Friday, 26 July 2013

Baby Madness

Well I wouldn't be doing my patriotic duty if I didn't write something about the arrival of young Prince George. So natually I tried to think what the grumpiest slant was. Should I point out how utterly ridiculous the streaming news saga was that showed us "live pictures" of a door in a wall for about 2 days? Or that "news" had been reduced to asking someone with no possibility of the actual relevant knowledge whether the baby would be a boy or a girl or what said baby's name might be and seemingly placing some weight on said conjured guess? Or that mid-afternoon the day following the royal birth, BBC News were still running the "Breaking News" caption followed by the baby's weight? A nice bit of information, but 24 hours on, rather struggling to still be 'breaking' by definition.

No, I decided panning the hysteria was a little pointless. I'm very happy for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and as a fairly new father myself, I wish them luck. I am rather an ardent monarchist, but thought we might have gone slightly OTT on the coverage. Plus, as you see from the pic above, Private Eye got to the punchline first. It was a shame some rather important other news stories barely made a dent (the charging of a man with the murder of PC Blakelock during the Broadwater riots was deemed far less important than an interview with the cab driver who drove Michael and Carole Middleton to the hospital from Paddington). Indeed I look forward to finding out in a few months time which God-awful news piece the Government's head of communications smuggled out just as they saw the door to the Lindo wing opening. Surely the Coalition must have some A4E stats that needed burying?

I decided instead I should briefly talk about the great baby rip-off. There is nothing special about baby clothes. They are very cute and all that - I'm quite partial to one my boy has which is festooned with little helicopter motifs. But they don't require any technique more complicated than those employed to make children's or adults' clothes; yet they cost the earth. As does anything with the word 'baby' in front of it. Now I think Will and Kate will probably be ok - there should be some hand-me-downs around and they seem to rub along ok without getting to the end of the money before the end of the month. Not having a nanny will save some money too.

However, for the rest of us, it is ridiculous. Now I should confess here to being in the privileged position of having barely had to purchase a thing for my son (thus far). My wife and I both have older sisters with young children and we have been inundated with their bits and bobs that in the majority still look brand new. At times our dining room (read: store-room) looks like a pop-up showroom for prams and buggies. We seem to have about 40 (this may be a slight exaggeration) different "travel systems", each with its own useful USP, and none with all of them. But not everyone is this lucky.

If you have to go out and buy a brand new "travel system", and it is important you know they are called that, make sure you call your bank manager first. Clearly some bright spark realised nobody was going to pay north of a grand for "a buggy" or "a pram", but a "travel system", well that sounds like it could take you to the moon. And it should for that money. They're just a baby-sized bucket, some wheels and a frame. How on earth can they cost so much? Perhaps it is because the producers know most sane people will try to find a second hand one that due to the rate babies grow out of their stuff, will likely still be in pretty good nick. So they have to get their pound of flesh from the initial purchaser.

Either way, NCT sales and generous hand-me-downs and share-arounds aside, the prices for most of this mini fare is astounding. Same products but aimed for the baby market which just multiply in price. Small water bottle? £5. Oh, it's for a baby - you should have said. Now it's a small baby bottle, and it's £10. Random piece of patterned cotton towelling? £1. Oh you want to use it to mop up sick. Welll in that case it is now a patterned baby muslin - just £5 a pop. It's airplane prawn sandwich mentality. You have a captive audience so charge them what you want. And we seem to just suck it up.

Weddings are no different. I remember a friend of mine did some research when he got married. He called various companies asking for products/services/hires and then got his fiancé to call and ask for the same items but with the word "wedding" inserted. Everyone increased their prices. A ballroom at a hotel hired for a party? 20% less than the same room when hired for a wedding reception. A DJ to play at the venue for the party? 30% less than he quoted to cover the identical wedding. Worst of all the baker who tripled their charges when the 3 storey cake became a 3 storey wedding cake. Overpricing in this country and our seeming passive acceptance. It's enough to leave you, like the cake, in tiers.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Ed's Clause Four Alarm?

As my euphoria at the spectacular sporting summer was finally dampened yesterday by an abject batting
display from England, I noticed so wrapt have I been this past month with the Lions, Wimbledon et al, that I have been rather remiss with my blogging. There are a few worthy candidates for centrepiece of July's first rant...

It will have come as a massive shock to everyone I am sure to find out the jobs-for-your-leftie-mates wonderful public service (which a recent survey shows is less well-regarded than a decade ago) that is the Beeb has been throwing your tax pounds around like a drunken student on loan day. Or like the public sector in general, really. Overly generous compensation packages for those leaving the BBC have been hitting the headlines of late, and no wonder. It appears the fat cats at the Beeb, who they insist have to be paid so generously to lure them away from the private sector (well, thank God we are paying them so well - they've been so good recently; think Saville, Hall, McAlpine scandals to name a few), have been stuffing the pockets of their chums with wads of cash as they leave.

Presumably this is so it becomes generally accepted practice so when they next make an enormous balls up themsleves, nobody bats an eyelid when they walk away with a cool half million of so including pay in lieu of work they were actually paid for in the first place. It would almost be funny if it were a private company that would obviously only be hurting itself by depleting its cash reserves rewarding failure (or the quite magnificent compensation given to Caroline Thomson to make up for her not being considered good enough for the top job - what's the point of getting promoted when you can fail to get promoted and still get the higher salary to make up for your hurt feelings?). But it's not funny because we are forced to pay for them, whether we like them, watch them or not. Rather like having to donate to the Labour party regardless of your political persuasion... more on that in a bit.

There has been some totally expected politically correct quota-based nonsense over company recruiting. It is unsurprising in today's climate in which where you come from isn't your fault, unless of course you come from some degree of deemed 'privilege'. Yes, we are back beatng the class envy drum again and making sure we socially engineer our workforce. A study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters shows one in six leading companies are vetting the socio-economic status of their applicants, and predict it will soon be a quarter. Why? So they can make sure they have the 'right' mix of poor kids, rich kids, kids from state school, kids from private school, kids with university-educated parents, kids with barely-educated parents (vast tracts of the last two of which will in years to come merge together the way we are going). Apparently we have a 'need to diversify our workforce'. Yup, it is not just our universities that shouldn't any more have anything to do with meritocracy, but companies too. The best companies aren't run by the 'best' people, they're run by the politically correct 'right' people. Everyone knows that.

Under what banner is this positive discrimination taking place - "social responsibility is becoming higher on the HR agenda, so professionals are pushing this forward more". I know we've been here many times before, but imagine for a moment a world where this exact thing were happening but instead of saying we didn't want well-educated rich kids of well-educated parents, we had companies actively discriminating against better candidates on the basis that their parents didn't go to university, they don't earn much money and they sent their children to a state school. There'd be riots. But of course, as ever, class discrimination is ok as long as it harms the supposed higher echelons. Two wrongs apparently make a right. Absolutely barking.

The human rights fiasco barely needs touching on because it has all been said before. The laws are written in far too loose a way which thereby fail to recognise that firstly there will obviously be cases where different articles are competing on opposite sides of an argument (e.g. freedom of speech vs. right to respect for family and private life), and secondly it fails to fully elaborate on the caveats which allow for the limiting of human rights (e.g. fair imprisonment and the knock on effects). Clearly the most recent judicial horror show where the European Court of Human Rights have somehow sunk lower in eveyone's estimation is their ruling that whole life tariffs breach the human rights of the convicted multiple murderers and rapists in question. Utter horse shit. Illogical judges trying to be controversial to gain a name for themselves twisting the wording and interpretation of the poorly scripted laws to justify an obviously incorrect decision. Nothing more. What should we do?The same as we should do with the rulings over prisoners voting, or conjugal visits so prisoners might be allowed to father children. Ignore it, tell Europe to go hang and if they kick up a fuss, take our ball and leave. Same thing the French do with every ruling they don't like. We just need to stop being so British - stop being the only ones who queue at the great European ski lift.

But the winner is Red Ed and his 'Clause IV moment'...

The Tories have had a lot of fun this last week of so with the embarassment that is the Union stranglehold on the Labour party. Everyone knew it, as everyone knows the only reason brother Dave's taking his banana and heading off to America is that the Unions also choose the Labour party leader, and they wanted push over lefty Ed. Milliwho is doing his best shot at righteous indignation over the underhand tactics he has undoubtedly known about forever. The Falkirk scandal has brought the dead hand of the unions to the fore and with it their funding of the Labour party.

Now I for one think it's absolutely fine for the unions to try to influence policy - surely much of their raison d'être. As I have written before, I don't want politicians to exist in a bubble. They are meant to be being lobbied - which means trying to influence (the key word is 'trying'). We are then meant to pick the ones who we think respond in the best and most upright manner to said lobbying and produce votes, decisions and policies designed to help the country. People campaign for more attention (and normally more money) to be directed towards things they hold dear to themselves; it is human nature. People with relations with rare diseases form charities and pressure groups and lobby Government to get more funding for research. Communities lobby Government to say they don't want a massive power station built in their green fields. Business lobbies Governments to make business easier ahnd cheaper to do. Workers unions lobby Government (supposedly) on behalf of their workers to get things their workers would like. This also extends to funding political parties who they think will in general promote policies their interest group will like. It is barmy to have an issue with this.

What Miliband is trying to do though is make it seem he is breaking from the Unions and cleaning up political party funding. He is not. All he is proposing, at some unidentified future date, is that he will stop mandating anybody whjo joins a worker's union (which offer various benefits and are generally not a bad idea whatever your political leaning) paying money direct to the Labour party. It's one hell of an assumption to make and it is good that it will stop. What won't stop is the unions donating vast sums "on behalf" of their members (who don't vote on this - it's down to their self-important Gernerally-Thick-Secretaries). So union influence won't stop, nor will the money. However, because Ed has apparently cleaned up his side of the house he can now apparently assume the moral high ground and demand that political party donations from individuals be limited to £5,000.

Ridiculous. As everyone knows, the vast majority of donations Labour gets it gets from the unions who will still not qualify as 'single donations' despite it being a donation from a single entity generally run by a single person. The Tories differ in their funding, with far more coming from large individual donations. So Ed thinks he can somehow trade removing a disgraceful forced stealth donation for slashing the funding of the Tories. Not a chance. Anyone is free to give as much money as they want to poitical parties. All you need to do is have a system which mandates you to declare it all properly so the electorate can make a decision whether the party in question is being overly influenced by said donors against the best interests of the country. It is the same check against a millionaire oil tycoon donating millions to the Tories and naturally wanting less tax on oil as it is against the enormous workers union donating millions to Labour and naturally wanting more pay for its workers.

The other bizarre mandate from Ed, all pumped up from his showdown with Big Len is his stance on second jobs for MPs. Apparently not having checked that it might affect some of his senior MPs too, Ed has declared no Labour MP can have a directorship or consultancy by 2015, nor earn more than 15% of their Parliamentary salary elsewhere. Another barb aimed at the Conservatives who have many more MPs who have outside interests of note, it is a pathetic attempt to ride the swell of public opinion against MPs. It is the same swell that sees those in handsomely paid ministerial roles denouncing Ipsa's proposed basic salary increase. Easy for Cameron, Miliband and Clegg  (paid around £400,00 between them and each worth millions) to say that backbenchers on £66,000 shouldn't get another £6,000 or so; it's peanuts to them.

You can't have your cake and eat it boys - you wanted an independent body to set pay; you've got one. Yes, it is poorly timed but the grown up response from all of them should have been that the correct level of pay should be some degree higher. In comparison to similar public sector roles, their pay really is rather low - think about the Beeb, think about NHS managers, think about civil servants, hundreds of whom get more than the PM let alone a lowly backbench MP. They should acknowledge what everyone knows - that there have been years of refusing to increase headline pay because it is bad press but stealthily increasing benefits in lieu. It was what in part caused the expenses scandal. I'm not advocating a "pay them more so they don't have to steal" concept but you have to see on a basic level their salary is relatively low. It is better to have ourselves rid of the obfuscation of the expenses system and just pay them an appropriate upfront salary.

Ed is as plain wrong on this second job ban as he is on individual donations. MPs should be encouraged to be actively involved in the country they run. We don't want canned professional politicians, believe me - there are enough already. I want doctors, soldiers, teachers, lawyers, businessmen. MPs whose sole life experience is of politics is a recipe for disaster - political spin, survival over achievement, zero subject matter expert knowledge in policy making or on committees. I could go on. Earn what you want, declare it all and let the public decide. If they think an MP spends too much time in their private hospital surgery and not enough in their constituency surgery, boot them out. If they think an MP spends too long writing articles for papaers and magazines and not long enough writing replies to their constituents' letters, boot them out. If they think an MP is making decisions on his defence sub-committee based on the whims of his masters at a defence firm, boot him out. The answer is not banning influence, it is not banning our MPs from the right to earn more than their parliamentary salary, and it is certainly not banning them from having any interaction with the society they are meant to represent.

Milliwho's announcements this week have sought to impress some kind of leadership upon the unions who elected him and tried to turn the tables of debate onto donations to the Tories and their outside interests. It is not as Blair and some commentators suggest, a defining moment of leadership, though it might be a defining moment in his leadership. Ed has highlighted the overbearing influence the unions have on his party and picked a fight with McClusky he cannot afford to lose. With the IMF upgrading the economic outlook, the Labour lead slimmed to mid-single digits and still no coherent policy other than 'we'll copy the Tories plans but be really miffed about the unfairness of it all' there are better odds on Len still leading Unite after the election than of Ed leading the Labour party. This looks less like a Clause Four moment and more like a c(l)ause fo(u)r alarm (sorry, best I could do)...

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

He'll Go Waltzing Matilda Back Home...

Well it has been rather too long, but a wonderful bit of news on Monday inspired me to launch back into the
blogosphere. Trenton Oldfield is being deported. He of Boat Race ruining fame. Good.

Now today's post is not particularly about his barmy political view, but we may as well touch on it. Oldfield decided that elitism is an entirely bad thing, and is fully represented in the annual Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race. One assumes he was protesting against Oxford and Cambridge in general as institutions rather than the sportsmen and the race itself. If the latter were true, I assume that Mr Oldfield was also planning on demonstrating at all the Olympic events last year too. And the final of Countdown. That is because what the Boat Race itself encapsulates is the success of those who have striven. Like the Olympics. Or indeed Countdown. All the participants have dedicated themselves to being better at something than almost everyone else, whether it be rowing, modern pentathlon or getting to 977 in 30 seconds using 3,4,5,7,8 and 9.

They wish to become champions - the elite. In the case of the Boat Race they have scaled two summits simultaneously - that of academia to be be selected to study at world-leading universities and then also to be selected to row in highly competetive crews usually dripping in past, current and future world and Olympic standard athletes. Protesting at this type of elitism is what is making us uncompetitive in the world. It creates sports days where there are prizes for all lest children find out than in life there is a near constant hierarchy in play in one way or another. No, best protect them from the idea that failure is the other side of the coin of success. That'll prepare them nicely for life.

It is too what drives the constant bilous outpouring against the private education system and the Russell Group universities, most notably Oxford and Cambridge. We don't like people doing well and like to confuse equality with equal opportunity. We've been here before. I doubt Oldfield has ever had a look at the admissions system at Oxford or Cambridge, looked at the ways those institutions try to see through results and pick those with the best potential to make use of the education they have to offer them. Very few journalists or politicians have ever bothered themselves with actual investigation here. They tend to look at one statistic - percentage of state vs private admissions and pin all their arguments on that. They conveniently ignore the failures of large swathes of the state system in either encouraging pupils to apply or educating them well enough to stand a fighting chance at selection.

But that's not really the point. The point is that Oldfield broke the law. He knew he was going to break the law. He knew he was going to ruin the race for those competing, who had worked so hard for so long to compete. He knew he would ruin it for the crowds. He knew he would ruin it for the sponsors, who I think have shown enormous restraint in not suing him for every penny he is worth. He knew what he was doing and he knew the potential consequences. So, I was very happy to hear the arrogant moron has had his visa renewal application rejected.

His wife, however, "accused the Government of politicising the immigration process" say the Evening Standard. Nope. You are, love. Read the rules on visas - it appears this country is still able to close its doors to some people it finds not "conducive to the public good" as the Home Office put it. There is an interesting comparison to be made here with our inability to remove convicted criminals from other countries, either EU ones or those outside the EU where they apparently are also not that popular if we sent them back. It's also not the main point here (we've touched on the 'human rights' farcical argument many times before), but probably worth pondering why it isn't always this simple - or more importantly, shouldn't it be.

Her statement is what I found so ridiculous and made me want to blog again. She laments the deportation order; "the impact would be devastating for us and for our child, She will have to spend her first year without her father as it would obviously take time for me to emigrate. The Government want him out and they have given no thought to the consequences of this decision." I would be surprised if the offspring in question makes it into Mensa with the combined genetic idiocy of these two parents. The reigning Countdown champion can probably sleep easy in his or her bed (unless they don't sleep and just stay up all night trying to make a 9 letter word from the word 'carthorse').

This is what we have come to. It seems we have relinquished all responsibility for our actions. It is apparently up to the Government to consider its actions rather than Oldfield to consider the potential fallout from his idiotic behaviour. What total cock. Unfortunately the lady of questionable intelligence is not alone here. Her argument is no different essentially from prisoners who claim that the Government is responsible for stopping them having children after they have been incarcerated for various heinous crimes.

To quote the Iron Lady. No. No. No.

It is not for the Government to consider your circumstances and how being deported or imprisoned might be a touch inconvenient. It is for you to realise this potential ramification and decide not to break the law. You put yourself in this situation, Trenton, with your misguided sense of self importance. You reap what you sow. I might also point out that he must have known this was likely, yet still decided to have a child well after his arrest, knowing this very situation might occur. It has nothing to do with the Government's (completely correct) decision, and everything to do with Oldfield's (totally stupid) one.

We must stand up for responsibilities over rights. Cases like this just illustrate how far we have fallen as a society, how selfish, irresponsible and lazy we are. Everything is about what can you do for me, what am I owed and putting the responsibility for all your actions on others. We must stop pandering to it. You broke the law? Enjoy prison - if your man tadpoles are all dried up when you get out, perhaps you should have thought of that first. You want 10 kids? Pay for them yourself - because I sure as hell can't afford that decision so I'm buggered if I should pay for you to absolve all responsibility. You want to stay in our country? Obey the rules - it shouldn't be too much to ask.

Oh, and it's (9x7x5x3)+(8x4) and 'orchestra'. Took me an hour and a half...

Monday, 22 April 2013

The Magical Money Tree


I saw a little article in the paper last Monday that I thought illustrates very well Labour's attitude towards
other people's money. Labour MP for Dundee West, Jim McGovern has taken Ipsa to court over their refusal to reimburse him £23.90 for a train ticket to a Labour Party meeting. He lost. The judge decided each side would be liable for their own costs.

Ipsa's share of the cost of the lawsuit will be borne entirely by the taxpayer, naturally. It comes to some £27,000. McGovern's costs are said to be only £740 but will be borne entirely by the GMB union. He told the Sunday Herald that he didn't know his costs. He simply stated "To be honest, I doubt very much if I could afford it. I imagine it would be expensive. Ipsa are using public money. I don't use any public money for representation."

There are two main points here…

First, McGovern decided to take a (proven) frivolous case to court. He knew that the taxpayer would be forced to pick up the defence bill just a Ipsa is forced by its mandate to not let MPs claim party political expenses as Parliamentary ones. As they rightly say, if Ipsa cave in every time someone appeals one of their decisions, there's no point in their existence. The rules may not be the most logical, they may have been soon to change and Ipsa certainly appear to have spent more than they needed to (we've talked about their inefficiencies before). However, when submitting a claim an MP agrees that he understands the rules and is abiding by them. McGovern didn't abide by them. So he lost. He knew this would happen. The cost borne by the taxpayer regarding this case is thus entirely of his own choice.

Jim - stop claiming for things to which you aren't entitled, and when correctly advised why you have no entitlement, don't get on your moral high horse and charge to the taxpayer the price of your hubris.

Second, note the disdain with which he holds those general workers part of whose wages settle his legal fees. It is disgraceful that he can't even be arsed to find out how much the cost would be before deciding to pursue litigation or even find out after the fact so he could try to defend why this was good use of contributions from the general public (for that is what trade union coffers contain). I should like to see him settle his bill himself and if he so desires he can attend the next GMB AGM and ask the members (not the general secretary) - boilermakers, shipwrights, blacksmiths, tailors, clerical staff, and manual workers to name but a few - for them to reimburse him. Because that is where the money comes from - the public. He did use public money. He simply either doesn't realise it or care to consider it.

You see this is the problem the left have - they don't understand that cash doesn't grow on a magical money tree.

They have little care for where money comes from (unless there's some mileage to be had in the politics of class-envy punitive angle of taking from 'the rich'), they just rejoice in spending it all on "fair" and "worthy" causes. They are hooked on spending other people's money - it is an addiction. Tony and Gordy loved the adulation they got from spending. It's like someone who keeps buying presents for people to make himself feel and look good. All of a sudden the boiler burst and not only were there no funds to fix it, but all the credit cards were maxed out.

This is a small case in point of the contempt with which your rights to your money is held by Labour. As far as they are concerned it is there for them to spend however they wish. You have no rights over it and certainly wouldn't know how to spend it anywhere near as well as they do. Will they never learn?

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Divisive and Conquering

So after having the Masters sweepstake in the office this week and one on the Grand National not long
before it, I've accidentally become addicted to gambling on things about which I know very little. Every horse I backed appears to be on the Pathway to Findus and most of my stellar golfers either didn't make it to the weekend or appeared to be genuinely aiming at the water.

So I have found myself wondering what to waste my money on this week. I thought I could just burn £5 but where's the fun in that? Plus I imagine there are laws against it dominated by phrases like "desecration of the image of the Sovereign" and "legal tender". I'd imagine (I have to imagine because I can't be bothered to spend 15 seconds checking on Google) that burning a Lady Godiva quietly sits in the apparently still extant set of crimes that warrant a death sentence, which if folklore be believed include treason, and perhaps killing swans. So instead I have started a new sweepstake - how many times will the BBC manage to say the word "divisive" during today's coverage of Baroness Thatcher's funeral?

Answers on a postcard - For My Attention, Ranting Towers, Little Ravingdon, The South.

I did a little light checking and confirmed my suspicion that no party had secured 100% of the vote in any general election on record, where 100% of the eligible population turned out to vote. Not even close I was astounded to learn. You see I was surprised because I thought from the press that this was the case in almost all elections in which Margaret Thatcher did not stand as leader of the Conservatives. This is because apparently this woman was uniquely "divisive". Not everyone agreed with her. There was dissent at the direction of some of her policies. You can imagine my horror.

As it turns out, that's rather the idea in a system the isn't North Korea or China, say. People get to say what they would do if in power, other people are free to agree or disagree and the one who gets more votes (Lib Dems: let's not get into the specifics but you get the point) gets to do those things for a while. This process is repeated every few years as a check on whether people still agree with those in power or whether they have decided they aren't really coming good on their promises. We call it democracy. Been around a while.

Human nature all but guarantees that there will be discord and difference of opinion. Democracy allows those differences to be represented and compete for public support. Every politician in a democracy where there isn't one party supported by everyone is therefore, by definition, divisive. They say one thing, lots of people will disagree with them. As it turns out, of those who voted in her three General Elections as party leader, Maggie secured 44%, 42% and 42% of their support. Blair's New Labour in 1997 managed just 43% in their landslide, the highest other post-war share of the vote.

So at the polls, Thatcher was one of the most supported Prime Ministers the country has seen since the advent of genuine three party politics. Divisive - of course: the stats also show that nobody in living memory has received over half the vote (even of those voting, let alone those who can't be bothered to vote). Which means no Prime Minister, the Iron Lady included, could claim to have a real majority of support - they are all therefore "divisive" - lots of people clearly disagree with them.

So why would the Beeb and others be constantly pointing out the obvious norm as if it was an anomaly?

Because it is their way of saying they don't like her. They mean the people who, like them, don't like her, are making lots of noise. These are the minority of people who have chosen to use the death of a frail 87 year old woman as a cause for celebration. Regardless of the illogical nature of their hatred of a Prime Minister who did more for this country than any others in the last hundred years bar Churchill and perhaps Attlee, they are displaying a disgusting lack of tact almost unique to the vitriolic left.

Even if you ignore all the many positives of Thatcher's tenure, the time to celebrate the fall of a political opponent is on their political fall - the Tory party's "et tu Brute" moment, or indeed the 1997 removal of Tories from power. It is not when they shuffle their mortal coil. That is the moment when humanity is meant to be united. Death, though it comes to us all, is a sad thing. It is when we are meant to put aside differences, no matter how large. It is why Everton fans observe silent tribute to the fans of their arch enemies Liverpool who died in the Hillsborough tragedy. It is why there are graves tended in England of WWII German bombers who crashed and died here on a mission to kill those who now are their guardians. It is why we pull together when a bomb goes off and human helps human, dividing lines forgotten.

It is a source of great shame that there are people in this country who cannot see this, though as Voltaire said, I will defend their right to state their misguided bile. There will be no Blair parties when the man who sent us into Iraq has passed away. There will be no Gordon parties when the man who bankrupted the nation in preparation for the global crash has loosed the surly bonds of mortality. This tastelessness is a problem seemingly only of the left. They simply cannot take that they were beaten, and so there will be a few protesters today, finally having found an occasion where they believe they have no chance of losing the argument because the object of their attack cannot defend herself.

They will wave placards or turn their backs, as is their misguided right. And the Beeb will give them disproportionate coverage like it has in their reports this week for poll tax rather than the Cold War and miners strikes rather than returning economic prosperity. And they will justify it by telling you how "divisive" this woman was. Whilst she may be disappointed, she would not have minded, as she said, "I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left."

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Spare Subsidies?

A brief look at the ridiculous furore over "the so-called 'bedroom tax'". Only "so-called" because the BBC and the left media immediately picked up Ed Milliwho's illogical soundbite and ran with it, "so-calling" it from the rooftops. Immediately it was announced, the BBC was trailing "bedroom tax" across its News 24 screen and hasn't stopped referring to it since.

No chance of calling it what it is, which would require some neutrality from those we pay nearly £150 each for the pleasure of their supposedly apolitical views. As Cameron stated in the Commons, only Labour (and its propaganda wing) could think a reduction in benefit (read "free, unearned money") could be called a tax.

Also only that same group of innumerate, economically moronic people could happily pretend there is no problem with social housing. The bill is astronomical. A large part of this is that successive Governments have failed to build more housing stock and instead the taxpayer is paying private landlords a king's ransom to make up the deficit. This failure to build was exacerbated by housing being removed from the system through the admirable intent of the right-to-buy scheme. More housing still has been removed by stealth over the years through the far less admirable home-for-life policy that the Tories are trying to change, but people on the left (like Bob Crow) think absolutely fine.

In fact, this is really just an extension of one of the first Coalition policies - to stop needy families on the social housing waiting list being kept on the list because individuals or couples wish to continue to live in a house that was built for more people. In the private sector, if you want an extra bedroom, you pay more rent or a higher purchase price. In the public sector, Labour think there is no reason why these basic principles should be even vaguely considered. The left see nothing wrong with complaining one day "granny evicted from house she has lived in for 70 years by heartless Tories" and then the next "heartless Tories fail 5 million poor, hard-working families on social housing waiting list".

The two concepts just run around different parts of their teensy little brains, and ne'er the twain shall meet to discover their contradiction.

It's pretty simple. If the state has been generous enough to lend you a house, it seems only right that you don't take the piss by having one bigger than you need. This would be true even if there weren't 5 million people on the waiting list. Which there are. These are the needy people the left pretend to support, but singularly ignore for political convenience.

If you live in a council house that's bigger than you need, you have no right to stay, regardless of how long you've lived there, or indeed if you are now wealthy enough to pay your own way. There are people who need that space more than you. If you live in a privately rented house that the Government is paying for because there aren't enough social houses, and it too is bigger than you need, you have no right to stay there and charge the taxpayers of this country (many of whom would love a spare room but can't afford to pay for one of their own, so don't have one) full whack for it. It stands to reason that if you are in this position, you can help pay the bill. If you want your spare room that much, pay for it like everyone else. Otherwise, remember that you are living at the generous largesse of the taxpayers and stop whining.

There are huge inefficiencies in social housing, which if solved would massively decrease one of the single largest draws on Treasury expenditure - social housing costs. Fuck tinkering with the MOD, its budget is dwarfed by the interest on our debt alone. We spend more on housing than on education and defence combined. If you don't think we could do with finding some efficiencies here, you are mentally sub-normal. Not only are the general populace paying for the huge cost of this over-generous gift, but some of the neediest in society are without proper housing because of it. The left should be ashamed of their intentionally mendacious slurs about a totally sensible policy. Only as we know - just look at Tony Blair - they don't really do shame.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Banking on European Stupidity

There are various reasons behind the EU's decision to limit bankers' bonuses. It's just that none of them is any good. There is the populist angle where politicians in search of votes wish to tap into the envy and vitriolic revenge that are so prevalent in today's society - both at home and abroad; the EU dreamt this horsecrap up but damned if the Libs and Labs don't want to hitch a ride on the bandwagon. Then there is the anti-UK angle, one that the UK-based Libs and Labs have overlooked in their fervent approval of the first approach; we stand the most to lose from our financial sector losing competitiveness. Then there is the 'throwing a dead cat on the table' angle that the Mayor of London mentioned here, disctracting the public with something irrelevant; in Europe from the catastrophe of the Euro and in the UK from the Government who fashioned the economic disaster now seemingly totally pinned on 'the bankers'.

First, it plays well in a recession to bash the rich. It's a shame, but it's true. When people aren't doing so well, it's far easier to look to blame others and demand more from them than to introspect and to do something for oneself to improve one's own position. This is the default setting for much of the country it appears. It plays nicely to the lower financial layers of society mockingly sympathising with those with £1,000,000 wages being restricted to just £2,000,000 bonuses.

The reality, naturally (not a concept Ed Milliwho is too familiar with) is vastly different. What both Eds frame as a great new law to stop high pay does exactly the opposite. All the bank bonus limit does is mean banks will have to increase base salaries. It won't really affect gross pay. It will just mean that their baseline costs, those which they are contractually obliged to pay out every year are higher. The bit they have discretion over, will be lower. So even in the poor years when they could severely restrict bonuses, they will still find themselves vastly overcommitted to their payroll. They will be less flexible, more cautious and have to hold onto more of their funds. Thus not only will they not be able to be as competitive, but thy will likely decrease lending too. It's very, very simple. You can't claw back salary like you can bonus, you can't link it as easily to long term performance, and you can't incentivise working harder as easily.

The problem is as usual, the policy goes after the easy headline win rather than the issue. Nobody is doubting there was a lack of restraint with pay and a failure to link pay to long- not short-term gain. This has been taken in hand though; it was the area needing revision and it has more than received it. Despite the banks having done what we asked, we are now to cut off our nose to spite our face. This is a foolish populist policy that will only do damage when the real problem it pretends to be solving has actually long been addressed.

Second, the production of virulent anti-UK policy at a time when we are rightly making noises about the actual worth of being in the shady underworld that is the EU is blatantly punitive. London is by far the financial centre of Europe, and at the same time, a vitally important contributor to our GDP. This policy will do nothing but undermine all European banks and thus hit us hardest. If you were looking for any current examples of being ruled by moronic people you never did or would vote for in a way that is totally contrary to the interests of the UK, one can only say thank you to the EU for providing one so obviously.

The third reason, which Boris elucidates in his article, is to distract everyone from something more important. As he discusses, the EU is desperate for everyone to focus on these evil bankers and how they ruined everything, when it is increasingly clear the central tenet of a common currency for vastly uncommon economies (size, type, development etc) is completely and fatally flawed. Yes 'the bankers' deserve some of the blame, but nobody should be fooled (yet many are) by this clear distraction act. In the UK, Labour pounced upon this intervention like manna from heaven.

"The Tories are going to have to defend the bankers - number 10 here we come" - you can almost hear Labour's delight. It presented another opportunity to pretend that their tax and spend election buying hadn't placed the economy in such a perilous position that when the bust came, there was no money to deal with it. That and to gloss over their complicit part in lax ragulation and the encouragement of the housing boom that was so important to the crash.

All in all a pretty unedifying affair. A terrible law with petty political motivations and no grounding in financial common sense. It is as disappointing as it is unsurprising that it finds support from the usual suspects like Balls and Milliband, as like most of their previous policies (I don't think they have any current or future ones) it will be nothing but economically damaging.

Monday, 25 March 2013

George's Taxing Decisions

George Osborne's budget must have gone well last week, because one of the main things Labour are making a point over is the fact that an Evening Standard employee broke embargo to tweet Budget information before Georgy Porgy got to his feet in the Commons. Naturally, it's hilarious to hear that according to politicians of both sides, nobody has ever intentionally leaked budget data before the actual budget. This is despite the fact that in the run up to most budgets various treasury insiders angling for a straw poll or ministers angling for public outcry at their budget being trimmed take the same approach to secrecy as your average C list celebrity selling the mundane details of their tawdry lives to glossy dentist reception magazines. But that's beside the point as it is perfectly normal to pre-release to news institutions with strict provisos and controls in place. That a Standard employee broke the embargo is a matter for the Standard and maybe the police. You can blame George for a lot of things I am sure, but this isn't one of them.

The thing that struck me about the commentary on the budget though was the pathetic language of the entire press corps, whatever their political colour (you don't see any red in the Torygraph and it's all you can see at the Peoples' Commissariat for Public Information - the BBC). It seems that no matter what the news, no matter how generous a budgetary move is, anyone who doesn't benefit from it muct be a victim or a loser.

For example they are all up in arms at the "discrimination" of choosing to put 10p more tax on wine but take 1p of beer. There is little talk of the fact that wine bars are doing just fine, as is the wine producing industry, and those who tend to drink more wine can probably live with the 10p increase. No talk of the fact that the lower financial echelons disproportionately drink more beer than the better off. Nope, when the stats aren't in our favour we ignore the class envy angle. Nor will you read much about the benefit (though 1p is more symbolic than financially meaningful) that our flagging pub industry will receive from this cut. The important one here is that women drink wine and men drink beer. So this cut in beer duty is... a discriminatory attack on women. You simply cannot win with this bunch of whining liars who seem to set out to deliberately misrepresent policy for a mix of profit and political propaganda.

Newsflash: As I have mentioned before, the word discriminate, means to choose, nothing more. That is the job of Government. They decide from whom they should take money and how much, then to whom they should give it and how much. Otherwise we could just have a system designed to extract a flat amount (or rate) of tax, and then to redistribute it evenly, so as nobody can be accused of making a choice, which by definition would be "discrimination". That would unfortunately put the cat amongst the 'fair tax' pigeons. It would also mean we may as well not pay the people to take and give back in equal measure, because their pay just reduces your rebate. Let's have no Government - it worked pretty well for Belgium.

Flippant yes, but the point is that Governments make decisions every day - it is what they are elected for - where they prioritise their many competing demands against their limited resources. Increasing funding for cancer research is not a vicious attack on all diabetes sufferers. Buying new science textbooks for a school is not a slap in the face of the teaching of humanities.

Unfortunately we continue to characterise all such funding decisions exactly so. Why? Because we are a nation of spoilt, selfish children. We cannot be happy for anyone else unless we get the same or more. Watching politicians, journalists and the general public discussing public spending is like watching a bunch of poorly brought up children fighting over who got more sweets, or complaining that the other kid gets all the presents on their birthday.

This is much like the talk of "real terms cuts" - when what we need are actual cuts. All these people talk about an increase in this benefit or that as a "real terms cut" because it is below the level of inflation. This again puts me in mind of a kid in a sweetshop. Every year the child grows, and its appetite with it - inflation. Mother hands out some of her hard earned cash to buy a bag of penny sweets, but as the years go by, and mother adds 5 pence to the bag per year, the child complains that the percentage its stomach is growing is larger than the percentage increase mother has gifted. In today's society, this means mother is evil. She is a horrible bitch who is starving her children - and should probably have them taken away from her. And even that analogy is without going into whether, if the child wants more sweets, it might be better off taking a milk or paper round rather than constantly demanding more from its mother...

We have NO MONEY - have we forgotten that? How short are our memories? Labour gave it all to their key demographic to ensure election victories and the exacerbation of most social ills during their time in power. Where did all that money go? Is anything tangibly better (apart from Tony Blair's bank balance, of course)? The Tories, fighting with one arm tied behind their backs thanks to having to pass everything by the bizarrely powerful, finanicially illiterate and very unpopular minority Lib Dems, have somehow allowed the press to say they are cutting deeply and we have real austerity in this country when we are actually increasing out debt and increasing our spending.

The result; no spare money to pay for growth policies like tax cuts because of such largesse and no votes at the polls because everyone believes they are slashing budgets left, right and Chelsea - the worst of both worlds. God, it's enough to wish Alastair Campbell was a Tory - this party are so poor at getting their message across, they couldn't sell water to a man dying of thirst in the desert.

Back to the point… even more furore has been kicked up over the new childcare tax rebate. I read everywhere of the unfairness to all stay at home mothers. Apparently this policy will penalise them.

Bollocks. Plain and simple.

If you stay at home, you don't need sodding childcare. That's your job. Women have campaigned, quite rightly, for homekeeping and childrearing to be considered a job and not a cop-out for the workshy. So how on earth, if you have decided that this will be your full time job, could you are you being unfairly penalised by not receiving something for which you have no need?

It is akin to an able bodied person complaining when an amputee receives a prosthetic limb that they don't also get one. They need that to bring them up to nearer your level. The key is, these whiners don't want the spare leg; they just want to stick it on eBay and pocket the cash. That's what this is about. The Government is rightly saying that the disgracefully high cost of childcare in this country is one of (if not the) biggest barriers to going back to work. So to help women, who as we all know are very under-represented in full time work (primarily because of this), they are giving a small helping hand back into work. What thanks do they get? They get greedy (and, yes, I do mean greedy) people complaining that that money should have been theirs rather than acknowledging a positive step in helping women back into employment and a much needed rebate to help defray the obvious costs of doing so.

It is shameful that a supposedly responsible media happily gives these people a prominent voice without even the hint of balance or even pragmatic and sound financial analysis. Even if there were enough money for Gordon Brown's style of dowsing voters in borrowed cash in return for votes but no progress, it is morally bankrupt as a policy. Instead, we are actually bankrupt by any normal standard which means there certainly isn't enough money for such profligacy.

We have to target the spending better - this is Government's job. Just as they were right that if one of you earns £60k (and therefore about 130% above the national average income; and as much as it would help and you'd like it), we cannot afford to give you child benefit, so they are right here. Yes, that means some people will get stuff you didn't get, and because it is too expensive to get everything perfect, it also means you can find seemingly unfair anomalies. But that shouldn't be the story - because ultimately you don't need it. Like people with two legs don't need spare prosthetic ones and stay at home mothers don't also need help paying for childcare. Childcare is crippling, and help is welcome for those who want or feel they need to go back to work and who can earn enough to make it worthwhile. Anyone who thinks it isn't is a spoilt brat.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Unwanted Liberal Advances

Nick Clegg's Lib Dems have managed to hang onto Eastleigh, and thus Nick Clegg has managed to hold onto his Lib Dems, despite the Huhne/Price and Rennard scandals. Whilst holding a seat is not so much an advance as a maintenance of the staus quo, with the incumbent MP heading off to jail and defending a tiny majority and polling nationally in the single digits, this was quite something for the Yellow Terror.

The main point, though, about both of these stories was that it is very clear that lots of people (his own people I should stress, not Tory or Labour malcontents) say that Cleggo knew about both of these in pretty vivid detail. Weirdly, he has come down with a touch of the Murdoch's and can't remember being told any of it. Convenient because if the very many people who essentially say he is lying are being truthful, Nick would be in a spot of integrity-based bother. And the Lib Dems are all about integrity. There are 3 possible conclusions:

1. Nick Clegg is not suited to Government as he simply cannot recall even the obviously most important things he has been told.
2. Nick Clegg is not suited to Government as he runs such a loose ship that he doesn't want to properly investigate serious allegations made about very senior party members, or else his deputy, 'Quad-member' Danny Alexander, doesn't bother telling Clegg the important bits once he has investigated them.
or...
3. Nick Clegg is not suited to Government as he is telling whoopsies, the lying little tyke.

The whole unsavoury affair brought to light an interesting point though, which Toby Young tried to explain a couple of weeks ago (not particularly well) to the Labour Party Conference (Question Time audience). This was that we should be a little careful over calling an amorous advance a sexual assault. There is a big difference, and screaming "how dare you, you chauvenist rape-condoning pig" at anyone who points this out does nothing to help those victims of actual sexual harassment or assault.

Think back - have you ever thought "I'm in here" and lunged at the object of your fancy? Maybe you were 15, at a party in the room with the coats with the pretty girl from French class, maybe you were 25, dancing the light fantastic with a fellow reveller in a nightclub, or simply 35, trying "to steal a kiss" as you dropped off your dinner date at her door. Now that was rather ageist of me to suggest that only teens do house parties, 20 somethings go out clubbing and 30 somethings do dinner, but you see the point, no doubt?

You have not always asked for written permission to go for a kiss I will wager - and nor should you. Or (for those kissing girls - because the way we are hard wired means it is generally boys who have to chase girls) when kissing to go for the hallowed ground of the boob touch. Now "no" means "no", but we must agree that working out sexual signals is a dark art, and one which backfires sometimes. Etiquette dictates you go very red in the cheeks, become very very English and mutter things like "I'm terribly sorry...I thought I saw you catch my eye...too many sherberts...I'm awfully embarassed...etc" In normal circumstances, getting it wrong is not a sexual assault - crossed wires are just that. We cannot legislate the (un)knowing glance.

Now clearly I'm talking about Lord Rennard and his alleged Lib Dem activist fetish - presumably for him there is something enduringly sexy about a moronic idealist with discalculia. Clearly one can go too far in trying one's luck, but just trying it is no crime (I'm not advocating forcing yourself on someone, but leaning in for a kiss or stroking a leg is flirting, and you are allowed to get it wrong if you behave correctly immediately on finding out your error). It is irrelevant that he could be mistaken for Eric Pickles from afar, or that in trying his luck he would be attempting to commit adultery. If he only propositioned these women and tried unaggressively to kiss them, on the criminal side of the ledger if he is guilty most of us should be locked up.

The more important charge is that it does seem likely, if these allegations have any substance to them, that he has abused his position of power. That is very different to the general commentary in the press which is incredibly worrying and has all the hallmarks of a society on the march toward "sexual thought crime." Romantic misunderstandings are par for the course, forceful abuse of power is not, nor of course sexual assault. Let's not mix them up though, eh?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Civil Disobedience

Hot on the heels of my NHS rant I feel we should opt for some thematic consistency and stay with the public sector - and what better example of overpaid, bloated, self-perpetuating beauracracy than the not so Civil Service. The news now a couple of weeks ago (almost current this blog - so relevant, no?) is that they are beginning a series of strikes, starting with budget day. Why? Are they being indiscriminately fired? Is there rife abuse of power, sexual harassment and so forth perpetrated against the voiceless and penniless Bob Cratchet types staffing the Home Office workhouses? Perhaps they are working 23 hour days and are forced to send their babies down the pits at the Energy Department? Which Herculean task is ahead of them? Which ignoble wrong must these Trade Union leaders right? Surely it must be some great disservice being foist upon these loyal, industrious bastions of our society? Oh no, my mistake, they want another enormous pay rise. What a bunch of pumpers.

Yup, yet again the Trades Unions are going to war with the Government over pay, holding us all to ransom for a 5% pay rise in a recession when there's clearly no money to pay for it. Everything else is fine. There is no point in their existence other than a way of finding jobs for quarter-wits (think Len McClusky) and holding the country to ransom over eye-watering pay increases for their members whilst everyone else has to live in reality (not something with which Bob Crow is particularly au fait) and tighten their belts during tough economic times.

We've been here before.

Please try to remember, when the BBC plaster wall to wall coverage on Budget Day and thereafter of these "vital cogs" in our society explaining that they are being "victimized" by the Government in a public vs private, divide and conquer strategy, and they are just trying to "make ends meet" and "put food on the kitchen table" and "clothe their children" and other such shit, that everyone is trying to do that yet they are demanding a pay rise none of us could hope for in this climate.

And they want it from you. From your pocket. Big pay rises to them mean less money for education, for public transport, or to keep fuel prices down. It's why there is no money for a tax cut for anyone, why child benefit is no longer universal, and why the upcoming budget will be no better news than the announcement of the next series of Big Brother. It's just pure unadulterated greed - and the Beeb will sell it to you in its standard, tawdry "it'll only hurt the children" mantra. Just don't buy into it. Because if you do, we'll all end up paying for it.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Farewell the Deserting Rats

A rare, but sensible criticism of the military here. The grumpy old codgers moaning about the 7th Armoured Brigade's history of tank warfare need to look back at the regimental annals. Regiments get re-roled, as do their other Service counterparts. Tradition is very important in the forces, but not at the expense of any forward movement. Parts of our armed forces are centuries old - but they have had to adapt to survive. We have cavalry units complaining about losing tanks now. Would they rather we went back to horses?

I am the first to admit the defence review might have been somewhat hurried and may prove in the long term to be somewhat of a poorly effected hatchet job, but both cuts and change are necessary in some measure - anyone can see that. If we upheld everyone's claims that "we've been doing x since blah blah blah", there would never be any change and the Armed Forces a worse place for it. The only way is to embrace the change and try to work with it rather than against it. Tradition will not always be your best defence in trying to divert the axe.

As an example look at the Rifles - now one of the most prestigious and over-subscribed infantry groups after under 10 years since formation. The writing was on the wall at the turn of the century that there were too many small infantry regiments and amalgamation and maybe disbanding would be inevitable. The Devonshire and Dorset Light Infantry, the Light Infantry, the Royal Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry and the Royal Green Jackets chose their bedfellows. They embraced change and created a fantastic fighting unit with a real sense of union. Others had it forced on them and tangibly lack the success that cohesion brings.

So let us have less sniping about the sideline matters, it only serves to drown out the more important arguments over future size, structure and funding. That, too, is not only a lesson for the Armed Forces. Other departments would do well to remember to pick their battles and not sweat the small stuff, or else people will have stopped listening to their cries by the time the real wolf does come along.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Those in Glass Houses

Over the last few years the Clergy have been increasingly vocal in their voicing of political views. The last Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams seemed drawn to public political statements like a moth to a flame. Bishops positioning themselves for high office it seems likewise like to make tactically timed public comment about Government policy. It seems the new spiritual leader of the Church of England is no different.

Whenever I hear a churchman talking about the ills of Government policy I cannot help but think of gay-yet-gay-bashing paedophiles hurling sanctimonious stones out of their glass houses. Just saying - it's the image that pops up. I wonder perhaps if they might consider staying on line for a spell and putting their own houses in order?

Now as Iain Duncan-Smith pointed out this week, it is certainly right that church leaders (and all men and women of the cloth) are concerned for their flock and indeed those outside it, especially the meek, poor, weak and needy that the Bible and other religious texts points out could do with some help. But it is the manner of their intervention that is so unseemly.

A few weeks ago the Bishop of Liverpool condemned the Government because the welfare cuts fell disproportionately on the poor. Yes. They do. Because poor people use welfare more than rich people. It is a non-point. The fact is most public money goes to those with less (it's the hallmark of a generous and humane society), but that does mean that cuts in this largesse will also work in the reverse. It is disingenuous and moronic to pretend it is a ghastly thing or indeed avoidable.

If the Government spent public money on providing Beluga caviar and Cristal champagne for all those earning £200,000 a year, it would be eminently sensible to cut that budget first. But they don't. The fact remains that the rich subsidise the poor through taxation, and take little draw on the public coffers, so cutting their take is pretty tricky. When it comes to decreasing spending (and it is clear that must happen, because our economy and therefore tax take is not about to jump 15% to cover the shortfall between spending and income) the Government can only decrease what it does spend money on, which naturally is stuff that more poorer people benefit from.

The other side of the coin is certainly the question of whether more money could or should be extracted from the richer in society. But, as mentioned here before, with some of the highest tax rates in the world, not only are "the rich" already doing more than their moral "fair share", but they also will not produce more by an increase in taxation. We are already well beyond optimal levels of taxation for money gathering and economic growth purposes. Pretty much all tax rises now are essentially economically self-defeating in the long term and politically- (masked as morally-) motivated in the short term.

The latest church intervention by Justin Welby mirrored these type of comments, condemning the welfare reforms for sharing the burden incorrectly. He is right it is shared incorrectly, but not in the right direction - half the tax collected in this country already comes from just 5% of us and 1/2 of us take more than we give. He has rowed back somewhat since his comments last weekend, qualifying that the welfare system is shot to pieces and requires reform, but he is still out of lane.

If he thinks his words were not political or guaranteed to be used politically, he is far to naive for Lambeth Palace. The church's (all churches, not just C of E) place is not in politics, despite (no more obvious now than with the recent Papal elections) politics being rife within the church. It would do well to tend to its own dwindling flock and its failings than try to draw attention away by one-eyed, economically unsound political point scoring to divert attention and raise personal profiles. If they really want to help the poor, they could always sell some of their lovely golden clothes...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Horses for Courses

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since my last outburst, and I have felt the rage building at story after story until I could no longer hold back, despite my new, joyous 4 hours of daily commuting rather depleting my hours available to blog. Like a hardened con waiting for his 'basic human right' of a conjugal visit, there's rather a lot stored up.

So where to start? Well we should probably go with the story that had the most direct and dire consequences for the public at large - likely widespread criminal behaviour in one of the most important sectors. A vile underbelly of corruption masquerading in a great illusion of quality forced on the unknowing British public. I speak, of course, of the HORSE MEAT SCANDAL! You'd be forgiven for thinking I meant the appalling NHS Mid-Staffs affair - the report detailing the horrific standards of care and indeed lack of basic human compassion reported that led to at least 1,200 deaths. You see, whilst that seems important, it appears we don't care very much about that, based on the column inches. No, we care much more that unscrupulous people have been selling Shergar in place of Daisy the cow.

Not to belittle the affair, but nobody is dead. Horse meat in general is perfectly edible. Clearly the issue is with mis-selling (and making a profit from selling a cheaper meat as a dearer one) and quality (if you don't know what is in it, you don't know how good it is or if it is safe/organic/volunteer beef). Fair enough there's been a bit of a hoo-hah about this, but the perspective is very wrong.

We don't mind eating chicken nuggets (some of us), and having carved a chicken up last Sunday, I certainly didn't find any naturally occuring ones. We knowingly put in our mouths things which are labelled one thing because of a sometimes rather loose connection with one of the ingredients - think turkey twizzlers, beef kebabs and value pork chipolatas. There are all sorts of filler put in cheap meats the world around - to use my favourite quote that I crowbarred into every history A level essay I wrote; "laws are like sausages, it's best not seeing one made".

Otto von Bismarck's erudite point is certainly true of the (no pun intended) ghastly horse trading that today sees 1/2 a Lib dem policy and 1/2 a Tory policy put together to ensure the alienation of both sets of supporters in conjunction with an utterly useless piece of legislation. It is no less true of cheap meats, and has ever been thus. That someone has found that they can pass off selling horse is no surprise considering how much water-blasted shin gristle, 'reclaimed' scampi and sawdust-based fillers we've probably eaten in our time.

Surely there is a suitable legal chain whereby shops have a certain requirement for due diligence in confirming what they are being told they are receiving really is just that (they cannot personally monitor every animal from cradle to gravy, so it has to only be a reasonable level of diligence). If they have done that (as dictated no doubt by the FSA (not the banking one)), they're in the clear and can then sue their suppliers for reputational damage, whilst the courts can prosecute those who intentionally deceived them. If not, they're in hot water too. No matter how many people in the chain, the process works the same. Not surprising, not terribly important in the grand scheme of things and already perfectly well catered for in law. Move on shall we?

The actual big story though, is the elephant in the room. The Tories are so concerned by their lazy but extrmemely adhesive image of the nasty poor-bashing party that they dare not do the right thing over Mid-Staffs. It seems you simply cannot say that there are some useless people in the NHS. You also cannot say there are some nasty people in the NHS. No, every worker in the NHS goes to work wanting to do good.

Quite how everyone is content that every single one of the 0.5 million banking sector employees in this country go to work with greed and class-based hatred in their hearts, yet cannot countenance even one of the 1.5 million NHS employees not being 'an angel' is beyond me. We are a nation of morons, intent on buying into themes, not listening to facts and making sound judgements. It's how Labour are ahead in the polls where everyone thinks the economy is the most important thing but cannot see Labour have not produced a single economic policy in 3 years of Opposition since they totally ruined the country's finances for generations to come.

The Tories refuse to point out that whilst Sir David Nicholson certainly is accountable over all the deaths to a degree, what is far more important is that at least several hundred medical professionals are vastly more culpable in individual cases. No, the "system" and the "culture" wasn't right in many ways, and top management (and all the levels in between) have to take responsibility for that. However, to allow someone to dehydrate to death in bed, to give someone a vase of flowers to drink from, to allow someone to not be moved for days at a time causing fatal bed sores, to fail to monitor properly the care of over a thousand people (and they're only the ones who died - I dread to think how many suffered and survived), that is cold-hearted, even evil, certainly sackable, definitely culpable and probably criminal behaviour. And it must have been perpetrated by hundreds of nurses, doctors, ward sisters, health workers, care assitants etc.

Sod the "we don't learn by blaming" - I don't remember such restraint (still ongoing) regarding 'the bankers' (catch-all for every single person in the financial services, all misanthropic, all went to Eton (they must have big classrooms), all earn £1,000,000 a year, all eat babies and love Jimmy Savile). There are people in this "envy of the world" health system of ours that deserve to go to prison, not just fired and never again allowed to work in healthcare. But no, the Tories don't want to give the Grauniad et al the "nasty Tories turn on the NHS" headline they are dying to print. Which of course is why DC still won't cut their bloated budget despite the damage it is doing to other departments.

And the other reason we are quiet over the hundreds of awful and culpable workers? Because if we convince ourselves only the chief exec who will never have even set eyes on a single one of the victims is to blame, then as he wasn't also the chief exec of all the other hospital trusts, there's no chance this exact behaviour isn't mirrored in all parts of the country. If, however, we admit the NHS is a very sodding long way from perfect and throwing money at it doesn't cure it any more than applying a soothing balm constituted of £50 notes cures cancer, we might have to look under a lot more stones and find a lot more willful neglect and in some cases, outright abuse. And more dead people, naturally. And we wouldn't want that - we'd rather moan about pony arrabiata.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Great NHS Free-For-All

Today, an important but understandably touchy angle on the seemingly perpetual divide between the realists and the fantasists. Yesterday, the Labour MP, Dave Anderson had a letter published in the Torygraph bemoaning Nice - the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. As you know, it is the job of this unfortunate set of souls to decide what we can afford to cure 'free'.

By this I mean they look at treatments and medicines, work out how much they cost and what benefit they deliver. They use necessary but harsh sounding units called "cost per quality-adjusted life year". They take all this into account and work out if the NHS should add this treatment to the sanctioned list that John Q Taxpayer can undergo or be prescribed free at the point of delivery.

It must be a desperately depressing job. When they rubber stamp something that helps people out, they are unthanked (naturally, one might think - it's their job). However in the absence of the smooth, they certainly get their 'fair' share of rough; when we do hear about them, it is not normally in a story showing them in the greatest light. You can probably recall at least half a dozen articles along the lines of 'Nice refuse to fund cancer drug condemning little girl to death' or other such monocular representations of the very complex situation.

Now the thrust of Anderson's letter was a criticism of the decision to place under Nice's remit the assessment of viability of "high-cost, low-volume drugs for very rare conditions." Sadly it appears he has previous experience with one such condition having lost two family members to myotonic dystrophy. However, in his concluding paragraph he exposed the ultimately flawed opinion which characterises his party.

He stated "people affected by rare diseases should not be faced with the uncertainty of knowing whether Nice would deny them treatment on the grounds of cost." Whilst I can empathise with someone who has experienced the terminal illness of a loved one, I cannot agree with this statement. We should strip out the "rare" part and analyse what he says - essentially "diseases should all be treated free of charge by the NHS regardless of cost".

This is one of the reasons why we have a cyclical political cycle. The Tories piss everyone off / stab their leader in the back / erupt into civil war and Labour get in. Labour then bankrupt the country because they subscribe to the economics school of Ocean Finance. Cue Tory return. Ad infinitum.

As I blogged about in part here, referencing this excellent comedy sketch (here), there is a finite amount of money to be apportioned to varying competing demands (and the same goes in all areas of Government, not just health). What Anderson is essentially saying is there should be no Nice. Drug companies should simply create procedures, treatments and drugs and the Government should pay whatever price those companies choose to charge, because everything should be free. Nothing's too good for our loved ones, surely? NHS means 'Free For All', right?

Anyone suggesting otherwise surely wants people to die? Painfully. What total Tory bastards.

Or of course, they know that there is only a certain amount of money and lots of ill people. So you have to take a utilitarian sort of view and try to do the most good and the least bad. Now those closest to illness are naturally biased. I would have been a terrible Chancellor or Health Secretary whilst my father was ill. I suppose I might have sold all the eye units, pawned off the heart disease research centres and put the maternity wards on eBay. I might have traded it all in for as much anti-cancer stuff as I could get my hands on. Luckily I wasn't in charge, so that didn't happen.

Like Dave Anderson's brother and sister, my father didn't make it. Unfortunately, that's life, and indeed death. It comes for us all, and there is likely not a family in the country who have not had somebody succumb to one illness or other. Many of them no doubt feel very strongly about funding for research into the disease or condition in question. But that's why we have Government to make impartial, unemotional decisions. MPs are part of that and should be able to speak as a representative of their constituency, not just of their family.

At the end of the day there isn't enough money (even if we had not been left in such a parlous state by the last Government) to treat everyone to the highest levels. Those lucky enough to afford private healthcare can mitigate this to some extent. Those lower down the economic scale cannot. So we have a system that tries to make sure the money goes as far as it can. Often this means refusing to fund medicine that would help some sick people quite a lot. It is not out of spite. It is because they have decided they can spend the same money elsewhere and make a few more people better.

It is very sad for the unfunded group, but we should not let Nice become a punching bag. Perhaps the equation they use could do with tweaking, perhaps it does not take all of the right things into account? But it has to be there in one form or other. It has to exist. It is as necessary as a medic on a battlefield deciding which soldier to treat - given the time he has and the equipment with him, where is his help best put to use? We should all feel sorry for the man left to bleed out as the medic moves to help the man lying next to him and then the next and the next, all in the time the medic would have taken to treat the first man and still perhaps not save him. We can make a song and a dance about it if we wish, but we should not question the medic's motives nor forget the greater good he did by not treating the first man.

This is Government; trying to do the most good for the most people but being realistic about the fact that we will never please everyone. Unfortunately, there are too many people commenting disingenuously about decisions on where we can afford to spend and where we cannot. We know there isn't enough money to go round. Yet we still hear bleating of evil cuts as if there was no need to budget.

This is the fallacy Labour would have us believe - that the cuts are for shits and giggles; some kind of old-Etonian 'screw the poor' party where all the spare money is spent on champagne and fox hunting or just burnt in great bonfires for fun. Because if they pretend the choice to fund a drug or not is not an economic one but a moral one and anyone who disagrees is just punishing the ill, they hope you'll forget the reason why so many of these decisions do actually have to be made from an economic point of view - because they screwed the economy of this country for likely decades to come.

We must feel great sadness for those who are struck down by illness and even more so for those whose treatment is not economically viable. It would be lovely for those falling ill to not have to worry about treatment costs, but to pretend their having to is the whim of a malicious, uncaring Government is poor form. They rightly do have to worry because there isn't enough to go around and objectively the money might be better put to use elsewhere. It is the fantasy of the centre and left, of Labour and Lib Dems, that all decisions should be made on principle and not economics. It is what got us into this mess in the first place. If they are let back in, they will cause chaos again in the economy - then the NHS really will be a free-for-all.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Another Slice of the Golden Goose

This week David Cameron decided it was time to stand up to aggressive corporate tax avoiders to mixed reviews. Some companies complained of the added cost of being forced to publish their basic tax positions. This sounded a lot like saying "we'd rather you didn't know" since they already produce annual reports and statistics for various bodies, not least of all their shareholders. I can't imagine it would take an intern more than a day to look at the column in the excel spreadsheet that says "UK taxes paid", divide it by the column that says "UK profit" and multiply by 100. That would go some way to satisfying the desire to check tax is being returned in reasonable proportion to the country of the citizens who funded the profit.

Really the only people who are going to whine about this are indeed 'doing a Starbucks'. I don't think it's morally wrong - that's not important, and it's an opinion of which DC should have but didn't steer clear. As I've said before, a company owes it to its shareholders to maximise profits; this includes getting staff to work for as low a wage as they can reasonably offer, buying raw material cheap, selling product as high as they can and paying as little tax as they can whilst complying with their legal obligation to pay full tax in whichever jurisdiction their company structure allows.

Some people like to bang on about moral obligations - the 'fair share' tax lobby for instance. I, for one, think that's a load of old cock. Companies should behave in a moral way, but legally minimising one's tax bill (as anyone with a personal ISA or parents who pay into their children's ISA or child trust fund is) does not contravene moral behaviour. We're talking about not paying exploitatively low wages, not using child sweat shops, not trading in blood diamonds - that sort of stuff.

Trying to go the Clegg route of minimum effective rate of tax is not going to work. I think, for once, there is some merit in the idea, but actually far more applicable to personal not corporate tax. We can investigate that one another day. The main point though, is that this hasn't been thought through - like everything that leaves the Lib Dem leader's mouth. Putting aside the potential resulting disincentive for businesses to operate in a country that doesn't allow very effective (read: "aggressive" in today speak) tax avoidance, the law would be too complex and probably very easy to get around.

The far more obvious route to go is public pressure - look at Starbucks. If you make everyone show they're playing fair, consumers can talk with their wallets and not patronise those companies who they think take too much in profit from their country and return too little in tax. That's what DC is suggesting and makes sense - I just wouldn't have framed it in the somewhat anti-business rhetoric he did.

It is up to him and his Chancellor to set rates (and corporate tax rates are not the only relevant business tax - many others have been rising to offset the decrease in the headline corporation tax rate) that attract people to pay their tax bills in the UK. The key is being cheaper than the financial cost of setting up an avoidance system and the reputational cost of being exposed as an "aggressive tax-avoider".

But I've said most of that before. What I really wanted to talk about was how popular tax avoidance rhetoric is these days. So much so that Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary has tried to jump on the band wagon with his new target. There is a group of people out there engaging in a disgusting tax avoidance scheme. They make Jimmy Carr look like Lord Sainsbury. Who are these people refusing to pay their fair share? Old people who refuse to get dementia.

Bastards. Old, fully-marbled bastards.

Let me explain, Manuel…

Labour have not learned that our money is not their money. Still. So they are trying to revive their "death tax" in response to the Coalition plans to introduce the social care cap (which looks like it may be the first actually well-thought out policy of this Parliament). Yup, beyond the already monstrous theft that is inheritance tax, Labour would like to take some more of your already taxed money to pay for the care of the elderly. Regardless of whether you ever need any yourself.

Amazing.

Having grasped the wrong end of the stick, Burnham thinks the extensive reviews into how to save those unfortunate enough to require care in their latter years from liquidating often their only asset which they have spent a lifetime paying for is actually an excuse to tax everyone some more. He and his moronic pals have thought this would be an excellent opportunity to make everyone pay an extra 10% of total estate on death to pay for someone else's care.

Now I have already written about the dubious script that everyone seems to accept unquestioningly that elderly care required for age-related illnesses (e.g. dementia) is somehow different from infant care required for age-related illnesses (e.g. premature babies and various infant conditions). Because it is apparently different, the latter is free at the point of delivery having been paid for by general taxation budgeted to the NHS. The former though is apparently something different - an optional extra like reverse parking sensors, built-in GPS or heated seats. Therefore it is something we all have to pay extra for if we require it.

Now you know I accept there is not enough money to pay for everything - it's why we don't have 10,000 uber-hospitals with 1:1 doctor:patient ratios and 15 minute waiting lists. I just think we don't present this one in the correct light - call it what it is. We have to charge people for elderly care because there's no money left. That's because we spent rather than saved whilst the sun was shining. We failed to recognise the burden of population growth. We sold all our gold at rock bottom. We raided our pensions. We sold all our Government assets to pretend we had annuitised income to spend on buying elections when really we were reducing our capital base and often then decimating our 'earnings' in a very short time renting back the assets. For 'we', I think you know what to replace in its stead…

Now Burnham and Labour think on top of all the taxes we pay through our lives, when we get to the end we should then pay another great whack to pay for extra care that should have already been covered by our taxes but instead was squandered by a Labour government who tripled NHS spending without improving anything because more money for granny's hip and little Timmy's asthma was a good news story. Apparently, having to pay the social care cap (or insurance premiums to cover it) is forcing people to pay a 'dementia tax'. Therefore those people who have the audacity, nay the temerity not to suffer in their old age are avoiding this tax. And that's not 'fair'. So let's tax them some more. It's always the answer.

Hopefully Labour will make this anti-tax avoidance message central to their election campaign. I think we'd all sleep a lot better in our beds at night knowing they will never get near Government with it.

 

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Great School Smokescreen

I've written a fair amount about universities, specifically about Government attempts over the last decade and a half to use them to embark upon various kinds of social engineering exercise. In case anyone is unsure (you can read more here), I don't think it is the responsibility of universities to ensure they take a cross-section of society. I think they should take the best students who will respond best to what they have to teach them. That won't always be those with the highest grades but the point is they are still adjudged 'the best' from whatever mix of attainment and potential the universities choose to use. The key is they aren't just filling quotas. What they certainly aren't responsible for is their schooling up until university.

Now I know what you're thinking … surely only a total moron would think that it should be up to universities to educate children at school? That would be the job of …  er … schools. Yes, schools. They seem ideal candidates for holding the responsibility for teaching children stuff up until university age. They seem to have the children for hours on end per day. They have books, teachers, desks and so forth. Almost ideally suited come to think of it. Well we've got one such moron, Vince's mate Professor Les Ebdon. I forget what the other side of the tawdry Coalition deal was that put the utterly daft Ebdon in charge of the worryingly 1942-esque Office for Fair Access. One hopes for many reasons that the Tories can stop the rot and win an outright majority in 2015. One of the most important is to be able to oust this interfering and utterly misguided man before he does lasting damage to our university system.

Now on the surface one might think that universities helping out preparing school students for the travails of university would be a good idea. But it isn't when it is dictated by political overlords hell bent on social engineering and who hold enormous financial power over said institutions; when part of their budgets is mandated to be used to encourage wider access. This is all just a very large smokescreen to hide the fact that a large proportion of the state system has failed. There are doubtless many state-educated students who do not gain places at university or at a good enough university because their school has not developed them to their full potential. There are also doubtless many students who would likely never be academically gifted enough to study at any university of repute regardless of the teaching standards at their schools.

The lefties, Les included, would rather we didn't discuss that. Nope, they would far rather point out that the only problem is all the evil, rich, elitist scum universities that only want to take thick rich kids, don't care about quality and instead of central heating just burn the poor. It is an incredibly dim view to take of the masters of our universities; quite a charge to lay at their door. But the press and the left lobby do it all day long. Clearly without an ounce of investigation. Go and find out how much universities spend trying to get children from unlikely areas apply. Find out how hard they scrutinise applications and try to discover the real value and the real potential behind the applications from across the spectrum of society. These are professional, caring academics, and they don't deserve the vitriol they are castigated with simply in the name of covering up someone else's failure.

So no, universities should not be targeting children from aged 7 to groom them for university. Schools should. We could call it education. The sooner we get off the case of universities and realise raising the quality of our schools across the board is far more important, the better.