Sunday, November 30, 2008

Honourable Politician Resigns

(Just noticed that I didn't publish this post from last week!)

Yep, you don't see that very often but it has just happened in India.

Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil and national security adviser MK Narayanan have submitted their resignations in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.
I don't believe for one minute that either of these gentlemen did anything directly or through omission that led to the terror attacks in Mumbai* but they have shown that they understand that the buck stops at the top. The last of our politicians to resign on this principle was Lord Carrington who was Foreign office Secretary at the time of the Falklands invasion, if I remember correctly.

I'll bet our current bunch of snivelling politicians, of either party, would be desperate to hold their jobs and deflect responsibility on to anyone they could find. They would claim that it wasn't their fault as they don't have day to day control of any situation. Their duty, they claim, is to set policy and strategy, and not to be involved in the day to day tactics. They would will claim that they can't be held responsible for how these are implemented and for the consequences of any errors made on the front line.

What they don't understand is that policy and strategy lead directly to the way those on the front line act and behave when carrying out their jobs. Lord Carrington understood this very well. He knew that it was his policies and strategy that led to the Foreign Office downgrading the Falklands in their priorities. He knew the consewuences of this downgrading led to those who had an idea what could happen not being given the resources or the hearing they would get if the Falklands had been a priority. Even if they did raise the issue their bosses would be too interested in subjects that were a priority.

Lets look at a hypothetical situation that could be brewing at home. When a single prisoner escapes from jail it is reasonable that the Home Secretary shouldn't be held responsible and resign. However it is well known that our jails are overcrowded and that Labour has made increasing jail terms and harsher sentences a key policy to placate the Daily Mail voter. They have also ducked the decision to build more prisons despite dire warnings.

What if this overcrowding led to mass riots and a breakout of all the prisoners from a maximum security jail? Would the Home Secretary resign or not? I don't know, its hypothetical, but I would put money on it they wouldn't. They would claim that they can't be expected to personally supervise all the prisons, that's why we have Governors. What they willing and deliberately fail to accept is that their policies and strategies led to the the problems in the first place. They will rely on the political process that dictates that by the time any report comes out the Home Secretary will have moved on and a new incumbent will be in place. We will be told that lessons will be learnt ..... you get the drift.

We will have spent months, if not years, arguing over culpability until the report comes out, only to be told what we knew. We will then hold our politicians, all of them, in even more contempt, but nothing will change.

This is why I respect India's Home Minister and thought it was an honourable thing to do. He knows that, like it or not, he has set the environment in which India's security services work. It might be that subsequent reports find nothing reasonable could have been done to stop the attacks, but that's not the point, the public have been let down and someone must go. His resignation, even if not accepted, will allow the debate to move to what happened, why and how it could have been avoided, without it being dragged in to low politics as opposition and sections of their media demand resignations and other politicans waste time and political capital defending them.

*This is one story where I do have a bit of personal interst, I stayed in the Oberoi and know it well. Like everyone who travels on business I live in dread of something like this happening.

God Trumps

Via Heresy Corner this amusing game over at New Humanist will help you to select your religion of choice:

Are Mandy's state planners any better than the failed Soviet Union's state planners?

This has to be one of the most depressing stories of the recession:

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has outlined plans to draw up a list of industries that could be saved from collapse during the economic downturn.
The thought that Mandy and a bunch of civil servants with zero business experience will start picking winners on which to squander my hard earned money sent a chill through me equal to the one when I heard interest rates were going up to 15%.

"Ah," I hear his supporters say in the beeb and Guardian say, "they will bring in outside experts to advise them". Yeah, right, and having given themselves the power to pick winners and throw even more cash around do you seriously believe politicians will relinquish it someone who else? Unless, of course, they are party hacks or sopperters*.

Let's think about how they might select industries and business to save. They will obviously need to give priorities to their deliberations. I suspect these will form the key criteria for selection:

1. Is it a Labour marginal?
2. Is it highly Unionised?
3. Is it a labour seat?
4. Have they donated to The Party?

If the answer to any of those is yes then it will probably get our money without question.
"He stressed the government was not going to "bail out" every ailing business or "prop up companies that are not viable".
So how will this work then. All business that meet the following criteria will be closed:

1. Is it a Tory seat?

This makes more people reliant on the State and likely to vote Labour.

Cynical, maybe, but I remember the 60's and 70's and how politicians, especially Labour politicians, can't help themselves. They are human after all and not only want to be liked, but they also want to protect their own jobs.

Thatcher fought tooth and nail to get us out of the mentality that politicians and civil servants are somehow omnipotent and can pick winners better than the market and what a painful process it was. It looks like we will have to relearn the lessons and submit ourselves to the pain once again.

Danian Green arrest, another thought

Like most of the liberal blogosphere and MSM I too was outraged when I heard of the arrest of an MP and the searching of his offices for what appears to be publishing information embarrassing to the Labour Party. But on reflection something doesn't seen quite right.

Firstly, for all I think that Labour would do just about anything to stay in power, surely orchestrating something like this would be a step too far even for them? Mandywould have realised that storm this would cause and advised caution in the process, even if Green has done something wrong.

And what of the arrest and questioning for "conspiracy" itself. Whilst it is an MP's duty to publish information that is brought to him, unless it seriously damages national security*. What if, and I am going to make a wild speculation here as I have no special knowledge or contact with the case, the MP encourages someone to leak information? Even if it isn't against the national interest and is embarrassing to the Govt should an MP be able to cajole someone to leak data or to encourage someone else to leak data? Other than guaranteeing anonymity and MP, or anyone else for that matter, should not be allowed to encourage others to leak information that their employment contract requires them to keep confidential.

As I say, I know nothing of this case, other than what I read in the press, but I do get the sense this story isn't all it seems.

*yes I know that NuLab have difficulty separating national security and Labour's security in Government, but parliament and senior police know better.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Work, the scourge of the blogging classes

Very frustrating when you have a load of rants whizzing round your head.

Monday, November 24, 2008

PBR Comment of the day (so far!)

From the BBC live feed:

1710Professor Peter Spencer, chief economic advisor, Ernst & Young Item Club This statement says more about the shocking state of the public finances inherited by Alistair Darling from Gordon Brown than it does about the recession or the measures he's taking to try to deal with it.

How much will the VAT change cost businesses?

Now that the VAT change has been announced we have started a project to implement it. We have our own IT team so the cost is an opportunity cost, which is high in our case because we have some key projects being delayed. I reckon about 10 man weeks of work in total just to change our billing system and bills.

Companies that outsource billing and accounting may have to pay for the changes, depending on their contract terms.

Will big out sourcing companies like EDS have the bandwidth to make all the changes?

As we bill in advance we have to rebate for the period. That is 50p per direct debit customer as well as the time to do the work.

Then there is the cost of calls to out call centre as customers query bills they don't understand.

And what about HMRC systems? I presume they will need to make changes to their notoriously crap processes and software, more cost to us, the tax payer.

This isn't going to be a cheap exercise.

And then we've got to do it all again in reverse next year.

I suppose it does increase economic activity, but not in the way predicted.

Credit Correction

is probably a better description of what we are going through.

Why banks aren't lending to consumers and businesses

Lots of angst from politicians, meeja and business folk over the weekend about banks not passing on the Government's (ie our money) largess to them.

Mark Wadsworth explains why they are all whistling for their supper in clear and understandable language here.

Such a pity that the Government didn't think about this before wasting our money.

VAT Cut:: Heads Gordon wins, Tails Gordon wins

Lets assume that we get the much trailed 2.5% VAT cut and one of two outcomes are likely:

1. Retailers have a good Christmas and Gordon claims it was caused by his wonderful fiscal stimulus, whether or not the VAT reduction reduction is passed on, or;

2. Retailers have a very poor Christmas and the economy continues to tank - Gordon then blames greedy retailers for not passing on the VAT cut.

Cunning bastard continues to avoid any blame for the current mess and continues to hold himself up as our saviour.

Friday, November 21, 2008

BNP, Human Rights Act, the Left and Geneva Convention

One of the oddities of the Left's attitude to the BNP is their belief that because the BNP doesn't support the HRA they shouldn't be able to benefit from it as demonstrated by Kerry McCarthy:

I liked the way Nick Griffin described the leaking of the list as being in breach of the Human Rights Act... We know his party are great supporters of that piece of legislation - when it suits them.
Yet the left seem to think that the Geneva Convention should apply to Al Quaeda terrorists captured in Afghanistan, even though those terrorists break just about every line of the convention.

They obviously can't make up there mind which bunch of nasty bastards to hate and which to love.

H/T Leg Iron

PS I think the BNP should have the protection of the HRA and those captured by the US should be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Just because they are fascists it doesn't give us the excuse to act like fascists

Thursday, November 20, 2008

BNP List, Newsnight, New Labour and racisim at the next Election

I watched Newsnight last night* and wanted to write a post about their analysis of the BNP list they had carried out using the Mosaic profiling tool. This breakdown of the British people by location, class, salary and other information normally used in marketing campaigns.

As I had had a couple of glasses of wine I wanted to check my facts before posting so went to watch it on iPlayer and there it was, gone! Well "not available" anyway. This is unusual as it is available for other nights so I assume it was withheld because of the BNP analysis.

So although I can't refer to the source the main thing that I remember is how big the BNP were in Labour strongholds, most notably inner cities. Now this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who hasn't been hibernating on Zog recently, but it was the scale that struck me. It was big and accounted for a very large part of the BNP membership. Furthermore, they made the point that although there were many Professionals in the BNP it was dominated by C2's, again not too big a surprise.

I distinctly remember thinking that this is what frightens New Labour; they know there core vote in could melt away, not to the Tories but to the BNP, and why that are so keen to stress the BNP's racist undertones so much. Is this also why they raised the 70m immigration cap recently?

It could also explain why Labour has suddenly been very edgy on immigration recently, despite making political capital out of accusing the Tories of being racist every time they raise the issue.

Despite, maybe because of, the economic downturn, the next election could very easily turn in to a very nasty battle over immigration. If it does it could pan out like this:

Labour needs to be strong on immigration to satisfy their white inner city and C2 core vote that they can be trusted, this in itself will have racist undertones. They will stress their immigration points system. They may even revive the population cap argument.

The Conservative Party will stress high immigration rates and claim they first thought of the pints system, if not to get the vote switch to themselves themselves but to push Labour's core votes towards the BNP and so weaken them. Labour will accuse them of racism.

The LibDems will stand on the sideline and cast the racist pox on both their houses, but at the same time say they will be strong on illegal immigrants.

Amongst all this Nick Griffin will play the" we're not really racists argument for all its worth" and campaign heavily in inner cities, especially those with large immigrant communities. This will stir race tensions and I wouldn't be surprised if we get the odd race riot.

It does make you wonder why the list was published, though? Qui bono? I think I'll leave that one for the conspiracy theorists for now.

God, I hope I'm wrong, this outcome is far too depressing to contemplate as nobody will come out of it well.

* unusual for me as its past bedtime!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why are local Governments still recruiting?

Old Holborn has been scanning the job pages of the Guardian and started a rather amusing post around the non jobs being created by local Government:

Pointless Jobs Competition

Here, you will find 574 Job vacancies.

Let's see who can find the most ridiculous one.

(PS, I've already found Lambeth council advertising for a "Welfare Take Up Officer")
At the time of writing there are 50 comments, most pointing out how idiotic these jobs are and amazement at how much is being paid. It a good bit of fun and there are some good points made. But I'm starting to think that we've all missed the point - why are they even recruiting?

As the private sector starts to tighten its belt and faces massive lay-offs, even those companies that haven't announced plans will be imposing recruitment bans and be looking at ways of reducing costs, which inevitably means reducing headcount either through redundancies or natural wastage.

Experience tells us that in a number of companies the word will go out "x% headcount reduction". This will be a critical measure to save the company and will affect good, loyal, hard working, people. Even those not made redundant will be affected as they try to ensure that the company doesn't grind to a halt and delivers the same level of service with the reduced headcount.

So, amidst all this we have the state sector increasing, or at best maintaining, headcount. This means fewer people in the private sector have to raise the same or more in taxes, or the money has to be borrowed ie delayed taxes.

Yes, I know that putting these people on the dole means welfare benefits, but as a lot of these jobs were for over £50k there has to be some saving, surely?

There is another benefit from reducing local Govt employment numbers - when we eventually get an upturn these people may go in to wealth producing employment rather than wealth consumption.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Are there too many women in Social Services?

I was musing about the death of baby P and all the people inolved and what struck me that was that it was all women. Even when they had a couple of former senior social workers on Radio 4 they were women. One could say that Social Services were hideously female if you wanted to be uncharitable.

But on a serious point, is this part of the problem? By there very nature we are told women are more collegiate and inclusive. Women tend to avoid confrontation and want to see the best in people. There is nothing wrong with this when in a mixed environment, indeed we are told women bring many benefits, but does it mean that in an environment like that surrounding baby P nobody was prepared to make the hard, confrontational, position? Did they all want to believe that their colleagues were right and acting in the P's best interest to the point that they missed what was really going on? Maybe one of them harboured doubts but didn't want to be seen breaking the consensus.

Perhaps a few men in the group, especially a couple of Alpha Males in the management chain, would have broken that consensus as they vied for or political leadership. They might have questioned the consensus as part of their own political positioning.

General stereoyping I know, but that doesn't make the point irrelevant.

I'l bet this question won't be raised in any of the of the inquiries or investigations though, but it would be if something as tragic happened in an all male environement.

Sir Ian Blair gets it right on community service

Now that he's leaving office Sir Ian seems to be getting it right:

Criminals ordered to work for their community should be forced to wear uniforms, Sir Ian Blair has said. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner insisted that visible punishment is the only way to convince the public the criminal justice system works. He said offenders wearing high visibility vests is "unpalatable" but could help restore confidence in the courts.
The only quibble is that ts is desirable, not unpalatable.

I learned this lesson as a young Sergeant in the early 1980's when serving in Germany. The Regiment had just moved in to an old barracks and hadn't got round to getting the jails serviceable and we had to send miscreants to another regiment if their crime received a jail sentence.

By military standards we did seem to have a high crime rate despite sending these young lads off to jail at ever increasing rates. I learned the reason when I was in the NAAFI having a beer as one of them returned from 28 days in jail with a nearby infantry regiment. He was laughing and joking about his time and became a bit of a celebrity, a bit of a "Jack-the-lad" hard man. I knew different, I had seen him in the jail and knew he had been a cowed, contrite young soldier. I realised then we might as well be sending them on leave for a month for all the good it was doing.

Anyway, we eventually got round to getting our own cells operational and what a difference it made. The first soldier to end up in there became a salutary lesson to the the rest of the lads. Seeing his daily routine was certainly a deterrence: roused o at 5:30am to start cleaning and other other onerous duties. Off to meals in full battle kit being marched at double quick time and then back at the same pace. A day full of military duties, PT and other "dirty jobs", all done at pace and under close supervision, which with a best kit inspection at 10pm. If the kit wasn't good enough then another at 10:30pm and the 6:30am if it still wasn't good enough. A cigarette ration of 2 a day also tended to be a bit of an eye opener.

As all this took place in full view of their mates they weren't scene as celebrities at their release and offending rates plummeted.

It was then I realised that any justice system needed to include 3 elements: protection of the public, punishment and deterrence. The deterrence element has to include not only deterrence for the offender to repeat their offence, but probably more importantly, deter others from committing crimes in the first place and this can't happen unless they are seen to be punished.

So what should those on community service be doing? Whatever it is it shouldn't undermine those who do the work as their normal jobs. By that I mean that street cleaning, say, shouldn't be seen as the punishment itself, it is that these offenders are doing it in their own time. So if we want them cleaning the street it should be in the evening in a city centre when that job isn't normally done and it gets maximum visibility as a deterrence. To that end any hi-vis clothing they wear should also be a different colour to that which is normally worn, pink or orange would be good choices, so that everyone knows that it is a punishment.

A word of warning though. It was easy in the Army because those young soldiers were volunteers and wanted to do the job. They also knew that the Army had the ultimate sanction of throwing them out, something we can't really do in the wider society.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spectator Parliamentary Speech Of The Year

Via Head of Legal this video of Diane Abbot's speech in the recent 42 days detention debate which was awarded the Spectator's Speech of the Year Award.

I don't often agree with her but on this issue she is brilliant. I missed this speech at the time and if you did its well worth 5 minutes of anyone's time as she sets out the objections to the 42 days bill so well.

Unfortunately the embed script doesn't work and I haven't got time to work out why so here's a link to it.

He doesn't like new media types or Twitter

Work has its benefits; I get plenty of telecom's news letters and this one from The Register amused me this morning:

Here's a conundrum. Top Media People want to come out of the shadows and get "closer to their listeners" - it's what the Web 2.0 people urge them to do. BBC people in particular are obsessed with being seen to be bossy or "out-of-touch" - especially since three out of four license payers have a gripe with the corporation.

But the more of themselves media people reveal, the more the public sees them as clueless, self-referential and narcissistic bunch so many of them are. And the more time the BBC spends on peripheral New Media wankery, the more people wonder why they're paying a license fee. You'd need a heart of silicon not to enjoy their agony. The poor souls.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My response to Dr Crippen's post on the moral outrage against social workers

Dr Crippen has a post about baby P in which he takes the rest of us to task for our collective desire to find a scpegoat and crucify a social worker in the baby P case:

It’s time, once again, to vent our collective spleens.

It’s time, once again, for those on the moral high ground to stand up and be counted.

It’s time, once again, to crucify a social worker.
I'm not going to fisk the post as I have made 2 long comments, 37 and 38, which I have copied here:

The moral outrage from the rest of us in cases like this is driven by frutration.

Frustration at our inability to protect children, despite the huge amount of tax payers money devoted to social services. Maybe not enough for those spending it, but it seems like a a hell of a lot to those of us paying it.

Frustration at the lack of mea culpa. Nobody seems to have ownership in cases like this. I don't believe that someone should necessarily be fired every time something goes wrong when events like these occur. However the lack of ownership by one person is probably the biggest factor whenever something so catastrophic and tragic happens in any walk of live. How can we learn if nobody has ownership?

Frustration at the iablity professionals to learn by past mistakes. Professionals are supposed to be experts in their field yet we hear cries for more supervision. Either they are drones who need supervision or they are professionals who can be trusted to call for help when they need it.

Frustration that, despite very good wages, managers lack the ability to manage. They can't see when something is going wrong and fix it before the problem gets so far out of hand. Thats what managers should be doing, not constantly supervising individual professionals but taking a wider view ensuring that systems and procedures are in place to catch the exceptions that lead to these hoorendous deaths.

Frustration to learn that yet again its a lack of communication that is the root cause, despite the £millions spent on IT and telecoms, hours spent in cross departmental meetings and the appointment of evermore coordinators.

Frustration that the "system" seems hell bent in keeping children in care rather than risk them going to live with people prepared to offer them a home, time, love and dedication because they might smoke. Frustration that we know that this will extend from one borough to the rest of the country and more children will suffer at the hands of self righteous indignation that people smoke.

Frustration that the standard response is yet more enquiries and reviews, which only seem to give those involved a chance to take one pace back with a "not my fault guv" shrug of their shoulders.

Frustration that despite all these enquiries we find that recommendations of the learned people who chair them are ignored by the Government and professionals, only for the same mistakes to be made again.

Frustration that whenever we raise our concerns we are told that we don't understand and should leave it to the professionals, only to see another child die in such distressing circumstances. Yet at the same time those same professionals are drawing up plans to give themselves power to remove overweight children from their parents and place them into a system that can be so broken that this child died.

So, Dr C, by all means point out that some of the moral outrage may be misplaced, but don't think for one minute that it isn't real or unwaranted.

And yes, if we never heard of another death we would ignore social service, but thats the point isn't it? Professionals want to be left alone to get on with their jobs while the rest of us go out and generate the wealth to pay for them?

Friday, November 14, 2008 4:33:00 AM
Blogger The Great Simpleton said...

Ok, so that's the general outrage dealt with and now this:
[my emphasis]

"You cannot legislate to eradicate evil. There is no system on earth that will protect us against Harold Shipman, Fred West, Peter Sutcliffe and all the rest of them. You do the best you can, in difficult circumstances. Some times you get it wrong. Haringay Council got it wrong this time. God, did they get it wrong and, yes, once again we need to examine procedures and see if we can get it any better.

But, once again, the whole emphasis of the story is on social services rather than on the evil thugs that committed the offence. It was the same with Victoria Climbie:"

Yes there are evil people but we know that, that's why we have set up social services and other specialists, to protect the vulnerable. That's why we give them special powers, so they can act to protect the vulnerable.

I agree that there will always be hard cases like Shipman and most people accepted that fact and looked to the subsequent enquiry to provide the recommendations that protect us from from future Shipmans. But if it happens again the moral outrage will be deafening, because yet again we will have found that professionals have becaome self righteous and compacent and unable to learn from past mistakes.

And that's the point with this moral outrage, as I said in my first comment, we've seen it all before.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An prediction about the economy

Yes, I know one should never make predictions, especially about the future, but here goes

As we run up to Christmas there will be tales of woe, fears of a hard Christmas for the retail industry will be raised, probably forecasting the worst Christmas ever*. Shops will be discounting heavily, claiming they are bleeding red stuff all over their balance sheet, but then say that Christmas wasn't as bad as they expected. Foir the first time in a long time year on year sales will not have grown though.

The good old consumer will know that we are in for a real shit time and will think "..hmm, fuck it, if its going to be that bad next year I might as well have a good Christmas and fuck the consequences, I'm going to spend".

There will be a bit of a bounce with the optimists, especially Gordon, claiming that the recession isn't that bad and that we can weather the storm.

Then in January credit card bills will hit the door mats. Reality will set in and retail sales will nose dive. Initially this will be masked by the January sales, but the discounting will be so deep that stores will be crippled. February's economic news will be so dark that we will wonder what is going on. By March key economic figures will be reported as worse than any recession in living memory, bearing in mind that some people who lived through the great depression are still alive.

Unfortunately the crystal ball only looks that far ahead and then the visions disappear in a gloomy haze.

*In the same way that global warming alarmists always claim that some weather anomaly was the hottest/coldest/wettest ever

1984 Book Campaign

I presume most people who come by here are familiar with the campaign to send all MP's a copy of 1984 on November 5th. The response has been somewhat underwhelming with only 3 Labour MP's commenting on it and they have been, at best superscilious in their comments.

Perhaps 1 week on is the time to follow up and here is a copy of an email I sent to my MP, David Liddington (Con).

Dear David,

By now you will have received a copy of Orwell’s 1984, although I haven’t seen any reference to it on you web site (at at 11/11/08). Although I didn’t send you the book I support the campaign as I have been increasingly alarmed at the way Parliament is allowing this Government to ride rough shod over our ancient protections from the State, supposedly in the interests National Security.

Just in case you think this campaign has been organised by a bunch of cranks here’s something for you to think about from a very thoughtful blogger, one of many who write eloquently on this subject:

National security has a floating definition, and if laws designed specifically to catch terrorists can be applied to people who have one bag too many in their bins, then anything that can be seen to disparage or insult the government can be considered a national security issue, and therefore silenced.

So, our government wants the power to lock us up for 42 days without bothering to think up a charge (it hasn’t gone away), to assume guilt from the outset (confiscation of property from suspected criminals who haven’t even been charge, let alone found guily), to make us pay for our own defence (Jack Starw’s recent kite flying), to hold autopsies in secret when we fall down the stairs (secret Coroner’s hearing with the Government appointing their own Coroner), and to prevent the media telling anyone about any of it (latest proposal from the security committee (whatever happened to D-Notices BTW)). In effect, this is the 'vapourised' that Orwell describes. Vanished so completely that nobody remembers you were ever there. All that's left is to edit any record out of history and you're not only gone, you never existed.

We have corresponded before when I praised you for your work in looking after the interests of the Iraqi Interpreters and I see from the emails I get from They Work For You that you still do some good work on this and other topics However, as a life long Tory voter, I even held my nose and voted Tory in 1997, I am becoming increasingly alarmed at your Party’s complacency to never ending stream of authoritarian legislation to the point where I may have to consider my voting priorities at the next election. You will note that I am giving you the benefit that it is complacency and not conspiracy.

David Davies may have been capricious, or even fool hardy, when he resigned to stand again on the subject of civil liberties but he had a point and touched a very popular raw nerve, if only for a short time. If the Conservative Party isn’t going to stand up to what is the most authoritarian Government we have seen in recent history it will not deserve any votes, no matter what it says on the subject of the economy.

Perhaps as someone who is rising through the ranks of the Conservative Party you could let me know, as one of your constituents, your position on this subject and what, if anything, you and the Conservative Party are proposing to halt this stream of authoritarian legislation?




Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote holds as true today as it did then, indeed it may be more so as the state develops ever more ingenious ways to spy on us and control our thoughts and behaviour:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

And while on the subjects of quotes, Burke also provides a salutory warning for an opposition MP:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

I'll let you know if anything happens.

H/T Leg Iron for the blogger quote, I just did the bracketed bit)

BTW, I reckon he's one of the better MP's but I'm just about to find out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How many more inquiries does it take to save a child

Every time a child dies at the hand of cruel parents under the the noses of the Social Services we get more hand wringing, more calls for enquiries, more claims that things are getting better and systems improving. Yet children still continue to die hideous deaths for want of basic care from those tasked to protect them.

Won't someone put their hand up and say they got it wrong and apologise? I don't know what's worse, the death or the hand wringing crocodile tears as everyone takes a quick step backwards with a "not me gov" shrug.

PS I find the whole story of Baby P too distressing to link to let alone include some of the story, googly Bapy P if you don't know the story

Changing my mind on tax cuts

Up until now I had been a believer as tax cuts both as a way to help stimulate the economy but also as a way to keep Governments lean. I do accept the Keynesian argument that in recession we might have to let borrowing increase, although the amount is up for discussion.

However, now that all 3 parties main are falling over themselves to promise tax cuts my natural skepticism is raising alarm bells. Ever since we were suckered in to the Common Market by all the great and the good supporting it I have held the view that if there is no serious political opposition to something it is probably bad thing ie if something seems too to good to be true, it probably isn't.

I need to think about this dilemma a bit more.

Remember them all

It is right that the Great War remains the focus of Remembrance Day services, there only a few survivors and it is important that we acknowledge the sacrifices that were made. All wars are horrific but as the first World War this was more so.

As our thoughts turn to other wars, most notably WW2 we generally remember Dunkirk or the D Day landings. In other conflicts the Falkands get a mention and we give a special thought to those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there is one part of WW2 that is often overlooked, the war in the Far East against Japan.

Few people realise that war continued for for a full 3 months until what is referred to as VJ Day

Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day, also known as Victory in the Pacific Day, or V-P Day) is a name chosen for the day on which the Surrender of Japan occurred, and subsequent anniversaries of that event. The term has been applied to both the day on which the initial announcement of Japan's surrender was made in the afternoon of August 15, 1945 (August 14 North American date), as well as the date the formal surrender ceremony was performed in Tokyo on September 2, 1945.
Yes of course most people are aware of the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they don't associate that with the ongoing war. After WW1 it was probably the worst war in history with soldiers fighting in hand to hand combat to clear small islands. It also brought us some of the first fanatical suicide bombers, Kamakaze's.

Furthermore, the price of capture was horrific as the Japanese had no sympathy for prisoners and used them as slave labour with many being tortured and 1,000's starving to death. They had also inflicted great suffering on other countries, most notably China, Hong Kong and Singapore, but no country in the region was spared their viscous empire.

My father was in the Feet Air Arm and occiasionally talked about the state of the prisoners they picked up; it made grown men cry to see them as they were brought on board their ships for repatriation. Even then there was black humour, he had one story of a particular skinny man being brought on board and one of the sailors putting a comforting arm round him and saying "don't worry you'll be alright now and we'll give you some proper food". To which the response was "about time, I've been on this ship for 3 years and haven't had a decent meal yet"!

Despite all that what really got to my father was how much they were forgotten at the time. This was brought home to him when they found out there had been a general election and Churchill had been replaced by Atlee. They didn't know it was happening, let alone get a vote.

So, as your thoughts turn to those who suffered in the trenches, at Dunkirk, D Day, the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ireland , Korea and the 100's of other locations people fought and died for us, spare a thought for those forgotten servicemen in the far east.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Our central planners are better than your central planners....

Just been listening to Keith Vaz explaining how the Government should start taking over businesses and telling the owners how to run them. As always there is some stealth to these types of moves and he is using alcohol:

Pub happy hours should be banned and supermarkets stopped from selling alcohol at a loss in order to combat drink-fuelled disorder, MPs have said.
What makes them think that our central planners are any better then than those of the old Soviet Union, Mao's China or Castro's Cuba?

Also, once they start setting prices for businesses will that men those businesses become exempt from competition law (my emphasis)?
Supermarket mega-chains Asda, J Sainsbury and Safeway have pleaded guilty to fixing milk and dairy prices following a probe by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). The trio will have to pay a total of £116m in fines.

The supermarkets could now face the prospect of follow-on actions by wronged consumers or competitors.

The watchdog said that in setting the fines it had "taken into account information provided by the parties involved in the early resolution discussions which demonstrated the pressures they were under at this time to support dairy farmers."

That pressure was Governement and tabloid pressure on supermarkets to increase what they pay farmers:
"The price initiatives in 2002 and 2003, which were widely and publicly reported at the time, were designed to help British dairy farmers at a time of considerable economic pressure and public debate about whether farmers were getting a fair price for their products," he added.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bizarre political survey question

I've just been surveyed over the phone it is was quite bizarre. The main thrust of the questions was about whether I would vote ate the next election, which party I would vote for, whether I voted at the last election and who for. After this there was a few questions on whether Gordon should be friends with Barack and whether or not USA for a force for good in the world.

All typical political survey questions then a section on Iran and what I knew about it, where I got my knowledge and attitude to the press reporting on Iran.

In between the political bit and Iran I as asked if I played Bingo, had every played bingo or would consider playing bingo! Bizarre!

Anybody got any thoughts on the bingo question?

I reckon the survey was really about whether Gordon's popularity and whether he should support the USA if they decide to bomb Iran.

As they also asked me about my eduction qualifications and where I live the could deduce where I was likely to be in the social class system, so I really thrown by the bingo question.

Mobile companies facing investment dilemma

This started out as a quick post, but ended as a bit of a ramble through the jungle of mobile telecoms!

Mobile phone companies are facing a real problem over the next couple of years as the credit crunch bites into their need to innovate and maintain growing customer numbers and Average Profit Per User (APPU)*. The latest land grab, for that is how the industry works, is for data users on their 3G networks. However this is also driving their need for more Capex, to the alarm of their Boards and banks.

It is only 8 years since the industry had to dig deep and find £22bn for 3G spectrum licences which were needed to cope with growing voice demand and to provide data services, which were seen as the holy grail of the mobile industry. But that wasn't the end of it. Once the technology was developed it had to be deployed and backhaul** networks had to be upgraded, all adding to Capex and increased Opex

Once it was deployed it took a while for an eco system to develop sufficiently to produce cheap handsets that took advantage of the new technology. Annoyingly, customers didn't want to pay for slow data services and operators weren't able to develop the "killer application" that would drive customers to pay more for the benefits of the technology. Video phones proved to be a huge turn off, probably because of costs.

While all this was going on home based broadband was taking off, through BT's deployment ADSL***, and the Internet was developing in to what is known as Web 2.0. This meant that the web has become the "killer app" as people want to access to the content they want, not what the Mobile operators were offering in their walled gardens. Unfortunately for the operators the basic 3G technology wasn't up to delivering the experience users were getting used to at home, which proved to be another barrier to take up.

This meant another technology development for the MNO's to improve data capacity on their network. This technology is called High Speed Data Packet Access (HSDPA) and is a relatively inexpensive upgrade to the existing network. Marketeers have made many claims about this technology, data speeds of up to 7.2mbps. The reality is somewhat different, as you would expect, but it does offer a good experience for early users.

All this investment has driven a need for operators to grow their customer base and revenues. Only the most ostrich like technophobe would have missed the land grab as the MNO's make all sort of offers to attract customers, including "free PC's", unlimited data packages and free USB dongles. futhermore the iconic iPhone has gone 3G and has many imitators.

Unfortunately the technology hasn't lived up to the hype, again, and there is huge disappointment as a recent YouGov survey found:

However, experience of Mobile broadband is needs improvement. The data suggests it is great out-of-the-box but usage drives dissatisfaction and ~25% of mobile broadband users seem unlikely to renew their contracts over the next year. The service ranks below fixed ISP’s for every comparable service satisfaction question in the survey.
So less than 10 years after paying for 3G licences mobile operators are far from satisfying the need for data and face another real challenge. If they are to meet this challenge they need to deploy a new technology referred to as Long Term Evolution (LTE) and they also need more spectrum.

The first thing to note is that Ofcom has been prepared to auction more spectrum in the 2.5GHz band but this has been delayed by both T Mobile and O2 who are challenging Ofcom in the courts. There are a few reasons for doing this but the main one is fear of high auction prices****.

The other problem is that LTE is not an evolutionary technology as its name implies. Whether this is a deliberate ploy to make Boards and banks feel a bit easier I will leave you to judge, but the transition to LTE is likely to be as traumatic, and expensive, as the one from 2G to 3G and the penny is just starting to drop. This is from a recent interview with Ericsson's UK CTO:
If there is still life in HSPA, will the economic downturn delay LTE? We've had a downturn in the telecoms industry before, related to the internet bubble. This time, banks are involved, so operators wanting to upgrade may find it hard to get the credit to buy a lot of new equipment.
Conceivably — but I probably shouldn't comment.
What is so telling about this is that Ericsson are one of leading cheer leaders of LTE and desperately need its take up for their own future well being. Furthermore one of their major customers is Vodafone worldwide. So if Ericsson's UK CTO is being coy does it mean Vodafone are under pressure from their bankers not to spend?

But what if they don't, what if Vodafone, or any of the other MNO's, can't support their customer base on the existing 3G HSPA networks and they lose ground? They certainly won't be the darlings of the stock market if their customer stop growing and, even worse start to decline. Once that happens they will be in defensive mode, with only cost cutting to protect profits.

It was going to be a tough call before the credit crunch, it is even harder now. Who would want to be the one making that call?

I will be meeting my financial advisor on Tuesday for a 6 monthly review of the pension funds I am investing in. I think I'll look closely at any with mobile phone companies in them with a view to a move for a couple of years. Of course this is by no means a recommendation to do anything, just my personal opinion of what I might do.

If you got this far I admire your stamina, well done!

*Traditionally the telecoms sector looks at ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) but this doesn't tell the whole story as costs rise margins get squeezed. One of the biggest costs are subscriber acquisition driven by high churn

** Backhaul is the generic trm for connecting mobile sites, roof tops, towers etc, back in to the network. It is either very capex intensive or high opex. Either way, it is a real burden on mobile operators

*** BT had to be dragged kicking and sreaming in to rolling out ADSL and allowing local loop unbundling, you beleive it to listen to them now!

**** T Mobile are also claiming that the original 2G spectrum should be refarmed and set aside for 3G. This is a technical issue but if anyone wants more details let me know

Quantum of Solace

Went to see it last night. Not bad, but...

Some of the camera work drove me mad. You know there are some impressive stunts going on but for some reason they went for close ups we made it hard to see what was happening and there was so much cutting and shaking that you couldn't even make out which was bond at times.

If you haven't seen Casino Royale you will lose a lot of the subtlety in the story and humour.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Which came first - media bias or readership bias?

The Left love to tell us how newspaper bias, driven by the ego and political views of their owners, are affecting the politics and voting of their readership, with particular scorn poured on The Sun and Daily Mail. The right have their targets as well, normally the BBC, but The Guardian is often reviled, but probably not to the same extent the Left hate Murdoch's Sun.

An interesting study has been carried out in the USA and reported in last week's Economist* which provides an answer, and not the one the Left will want to hear, but sadly it can't be used to quieten the Right. I am not going to post the whole thing here, just the conclusion:

First, they measured whether a newspaper’s circulation responded to the match between its slant and its readers’ views. Not surprisingly, they found that more “Republican” newspapers had relatively higher circulations in more “Republican” zip codes. But their calculations of the degree to which circulation responded to political beliefs also allowed them to do something more interesting: to calculate what degree of slant would be most profitable for each newspaper in their sample to adopt, given the political make-up of the market it covered. They compared this profit-maximising slant to their measure of the actual slant of each newspaper’s coverage.

They found a striking congruence between the two. Newspapers tended, on average, to locate themselves neither to the right nor to the left of the level of slant that Mr Gentzkow and Mr Shapiro reckon would maximise their profits. And for good commercial reasons: their model showed that even a minor deviation from this “ideal” level of slant would hurt profits through a sizeable loss of circulation.

Showing that newspapers have a political slant that is economically rational does not necessarily answer the question of whether ownership or demand determines bias. Here, the academics are helped by the fact that large media companies may own several newspapers, often in markets that are politically very different. This allowed them to test whether the slants of newspapers with the same owner were more strongly correlated than those of two newspapers picked at random. They found that this was not so: owners exerted a negligible influence on slant. Readers’ political views explained about a fifth of measured slant, while ownership explained virtually none.

Assuming we can translate this to UK, and I don't see why not, it looks like they have sorted out the chicken and egg conundrum of newspaper bias in this country. It would be nice to think that it will at least put an end to the hard left's bleating about Murdoch being the root cause of the country's ills, but I doubt it.

But what of the Right's claims about BBC bias**? Sadly this study can't be used either way as the BBC does not need to respond to a market, any market, so it cannot be measured and will remain open to the Right's allegations.

*Unfortunately it behind a subscription wall

** FWIW I reckon that at worst the BBC is guilty of group think by people who have never felt the cold wind of competition and so don't really understand markets, rather than any conspiracy.

More evidnce BBC doesn't understand "customers"

Working from home again today and I've had Radio 5 on and off this morning and the two female presenters I have heard have really got in to a lather over this story :

Quantum of quiet: Cinema group bans children from Bond film so adults can watch it in peace

children will be banned by one cinema group from seeing the new James Bond film so that adults can watch it in peace.

Legally, because Quantum Of Solace has a 12A certificate, children can watch it - although those under 12 need to be accompanied.

However, Vue cinema group found many adults resent children talking, texting and noisily eating in cinemas.
The presenters couldn't get their head round the fact that some adults don't want to be around other people's children. More importantly though they had the MD of the cinema group on at lunch time and he keptanswering the questions with "Our customers have asked for it", which was met with further questions asking him to justify it.

I know the beeb has to be all things to all men (women, ethnic, sexuality etc), but surely they have presenters who are mature enough to realise in the real world if we want to eat we have to provide a service our customers want and will pay for. It wasn't as if this company isn't offering some screenings parents with children and for children on their own.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Post election comment of the day

from the angry economist:

Faith-based Politics

I think we need less faith in our politicians and more faith in ourselves.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

If this had been the Tories allowing NHS top up...

In what might be seen as a good day to release bad news* the Labour announced that it will lift the ban on patients topping up their NHS care:

The bar on topping up NHS care by paying for drugs not available on the health service is to be lifted under plans drawn up by ministers in England.

Now I think that is a good thing, people should be allowed to spend their savings how they like without fear that the state will capriciously withdraw existing benefits to assuage the green eyed monsters. If you want an opposing view Dr Crippen sees this as the beginning of end of the NHS. However there is one thing we agree on:
A Tory government would never get away with it.

A Tory government would not dare do it.
Lets just imagine what would have happened if the Tories had proposed this measure:

It would probably have been all over the BBC web site with their correspondents falling over themselves to proclaim the end of the NHS in their very best "told you so" patronising way. What do we get? A short story tucked away on the Health pages.

The there is the health unions. Surely we could expect their leaders to be queuing up to condemn the evil Labour? If it had been the Tories we would expect them to be battering down the studio doors of Radio 4 to get their strike threats heard. So what do we get from them? You would expect them to be screaming from their rooftops but Unison's front page's main story is some wibble from Prentis praising Gordon Brown, with a short press release condemning the move tucked away at the side.

What about the BMA then. Arent they supposed to be protecting the NHS? They certainly went mad when the Tories started to apply a bit of market forces in the 90's. Going on about the end of the NHS and we can't trust the Tories. So their position:
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association, agreed the best solution had probably been reached.
OK, one last bastion of NHS protection left, the Royal College of Nurses, surely they will save the NHS? Bugger all on their web site either.

It was always said that only Labour could reform the NHS, just like only the Tories could make changes to the Armed forces. Some expected Labour to make those changes in the first flush of their 1997 success, but they didn't, they scrapped the Tory's internal market, just as it was starting to work, and then hosed it with money.

And before I rush off lets just remember that 1997 election slogan: 24 Hours to Save the NHS

*bad news for die hard NHS supporters

Congratulations Barack, but remember...

.... 9/11 was initiated and planned under the last Democrat President who was the darling of the left. Just because you are in office doesn't mean that those looking to destroy your way of life, they perceive weakness in lefty thinking and so you must be strong and resolute in the face of terror.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

An Apology

I was planning on join Old Holborn's lunchtime stroll tomorrow and buying a beer to celebrate a year or so in the blogosphere. Sadly work has intervened - I have been trying to get something done for about 6 months and we are so close, but the only time I can get a meeting with a key person is 11am tomorrow, which means I won't get in to London on time.

I have run out of holiday which is why I was going to work from our Central London office and sneak off for an hour or 3.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lewis Hamilton, F1 Champion

Thats BBC Sports Personality of the Year sorted then, despite the olympic success in the minor sports.