Monday, December 10, 2012

Geri Haliwell Regrets Prank Call

Oops. Caption cock up...

For Christ's sake, Geri. You should have stuck to "singing"

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bully Balls

Labour are attempting to blame Ed Balls' poor performance in his response to George Osborne's Autumn Statement yesterday on his stammer and, what they want people to believe was, "nasty" mocking by the Tory front bench.

Not content with attempting to smear the Thatcher cabinet with the Paedo tag (something he's gone very quiet about since the McAlpine debacle), Tom Watson is now chucking stones from within his glass house at Osborne and co, accusing them of bullying poor defenceless Balls. Of course, he, his parties' Shadow Chancellor and his ex-boss, Gordon Brown would know nothing about that kind of behaviour.

But let's not forget a genuinely nasty moment in the House of Commons that happened not too long ago. The moment when Labour MPs mocked Tory MP, Paul Maynard who has cerebral palsy, for the way he spoke.

Mr Maynard spoke subsequently about the attitude of some Labour MPs who take offence at the fact he, a disabled man, should have the temerity to be a Conservative. In their warped minds, the disabled should only consider Labour for their political home. Failure to comply with their thought policy immediately renders you a traitor to your "kind". You've got to wonder at the hypocrisy of this kind of nasty, myopic prejudice.

So, perhaps the likes of Tom Watson and his Watsonettes on Twitter should consider their own side before making ludicrous accusation about others.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

First They Came For The Press...

First they came for the press and I didn't speak out because I read all my news on the Internet. Then they came for the Internet... The call for press regulation will inevitably lead to internet regulation.

When trawling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, I found it interesting how many people comment in support of state backed regulation of the press but against any kind of state mandated monitoring, let alone regulation, of the Internet.

Tom Watson and Stephen Fry are two big names who hold these views. They would argue that the press is dominated by over-mighty "barons" who have a disproportionate influence on content, while the Internet is a freely associating mass of individuals. They may have a point.

Perhaps its the freedom of the Internet and the social media it supports that has led to its exponential growth in popularity in recent years. Meanwhile, the dead tree press has declined, slowly at first but then more rapidly. The increasingly desperate search for readers led to the section of the press that wanted to continue to be described as "popular" to reach out to an ever descending common denominator; an audience that demanded salacious gossip, exposés of celebs as well as the high and mighty. Like a drug, the more they supplied the more their audience wanted. Eventually, the only way to supply this kind of content in ever vaster quantities was to use underhand, even criminal tactics. Not, always, to unearth wrong doing in the public interest, but to satisfy the salacious interests of a hooked public.

The press has been around for hundreds of years. Eventually, the print press technology became accessible to the masses and a myriad of pamphlets and papers spewed forth into the world. Ideas spread and progress was made. Eventually, individuals honed the art of journalism and sold more papers than other publishers. They grew to became influential and powerful within their industry and, as Leveson has illustrated, in pubic life too. Then, once an alternative medium came into the picture providing free content and access to information at a click of a button, the decline set in.

The Internet, however, is relatively new. Like a new Universe, not long after the big bang, billions of particles are flying around unchecked and unrestricted by systems or even gravity. 500 million Twitter users are generating billions of tweets. Nothing seems to control or influence them. Or does it?

The formation of the Universe eventually saw free particles start to coalesce and form stars that then attracted satellites to form systems that led to general order. We're already seeing something similar occurring on Twitter. And perhaps this goes some way to explaining the position of Messrs Watson and Fry. Because they are stars in the Twitterverse. Stephen Fry, for example, has amassed 5.1 million followers. He is highly influential. A Twitter baron, you might say. One tweet from him reaches far more people than an MP's speech in the House of Commons and more than an article written in most national newspapers. You see, they're happy to see the press regulated by politicians but not so keen on anything similar for themselves.

Perhaps they understand such regulation will only hasten the death of the dead tree press. Their hatred for sections of the press that have not been supportive of their brand of politics leads them to yearn for a day when we are rid of the likes of Rupert Murdoch and his Times, Sun and News of the World (well, one down...). This is humorously illustrated in Fry and Laurie's sketch back in mid-90s when The Sun was still heavily associated with support for Margaret Thatcher and the Tories (and before it started its 13 years of support for Labour during which time we heard NOTHING about the evils Murdoch from the left). But they are short sighted.

Once the traditional press is regulated and subservient to politicians, it'll be only a matter of time before it dies completely. Either through circulation collapse or suicide as publishers move on. But, it will only be the medium the dies. The content would have long since migrated onto the Internet. Once a successful business model is developed for Internet based publishing there's no stopping a wholesale move. The best writers, investigative journalists, commentators will coalesce around the web publications with the widest audiences.

A similar order that developed for the press will come to the Internet. And then, once they've lost their "most influential" statuses, you can rest assured the likes of Fry and Watson will be calling for it to be controlled and tamed.

If you want to see the press regulated more strictly than now, independently of the press barons and their editors, with improved and speedy redress for those wronged, but without recourse to statutory controls that would endanger press freedom, sign this petition: (Unlike the Hacked-off petition pushing for statutory regulation, you can only sign this once!)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Leveson On Political Spin

All the focus following the publication of the Leveson report has been on the big issue of press regulation and whether or not we want our newspapers answerable to politicians (i.e. statutory "underpinning"). This is a big question and one that deserves extensive coverage and public debate.

But there are a myriad of other questions addressed by The Lord Justice, not least, Labour's serious accusations about the Tories relationship with News International and Cameron's handling of the BSkyB bid. Leveson's findings here also deserve attention but won't get it due to the gravity of the press regulation debate. However, Guido helpfully distils Leveson's judgements:

Labour claimed the Conservatives did ‘a deal’ with NI over BSkyB and other policy in exchange for their support.
But Lord Justice Leveson says ‘The evidence does not, of course, establish anything resembling a “deal”’.

Labour claimed Jeremy Hunt ‘was not judging the [BSkyB] bid he was backing it’.
But Lord Justice Leveson says ‘there is no credible evidence of actual bias on the part of Mr Hunt’.

Labour claimed ‘Cameron should never have given the decision to Hunt in the first place’.
But Lord Justice Leveson says Jeremy Hunt ‘was the obvious candidate to entrust with the decision because of his portfolio… The evidence does not begin to support a conclusion that the choice of Mr Hunt was the product of improper media pressure, still less an attempt to guarantee a particular outcome to the process’.

Labour claimed ‘Jeremy Hunt “was acting as a backchannel for the Murdochs”’
But Lord Justice Leveson says ‘Mr Hunt immediately put in place robust systems to ensure… fairness, impartiality and transparency’ and Jeremy Hunt’s ‘actions as a decision maker were frequently adverse to News Corp’s interests’.

Labour claimed the Prime Minister had discussions with James Murdoch about the BSkyB bid at a dinner on 23 December 2010.
But Lord Justice Leveson says the Prime Minister was ‘perfectly in order’.

God knows there's enough dodgy behaviour going on in public life without this kind of mendacious spinning. Perhaps the next public inquiry should be into the ethics of party political spinning* and the way parties attempt to smear each other at every turn. No wonder politicians are down there with journalists in people's regard.

* Somehow I suspect this is one inquiry Ed Miliband will not be calling for.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Broadmoor Inmates Shocked at Being Exposed to "Sicko" Savile.

ITV's Exposure documentary tonight highlights the incredible access Jimmy Savile had to various institutions, including Broadmoor.

It was at Broadmoor that Savile was pictured, with Peter Sutcliffe, below. Although Sutcliffe insists he had no idea who he was at the time and denies taking fashion tips from him or spending any time talking to the "sick bastard".



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another Bad Decision By An Electoral College

The Church of England's General Synod today narrowly rejected allowing women bishops. Despite achieving the required majority in two of the three electoral colleges (of Synod houses) the proposal was defeated.

Hmmm, when was the last time a complex electoral college vote led to an idiotic choice that went against the majority of the electorate's wishes...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dial C For Conspiracy

The Jimmy Savile revelations were shocking. I can't say I ever liked him much myself, I always thought he was a bit of a weirdo. But I didn't imagine he was a serial sex offender. And, if other allegations are to be believed, a murderer and a necrophiliac (presumably in that order).

How he got away with this for so long became a real focus for attention. The fact that ITV broke the story after the BBC suppressed it last year, was another. We learnt that Savile had access to vulnerable young people in hospitals and schools as well as the opportunities his work for the BBC gave him. All this led, unsurprisingly, to criticism of the institutions implicated.

At no point did I consider that politics might enter this scandal. I had failed to analyse the situation thoroughly enough. Had I reflected on the institutions involved I might have predicted a defensive political reaction. Those institutions being: the BBC, the NHS and a state run school. What was, at times over the top, but justifiably very angry criticisms and questioning of these organisations, was being interpreted by some as a right wing conspiracy to destroy institutions that the left hold dear to their hearts. 

For the most part, the criticism was no such thing. If David Cameron was gunning for the Beeb, as some would have you believe, he would have gone along with Ed Miliband's, by now automatic response to all occurrences, a call for an independent inquiry into Savile and the BBC. He didn't. But this didn't stop the defensive response from the left. Twitter was ablaze with outrage at the "evil Tory" attacks on the BBC. Anybody who generally held views right of centre, that dared opine on the possible failings in the BBC, or any of the other institutions involved, were accused of waging an ideological war. But, apart from in the minds of some of the more paranoid on the left, there genuinely was no political dimension to this. Just outrage at what had happened and at the failure of the BBC to expose a man who many within its employ suspected (even knew) was an abuser, even after he had died and the threat of litigation had disappeared.

As the scandal unfolded, the BBC started to turn on itself. For a little while it looked like it might implode. But then, out of blue, allegations of a Tory paedophile scandal started to emerge. I say emerge, but I mean re-emerge as these allegations have been around for many, many years. There is a mini-conspiracy theorist universe that exists in the darkest reaches of the internet where the same stories are circulated over and over again. Some are wildly fanciful, like David Icke's Paedophile Lizard people. Other's take a more analytical approach (you know like the best conpiracy theorists do in the USA - 9/11 was US Government not al-Qaeda , Elvis is Alive, Obama isn't an American etc etc).

But it was when the deputy chair of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, stood up in Parliament to announce that he had evidence that a paedophile ring had existed with links that went to the heart of 10, Downing Street, that the game changed. I started to question my cynicism at the theories on the net. The separate North Wales care home scandal that involved a "high profile politician from the Thatcher years" fitted perfectly with Watson's accusation of a national Paedophile ring. Indeed, in the rumours and innuendo I had seen on the web, they were part and parcel of each other. Was he on to something? Surely, Ed Miliband would not have sanctioned such an explosive allegation without being certain that his deputy chairman had water tight evidence.

But then the North Wales care home allegations about a senior Tory abuser fell apart. The Guardian reported that the allegations were wrong, a case of mistaken identity. For The Guardian, Tories can only be found innocent when the evidence proves them so, beyond reasonable doubt. Newsnight's decision to run the totally unverified allegation plunged the BBC back into crisis. A crisis that this time cost it's Director General his job (if not a year's salary). With the North Wales allegations against Lord McAlpine in tatters the wider allegations that can be found on the web start to look shakey, as Alastair McAlpine is a fairly consistent character across most of the theories.

None of this deterred the intrepid Mr Watson. His accusations about a "Thatcher era senior Tory" were, he said, separate from the obviously false "Thatcher ere senior Tory" made by Newsnight with back up from the likes of Sally Bercow and George Monbiot. He continued brief newspapers and blog about his concerns, expanding on the allegations, hinting one of the perpetrators was a senior Thatcher government minister who is still alive, even still "powerful". His blog doesn't miss the opportunity to make it clear how brave he's being:
"I’m not going to let this drop despite warnings from people who should know that my personal safety is imperilled if I dig any deeper. It’s spooked me so much that I’ve kept a detailed log of all the allegations should anything happen."
Some say he's an attention seeking egotist acting to further enhance his crusader image garnered from his successful execution of the Gordon Brown initiated war on News International via the phone hacking scandal.

McBride exposed the depths Labour
spin can stoop to
But some might think there's more to it. A party political strategy to sound the "Tory sleaze" klaxon, so successfully deployed against Major's government in the 90's. A similar, unsuccessful attempt was made before the last election with the Damian McBride scandal. Tom Watson worked alongside McBride at the heart of Gordon Brown's spin machine at the time. He denies any involvement in the spin operation to smear Tory politicians with false allegations at the time. But questions are being asked about his approach now to these allegations. While these allegations don't directly smear anyone, they do associate his political enemies with the most heinous and hateful of crimes in the minds of the public. And of course, as Labour's ex-social media Tsar, he would be more than aware of the internet trawling his words would initiate and which names would emerge. I've subsequently seen Facebook status updates and Tweets generally associating Tories with child abuse. Although, of course, he can't be blamed for the stupidity of the likes of Schofield's list*. 

Of course, if there has been a terrible injustice, the most important thing is to investigate and expose any wrong doing of failures in the system. But, if he genuinely wants to uncover widespread wrongdoing involving child abuse, why do it so publicly? Surely, all this publicity is doing more harm than good. It's tipping off potential perpetrators, who now could be nuking their hard drives of any evidence before they're seized by police, or getting out of the country if they really thought their liberty was at risk. And it is swamping genuine victims cases by encouraging scores of false claims from the confused, unwell and even some who no doubt smell a compo claim in the offing. He could have worked with the police to build a case. He could have then emerged, once convictions had been secured thanks to his evidence, in court, as a true hero. Instead he chose to rise, in the midst of a media frenzy around the Savile paedophilia revelations, to ride the wave, dragging the Tories into the mire with Savile, redirecting focus from the BBC and rekindling the "Tory sleaze" tag in peoples minds.

But then, perhaps he's calculated that a public revelation is the only way to get action. Perhaps he believes there really is an establishment cover up so widespread that only by bringing the issue into the public domain can it be broken and the truth exposed.

Only time will tell. At the moment it feels like the most likely scenario from the above scenarios is the attention seeking egotist. The party political strategy to smear Tories sounds as much like a conspiracy theory as the nationwide establishment cover up Watson is claiming.

If nothing does come of his accusation in the weeks to come, or if potential prosecutions are compromised by his actions, serious questions need to be asked about his fitness to be in public office. But, if the information he's provided to police does lead to the exposure of a widespread conspiracy that facilitated child abuse on a grand scale, he may actually be able to justifiably claim to be a crusader for justice, something his loyal band of left wing Watson-ettes already think he is for giving Murdoch a kicking after his papers stopped supporting Labour.

*The opposite of Schindler's list - it is a list of names of people who are to be persecuted.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Two Eds Aren't Better Than One

Miliband slow hand claps Balls
I had a strong feeling of déjà vu this morning as I read an article in The Times based on the Labour leader's and his Chancellor's briefings against each other. Miliband's lot say Balls is domineering, secretive and untrustworthy while Balls' lot say Miliband is weak and lacks vision or any strategic direction. It's a shame they can't be as insightful about the state they left the economy in, but you can't expect too much.

This all comes after John Rentoul's article in The Independent that pointed out that George Osborne's position is secure and the real issue is with tensions between the two Eds and their lack of any credible alternative to the government's economic plans. The New Statesman publishes an article by Dan Hodges that confirms Labour's plans to avoid making any difficult policy decisions until after the next general election. They hope the Tories will render themselves unelectable allowing Labour to continue their vacuous opportunistic opposition which runs less risk of them losing union or party support.

Meanwhile, the Tory Chancellor gets some rare supportive commentary via Matthew Parris in The Times. While admitting George Osborne is getting increased criticism from all sides, each side undermines the other. From the Right, comes intellectually potent but politically suicidal pressure to cut harder and faster; from the Left comes intellectually bankrupt and mealy-mouthed pressure to cut a little less and a little slower.

It's good to see some focus on the alternatives (or in the Left's case lack of) to Osborne's plans. I don't suppose it will last. But the light being shed on the decaying relationship between Miliband and Balls shows that nothing has changed since the Blair/Brown years.


Monday, August 6, 2012

No!alition Government

"Come back, Nick" "NO! I HATE you, you is not my friend no more.... Blahhhh!"
Following the news that the government was dropping proposals for House of Lords reform, Nick Clegg has retaliated by setting his party against proposals to equalise the size of electoral constituencies and reduce their number.

Clegg's toy evacuation from his pram seems justified as he explains that there was a deal; the Tories were to deliver House of Lords reform and the Liberal Democrats were to deliver boundary changes. But there are a few problems with Clegg's position:

  1. The boundary changes were not linked to Lords reform. The Coalition Agreement promises an AV referendum followed by boundary changes to equalise constituency sizes. The Tories delivered on the AV referendum despite knowing it was a waste of public money and political time:
  2. We will bring forward a Referendum Bill on electoral reform, which includes provision for the introduction of the Alternative Vote in the event of a positive result in the referendum,as well as for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies. We will whip both Parliamentary parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote, without prejudice to the positions parties will take during such a referendum.

  3. What's more, the agreement doesn't promise Tory support for Lords reform but that a committee will be set up to consider it and propose a motion:
  4. We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

  5. By scuppering equalisation of constituency sizes, the Lib Dems are condemning themselves and the Conservatives to entering the next election with an even bigger systematic bias to Labour that will make the prospect of a hung parliament much less likely. If things turn round for the Tories there's a chance that another coalition with them will be possible. But I wonder how keen the Tories would be with that idea, especially after today's childish and self destructive behaviour. If UKIP do well, they may well prove to be a more attractive partner - a nightmare for the Europhile Lib Dems. More likely, Labour will win outright. With the current bias caused, in part, by the democratic deficit in the South and a surplus in Northern England and Scotland that the boundary changes would have corrected, all Labour need is a percentage share of the vote in the mid-thirties to win a decent majority - no need for the Lib Dems.
The Lib Dem's action today brings coalition government into disrepute. It show's that politicians of different parties can't opporate under an honest interpretation of an agreement and specifically that Clegg's party can't deliver grown up government - a shocking situation for a party that dreams of introducing an electoral system (PR) that would make coalition government the norm, not an exception.

With the Conservatives likely to lose the Corby by-election to Labour following Louise Mensch's resignation, Lib Dems must be praying for further Tory to Labour seat transfers before the next election. A shift in parliamentary arithmetic may allow them to jump ship into a Lib/Lab coalition before they are decimated at the polls. Then they could extract a promise from Ed Miliband to implement PR (presumably without a referendum this time, what with people's opinions being so troublesome an' all).

Today at least, this scenario is looking like the only one where they can continue as an influential political force, no matter how little they seem to deserve it. I hope they reconsider their opposition to fair constituency sizes and rediscover the maturity, bravery and commitment to doing what is best for the country rather than their party, that Clegg demonstrated back in 2010.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympics Opening Ceremony Wasn't Political

Friday's Olympics Opening ceremony was a great spectacle. Many have drawn attention to the £27m price tag and suggested that such largesse could hardly fail to provide success. Well, perhaps, but then I'd point to the Millenium Dome as an example of even greater expenditure that wasn't so well received.

But the real value we get from that expenditure is derived from the international attention the ceremony gets. The whole show portrayed a positive, some might say romantic, view of Great Britain and that can only benefit us in terms of international trade and tourism. This is important at a time when the Euro Zone (which currently repesents almost 50% of our current international trade) is lurching from one crisis to another, weakening our trading opportunities. We need to build a strong brand image across the globe to make up for Europe's slump. And of course a boost to tourism in this country won't go amiss either.

Watching the ceremony on the television was very enjoyable. Normally Twitter adds an extra dimension as people share their observations either witty or critical. However, on this occasion I found it significant detracted from my enjoyment. This was one event I was hoping could bring people together and certainly wasn't expecting party political point scoring. However, the inclusion of three letters in a set peice was enough to ignite an explosion of party political animosity that I foolishly failed to ignore.

Mention the NHS to any normal person and they'll think of hospitals, GPs, illness, cures, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a whole range of thoughts and emotions both positive and negative. People don't genially think of Tories or Labour socialism, centralised state provision of localised private provision, free at the point of use etc. No, but politicos do.

As soon as those letters appeared, left wing politicos erupted with claims that this ceremony proved, beyond doubt, that they were right about everything and Britain was really a socialist nation after all. "The best Labour Party political broadcast ever" claimed one Labour MP. Right wing politicos reacted similarly, that this was a left wing ceremony portraying Britain as a socialist state. Then, the lefties attacked the righties for politicising the ceremony. If there's one thing you can always rely on the Left to deliver it is hypocrisy. And enormous national debt, obviously. But I digress.

I may be in a minority of one, but I don't see any justification for party political point scoring. Yes, the NHS was mentioned, but such is the political consensus, there is no lack of commitment from the leadership of either party to a free at the point of use health service available to all.

The left want you to believe otherwise about the Tories. But that is because their idea of the NHS is fundamentally idealogical. All services must be provided by the state and all employees must be state employees. This ideological stance isn't even shared by everyone on the left or in the Labour party. The Blairite wing has long since worked out that a centralised Brobdingnagian organisation can't deliver the services required at an affordable cost to the nation. The Governemnt's NHS reforms were aimed at ensuring the concept of a national health service providing free care to all can survive in the coming decades of pressure on the public purse, by allowing GPs real choice in who provides the services they prescribe for their patients. This is an anathema to those with truely left wing beliefs as it could lead to charities, not-for-profit organsiations or even, heaven forfend, private providers, servicing patients, if they can provide better care and value for money. And so, they paint the Tories as anti-NHS. What they really mean is they are anti-reform of the NHS.

But whether you are pro or anti reform of the NHS, the ceremony wasn't making a political point. It was celebrating British institutions, including the monachy, hardly an institution close to the heart of your average lefty. It's a shame us politicos can't sometimes put politics aside and just enjoy a national spectacle when we see one.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Playing The Victim - Now It's May's Turn

After George Osborne suggested that Labour has some questions to answer over the Libor scandal that occurred while they were in power, Ed Balls switched to his highest spin setting and very successfully diverted attention from valid questions about Labour and Libor and turned the tables on the increasingly hapless Chancellor.

Balls' genius was to re-frame Osborne's question in the media's and therefore public's mind as a direct accusation against himself - Osborne hadn't suggested Labour had questions to answer, he had said Balls had directed the whole affair. Now, there's no evidence for this, so Balls is onto a winner straight away. When Barclays insinuated that the Bank of England had suggested they "low-ball" the Libor rate, Balls saw his opportunity. He knew that, whatever the strong likelihood was that ministers in the last government were aware, even complicit in, the rate fixing, there wouldn't be any trail back to him. So effective was the deeply engrained principle of "plausible-deniability" within the Labour leadership. All dodgy decisions or instructions were to have no paper or electronic trail back to a minister. Everything was kept informal and verbal. 

Mr Cooper
So when the deputy governor of the Bank of England refers to "senior Whitehall sources" everyone knows they are Labour ministers, but there's no actual proof they had anything to do with it. Great. And, perhaps they didn't. Certainly, that's what the Deputy of The Bank of England, Paul Tucker told the select committee when he appeared before them shortly after Osborne said Labour had questions to answer in an article in The Spectator. And how Balls, the BBC, the Guardian and a myriad of other left wing and not-so-left-wing-but-not-keen-on-Osborne media outlets jumped on the news. Osborne should apologise immediately. The number of times I heard BBC commentators talk as if this was a blatant truism. Osborne had accused Balls of pressurising the BoE and now his accusations have been denied (albeit by someone who would never have admitted to the charge even if he was guilty, but let's ignore that for now).

Osborne released a statement clarifying that he hadn't accused Balls of anything and this was immediately cast as a humiliating climb down. Game, set and match, Ed Balls.

Well, now the government finds itself with an opportunity, rather sweetly involving Balls' wife, to exact some revenge in a similar fashion. This time over the G4S debacle. Again, a crisis born under Labour - they signed up contracts with G4S when they were in power. Ex-Labour minister John Reid is a G4s Director - so it could easily be said that Labour have questions to answer again. But that line isn't being played very hard since Osborne's problems. No, the opportunity here is that Yvette Cooper made a quite specific allegation in the Commons that Theresa May knew before the last couple of weeks that G4S was struggling to meet it's commitments. Well, what do you know, today Nick Buckles confirmed Theresa May's account that she was only told on the 11th July.

So, where is the outcry for an apology now? I'll watch the BBC news in the morning and pick up a Guardian expecting to see the headlines dominated with the word "APOLOGISE"...

I may be disappointed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Women Are Cleverer Than Men

May not be backed by scientific evidence
It's official, women are more intelligent than men - according to the Sunday Times at least.

Putting aside doubts as to IQ tests accuracy in measuring real levels of intelligence, this finding is interesting. It suggests that women were once lagging behind men but have recently overtaken them in terms of their IQ score. This won't come as a surprise to many who have observed boys falling behind girls in academic achievement for many years. Surely it was only a matter of time before this trend fed into adult world?

Well, that all seems very plausible, but if you read the article more closely you realise that, in fact, there is very little evidence to make direct comparisons between men and women's IQ scores. The headline "WOMEN REALLY ARE CLEVERER" would have been more accurate, if less catchy as "THERE IS SOME EVIDENCE THAT WOMEN'S IQ SCORES ARE INCREASING FASTER THAN MEN'S AND IN SOME COUNTRIES SUCH AS ARGENTINA, NEW ZEALAND AND ESTONIA, WOMEN HAVE MARGINALLY OVERTAKEN THEM".

The rather sexist conclusion to the article comes in the form of a comment from a woman who has very little regard for her husband who she clearly thinks is a bit dim...

"For many women such stereotypes are being reversed. Helena Jamieson, 33, a consultant, studied English literature at Cambridge and her husband, Luke, 37, a stay-at-home father, studied geography at Kent University.
She said: “We have done the role reversal. I’m definitely the more intellectual person in the relationship and I’m at work full time rising up the career ladder while he is raising our daughter.
“In the past men would belittle me and that is just never an attractive quality in a man. I think women probably always knew secretly deep down that they were the more intelligent ones — but as the gentler sex as well we were quiet about it and let men continue to believe that they ruled the world.” "
Of course, unless Helena is living in Argentina, New Zealand or Estonia, there's little evidence her sex is any more intelligent on average than men. But let's not let that little fact simplify her massive superiority complex. [UPDATE: See Helena's comments below. She isn't the stereotypical man-basher the article portrays]

I suspect there has been an equalisation in IQ scores of the two sexes and this reflects sociological changes in western societies over decades. The question is why was there ever a difference in the measure, and how relevant the score is to measuring the people's real potential level of intelligence. I wonder if Helena had focused on the more substantial difference in average IQ scores between societies in the West and the 3rd world, whether her views would have made it into a national newspaper article at all. If they had she would probably be condemned as a racist. But a bit of light hearted stupid man bashing is fine, it seems.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Banking: Better Not More Regulation

The recent Libor scandal has given politicians another reason to focus attention on the failing in the banking industry and away from their own glaring inadequacies.

The danger is that the dividends that banker bashing pays in the ballot box will lead to greater and more complex banking regulations. But surely that is what we need? Well, no. What we need is better (also less and simpler) regulation and real punishment for those who to transgress the rules. Those who thought it was a great wheeze to fiddle the interbank lending rate should have been in no doubt before they started that a) it was illegal and b) it was punishable by a stiff prison sentence. In reality, even if a bent trader knew what he was doing was wrong he never really felt like anything would be done about it.

It's worth a listen to Niall Ferguson's Reith Lecture, part 2 - The Darwinian Economy. He makes the above point very powerfully. We need better, simpler regulation and genuine punishment for those who transgress...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

It's Gone All Gordon

Hugo Rifkind wrote an excellent article in The Times (£) about Gordon Brown's evidence at the Leveson Enquiry this week. He compares Tony Blair's and Gordon Brown's views on the press, views that expose the two men's very different outlook.
Tony Blair thought back then — and doubtless still thinks — that the British press was awful. “Of course the accuracy of a story counts,” he said. “But it is secondary to impact. It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unravelling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be, but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.”

It’s a fairly devastating critique, this, painting the press as irresponsible and amoral; a nihilistic force of mob-handed destruction. In the wake of phone hacking and everything else, this does not seem inaccurate. But this is not what Gordon Brown thinks at all. He sees a press that is not amoral, but immoral. Or, to put it another way, Tony Blair would say that the press tore apart Gordon Brown because he was rubbish, because it was fun, because it was just so damn easy, because a mindless sort of group-think took hold and ordinary humanity flew out the window. Whereas Gordon Brown thinks it happened because two or three powerful men, for ideological or commercial reasons, entered into a conspiracy to get rid of him.
I would argue that this isn't just how Gordon Brown thinks but how many on the left think. The left sees News International as a political opponent (at least since its papers swapped sides) not as a news outfit whose failings are the same as other media operators. They genuinely believe that News International is in league with the Tories and out to get them.

It is this paranoid political outlook, allied with the commercial opportunism on the part of Murdoch's competitors, that has led to the unjustifiable amount of media coverage that Leveson and any Murdoch related story gets. Rifkind concludes...

“Attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment,” said Tony Blair in 2007. “It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial.”

Quite. The Leveson Inquiry was born out of a sudden public awareness that print media had terrible problems. I’m not going to play those problems down. But they were Tony Blair problems, not Gordon Brown problems; problems about process, not motive. All the way through, I’ve had a sense of lawyers looking for problems with motive and simply not finding them. And thus, what started seven months ago (seven months!) as a righteous autopsy into grotesque wrongs done to ordinary folk has become a whirlwind of innuendo about whether the sidekicks of media bosses and Cabinet ministers are sending each other the right sort of text message.

This is why it’s getting boring. It’s gone weird. It’s gone Gordon.
My favourite comment under this article is from Stephanie Bennett...

"A politician complaining about the press is like a sailor complaining about the sea". - Enoch Powell

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Thank You Hater


This YouTube clip is getting quite a bit of media coverage. It had already had 45,000 views this morning. No doubt it will get many more before long.

You can follow Isabel Fay and Tom Hopgood (but not troll them) on Twitter - @isabelfay / @tomhopgood

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Miliband's English Interest

You won't have been able to escape Ed Miliband opining on his sense of Englishness today, as he attempts to exploit a wave of patriotism that has gripped the country following the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. He desperately needs to distract the voting public from his parties more natural republicanism, as expressed by Tom Watson, Labour MP who described the Diamond Jubilee as a "show of opulence by state elites". For the old loyal Brownite (and now MiliBrownite) spinner, Watson's comments are an unusually clumsy and honest expression of what many on the left think of the Monarchy but, as Ed Miliband knows, are a big turn off for many key sections of the electorate.

Miliband knows Labour needs to revive its fortunes in the South of England after being wiped out there in the last election, and he'll hope claiming an interest in England will help that objective. However, as with Gordon Brown's "British jobs for British workers" sound bite, this speech is likely to turn out equally as meaningless and empty.

You have to ask, what is Miliband offering the English? There isn't one policy he can point to that is intended to benefit the English. To be fair, there isn't much on offer from any political party specifically for the English, apart from the Government's plan to reduce the democratic deficit caused by the unequal parliamentary constituency boundaries. Unsurprisingly, Labour oppose this eminently sensible plan. Why? Because they benefit from the inequality as there are more safe Labour constituencies in their heartlands than there should be.

It is also this self-serving approach to their politics we should bear in mind when considering Labour's new found interest in England. Labour relies heavily on Scotland as a power base and, if they got back into power, would do everything they could to boost their recently flagging fortunes there, at the expense of England and the English tax payer.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Local Election Results - Nothing We Didn't Already Know

I'm getting a bit bored of the hysterical local election results coverage now. It's difficult to see what these results tell us that we didn't already know. There is a lot of commentary, especially from anti-Cameron right wing commentators as well as the normal party political spin from Labour, around the state of the Conservative party and its leadership.

Based on the local election results the BBC estimates the national share of the vote as the Tories on 31%, Labour on 38% and the Lib Dems on 16%. This outcome reflects what polls have been telling us about Tory support for about a month now. Labour's support is not anywhere near the peek of 45% some polls have suggested and the Lib Dems (who always do better at local elections) is higher.

If anything, the lack of much improvement in the popular vote for Ed Miliband's Labour party since last year's local elections is comment worthy, but instead we're hearing how fantastically well Labour have done and how Cameron's "gaffe prone" government is in real trouble.

Focus has been on the number of council seats gained and lost by the parties since these seats were last up for election in 2008. But Labour couldn't have failed to win 700 odd seats given the low base they were at 4 years ago and the very high base the Tories achieved. Labour did well to win about 100 more than that but that's still not terribly surprising. It's worth remembering that Labour gained over 400 seats in the local elections on the same day they lost the General Election in 2010, with a Michael Foot-esque share of the national vote due, again, to the base positions of the parties when those seats had last been elected. So, Labour haven't produced anything worth the hype. The danger is that all the positive coverage they are getting will start to embed the idea that the same lot of failures that ran this country into the ground up to 2010 are credible candidates to run the country again in 2015.

The main difference between now and last year's election is the fall in Tory support. There's no doubt Cameron has some major issues with communicating his government's agenda. This has been a major contributor to the Tories drop in support of about 5% since the general election. For example, the last budget cut taxes for the poor and increased the amount of tax raised from the rich, but you'd think the opposite was true from the coverage it received in the media. This last month has seen one issue after another spin out of control. The government's position in most cases has been reasonably defensible. But no adequate expectation setting before policy announcements seems to take place. Then, following announcements or potentially damaging events, no effective rebuttal of opposition attacks occurs, allowing them to drive the media agenda and influence public opinion.

I have to admit, the lack of aggressive media management from the likes of the mendacious Alistair Campbell is refreshing in this government. But perhaps Labour had it right. Could it be that a modern political party can't survive without aggressively bullying the media to get your line into their headlines. I hope that is not the case. But one way or the other the Tories need to get their point across. Otherwise, Labour's minor successes like these local elections will continue to be blown out of all proportion and their, often misleading, narrative on government policy will become the perceived truth in the public's mind. It could already be too late.

Of course, the Tories woes are not all down to poor communication. They are lacking a strong message that goes beyond getting the nation's finances back into shape (and even that is arguably suffering as they increasingly water down their policies as the going gets tough and in response to pressure from their worried coalition partners). The Big Society was supposed to provide a broader agenda but it's disappeared as has Steve Hilton, Cameron's policy guru and nothing seems to have replaced it or him.

Cameron shouldn't be panicked into any policy lurches to the left or right. But he should take some time now to clarify what his broad message is and how to effectively get it across to voters. He should start by looking at who he has working on media management and policy development. Then he needs to start planning to differentiate the Tories from the coalition, focusing on what he'd like to do but currently can't and how a majority Tory government would deliver if given a chance.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Inaccuracies, Damn Inaccuracies and Statistics

The Independent reports that official figures on economic growth may be wrong. According to Goldman Sachs the UK's economy is growing at between 1% and 2%, not, as the official stats claim, shrinking. It's not just the UK's stats that are called into question. The Euro area is doing better than official figures suggest, while the US isn't doing quite as well as claimed.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. Official figures always seem to be wrong. But it's growth predictions that are renowned for their almost comical inaccuracy. This new measure suggests actual growth figures are inaccurate for at least two to three years after the period they represent.

If this new measure is accurate, what is not comical is the damage being done to confidence in the British economy by the current talk of recession, that potentially could become a self fulfilling prophecy. For the government, news of recession has been leapt upon by opponents and the media keen to lay into them for a number of, mostly self serving, reasons. The figures came as a surprise as many were expecting a slight upturn. They may yet be revised upwards, but the damage is done in people's minds. Consumers and investors will become more cautious in spending their money leading to a higher likelyhood of a further downturn.

Politically, also, there are potential consequences. There are few respectable dissenting voices on the governments attempts to bring public spending under control. But those, less than respectable voices, that do dissent are getting louder and a lot more airtime and column inches as they shriek "I told you so!"; that cutting government spending inevitably leads to recession. In fact, spending is still increasing, but the likes of Ed Balls are never ones to let mere facts get in the way of their pseudo-Keynesian logic. And the more notice people take of Balls et al, the more pressure the government will feel to abandon the course they've taken, as arguably too cautious as it is. And that certainly would guarantee this country's continued decline for decades to come.

Of course, if the new measure is accurate, Osborne should find himself in a strong position come 2015, general election year. That is, if the coalition can survive the perception of failure in the meantime.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Not Very Local Elections

One pledge seems to be missing from this UKIP local election leaflet that's just come through my door - to fight for the UK's immediate withdrawal from the EU...

I'm sure Rushmoor Borough Council would be able to achieve such a promise if we fill it with enough UKIPpers.

Of course I'm indulging in the lowest form of wit. At least this leaflet is attempting to deal with local issues. Local elections are far too influenced by national politics. The last time these local seats were fought over, Labour were decimated due to the party's national unpopularity. Now the Tories and Lib Dems are going to suffer a similar (if not worse) fate, especially given the incredible low base Labour is starting from. Which is a shame as it will land many voters with higher council taxes and worse local services as a result.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ricky / Jeremy - Separated At Birth?

Separated at birth..?

Jeremy Renner (off of The Eastenders) / Ricky Butcher (off of The Hurt Locker).

Perhaps it's just a bad photo of Ricky.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Theresa May Be Right

Theresa May is getting a lot of flak from all sides regarding Abu Qatada's rearrest. Officials at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) allowed Abu Qatada to submit an appeal against their ruling, 3 months and a day previously. However, May has been advised he had 3 months from the date of the ruling to submit an appeal. So, she had him arrested in preparation for deportation back to his home country of Jordan.

Big mistake, we're are being told by government critics and newspaper and television journalists desperate to find more evidence for their narrative that the government is incompetent. But this document suggests otherwise...ège_GC_EN.pdf

The relevant passage being...

“In this connection, it is to be noted that the period of three months within which referral may be requested starts to run on the date of the delivery of the judgment, irrespective of whether the party concerned may have learned about it at a later stage. It expires three calendar months later and is not interrupted by bank holidays or periods of judicial recess. The request for referral should reach the Registry of the Court before the expiry of the above-mentioned period.”

Perhaps a quick call between the Home Office and the ECHR could have confirmed the date. But then, with guidance like this, perhaps the view was that the position was clear.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Red Ken's Brass Neck And Red Ed's Regret

You've got to admire the brass neck of Labour's Mayoral candidate, Ken "do as I say not as I do" Livingstone.

As Everyone will be aware he was caught out arranging his financial affairs in the most tax efficient way possible, despite condemning others who did the same as evil, tax dodging "rich bastards".

Hypocrisy in Labour politicians being par for the course the issue probably would have blown over by now had it not been for Livingstone's accusations that Boris Johnson, the Tory candidate, had similar arrangements. Boris and Ken had previously covered this territory and Ken knew full well the accusations weren't true.

Red Ken's accusations inevitably led to calls for all the candidates to reveal their financial affairs for public scrutiny. His attempts to avoid disclosure then, when forced, the revelations that he (and to a lesser extent the Lib Dem candidate - they always have to be "equidistant", don't they?) had paid a significantly smaller proportion of their income in tax than Boris, have made all the headlines over the past few days.

Now, Ken is attempting to make out that it was the Tories who made everyone's tax affairs an issue, saying it's a distraction from the "real" issues facing Londoners. In reality it was him, by making false allegations that inflamed the whole topic. The fuss being made about individuals tax affairs has been a distraction, not least as it was only Ken that had a big problem with tax efficient arrangements. But the original revelation on Livingstone's tax arrangements was very much relevant as it showed him up as the hypocrite he is. His response also revealed him to be and out and out liar. Boris Johnson would have to be condemning, and proposing the jailing of, serial adulterers to reach the same levels of hypocrisy as dear old Ken.

Mayoral elections are very much about the individuals as well as their policies. How trustworthy are they? Can we trust them to do what they say they are going to do? etc. Ken, like many politicians on the left in this country, has shown himself not to be trustworthy. His chances of winning are now looking very slim.

After losing in Bradford, Ed Miliband really can't afford to lose in another Labour orientated city like London, especially during a mid-term Tory government. He will hope the inevitable gains Labour will see in the local elections (the Tories will be defending a very high water mark result from 2008) will overshadow his failure in London.

How Red Ed must be regretting going for his colour-sake, Red Ken, now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Snooping" - A Daft Policy That May Not Even Get To Be Draft

Someone really needs to get to grips with the Government's communications. The latest heavily trailed and predictably unpopular policy looks set for a U-turn before it is even officially been drafted for consultation...

Whatever the government proposes now, it will look as though they were "forced" into a watered down version of the original policy (or whatever evil fantasy policy is in some critics' heads), by whatever group want to take credit - front of the queue will be the Lib Dems, of course, closely followed by those making lots of noise today on Twitter and Facebook but who were silent and happily voted Labour in the Blair years when lots of far worse authoritarian policies were being enacted.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Don't Keep Calm...

Just in case Britain is thinking of calming down, UNITE and The League Against Personal Responsibility will be showing the following poster, up and down the country, from tomorrow...

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Yakshemash - Kazakhstan Shoot Best In All Kuwait. Better Than Saddam

Borat in his Mankini with a 4 ladies in Womankinis
My favourite story of the week has to come from a shooting competition in Kuwait where they accidentally played Borat's spoof Kazakh national anthem at the medal ceremony.

Maria Dmitrienko won the gold medal for Kazakhstan and then had to sit through the spoof anthem imploring people to "Grasp the mighty penis of our leader" and extolling the cleanliness of their prostitutes (second only to Turkmenistan’s apparently)...