Friday, February 29, 2008
There then follow nine balancing subordinate clauses of a convolution which make the net effect almost impossible to follow.
Remind you of anyone?
Normally this little newsletter tells you about some local event of their like the commissioning of their field kitchen or news of this season's purple sprouting broccoli.
This week, I found myself reading an interesting treatise on commercialism, spin and the green agenda.
Guy Watson is not a fan of "spin" in green matters:
There is a huge dichotomy between the motivations that business leaders profess to the public (beliefs and values) and those revealed to investors. Behind the closed doors of the business world growth, shareholder value and dividends are King with ethics tolerated as a means of driving sales an d building brand. These individuals may have more altruistic inclinations but within the predominantly macho world of business it is not yet acceptable to admit to them.
Watson quotes the "furore over biofuels" as a case in point. Citing his own research, which quickly showed biofuels to be fairly pointless, he writes:
Why is it that biofuels have formed a central plank in so many companies' corporate responsibility claims (Tesco, Virgin and indeed our Government)? Either they could not be bothered to do the most rudimentary research or are more consumed with winning short term approval than achieving true responsibility.
So, there is a picture emerging of companies transparently adopting the "green agenda" in order to boost profits. Sometimes what they are doing is not necessarily "green".
Nowhere is this transparency more remarkably demonstrated than in Ariel's "Turn to 30" campaign.
When the green agenda extends to washing powder, one of the most cut-throat, low margin businesses, then you know it's time for a reality check. Procter and Gamble are not known for advertising campaigns unconnected to their "bottom line". So it was with an outburst of incredulity and nausea that I greeted this TV advert the other night:
That seems to be the moment that green issues got sexy. If you turn your washing down to 30 degrees, the glaciers will suddenly recover and polar bears will let out a little murmur of satisfaction. It is that murmur of satisfaction which got me.
You have to hand it to the advertising wallahs. What a superb, populist advert! All shiny and nice! It's great to see a large commercial giant like Procter and Gamble embracing the fight against global warming.
But on the other hand....Pass the sickbag, Alice.
After experiencing that advert, I was groping around for reasons to be cynical about it. Fortunately, help was at hand in last week's Observer magazine. Lucy Steigle wrote an article entitled: "Does my washing at 30C clean up my act?" The short answer is yes, but buying less clothes and extending their wear time in between washes would do just as much, if not more, good:
It began last year with Ariel (the market leader) and you can see what inspired them. We wash hotter in the UK than they do on the Continent, thus wasting 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of energy a year (but how much of this is the legacy of the industry emphasis on whiter than white whites?)
It almost adds up. Studies on jeans, a polyester blouse and a T-shirt show that laundering accounts for 60-80 per cent of the garment's total environmental impact. But there's no denying it's extremely clever marketing, too, allowing detergent manufacturers to up their planet-saving credentials without particularly changing a product's ingredients (phosphates and optical brighteners are especially unfriendly to watercourses).
...what lurks in our obese wardrobes are 2.4 billion unwanted items, each of which took huge amounts of resources to be made, shipped and brought to point of sale.
Meanwhile Dr Kate Fletcher quotes Dutch research in her book Sustainable Fashion and Textiles which shows that the average garment stays on the body for 44 days and is worn for between 2.4 and 3.1 days between washing. As we buy more these times are decreased and wash days increase. So a sustainable laundry manoeuvre might also include learning to love stains; a little dried egg or butter grease never killed anybody.
Which brings me finally to a little book for which I have great affection. It's called "Keep it simple" by Nick Page. Page argues that we all tend to make our lives ridiculously complex. By reducing complexity, he says, we will lead more contented lives. One of the key ways he demonstrates this point is in the area of wardrobe management. If we recycle or donate anything we haven't worn for a year and concentrate on a few well-loved articles of clothing, rather than a wide eccletic mix (half of which we hardly ever wear), we will actually make our lives far simpler and easier. He uses a quote from Charles Kettering of General Motors which sums up our cultivated desire to buy more and more clothes and, indeed, things:
The key to economic prosperity is the organised creation of dissatisfaction.
So, yes, we'll all click our washing down to 30C. But it will do that polar bear a lot more good if we stop buying things we wear once and then leave in the wardrobe for five years.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
The segment serialised today certainly offers useful perspective on the Charles Kennedy leadership. I say "useful" in the following sense: As Ming says, his father had a drink problem. By writing this article, I think Ming helps to put together another piece of the jigsaw in understanding alcoholism. Several times, his narrative returns to this essential dichotomy: Charles was a superb LibDem leader, but those close around him saw things in a different light.
If Charles had been a rubbish leader, then his passing would not have been too painful. But he was a superb leader. Ming's rather "so-so" leadership demonstrated that by sharp contrast.
There is also some interesting stuff about Ming and Elspeth.
I still haven't decided whether to buy the book. Previous experience of politicians' auto-biographies is that they are interesting up until the point they get into power or leadership. They then tend to become rather sanctimonious exercises in retrospective self-justification. Alan Clark's Diaries were a shining exception to that general rule.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Tories in Derby claim 300 Labour members in the city are to defect to their party tonight. They are confident the mass defection will take place and are bringing party chairman Caroline Spellman MP to the city to welcome them. It follows frustrations within the Asian community about the de-selection of popular Sinfin councillor Hardial Dhamrait. Asian community leaders also say they are disillusioned with Labour policies and are no longer prepared to offer the party the unquestioning support it has traditionally received from their fathers and grandfathers.
Hat tip: Conservative Home
Stephen Tall has blogged about the post-Northern Rock scenario here.
Today he notes that last weekend he sat through not one, not two, but three Evensongs at Salisbury Cathedral.
He deserves a medal. There are many devout Christians who would draw the line at sitting through three Choral Evensongs over one weekend. For those who aren't familiar with the routine (I used to be in the choir at a church so I enjoyed many an Evensong, including singing the Te Deum, which of course we never, as school boys, referred to as the Tedium) here is what the service includes:
-A penitential introduction, including the General Confession and the Lord's Prayer.
-Preces — a series of responsory prayers.
-A portion of the psalter, usually two or three psalms.
-Two lessons (readings) from the Bible. The first is usually taken from the Old Testament and the second from the New Testament. Each lesson is followed by (one of):
-Two canticles, usually the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, but the various Books of Common Prayer from different countries often offer an enlarged list of options.
-The Apostles' Creed.
-Several prayers and responses, including the Kyrie eleison and the Lord's Prayer.
-An anthem following the third collect ("In quires and places where they sing, here followeth the anthem," in the famous phraseology of the 1662 edition of the Prayer Book).
Mind you, I note that last Saturday's Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral included the Edward Heath Memorial Piano Recital by John Lill, so that would have been worth listening to. Dear Old Simon was staying in a flat in the cathedral close, so it sounds like a wonderful weekend.
He is in a 'sulk'. He is "isolated" and "exposed". He has retreated into a "mental bunker". His "aura is fading". He is "obviously not in power". He no longer has "fire in his belly". A supporter says he might not have the stomach for a "Custer's last stand" against an impeachment motion. Even the police have become half-hearted in their treatment of protesting lawyers (one even shaking hands and smiling with one of the protesters).
Oh dear. How awful!
The one thing keeping Musharraf in power is the stalwart support of George W Bush.
Ironic, really isn't it ? In 1999 he didn't even know his name.
I agree with Lorely Burt that the bill, which the LibDems supported in its second stages, needs amendment before a third reading. One of the crucial points which needs to be worked out is the cut-off - i.e when do temporary workers get the same rights as permanent ones ? If it is from day one, as proposed, this would actually be better than permanent workers, who usually have to work for a six month probationary period before they get sickness rights etc.
And, as Lorely sensibly pointed out in yesterday's debate, there are many contractors who are paid a premium rate, which comes as part and parcel of their temporary status. This can apply to nurses as much as IT consultants and the rest. Some form of accomodation would have to be worked out to avoid, presumably, a huge drop in pay for these types of workers.
So, generally, I warmly welcome this initiative, but the details need to be bashed out with co-operation from unions and bodies across working life.
Word Association, Dave & Auschwitz – Orange by name
Labour unveils its Top 50 achievements since 1997 Meral's musings
Party reform commission - will it work? Process Guy
We need to kick out the old guard - Liberal Revolution
Have you been over-charged for Royal Mail stamps? - Lynne Featherstone
Logical fallacies and euroscepticism - James Graham - a superb graph!
Multi-culturalism - the latest moral panic - a real blinder from Linda Jack
Someone tell the BBC news is meant to be boring - Wit and Wisdom - amusing straight talking
Religious Courts - Mary Reid - as usual a very sensible and informed post from Mary
plus a few self-nominations - Schhh!
It would save a lot of bother.
The article says Nick Clegg has "restored a quiet equilibrium to his party". It says he has not faltered in the crucial first few weeks of the leadership, has avoided attempting to arrive "in a starburst of excitement" and "is making gentle progress".
He has avoided the sort of ostentatious contempt towards Gordon Brown that has left Conservatives sounding shrill. He has not tried to break into the news through stunts - attempting instead to make his name through hard grind, often away from London, until luck, a chance issue or an election push him to prominence.
...Read the two big speeches he has given so far, on public services and the economy, for a sharper flavour of his thinking. They establish an inherently liberal intellectual framework - sceptical of state structures and authority. This is undoubtedly alien to much social democrat thinking: shocking to many Labour supporters and to parts of his own party, too. But it is not Tory. He wants to return to his party's liberal roots.
...His argument is that the state has three big tasks: to ensure money is spent fairly, to ensure access to services is equal and to guarantee core standards and entitlements. Beyond this, provision should lie elsewhere - and be managed locally.
The article concludes that Nick Clegg can learn from Vince Cable in bringing a "touch of the pepper and vinegar" to his approach to getting across his message.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Mr Cameron’s aggressive attacks on the Government’s handling of the Northern Rock nationalisation had backfired.
A YouGov poll for The Economist found that six out of 10 people thought the Tories were opposing nationalisation because they were “playing with politics.”
And only a fifth of voters said the opposition would have handled the crisis better than the Government.
The Economist writes:
As polling conducted for The Economist by YouGov shows, the Tories do not seem to have gained from Labour's woes. Only 5% of people blame the government for Northern Rock's difficulties; over a third think its handling of the crisis has been fair or good (see chart). And critics say the Tories' own response has been shrill. Conservatives pretend to believe that this view does not resonate beyond parliamentary sketch-writers and other denizens of the Westminster village—but only a fifth of voters say the main opposition party would have handled the crisis any better than the government. Almost two-thirds think the Tories are playing politics by opposing nationalisation; their own proposal—putting the bank into administration by the Bank of England and winding it down—is not all that different.
By common consent, the only politician to have emerged from the Northern Rock saga with much kudos is Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman, who impressed as the party's caretaker leader before Nick Clegg was elected to the job in December. An economist by background, Mr Cable was among the first to suggest that public ownership was the “least worst” option for the bank.
It is interesting that the public blame Northern Rock's management for the crisis. 60% of respondents blamed the management - head and shoulders above anyone else. The government is only blamed by 5% while financial conditions or the Bank of England/FSA get the other votes.
The Economist concludes that, although the Bank's crisis was "Bad news for Labour", it was "No Black Wednesday".
David Cameron was branded "sick and ignorant" today and urged to apologise for describing school trips to Auschwitz as a headline-grabbing "gimmick".
The Tory leader sparked a major political row when he condemned educational visits to the concentration camp to teach pupils about the Holocaust.
Cameron told a Conservative "North West Conference" in Bolton that Gordon Brown's government was obsessed with gimmicks that "grabbed the headlines but amounted to nothing".
Number four on the list of 26 government gimmicks he cited was "trips to Aushwitz".
I think this is quite wrong and a mis-judgment by Cameron. He should apologise. It is quite right to encourage school trips to Auschwitz. To call them a "gimmick" is disgraceful.
In its "Called to ordure" column, the latest Private Eye lists a whole catalogue of answers which Nick Harvey has given over the last year. I realise that these Private Eye "cut and paste" jobs are a bit of stitch-up. But the list of seemingly less than stingy expenditure at least demands some defence to be given to prevent the House of Commons getting an even worse name than it already has.
Here are some of the highlights from Private Eye's list:
-£234 million was spent on Portcullis House but £5.4 million a year is still going on extra offices for MPs.
-Repairs etc came to £24.7 million last year.
-£422,000 spent on a short glass walkway to stop MPs getting wet after parking their cars
-£327,000 to install "motion-sensitive" to a small escalator serving Portcullis House
-The commission employs 85 people on salaties of more than £60,000
-£188,124 spent largely on buying artwork from the estate of the late Tony Banks.
-£1.25 million spent on legal fees since 2003
-£10 million spent last year on "library services" for MPs - five times what was spent in 1987.
-£11.2 million to be spent on the new Visitor Reception building
-£1 million will be spent on "reviewing the lessons learnt" (Nick Harvey's words) from the "cock-up" (Private Eye's words).
-9 press officers are now employed, compared to just one part-timer in 2001.
£1 million to be spent on "reviwing lessons learnt" from a "cock-up" on controlling costs in a building project - that takes the biscuit! The project started off with an estimated price tag of £8.7 million and then this rocketed to £11.2 million because of "technical difficulties" and they are spending £1 million to 'review the lessons learnt' ! If it wasn't Lent, I'd have a stiff Single Malt to recover from that.
It would be nice to hear some defence of this seemingly profliate spending picture.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
As usual, I have to brace myself and remind myself not to be judgmental, before I have heard what she has got to say.
So, I try to ignore the smug, patronising and sanctimonious tone and the hushed, melodramatic delivery which seems to be designed to give the "thought" an air of reasonableness and authority, but instead gives Ms Atkins' unreasonable views a blood-chilling air.
Instead, I try to hear what the message is and properly evaluate whether it is valid. Calm. Calm. Calm.
Suicide is wrong, she says. The Chief Rabbi told her this and she told a 10 year old boy this and he never contemplated suicide again. That was her gist. Here it is in her own words:
I was once privileged to be talking to a ten year old who had seriously contemplated ending his life: he had an undiagnosed disability, and it seemed a reasonable response to the in-tolerable situation he was in. "Has no one ever told you," I remembered the late Chief Rabbi's succinct political incorrectness, "that suicide is wrong? As killing anyone is wrong.""Is it?" he said, astonished.And told me, years later, that he never considered suicide again.
It's no good. I can't control myself a second longer.
'Suicide is wrong. There. Done. Sorted. '
That's just brain-burstingly over-simplistic. Where's the Christian compassion in that?
'It's wrong. So there.'
Dear me. But of course, Atkins' treatise seems to assume that suicide is increasing - but it isn't - it's decreasing. And the Brigend incidences are still possibly, according to the Samaritans, a statistical anomaly rather than any significant associated trend.
I find myself clinging to the memory of Rev Chad Varah, a Christian priest who saw the need to extend the hand of friendship to fellow humans going through loneliness and thoughts of suicide.
That's the real Christian attitude to those contemplating suicide which I would like to keep in mind - not Anne Atkins' "It's wrong - so there - nah, nah - nah, nah, nah".
What gets me is that, by allowing this woman on "Thought for the Day" there appears to be a presumption that she represents some form of constituency within society.
Are there really any other people who think like Ms Atkins? I find it hard to believe.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
He veers between panic and self-reassurance about this: what more can she reveal other than their sex life?
What more indeed.
Private Eye wryly observes:
Despite Mr Fayed's claim that "I got all the proofs. Basically not the proofs, but all the circumstances and the cover-ups", there is still a danger that the jury may rule that the Princess was not murdered. If so, the ensuing libel cases could keep him at the high court for some time...
Well, Ryan Cullen on Liberal Democrat Voice has trawled through the hundreds of Boris videos on You Tube and selected the cream of the crop. You can view them and vote on why Londoners shouldn't choose Boris here.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
It is a scandal that this man's fantasies have led to millions of pounds of public money being spent to prove what we knew in the first place. Diana's death was an accident. All those millions could have been spent on learning lessons from people's deaths which would save other lives.
Instead, the Diana inquest will tell us two things we have known for decades:
Don't drink and drive.
There was a little incident outside the court yesterday which sums up the whole charade.
Al Fayed was asked by a reporter:
"What evidence do you have that Diana was pregnant?"
Al Fayed replied:
Just freeze the movie there a moment. In answer to the question "What evidence do you have?", Al Fayed asks "What evidence?" In other words, he hasn't got any evidence or doesn't know of any. So, my goodness me, you can almost hear Al Fayed's brain ticking over. "Crikey! How I am going to get out of this one"....."I know I'll fall back on the old reliable 'you're an idiot reporter working for MI6' routine". So that's what he said:
"You're an idiot reporter working for MI6".
That told him!
Small beer compared with Northern Rock, yes. But these couple of examples of the Tories helping out private financial operations with public support indicate that "nationalisation" in an emergency has not been anathema to the Tory party in the past.
So why are they talking about "nationalisation" now as if it is the Black Death?
They are trying to make out that Labour is returning to the days of British Leyland and nationalised electricity, coal, water etc etc. Of course, it is not a return to those days. It is a temporary nationalisation which allows the business to continue trading.
The Tories are trying to paint this as Brown's Black Wednesday. To an extent it is. But I think they are over-doing it. They protesteth a tad too much. They are accusing Brown and Darling of "delay and dither" but they themselves seem to be majoring on wisdom after the event.
They call for Darling's resignation. But the only person in a secure enough position to call for his resignation is Vince Cable. He's actually got the thing right all the way through.
The Tory alternative to nationalisation is "Bank of England reconstruction" or "public administration". One of the arguments they use for this method is that it would not allow Northern Rock to be unfairly competitive. Nonsense. As of today, Northern Rock won't be able to be unfairly competitive under EU rules anyway. So that is a completely void argument.
Let us look at the definition of the "administration" (from http://www.bized.co.uk/) which the Tories advocate:
Administration. An application to a court by the company to suspend the requirement to pay creditors for a period of time. During this period of time, the company will be administered by an IP (Insolvency Practitioner) and it will be their job to either find a new buyer for the business or parts of the business, negotiate with the creditors to restructure the debts or oversee the liquidation of the assets to pay off creditors. Going into administration gives the firm some breathing space to help deal with its problems and can result in the firm surviving albeit probably in some different form than before it went into administration.
The first thing to note is that a company usually applies for administration of itself. Not the government. And Northern Rock haven't done that and didn't seem to be about to.
The other thing is that administration, to a large extent, seems remarkably similar to nationalisation anyway. In fact, it's "spot the difference" time. The Bank of England is "wholly owned by the government". So putting Northern Rock into "public administration" (George Osborne's words) under the Bank of England is putting it, effectively, into public ownership albeit, perhaps, for a shorter period than the government's "temporary public ownership". But such an administration would seem to have the disadvantage of effectively throwing in the towel as far as Northern Rock continuing as an effective viable company.
So goodness knows what the difference is between Labour's "nationalisation" and the Tories "public administration". It is very difficult to put a fag paper between them. If anything, the Tory plan seems marginally worse because it would effectively be surrendering the battle to continue Northern Rock as a going concern in more or less the same form as it is today. At least under the Labour plan there is a competent commercial manager in place who will attempt to run the bank on a commercial footing. The Bank of England public administration plan would have something of a winding up/selling off operation about it.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Nick Clegg has written a novel:
'It was a classic, late-adolescent outpouring of slightly maudlin, melancholy, pretentious thoughts,' he says, 'about an old man sitting in a room alone, once a powerful figure in the society, but now abandoned by everyone.'
Pendennis cruelly comments: "And they still claim he did not plan the demise of Ming Campbell..."
Stephanie Flanders, highly astute economics editor for the BBC (she has just taken over from Evan Davis, who has moved to Today) is the daughter of the Flanders part of Flanders and Swann (who have recently been parodied by Armstrong and Miller, by the way).
And lastly, Evan Davis' nickname is "tinsel tits".
Thanks to the Media section for those last two....er....titbits.
When Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait, the Western powers insisted that sovereignty and borders determined and protected by international law and the UN must be protected. Those same self-proclaimed guardians of international law are now turning their own arguments upside down to ensure Kosovo's separation from Serbia.
Hello? Come in? Is anyone at home? Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait against the wishes of the Kuwaitis. Kosovo has declared independence itself.
If there is a paralell, I can't think of one. Rhodesia announced a UDI (Unilateral declaration of independence) but that was within the constraints of white rule.
Broadly, this appears to be a popular movement within Kosovo and, as such, it is to be welcomed. (The historically well-accepted principle of self-determination appears to be under-pin the declaration.) But I say that rather nervously. Goodness knows what precedents this will create, with "me too" situations following. And with Vladimir Putin getting awfully bellicose in Moscow, one is even more nervous.
In more febrile times, this could kick off the sort of chain of events down alliances which started the First World War.
The BBC's Robert Peston comments:
It's a momentous moment. Nationalisation has become a dirty word associated with industrial failures of the past. Financial services, by contrast, have been considered the great British success story - so for such a seemingly growing bank to end up being nationalised is a big moment for the City and a big moment for the government.
In many ways, this problem (using a charitable phrase) is the responsibility of the whole international banking system. Northern Rock just happened to be holding the parcel when the music stopped. There was a general shortage of credit and Northern Rock just happened to be the unlucky bank that was first in the queue when the easy money ran out.
Looking at it from another angle, it is a failure of Northern Rock's management.
It is perhaps a relief that the company is not be given on a silver plate to Richard Branson.
But it would be interesting to know how much extra taxpayers' money has been wasted in this protracted scramble to find a buyer, which could have been avoided by a brisk decision early on.
The old ways were unfair and autocratic, of course. But the new ones have grave problems, too.
For one thing, caucuses can be highly undemocratic. They eliminate the secret ballot, forcing voters to declare their loyalties publicly, and are thus vulnerable to intimidation and manipulation. They also shut out many citizens who have to work during caucus times. If you can't show up at a specific hour, you can't vote -- a particular problem for people with fixed shifts, including many of the working poor. (The supposedly democratic caucuses can also discriminate, as happened to Sabbath-observant Jews who couldn't get to Nevada's Saturday caucuses.) And there are usually no absentee ballots, of course.
..."Open" primaries and caucuses (in which anyone can vote, not just registered party members) let voters from the other party cause all sorts of mischief. A Republican convinced that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is too divisive to win in the fall could vote for her in some Democratic contests in the spring, hoping to saddle the Democrats with a losing nominee. Or, as Sen. Barack Obama's campaign did in Nevada, a candidate can openly appeal for votes from people outside his or her party in order to stop a rival. The winners are outsiders hoping to game the system; the losers are rank-and-file party members whose choices count less.
The article concludes:
The unintended consequences of the well-intended reforms of the 1970s are now glaringly clear. Perhaps now, both parties will agree to reform the nominating system once again: abolishing caucuses, regularizing a rigorous system of national debates, closing open primaries, grabbing power back from the media and so on. We could still get it right in 2012.
Your clarification (15 February) of the contrasting attitudes of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Communist Party of Britain on the political opportunities afforded by a recession was appreciated. But what does the People's Front of Judea think? (Or haven't you asked her?)
Andy Cook,Holmfirth, West Yorkshire.
This follows on from this priceless Correction and Clarification:
In an article headlined Who wants a recession? (page 4, G2, February 8) we quoted the Communist Party of Great Britain as saying that "economic crises provide us with political opportunities". We used this quote with a photograph of parliamentary candidates from the Communist Party of Britain, a separate organisation, attributing to them sentiments they do not profess.
You can enjoy the original "People's front" script here.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
For the past few weeks have seen the emergence of a dangerous divergence of opinion between the shadow chancellor George Osborne and David Cameron over tax cuts and the size of the State.
Osborne believes cutting taxes has become a vote winner rather than a political minefield. He is backed by Andy Coulson, the Conservative Party Director of Communications.
David Cameron, whose analysis is supported by his highly paid political consultant Steve Hilton, takes a much more cautious view.
Indeed, I am told that relations are 'strained' between the two most senior members of the Conservative Party, and that it was a relief to all concerned that both men set off for family holidays a week ago.
"David has lost a little bit of faith in George's economic analysis," says one well-placed source drily.
The key item at issue between the two is, at first sight, bizarre. It concerns the interpretation of George Osborne's dazzling announcement at the Tory Conference last autumn that a Conservative Government would double the inheritance tax threshold to £1million.
The Shadow Chancellor and his supporters maintain the announcement marked a tipping point in modern British politics.
They claim that the massively enthusiastic reception which met the inheritance tax pledge was a signal that tax-cutting is now a winning issue.
David Cameron's analysis of the party conference triumph is more sombre. The Tory leader has noted that the second half of Osborne's proposals - the tax on foreign residents which Chancellor Alistair Darling must now bitterly regret copying - has since collapsed.
I am told that Cameron now considers that the Tories only got away with Osborne's party conference stunt by the skin of their teeth.
I'd love to hear pro-smoking campaigner Anthony Worral-Thompson's initial reaction to this. "Apopleptic" might describe it aptly.
Would £10 even cover the administration costs of all that paperwork and policing retailers to abide by the licence rules?
Friday, February 15, 2008
The controversy has dragged on for a long time but at last the Competition Commission has issued some draft recommendations which at last look like levelling the playing field for consumers and suppliers, at least to a some extent. The plans include:
-A tougher supermarket code of practice
-Supermarkets to employ enforcement officers to ensure the code is implemented
-An ombudsman to ensure fair play
-Changes in the planning law to give shoppers a wider choice in their area (Wot? More supermarkets?)
-Measures to stop retailers imposing restrictions on who can build on land they sell off
-A five year time limit on agreements between supermarkets and local authorities which prevent rivals coming into the locality
And, an essential one for farmers, measures to prevent supermarkets lowering their price agreements once they have agreed a contract.
There's nothing draconian in here. Most of it is long overdue. But we've gone a little step today towards fairness for farmers, suppliers and consumers.
Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather this morning when I bought my "Private Eye". Not a bit of chocolate in sight at the till. Instead a glorious display of memory sticks.
And instead of "Do you want some chocolate?" as I handed over my money, it was "Do you want some specially discounted memory sticks?"
Sadly, I can now continue you my career as the scourge of WH Smith cashiers. I work for a computer company. Memory sticks are not a problem for me.
Oh dear. "Multi-culturalism" is another one of those code phrases. It means 29 different things to different people and to a large number it means "too many foreigners". Just like the word "immigration".
To be fair to the Mail (crikey, pinch, pinch - I never thought I'd write that) they are reporting a report by the Royal United Services Institute which concludes that Britain's "misplaced deference to multiculturalism" was undermining the fight against extremists.
I agree with Bob Ainsworth, defence minister:
"There's a lot of nonsense talked about deference to multiculturalism. Who is deferring to multiculturalism?" he asked on the BBC's World at One. "Who in our society objects to the basic premise that all of the people who live in our country owe allegiance to our country?"
Both the Mail and the RUSI talk about multi-culturalism as if there are a series of mad Guardian-reading professors in a laboratory somewhere dreaming it up and sustaining it.
But it just happens. People buy houses or rent dwellings in certain places. They go about the lives as they wish. And we are a tolerant society.
What is the alternative? Swearing allegiance to the flag at the start of all school days? The National Anthem to be played at the start and end of all cinema and theatre performances again, with stewards making sure everyone stands up? Breaking up communities so that people spread out a bit?
David Cameron was tougher to tie down. But Robinson sets out three defining events which have shaped Cameron into an alleged Tory "moderniser":
1. His wife Samantha, who apparently dragged Cameron into the real world, especially on things like Section 28. Strange that, a Bullingham Club member being dragged into the real world by the "daughter of a baronet whose job is selling £950 handbags".
2. The birth and treatment of his severly disabled son, which, in particular, gave Cameron an exceptionally deep knowledge of the National Health Service, at the sharp end.
3. Defeat in 2005.
Some would add a fourth defining experience for Cameron - his career PR man at Carlton Television. Much of what we have seen of him over the last two years seems to flow from that experience. "All mouth and trousers", I think it is called.
Tying down what Cameron would do in office is a lot harder for Robinson:
...that is where friends of Cameron become rather hazy. Faced by choices about governing rather than political positioning they cannot spell out what he would do.
Take just, one example, Europe. It’s one thing to instruct your party to stop “obsessing” about the issue. It’s quite another to decide whether to betray your activists who believe you are committed to renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU or to pick a long, lonely and, potentially, futile fight with the European leaders you’ve fought so hard to join.
Put this or other choices on tax or climate change or social justice or social responsibility to a member of Team Cameron and they soon reply “Ah but he is a pragmatist”. In this sense he is not a moderniser but a tradition-aliser harking back to the days not just before Thatcher but before Heath and “Selsdon Man”.
But Robinson concludes that, in that respect, Cameron is a bit like Blair was back in 1994. Blair was so hard to define that Robinson was forced to cancel a planned documentary on him. We under-estimate Mr Cameron at our peril.
The BBC says it is up to Nick Clegg to decide on David Heath's future in the Sahdow Cabinet after the MP has said that he will vote against the party line on the Lisbon Treaty.
I'll be glad when all of this is over and I doubt whether David Heath ought to be kicked off the front bench for it. You could argue that it doesn't help discipline. But it is obvious that David Heath has very strong views on this and I don't think he ought to be dropped for it. It is verging on a vote of conscience. I don't think it leads to a very good atmosphere if the shadow cabinet have a very strict whip, with sackings if it is disobeyed. It leads to more ambition than conscience on the team.
As (George) Bush arrives in Africa today at the start of a five-country tour he will be welcomed chiefly for an initiative which has gone largely unnoticed outside the continent but which has saved the lives of more than a million people with HIV.
Well, even Reginald Mole-husband got it right in the end...
Thursday, February 14, 2008
My hero: Desmond Tutu
This controversy has been rumbling on for ten years. It really is time to move on.
I understand that Rowan Williams has a convenant for people to sign up to at Lambeth. Good. But let this be the last time that this issue is revisited for a very long time.
There are thousands of more important and urgent matters to be addressed. It really has come to the point where whoever turns up at Lambeth is in and whoever doesn't is....well, not "in", not necessarily out. The door should be left ajar. But there are scores of different Christian denominations. There is no point in trying to hold together people who can't be held together. It's very sad, but let whoever cannot bring themselves to the table do their own thing. They are still Christians.
I'm with my hero, Desmond, on this one:
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has criticised the Anglican Church and its leadership for its attitudes towards homosexuality.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4, he said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, had failed to demonstrate that God is "welcoming".
He said it should rather be focusing on global problems such as Aids.
The BBC reporter, Christopher Landau (who interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury about Sharia law) characterised the pressure for an amplified call to prayer in terms unrecognisable from Jock Coats' observation from the locality:
Apparently, no such "request" has been made. What happened is that a well known local figure in "inter-faith relations" a retired Christian minister who did things like organize an interfaith cricket match after 9/11 and similar things, thought one day what a jolly good thing it would be to have the call to prayer sung out from our new city mosque. He went to the Imam and suggested it and they agreed to present a petition to the council. A petition, get this, apparently of two, yes, more than one, less than three, signatures - that of the interfaith dialogue chappy and the Imam himself.
The Imam had not consulted or particularly mentioned it to anyone else, and speaking to a couple of Muslim city councillors seems to confirm that there's been no popular movement, nor do they feel they want one, to get them the call to prayer - the responses seemed to be along the lines of - "do you think we're stupid, we know when we're supposed to pray and don't need reminding".
I notice from the BBC report that there is a newly elected Imam, at the Mosque in question, who accepts that the proper consultation process has not been followed to date.
Why on earth it all has to be blown out of proportion a year before any planning application is likely to come forward is beyond me. Well, it isn't actually. Journalists need to put bread on thier tables.
Allan Chapman, a historian at the university, commented that most of the letters about the non-existent hypothetical planning application (always the worst sort, of course) mentioned "it" being the "thin end of the wedge". I thought he was being ironic or was in favour of the call to prayer. It turned out that he is leading the campaign against "it". Surely that is the whole point? "It" is not the "thin end of the wedge" but people jump up and down like Mexican beans thinking it is.
Landau (he is never taken for a ride by anyone presumably) mentioned that there has been an amplified call to prayer from a mosque in Whitechapel road, East London for twenty years with no complaints, which rather puts things in perspective, with the proviso that presumably the relevant area in East London has different demographics than Oxford.
The excellent Michael Tomasky explains all this in the Guardian, together with the fairly slim, but far from impossible, "legitimate" route by which Hilary could still win the nomination.
With the Clintons it ain't over until Bill goes to buy a hamburger.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
"But they will kill him".
No more was said. But presumably she was referring to Abraham, Martin and John (and Bobbie - as sung by Marvin Gaye). It seems whenever there is someone who is loved by Black Americans, they end up killed.
I hope the Secret Service proves its worth whatever happens!
...the specification here (is) a rather non-grand spec for future bureaucratic action. Must be proven administrator; will need conciliation skills, stamina and extra helpings of humility; high public profile not a handicap (when it comes to kicking Latvia or Slovakia behind the arras) but tact and resilience valued above any other traits. Is that Blair past or Blair present? Not remotely. He can't be self-effacing. His administrative legacy is a Whitehall that loses as many laptops as plots.
"Every school child should get five hours of "high quality culture" per week according to new government plans" was the trailer headline.
Andy Burnham was put through the shredder by John Humphrys, who used the simple ruse of asking the questions "When?" and "How?" five hundred times. The mischievous civil servants must have been sniggering into their morning tea.
What in the name of Sam Hill was the Culture Secretary on the radio talking about education? He didn't have a clue what he was talking about in respect to the National Curriculum.
And what the heck is the government doing giving out Stalinist diktats saying all children should do five hours culture per week? ...When they have already given diktats about literacy, numeracy and sport with timings attached?
Actually, it is completely stupid and bonkers.
But what Burnham didn't properly highlight is that if you look at the national curriculum, there's already a lot of culture (according to his own examples) in the curriculum. So it's not an additional five hours. It can't be. It's impossible without dropping high priority subjects.
The silly sausage Burnham, when asked for examples, mentioned: creative writing. Creative writing is already in the curriculum the silly numpty! New media was mentioned - it's already in the curriculum. Art, including the study of famous artists, dance, singing, music...it's all already in the curriculum. Plus there are school clubs which do things like "broadcasting skills" (Video Club) which the minister mentioned. And many parents arrange extra classes for things like ballet, modern dancing, drama etc
Burnham kept on mentioning his own constituency. Doesn't he realise that he covers the whole country as a minister? He kept on saying "that's why we're doing a pilot". Well, why make the directive of "5 hours" then until you've done the pilot? 5 hours culture on only £15 a pupil a year?! It's a farce!
Burnham pathetically mentioned visiting a theatre or museum in Liverpool. Well, that's 5 hours sorted. How about the other 200 hours a year?
Don't get me wrong. I am all for culture. But giving a directive of "5 hours" on top of everything else is just daft. And getting a new culture secretary, not the Education sercretary (sorry, I am darned if I am going to use the new departmental titles - they're daft) to explain it?
Poor old Andy Burnham. Lamb to the slaughter.
That's a disaster for Bill Clinton. He made a career, if "Primary Colors" is to be believed, palling up with guys at places like Dunkin' Donuts.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
It's all getting fascinating isn't it?
Their top leader article reflects on the "Archbishop of Canterbury - Wounded and wiser". Quite rightly the leader shifts attention to Williams' next, and more substantial challenge, which is the Lambeth Conference and the extnded debate on sexuality in the church:
For the reality, as Dr Williams made clear to the synod after the cameras had been switched off, is that the Anglican church is facing an internal battle at the forthcoming Lambeth conference which will define its place and credibility within 21st-century Britain. The really big challenge that Dr Williams faces this year is not about sharia. It is about whether he can give clear leadership on the issue of gay bishops and the place of homosexual and lesbian people within the church. His leadership has been found wanting on that issue until now. The faltering way in which he handled the sharia argument has not encouraged confidence that he will rise to the greater challenge this summer.
There is an article by Andrew Anthony which quite rightly concludes:
Much of the grievance members of other religions and denominations currently feel stems from the privilege - state endorsement, parliamentary representation - that Dr Williams's church conspicuously enjoys. Who can deny that the church's special treatment looks increasingly absurd in our multicultural society? Even Dr Williams himself has acknowledged that Britain is not a Christian country in terms of "active churchgoers". Therefore the choice on offer is either to downgrade the Church of England, or upgrade other religions. Dr Williams has made his preference obvious.
He should think again. If he really wants the hateful media off his back, he ought to separate his church from the British state.
In another article, Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney concludes:
Courage is traditionally one of the greatest of Christian virtues. In the midst of a media shit storm, the gutless will run for the cover of received wisdom. Dr Williams has weathered the storm and done us all a favour.
The Guardian's cartoonist, Martin Rowson, takes up that "shit storm" theme with a brilliant cartoon here (which I have reproduced in low resolution and small size above).
Monday, February 11, 2008
Abdal Hakim Murad this morning elegantly summed up the row over Rowan Williams' lecture and interview:
It is now clear to most that Dr Williams, far from recommending some kind of parallel law for Muslims, was pointing out that informal religious tribunals which already adjudicate on a limited number of civil - never criminal - matters, in a way which is entirely legal under arbitration laws, should be more systematically brought under the regulation of the legal system. He was not commending greater separateness, or an expansion of Muslim courts - quite the opposite.
Well summarised that man. And two minutes later came the news that the Archbishop of the Ice-cream cone, Rt Rev Root Vegetables, has had a go at Williams. Par for the course. He was up in arms about the Bishop of Reading to-do as if it had anything to do with him.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's speech to the Synod today was remarkably dignified and clear. In particular, it was good that he said this:
I must of course take responsibility for any unclarity in either that text or in the radio interview, and for any misleading choice of words that has helped to cause distress or misunderstanding among the public at large and especially among my fellow Christians.
I also thought he started with a remarkably apt quote:
The prevailing attitude...was one of heavy disagreement with a number of things which the [speaker] had not said. - Ronald Knox
Fair enough - it is difficult to get in. You have to queue up for ages and go through an almighty series of friskings etc. And getting into the Commons public gallery requires a whole separate series of friskings and handover of "testicles, spectacles, wallet and watch" etc. Plus they've got that phenomenal piece of engineering which is the perspex barrier between the gallery and the chamber.
And if you try to go into the Commons to heckle you'll have a Heckler pointed up your jaxi yourself - a Heckler & Koch that is, courtesy of the two large gentlemen of the constabulary protecting the Commons entrance. I wondered vaguely near them once, looking for the entrance, and they soon perked up and said briskly: "Sir?"
But apart from that...(with acknowledgements to "Life of Brian") you can actually roam aorund remarkably freely in the corridors and right up to the committee rooms and there are loads of tourists you can mingle with. You can hide in toilets, go back and forwards, stay in there all day and night if you want. I am sure you could doss in there if you wanted to and were clever about it.
I am amazed there isn't more mischief played in the environs of the Palace of Westminster. Today's Independent highlights one such issue (it's also covered by the Telegraph):
A leaked Home Office document has revealed that five intelligence reports since 2006 showed that a cleaning company used by Parliament employed South Americans working illegally on false passports and identities.
The Tories accused ministers of covering up a "catastrophic failure of security" after an illegal immigrant, a Brazilian woman, was caught trying to gain entry to Parliament by using another person's security pass.
Her employer, Emprise Services, said that it would redouble its efforts to spot identity theft and passport fraud.
"Murder she wrote" was set there! It's cosy coast country where the Bushes have their retreat.
59 (Obama) to 41 (Hilary) !
In October 2007, Clinton was beating Obama in Maine by 47 to 10!
There is something serious going on!
Matthew Yglesias comments beautifully:
My understanding, though, is that this doesn't really count because it's a small state, much as Utah doesn't count because there aren't many Democrats there, DC doesn't count because there are too many black people, Washington doesn't count because it's a caucus, Illinois doesn't count because Obama represents it in the Senate even though Hillary was born there, Hawaii won't count because Obama was born there. I'm not sure why Delaware and Connecticut don't count, but they definitely don't.
And Obama is now ahead on delegates.
If I was in Clinton's campaign I'd be wearing brown trousers to work now. Her campaign chief has quit or been pushed. But Hilary is of course able to take all these blows and carry on regardless. And of course, she'll take Texas and Ohio big and be home and dry. Of course. Yeah. Yeah.
While I am at it, this business about the Republicans looking forward to Obama and Clinton ripping themselves apart while McCain establishes himself as the front-runner has an element of BS (Bovine Scatology) to it. The Democrats will get great publicity from the ongoing race and there's already been record audiences for debates and record turn-outs at primaries and caucases. As long as Clinton and Obama keep roughly to their peace pipe routine, as established at the last debate, they should be able to keep the public interested and positive about the Democrats. After all, they (Clinton and Obama) only have a couple of substantial policy differences. And the personalities come down to "change" versus "experience". Not really a whirlpool of vitriol.
And by the way, McCain is getting all manner of cack thrown at him by the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. And Huckabee is clearly sponging up most of the southern states, making McCain look very vulnerable in the nether regions. So it's not all beer and skittles for the Republicans.
The photo was taken at the opening of the Belfast Ikea.
These cosy pictures of Paisley and McGuinness are commonplace now. And thank the Lord they are working together. But when you compare it to thirty years of complete cold war and "No - never", "Over my dead body" etc between the two, then you begin to wonder: Are they play acting a bit now? Or were they play acting a lot then? Or is it a bit of both?
You can't suddenly go from being at daggers drawn and virtually spitting at each other to being bosom buddies.
However, given that the Tories proposed a £25,000 tax they haven't got a leg to stand on here.
The FT reports:
In stark contrast to the furore over capital gains tax, in which the Tories vociferously backed business protests, the party has been conspicuous by its absence from the dispute over non-doms.
The government’s proposal for a £30,000 levy came within weeks of a Conservative plan for a £25,000 fee. Industry groups fear Mr Cameron is holding back from criticising the Treasury move for fear any attack would be seen as an implicit admission of flaws in the Tory proposal.
...A senior Tory backbencher has broken ranks, with an implicit criticism of his party’s proposals. Michael Fallon, a Thatcherite member of the Treasury select committee, said: “Chasing non-doms out of London is a huge mistake ... Why do we want to lose all that business to Luxembourg or Dublin or Geneva?”
Guardian Money has the full SP on this. It is interesting what sells for a good price and what they can hardly give away:
Dirt cheap category: Printers, Digital phones, shredders, portable DVD playes and vacuum cleaners.
Sought after category: LCD tellies and Apple iPods. The latter go for only a tad short of what you would pay in the shops for them.
According to MD Adam Pye, their business was going a bit stale until eBay came along and then it really took off. They have people coming along taking away truckloads of the stuff to stick on eBay as "still in the box" and "unwanted gift".
Sunday, February 10, 2008
David Davis is facing an Electoral Commission enquiry over a £20,000 donation to his campaign team. No comment so far from Iain Dale...
Michael Ancram is under fire for claiming £22,030 for painting and removing moss from his country home.
And the long-running saga of Lord Ashcroft's tax affairs has come to a head as the leader of the Tories in the Lords has ruled the Tories' moneybags that "he must come clean about his tax status". The Mail story talks of a "stand-off" between Cameron and Ashcroft and says Cameron is backing "tough new laws" which would deprive Ashcroft of his peerage unless he makes it clear that he pays UK taxes.
The campaign in question targets pro-European MPs with small majorities.
As LabourHome comments, "Galloway was expelled for less..."
On Page One they report that the Court of Appeal is about to rule on a case involving an arranged marriage conducted in the UK under sharia law. This is a "live" example of how British law already relates, one way or another, with sharia law, indicating that the Archbishop's lecture was not exactly irrelevant.
There's a Focus spread including a large piece entitled "How law and faith war broke out".
The article lists a long series of examples where British law already makes some sort of accomodation to religious sensitivities: Sikhs' turbans on motorbikes, sharia mortgages legalised by Gordon Brown last year, the Church of England Consistory courts which have wide powers over planning applications, the legalisation of Halal meat, the recognition of Islamic marriages and divorces conducted overseas, multiple wives allowed spouse benefits, Jewish civil divorce courts, the Beth Din etc etc
The article also notes that Williams made it clear that he was talking only about the role of sharia law within the civil - not the criminal - system, and that he was talking about a voluntary system:
'The archbishop is not advocating implementation of the Islamic penal system,' said Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. 'He sought to explore the possibilities of an accommodation between English law and some aspects of Islamic personal law. British Muslims would wish for parity with other faiths, for their personal relationships to be governed by a sharia code.'
There is a profile of Rowan Williams which seems to have started with the working title "Man of the cloth or clot of a man ?" (it is iconised on page 28 as such) but which ended up with the slightly more moderate title of "A quiet man who said too much".
Finally, there is a very level-headed leader entitled: "Wrong, Dr Williams, but the debate is right". This is a leader which is less censorious of Dr Williams than its title would suggest.
One might ask, why has there been such a ludicrously disproportionate outcry over a relatively dry academic lecture which described as "unavoidable" something which, arguably, already exists anyway? In many cases, outrage has its roots in insecurity on the part of the outraged. This is a theme which the Observer leader touches on:
The sad truth that has emerged in recent days is that, while Britain needs this debate, it appears to lack the discipline to conduct it in a civilised way. The scale of the backlash, some of the language used and the haste with which some opponents of the archbishop have reached for crude stereotypes of Islam is dispiriting. It is unedifying to see the majority culture turn with near unanimous scorn on a minority. It suggests that secular Britain is deeply insecure about the durability of its own culture.
I mentioned that I thought the leader was less censorious in tone than its title would suggest. This is mainly because of the concluding paragraph, which is quite laudatory towards Dr Williams:
But a competition has emerged in recent days quite separate from the theoretical rivalry between sharia and parliamentary law that Dr Williams wanted to debate. It is a contest that reveals just as much about modern Britain as any treatise on faith. It is the contrast between reasonable, sensible exposition of an idea, whatever its merits, and unthinking, poisonous, prejudiced reaction. From that competition, for all his wrong-headedness and naivety, Dr Williams emerges on the moral high ground.
While I am at it, can this be the last time that, when starting a piece on sharia law, the BBC News show clips of stonings, amputations and shootings? It's ignorant, incendiary, unnecessary and downright irresponsible. In fact, I can feel an email to Newswatch coming on...
The Observer's Pendennis writes:
(Prince Andrew) faces outrage over his lack of communication with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (previously the Department for Trade and Industry) not simply over this trip, but over everything he does in his capacity as Britain's roving trade representative. He has held the position since 2001.
A request for information made by this column under the Freedom of Information Act has drawn the staggering admission that between 1 January 2007 and the beginning of this year, there was no correspondence whatsoever between the Duke of York and ministers or officials at the department. The duke's website says: 'Working with government, and in particular UK Trade and Investment [UKTI], the duke's job involves promoting the UK as an attractive inward investment destination for foreign investors, creating more positive business conditions for British businesses investing overseas and helping UK companies export their products to emerging and established markets.' If he has not exchanged any written information with UKTI in the last year, questions are bound to be asked about his suitability for the role.
No wonder our little terrier, Norman Baker, says:
If he has this role, he needs to be briefed by and to brief the department. Six-figure sums are regularly paid for his transport and there have been suggestions before that he takes advantage of it to play golf around the world. Your information will increase this suspicion.