-faced lie, "sorry you weren't in") and fuck off on his merry way. It is a crap service run with no care, no integrity and no thought for serving the customer or for being allowed to wear the royal insignia.

And by means of a vicious non-sequitor to finish, just so you know where I am on it, Apple's new maps for iPhone is about as much use as mudflaps on a tortoise...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Plumbing the Educational Depths

I thought I should probably write something about conference season. I've been very lax recently and have satisfied my anger at the world with furious note-taking or memo-recording. I suppose I should probably convert some of that diatribe into some internet words…

Nothing new from the Lib Dems or Labour - no surprises from either. The Lib Dems are claiming everything good from the Coalition whilst pretty publicly crapping on their Coalition partners in a desperate attempt to get out of single figures. Oh, and of course banging on about Mansion Taxes and other economically illiterate policies they plan to hold the Tories to ransom over. Labour are still full of themselves and can't remember bankrupting the nation over the last 2 decades. Also, forgive me for not joining the 'oh, isn't Ed Miliwho suddenly very Prime Minister-in-waiting-ey' club. He's still a massive tool. And he still has no policies. Except class envy. That old chestnut. In fact when pressed to say what he might do he has finally owned up to one of the great political white elephants…

Ed maintains that it is stupid for him to tell you what he would do differently because the election isn't for 3 years and we don't know what state the economy will be in. So, just to clarify, because he has no chance of being in power now he will simply bitch about everything the Tories are currently doing whilst providing no tangible alternatives until his 2015 manifesto (which presumably will have to be released the night before the election in case things change).

Yup, he had admitted there is no need for an opposition until election time. Labour may as well head off on a gap yah - nothing to see here, just a bunch of people sitting on green seats whose job is to criticise but definitely not put forward any other ideas.

Actually that's not entirely fair. There is one 'policy', and I use the term vaguely. Let's call it a headline aspiration - it might get a headline and and as there's been no research at all into its viability, not calling it a policy means you can't make a policy U-turn by deciding against it in years to come. Who ever heard of an aspiration U-turn? Anywho, the policy/aspiration is to remember the people that New Labour intentionally forgot - "the other 50%".

Ed is talking here about the other half of the youf population who do not go on to university. You may be old enough to remember Tony Blair setting his wonderfully arbitrary target of 50% of school leavers to go to university. It was not a number arrived at by a clamouring from industry for more media studies graduates, or even more graduates. This was all just a product of class envy. They sold it as 'you can't get a proper job unless you've got a degree like all those posh kids whose parents vote Tory'. What it led to was the uncontrolled increase in Mickey Mouse courses and 'universities' saddling these new graduates with a lot of debt and a useless qualification. I wrote about it a while back here. It totally missed the point of why we taxpayers pay for people to attend university when we don't pay for them to go to Eton. It's a limited pot so let's send the ones who will do the country the most good by being educated a bit more...

Society is broad. The cross section covers all types of people with all types of skills. Some are good at cricket. Some are excellent at kabaddi. There are some gifted painters. Some of this is luck, some of it work, some of it training - nature/nurture. Whatever.

Not all of them are academically gifted. This doesn't mean these types are not clever, though it is certainly true there are also a lot of not clever people in the melting pot. Turn on daytime TV - they tend to be sitting on chat show armchairs screaming at someone with a caption in the bottom corner of the screen along the lines of "I'm throwing out my daughter because she's having a third child by her brother". You know the shows. Remember - one man, one vote. Gotta love democracy. Getting off track…

The point is it was a Labour policy that focused everyone incorrectly on university when it didn't do them or us (John Q. Taxpayer) much good. It was them who forgot the 50% as well as misleading into wasteful courses a good 10-20%. When anyone mentioned that university was perhaps not the best for all involved (taxpayer and student) you were an elitist bastard trying to keep the poor out of the secret garden.

The same is broadly true of secondary education, which is why I for one am delighted by Red Ed's 'idea'. It certainly is about time that we worked out that we can't all be PR men, city bankers and CEOs and that it might be an idea to play to people's strengths rather than patronise them by suggesting academia is the only way forwards. Not just is there not room for everyone to have these jobs, some people will be shit at them - including some who actually do have the jobs I hear you say. For years anyone suggesting offering less academic and more technical courses to those more adept at the latter and less adept at the former was again, you guessed it, elitist right wing scum who was trying to limit the chances of the lower classes by sending them down the mines instead of up to Oxford. Or something like that.

Point is, it's great that the left finally acknowledge that if you take the class envy out of it, academic education beyond 16 isn't for everyone (and probably before 16 for some non-core subjects, though they haven't gone that far). If the last 20 years have shown us anything it is that pushing the academic only route does not raise academic standards and most likely demoralises and devalues the other very viable options. At the very least this has opened up the debate. Like the left finally talking about mass immigration meaning it became ok for anyone on the right to without being branded a racist, we might now get somewhere. For that one thing, I am grateful to Red Ed. There is hope yet in the education system if we are allowed to talk about people not being suited to academia and not being branded as anti-aspirational Nazis. Maybe then we can find suitable education paths for more people and give you an outside chance of your plumber speaking English.

On a side note, and by means of explanation of that last remark I nod my head to the dearth of British people employed in many sectors where they previously dominated - manual and service jobs being the main ones. With a population that is getting shitter at doing things themselves (I read an article recently that put the cost of not being DIY literate at about £150,000 over a lifetime as we 'get a man in' to do jobs our parents and grandparents would knock off in a Sunday afternoon in their 'work jeans') I reckon I'd rather be a master plumber or carpenter than have a social studies degree from the University of Little Crappingdon. Anyway, on that note, I must go - there's a Polish chap at the door here to fix my boiler...

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Crowing from the Rooftops: A Moronic Masterclass

OMG. Yup, it has been about 2 months since anything urged me to put pen to internet paper. No recurrence of past transgression or stupidity has incensed me enough to regurgitate my bilious rant, nor has anything new of any real interest happened in my world. Apart from the Olympics. They were quite fun, and very much more than the "potted sports plus athletics'" competition I thought they might appear as.

Certainly there is an element of only watching some sports because they are part of a more important overall national competition. On a side note, who did win the Olympics? If there's a medal table and it's as important as everyone suggests, shouldn't the closing ceremony actually be Barrack Obama being given an enormous gold medal with Wen Jiabao looking glum and ol' DC grinning next to him on the podium (with Boris trying to take his place)? Anyway, there was enough good stuff there in its own right. We shall see if the legacy element is a success if Britain manages to increase not just participation in many of these sports but increase awareness and perhaps give them some more airtime (and with it much-needed TV cash). Bring back Grandstand has probably been the cry from some quarters, though I hear someone is planning to launch a 'minor sports' channel before Christmas.

But that's not the point. That's not why I'm writing. I was going to write that weeks ago but couldn't be arsed. And when you consider it's not ground-breaking or funny, you can probably see why.

No, I'm writing because I just heard Bob 'Mentally Subnormal' Crow trying to defend how a man as rich as he still deserves to live in a council house. He earns over £130,000 a year. That's about 5 times the national average wage. He must have been dropped on his head a lot as a child along with anyone who has ever voted for him or thinks he's a good spokesperson for the working man of the RMT. He thinks council houses shouldn't just be for poor people.

Moron.

They are subsidised by taxpayers to help those who can't afford to rent or buy a home for themselves.

Key phrase - "can't afford". Once you can, join the real world, pay full rent for a house and thank social mobility (or hard work, good genes or rigging union ballot boxes - whatever does it for you) for helping you out of the lower economic echelons.

His defence included the fantastic line "but what would happen if I never had this job, would my wealth come into it then?" When pointed out he does have this job, and it does pay him a fuckload of money, it apparently doesn't matter. Quite the existentialist. Because in another world he may be poor, in this one where he's rich, he can claim the benefits as if he were poor. Brilliant.

It is genuinely amazing he can think like that and not fall down more, or forget to breathe. It strikes me that a man who doesn't see that being more than likely a millionaire and taking subsistence designed to help the needy from the taxpayer is morally wrong is probably not quite there in the head. A man who appears to believe that because he was born there, now he doesn't need the help and another family certainly does (there are waiting lists for council houses), he still is under no obligation to move out. Lobotomised. Has to be something like that.

They should get him checked. Or just put down.

Monday, 23 July 2012

A Timely Ketchup on Recent Events

So it has been rather a while since I put pen to paper. I suppose it is not really that I could find nothing interesting to blog about in the political nanosphere, it is that too much of it falls into the category of 'same shit, different day' and it tires me to drag out a new example of the same argument I (and many others) have already made. I now realise that the hard thing about journalism isn't making current affairs interesting to the public, it is making them seem different to the current affairs you've been spewing out forever.

I could write about banker bashing, but we've been there before. Bottom line we need a thorough look at the regulatory system because it allows far too much shenanigans, but we must realise that the sector as a whole is one of the few areas of world politics and commerce (as if they were that different) where we are still at the top table. Indiscriminately attacking everyone and everything in the sector will only hurt us, especially with the British public's new-found hatred of money and anyone who has it or produces it.

Which I suppose brings me nicely onto the subject of the court of public opinion and its apparent role in people accepting bonuses. I think Stephen Hester (way back) and Bob Diamond (more recently) should have told the Government and the British people to go take a long walk off a short cliff. Their pay packets are none of our business. They are also none of the shareholders' business once they've had their say in agreeing remuneration packets. Ultimately, if Boards fail to include penalty clauses like "If you mismanage the bank so wildly the Government will have to rescue us by buying 80% of our shares, which incidentally will plummet to a tiny fraction of their original worth" then more fool them. Clearly Big Steve came in after the RBS crash and didn't preside over it, but you get the idea.

If they fail to add the clause "If you preside over an illegal rate-fixing PR disaster that you might not technically be incriminated in, but is sufficiently bad for you and for the company that you resign following a huge share price drop", then the CEO is perfectly entitled to walk away with whatever gains he/she can, ill-gotten or otherwise. This is because…wait for it... THEY HAVE A FUCKING CONTRACT. I wrote that in caps so nobody missed the point. The answer to the issue of massive payoffs for failure is not guilting people in the court of public opinion into waiving bonuses or pay to which they are legally entitled. It is getting people to write contracts properly so if the nuclear power plant blows up, the Board can contractually remove the bonus from the outgoing chief exec of Chernobyl.

But I'm not going to go on about that again.

Nor am I going to bang on about Trades Unions striking at the time most likely to screw everyone over despite their already comfortable pay arrangements and constant underperformance. Today, I would clearly be talking about the Public and Commercial Services Union, to whom the UK Border Farce belong. Obviously you know what I think of them, and what I think should happen to them. Not quite Clarkson style execution in front of family members, but not far off. They have no leg to stand on. They are a joke. And they're trying to ruin the Olympics. But I'm not going to bang on about that.

Nor am I going to make yet another comparison between that dark side of the public sector who blackmail the country into paying them bonuses just to go to work, or not even to go to work over the Olympics (as they are contractually obliged to), and the military, who are yet again filling the gap, not just without extra pay, but in many cases, instead of holiday. That would be going over ground we already well know. So I won't bother.

I could express my dismay at the continuation of our farcical judicial system that places the rights of immigrant terrorists and criminals ahead of British, law-abiding taxpayers, with their deference to the most ill thought out piece of legislation ever, the ECHR, but we've been there before.

I could bang on about the Lib Dems with a massive 8% hold on the UK's votes demanding what are, considering the current climate, irrelevant (and poorly thought out) bits of legislation be pushed through, or else they will bring the whole house down as if they were equal partners. Big Dave knows the Lib Dems can't afford to split because from now until 2015 is the last influence on power they are likely to have for a generation, because nobody will ever vote for them now they've had to deal with the realities of actually being in Government. Problem is, Cleggo knows that the 10 point deficit the Tories lag behind Labour also means a snap election would be bad news for them too. They need the next couple of mini-giveaway budgets and they need their European luck to turn.

Who really deeply cares about Lords reform, or realistically when there is only a limited amount of political capital around, about gay marriage? They are both on a list of things that we'd like to do after we stop the world falling apart. This doesn't mean we are evil Lord-loving, gay-hating Tories, it means we understand priorities. As ever, pollsters will be able to tell you that x and y % of the population are on either side of both arguments. What they fail to point out is that neither topic would make the 'top 10 issues that will influence the way you vote' index for more than a handful of people. But we've done that one to death too.

There are a few more things I cannot bring to mind right now, but which I have got very close to writing about before realising I would simply be nudging you, the solitary reader, to a hyperlink to some crap I wrote last year (which I've helpfully done with the hyperlinks above, in case you're really bored). So I'm going to write about a point of minimal political significance but one which has roused me into action after over 2 months off. Yup, it's time to go to town on condiments as you may have guessed from my genuinely brilliant title…

My quarrel is not actually with condiments, but with when I am in restaurants the timing of their appearance on my table of late in comparison to that of my food. Ditto cutlery. It is totally beyond me why when someone takes an order of fish and chips, they wait until they have put the plate in front of you, hot, steamy and asking to be devoured, before asking if you'd like any of the normal accompaniments or even some fighting irons with which to eat. Amazing.

These are people who earn much of their annual wage from tips. And they don't have the foresight to put knives and forks out, or preposition a likely array of condiments before bringing the food out, piping hot. I can imagine how a competent server might deal with this…

Server: "Chef, how long for table 2's fish and chips?"
Chef: "About 5 minutes"
Server: "Right, I may as well bring them their ketchup, vinegar and cutlery now so I stand an outside chance of a tip."

Alas, they instead deliver your food and ask if you would like ketchup with your chips as if they had asked if you would like a toasted sandwich comprising a walnut whip and a paperback copy of the Homer's Iliad. Dumbstruck at your adherence to nutritional form, they wander slowly back to the kitchen to return with some of your requests just after your food has gone cold.

The blame is owned jointly between the serving staff and the manager. And our current educational standards. Oh, looks like we've been here before too..

Friday, 11 May 2012

Malapropistic Misanthropy

As if she hadn't made enough of a tit of herself this week, old Nadine Dorries just showed up on Have I Got News For You looking as smug as she is stupid. She went on to further her intellectual credentials by asserting that the Leveson Inquiry this week had turned out to be "a bit of a damp squid."

Not a damp squib, i.e. a wet charge that fails to explode. No, a wet sea creature. Or just sea creature really, as I imagine most of them would describe themselves as damp at the very least what with their living in the sea and all that.

Moron.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Self-Righteous Poor Girl

So I've been off on holiday, hence the absence. I've waded through the thousands of pleading emails from my fan desperate for my return to the blogosphere (I can't back this up) and I'm finally ready to recommence. Of late I have grown somewhat weary of the domestic news cycle hence the paucity of my posts.

I may be the only person in the country not astonished that politicians talk to the media to get themselves favourable coverage and that the media talk to politicians because they are a source of information, which roughly speaking is their currency.

I'm not suggesting I think all is well in the media or politics garden, but a bit of perspective from time to time would be grand. As I'm sure I've said before, I don't think anyone is surprised that politicians speak to those with vested interests in their policies. Labour meet the unions; Ed Milliwho has meetings with the Bob Crows of this world and then comes out in support of the unions' standpoints against the Government. No-one kicks up a fuss. Whoever is the Government of the day will be courted by those who stand to lose or gain from the decisions they make. Likewise the Government of the day will always court those who they think can deliver them electoral victory, be they individuals, groups of voters, financial backers or the all-powerful media. This is genuinely getting a little boring. There are slightly more interesting things going on.

One of those is not Nadine Dorries attempting to fan the fames of self-implosion of which governing Tory parties are so fond. Who gives a shit if the Prime Minister knows how much a pint of milk is? I don't know (and I tend to buy it in litre flagons), and I earn less that the improbably stupid Dorries. Newsflash: if you're on over £65,000 a year as the lowliest backbenchers are (and under 1/2 what the PM is on), you just put however much milk you want in your trolley/basket (online or actual) and pay for it. It's not a crime. It's just financial security; knowing you have enough in the bank to pay your usual grocery bill. And you have it too, you hypocritical moron.

I for one would love the people making decisions on how to run the country to not fill their heads with so unbelievably insig-fucking-nificant things as the current price of an arbitrary low cost staple. I'm sure they know the stats on food inflation in the country for the last four years and the projections for what future food inflation will do to GDP. This is a relevant thing to fill the space in their heads. They probably have a fair grasp on defence matters and international diplomacy - you know, the stuff we pay them for.

Your average bod who knows the price of milk might need to know that to save a few pence by going to the cheaper store. They probably don't know the relevant food inflation statistics, the current LIBOR or indeed the nuclear launch codes. This is because it is not relevant information for them to have. It is irrelevant. Like you Nadine. So fuck off your high horse and try to fill your clearly empty head with some grown up ideas to justify your (considering your very public demonstration of your unsuitability and under-qualification for it) staggering salary, you idle buffoon.

The pathetic class envy that is being exercised by all and sundry right now you would think the person most likely to win a seat at the next election and be voted unanimous President of the Whole Fucking World would be an out of work plumber from Stepney who left state school (not some poncey private school where you might learn something) at 16 with no GCSEs (he has a degree from the university of life, of course), is salt of the earth, calls a spade a spade, knows Asda's milk is normally cheaper at 50p but Tesco have got an offer on matching that price from their normal 58p - yes, I had to google that, so that's me out of the running) and has a glottal stop to rival Eliza Doolittle's. Just as long as he's not well-educated, he knows some insignificant pub trivia and his family were poor, he'll be an absolute shoe-in.

Arrogant rich boys vs self-righteous poor girl. In our woeful court of public opinion they never stood a chance. Class-based discrimination. Clearly fine as long as you only target the rich - everyone knows that unlike the poor it's their fault their parents have money.

Friday, 20 April 2012

10 O'Clock Livid

Just when you thought nobody would ever beat Question Time's and the Labour Party Conference's joint world record of most illogical borderline mentally subnormal people in one room at a time, along comes 10 O'Clock Live.

Now I quite like the show. As with most British comedy these days you have to stomach the leftist leanings, but it's not all that bad if you can tune out Charlie Brooker into white noise. However, watching the last in the series I recently realised the cause of the Tories' problem at the polls. The people in this country are almost all absolute fucking morons.

David Mitchell was doing his debate bit on 'elitism' when Julia Hartley-Brewer tried to clarify the frankly pitifully poor points of Billy Bragg. Nothing like getting on an ageing relic of a thankfully soon-to-be-forgotten age of British popular music with a miniscule brain to really fill out an academic debate. Anyway, Julia tried to clarify what appeared to be Billy Bragg's main issue - that he didn't like the fact that many people on the front benches went to Oxbridge.

Or as she put it "you think it's a bad thing that all our politicians are really well educated, clever people?" Even after Julia pointed out that she went to a comprehensive and then Oxford based on grades not daddy's fortune demonstrating the latter's improved social accessibility, he still managed to bulldoze through to his stupid summary that he thinks it's bad that well-educated people are all running the country, because no-one else gets a look in. And the audience erupted with applause. Morons. Every fucking one of them.

Presumably they think GDP would be improved if the guy who runs the chip shop was Chancellor and we'd have no awkward extradition issues if your plumber was Home Secretary. Yes, they want a salt of the earth cabinet. No need for intellectual rigour, just guys who have been to the University of Life. They don't get that you want intelligent people in charge who understand what everyone needs (though not necessarily wants), and many of those will also have had good educations. You get to choose if they really understand what you need/want in elections every now and again. But with the whole 650 people in Parliament thing, each representing 70,000 or so people , it's going to be pretty fucking hard getting someone in Parliament who every Tom, Dick or Harry can identify with. I don'y give two fucks if I can identify with a politician. I'd like him of her to justify my vote by making some intelligent decisions.

No applause for Julia's point that we shouldn't be bashing those who are lucky enough to have parents able and willing to pay for their education or those who wish to give that privilege to their children. Leave the privately-educated 7% alone. Concentrate on getting education better for the 93%. No applause. They don't get the issue. They totally miss the point. Again and again. Dave and co must sit on number 10 repeatedly asking "how is this the story they are running with?" They don't get it Dave. I don't think they ever will.

The problem in this country is everyone is thick. Labour worked out how to screw the Tories. Fuck the education system so badly no majority of voters will ever again be clever enough to understand that punishing success rather than aspiring to it does not work. The politics of class envy will get you nowhere.

I think I'm going to move to Canada. I don't know what it's like but there can't be anywhere near as many morons per square mile.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

And So I'm Back, From Outer Space...

I'm not dead.

I've been away in deepest darkest Scotland for a couple of weeks and have had to watch budgetary developments et al from afar. I was hoping to be able to blog whilst up there but my wi-fi hopes were somewhat dashed when I produced a new fangled 'credit card' to pay for drinks in a pub and received a look as if I had try to pay with babies' limbs and fairy dust. They don't take plastic, the kind barman spat, suggesting those who wished to pay with this new found wizardry were not the sort who were welcome here. So I didn't bother asking for the wi-fi password.

So I find myself in the familiar territory of waterski-ing behind the news.

45p - Good start but a shame Osborne either didn't have the guts or the bargaining power to go the whole hog. And a shame it won't come into effect until next year (though you can see by giving people a year to defer earnings out of 50p towards 45p it should guarantee a bumper first year of 45p revenue thus 'proving' a point in 2014). It doesn't matter that it makes sense financially, it's bad news to go to 45p PR-wise. It will be bad news again PR-wise (though sensible and encouraging of growth and investment) to drop it to 40p, or indeed the Laffer curve's 38p optimum. It would have been better to get this PR out of the way in a oner (like removing a sticking plaster) 3 years before the election and let the real economics of the decision speak for themselves by election time in generated growth. No surprise the media or their political arm in Westminster are painting it as they are. Ignore and move on.

Granny tax - Old people have done fine from the Coalition - let's not get hung up on having a generous benefit reduced until it falls in line with everyone else. Yes there are poor and needy aged members of society, but not in much greater numbers than elsewhere across the spectrum. Conversely they are in general better off than average. Today's pensioners are the baby boomers. They have enjoyed the massive enrichment of the last 40 years, particularly in terms of home values. They rarely have mortgages and other outgoings are smaller with no small children etc. Time to take a bit of 'pain' and realign to the rest of society. Incidentally, nice to see some (thought the minority) understand this in letters pages across the media.

Child benefit - good to see an effort has been made to taper the issue of the cliff edge benefit drop. This deals with the only important problem - that of someone getting a pay rise which results in a net earnings loss after they become disqualified from child benefit. It doesn't, because it is too costly to do so, deal with the almost irrelevant 'problem' of envy. That is that people who earn £60,000 don't like the idea that they get nothing and 2 people earning £40,000 each still do. My advice: suck it up, big lad. I have banged on about what is 'fair' before in taxation etc. I am willing to say categorically than it is not unfair that if you earn £60,000, you don't get child benefit. Yes it would be nice, but the economy isn't built for that luxury. I find it pathetic that people are still complaining. All they are is upset that someone else got a bigger lolly.

Donorgate (which I assume it is already being called) - who gives a shit? Politicians cannot and should not live in bubbles. They are meant to be lobbied by the people they represent. This includes you, me and Richard Branson if he so wishes. Political parties need funding. They get this from people who think this will buy them influence and people who wish them well. Just like many big businesses will want to donate to Tories who are small Government people, Trades Unions will want to donate to Labour who are big Government people.

Why? They feel those parties better represent their interests. The idea is we get to decide if we like the policies people come up with - it's a democracy, we have elections. If we think our politicians are making bad decisions entirely based upon their donors' wishes, vote them out. I have no issue with who comes to tea with Dave - it's the policies he makes I care about. And whilst we're on the subject, perhaps is it a touch hypocritical of Labour to make a fuss over supposed influence of donors to Tories when their party has actual proven influence of donors? Largest donors to Labour? Trades Unions. Who essentially decided who leads the party - the Trades Unions.

That'll do for now.

Friday, 2 March 2012

This Isn't Just…Or Just Isn't

The weekend fast approaches and Mrs Law Abiding Citizen wants me to help make ice cream. So, alas, we don't have time for any heavy-hitting political journalism. If you've read any of my blog before you may only slightly unkindly think all my blogs must therefore similarly be composed on a Friday afternoon with the rush to make copy before Pimms o'clock, such is the lack of aforementioned political hard hits…

So onto one of life's small annoyances for me. Think of this as an early Saturday morning, more irrelevant than usual, blog. Today's Target? Marks and Sparks.

I probably use the motorway M&S shops more than their other larger stores. One can pick up some lovely lunchable snacks; sumptuous sandwiches, meaty chicken legs, spicy chilli prawns, healthy edamame salads or pretty little bowls of sun dried tomatoes with mozzarella. You know the stuff - delightful snacks that make you want to eat your daily calorie intake in a series of '2 for £5' tid bits. These are the trademark of these M&S stop and shops. It's not just a scotch egg from the Esso service station's fridge, next to the porn and the motor oil. No, this is a Marks and Spencer scotch egg.

There are too small buckets of flap jacks or chocolate muffins, or some deliciously lazy pre-prepared, stick-it-in-the-oven-for-25 minutes, gourmet meals for 2. All these things are very good. I get why M&S suggests you should defer to their version of them all over any other brand on the market. Similarly, I suppose, Waitrose do some excellent own brand stuff. You'd always prefer an M&S or Waitrose pre-prepared evening meal for two over Birdseye's effort. You'd probably prefer an M&S sausage roll to a Ginsters one.

But their coke is shit. Total shit.

I get the 'everything in here is Marks & Spencer' thing, but it only works as long as what you produce is better than what is available elsewhere on the market. The Coca Cola Company have been perfecting Coke (to use the vernacular) for over 125 years. They're good. I mean really good. Though recently their market share has slipped (to about 53%), they still kick the crap out of Pepsi which is the only brand that has ever got close to it. In short, they know what they are doing.

Sainsbury don't. Tesco don't. Virgin didn't. That's why their versions of coke all tasted like crap. But it is a lesson M&S refuse to learn. They sacrifice offering the complete, one-stop-shop on the altar of "this is Marks & Spencer-dom". It's not just coke. They won't sell you Evian either, just some own brand water. Now this stuff may actually be better but it doesn't make me feel like a better person like water imported from France filtered through the knickers of a dozen French maids does (that may not be the exact process Evian use, but a man can dream). Or Haribo which is much better than their stupid Porky Pig things. But Coke is the one that really pisses me off.

And so after filling up on almost anything I could want to consume from M&S, I am still consigned to visiting WHSmith as well at each service station for a proper can of coke. This isn't just brand-loyal stubbornness, this is Marks & Spencer brand-loyal stubbornness...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

(They Want to) Live in a House, a Very Big House in the Country...

This will be a quick one as I've already spelled out my thought on this subject before (here and most particularly here). You may have noticed yesterday an article about a particularly large family wanting "a bigger house in the countryside". I found a snippet in the Torygraph, but unsurprisingly the Daily Hate Mail also covered it among others.

Have a read (here) - it's genuinely astounding.

Two things here. First off, council houses or those which one rents and pays for with housing benefit should be sanitary. This is perhaps not true of the house in question. I don't, nor should any sane person, think families should live in squalor. People deserve to be put in safe housing, just not palaces. Thought I'd park that before I get onto the main point. Which is…

WTF!?

I find the idea genuinely incredible that you can just keep squeezing out kids and demand someone else pays for them. Amazing. We are such a sodding soft touch. If you think I'm being mean cast your eyes over these stats:

£12,000 family income from paid work (the boyfriend and perhaps father to some or all children)
£30,000 in benefits and allowances (albeit including disability allowance for an epileptic child which will and should go untouched under new reforms)
9 children, 10th arriving in 6 months

So, that's an income of £42,000. What do they do with it - let's ask mum…

"Money is not tight; we survive well on what we have. As soon as we come back from our summer holiday, we start putting money away for Christmas"

Brilliant. Of course my and your taxes should pay for summer holidays for super-sized families. That's what welfare is for - enough to get by, as long as by 'get by' you mean go on fucking holidays and have a sodding massive collection of toys (see pics with Hate Mail link).

What does mum think about the situation? "I want a bigger house with somewhere for the kids to play; somewhere with a garden. This house isn't big enough for us." Well stop having fucking kids you can't fucking afford you feckless scrounger. I think we'd all like a bigger house but some of us in this country still think you have to earn them. And having a functioning uterus is not 'earning'.

We as a society perpetuate this ridiculous situation. Because there will always be support for people like this there is no disincentive. It's like giving aid to India's poor children because its Government prefers to have a space programme than deal with its widespread poverty. As long as you take care of the essentials, you teach people they don't need to. What is required is tough love. Unfortunately the problem is only getting worse and the world is getting poorer per capita with an increasing population.

A robust welfare and social services system might be deeply unpopular (or the lefty media would portray it as if it was unpopular in the eyes of all - like the generally supported welfare cap) but make total sense. You cap benefits and say crack on. Have as many kids as you like, but we're only paying up to a certain amount. As mum says "it's not about getting more money; if we didn't cope we wouldn't have kids". Or more to the point, I will keep having kids because I will always be able to cope due to the ever increasing handouts correlative to children produced...

The ability to have children is not a blank cheque. You will have to share rooms - most people did as children at some point and don't consider they were in 'poverty'. You'll probably have to cut down on holidays, or shock, horror, not go on holiday. That's your choice. Kids are expensive. If you want more, earn more, like the rest of us. If it gets to the point where you cannot support your children on your capped income, they get taken away from you. The children do not suffer.

Remaining in a house of such negativity and greed will cause them to suffer far more. Odds on most of those children will be jobless for most or all of their lives. They will mimic the life they have seen their parents have and society accept (I appreciate the boyfriend does have a job which is certainly better than the situation in many totally workless houses in similar situations). That is unfortunately the way it goes - check your stats; worklessness breeds worklessness. Patronising them just perpetuates the cycle and reinforces it as a viable way of life. Society has to change. This has to be an unacceptable way of living, as it was viewed not 50 years ago. How did we come to this?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Forced Fed Charity?

Now I know I already blogged exactly on this subject a couple of days ago, but I had to append a quick postscript. I was listening to Radio 4 on the commute home today when an odd phrase pricked up my ears. Some totally neutral commentator on the Beeb was talking about the Government's work experience plan and why it was so mean when he said "it's because it's compulsory" that it had attracted such leftist vitriol.

Which I thought was odd. Because you see, it's not.

You don't have to 'claim' unemployment benefits. It isn't compulsory to claim them. You can be unemployed and not claim them. You'll be 60 odd quid a week the poorer but nobody is forcing you. And in that situation you can do whatever you see fit with your non-working week - further education, apprenticeships or create hilarious cat-based YouTube hits in a bid to become wealthy through…well through however one becomes wealthy from just putting things on the internet that people look at.

If you do sign up, however, to unemployment benefits, you sign up to a contract of sorts. From my memories of The Full Monty, I think roughly speaking it says you have to actively look for work and the Government will a) help you and b) give you a small amount of money to keep you alive. All the Government is now doing is adding another rule.

They've decided that you might also have to try some work-experience for the various reasons alluded to in my last post (break the unemployment cycle, gain skills, guaranteed job interview afterwards etc). That's now your side of the contract. They've decided to be given this free money that you may or may not have in part contributed to in previous tax payments, you have to do a little more because the current system is so obviously fucked.

Seems fair to me. If you don't like it, don't claim and save George Osborne another £3,000 a year. Simple as that. Every little helps...

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Hypocrisy Experience

No, I'm not blogging about the opportunity to be in the shadow cabinet, specifically being the shadow Chancellor. Today's offering is about job snobbery and the convenient forgetfulness of both the leftstream media and their consumers.

There has been sporadic outrage at the Government work experience programme whereby unemployed people get unpaid (with jobseeker's allowance plus expenses) work experience at signatory firms. They get experience in a line of work and a guaranteed interview for a job at the end of the maximum 4 week spell. In Tesco's case (who have born the brunt of the criticism) there is actually a guaranteed job at the end, performance-dependent. The firms in reply get paid for getting the unemployed into work should they take them on paid (and of course some free work).

I'm really struggling to see the problem. Work experience works. Part of the issue with unemployment is the cycle one falls into. The longer one spends out of work, on average, the less likely people are to ever return to work. People get used to not working and find other things to fill their time thereby deciding they no longer have time for work. Also, confidence and self esteem spirals as joblessness extends. Work experience or just volunteering breaks that cycle. It gets people used to doing a working day. It lets them see they are able to achieve an employable standard. Job-dependent there may also be the chance to gain employment-relevant skills. It gives them face time with employers too.

Now this is not a new idea. It wasn't more than a few months ago that the leftstream media were all too happy to bash those pesky middle class parents who actually want their children to succeed (probably the cause of all the world's evils) when they were securing their kids work experience at various firms. Now the types of employment we are talking about here were probably mainly jobs in finance, accountancy, the legal profession and the like. They are certainly different jobs to stacking shelves at Tesco. But the principle is the same.

Exactly the same.

Apparently it is unfair that middle class folks can get their kids good unpaid work experience. But the same commentators rail against the idea that the Government might do the same for the unemployed of this country. You can't have your cake and eat it. If it is unfair that those with connections can use them to get their children work experience it must be because there is some benefit in unpaid work experience. Which leads me to think the only important difference people are not specifically complaining about but really want to, is the type of job, and this is the crux of the problem.

We as a society have become arrogant. We believe immigrants should sweep the streets, stack the shelves and pull the pints. When they take the jobs we refuse to entertain as options and unemployment rises, we complain that immigrants are stealing our jobs. Newsflash - this country cannot survive without a spectrum of employees. If you cannot find a job of the calibre you think you 'deserve', scale back your ambitions, eat some humble pie and just get a job. Well done the Government for trying to help the unemployed (and 20,000 of those who have taken up the programme are now employed). Work experience works. Probably better than a meeja 'degree'...

Monday, 13 February 2012

University Challenge

The debate about the social make-up of university populations has been doing the rounds since before I  started at university, back in the last millenium. It is still missing the point. The case for the prosecution seems as simple as those who propose it: Rich kids who go to expensive schools make up 7% of the school population but they take up about 50% of the university places. Therefore universities are failing children from poorer backgrounds.

A bulletproof argument; as long as you exchange the word 'universities' for 'state schools'.

For years the darlings of the left (often Oxbridge-educated following either private or grammar schooling) have lambasted universities, the Russell Group especially and in particular Oxbridge. They accuse them of snobbery, of elitism, of social and financial exclusion. In their eyes the universities are entirely to blame for the underrepresentation of those schooled by the state (and supposedly therefore poor and underprivileged) at university.

It appears it has never crossed the minds of these people, like Prof Les Ebdon (Vince Cable's proposed candidate for the Office of Fair Access), that the raw product might not be up to scratch. It never occurred to them that the reason the 7% do so well is that their school system works and that the one schooling the 93% doesn't. They don't suppose that it might be the fault of those failing to adequately prepare students for university application rather than those whose job it is to judge the relative strengths of all candidates for the process.

Now call me a bluff old traditionalist, but I think this is rather arse about face. If a school turns out badly educated kids after years in charge of their tutelage, I imagine they have a pretty high degree of accountability for that failing. If they tested those children on day 1 of kindergarten and found they weren't all that sharp, I think it would be rather unfair to blame the school. They haven't been responsible for the standard of education up until that point - the parents have. By the same token, if there is a poor education standard among graduates, the universities certainly take some of the blame. Why anyone thinks that the failings of those applying to those universities could ever be their fault is genuinely beyond me.

It all smacks of the politics of class envy. The uncomfortable truth is that the state system has failed, despite billions of pounds of investment, to replicate the success of the private or grammar systems. It's a failing that belongs to both major parties. Unfortunately, neither has any particularly good ideas about how to go about fixing it, nor any real desire to let it be known this is really all the fault of those in charge of the system. It is far easier, especially today where the court of public opinion rides roughshod over contracts, facts, or just plain common sense, to shift the blame.

It is the easy course to blame the wealthy parents who selfishly try to do the best for their children - whether by paying for a good education or by buying a house in a catchment area for a good grammar school. It is easy to accuse the snobbish (presumably because the bricks are old) universities for failing to attract disadvantaged applicants. The statistics don't look good - but only because we don't look at them in detail; lies, damn lies and all that...

Universities should not be instruments of social engineering. They can though, use their discretion to mitigate against lower academic results where intellectual promise is evident but good schooling is not. And they do. Actually bother yourself to investigate what universities now do to try to better understand who the best applicants are. The key though, is the word 'best'. Yes they have leeway to accept those who have attained lower grades and regularly do, but only when they think that student is better than one with higher grades and good schooling.

Enormous amounts of time, money and effort goes into attracting university applications from all walks of life. Very intelligent people then spend a long time deliberating over which applicants are the best and should be offered places. Ultimately though, for all the mitigation and for all the effort to encourage applications from poorer areas of society, their job is to take the best. In many cases the state has simply put them at such a disadvantage by delivering a desperately inferior level of education that they will be unable to make the grade. This is why we don't have 93% state-educated university populations.

The only thing penalties for missing quotas can do is financially punish blameless universities for the failure of schools or force them to avoid that cost by admitting worse candidates. The outcome is all downside for tertiary education and for this country. Doctoring the numbers as enforcing quotas will do does everyone a disservice as the increased number at university from poorer backgrounds will just mask the continued failing of the state system. Fighting quotas and getting the public to understand where the blame lies for the public/private imbalance in their populations; this is the great University Challenge.