Saturday, June 30, 2007

Four of the eight plotters get their rewards

As Guido has pointed out not only is bloggin' Tom Watson a breaker of his promises, but it seems clear that he's been given his pay-off in the failed coup last year, returning to Government as a paid whip. However, it's worth noting that it's not just bloggin' Tom that received relevant rewards for the display of student politics last year.

Tom's former flatmate, Iain Wright who also signed the infamous letter has been made Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government. Meanwhile, Tom's co-plotter and former office sharing mate, Mark Tami has been made an assistant whip, as too has Wayne David.

I guess the other four - Sion Simon, Khalid Mahmood, David Wright and Chris Mole - must be wondering right now why they bothered.

Weird Internet laws in Korea

How bizarre, according to the Times, new laws in South Korea will require users who post on bulletin board to submit their name and social security number before being allowed to post in a bid to tackled anonymous bullying. There are a number of implications here. First, one must assume that site has the ability to cross-reference names to social security data. That implies either the South Korean Government is giving full database information on its citizen to private companies, or it is exposing some sort of query webservice for validation purposes.

The latter is more likely I think, which then raises some serious civil liberty and privacy concerns. Firstly, what is there to stop private bulletin boards caching the queried data and build up its own validation database? What happens if the private bulletin board sites are compromised? What is there to stop user A finding out user B's social security number and posting as him? Presumably the sites will not let non-nationals post either? Or perhaps they will but use geographic location systems to decide who should and should not submit extra information to post? If that's the case then the open proxy servers online will becomes ever more popular. The implication is for "local Internets for local people".

The point is of course that if someone wants to post anonymously online they're going to find a way of doing it, and the most obvious way is to bounce traffic through servers in somewhere like Uzbekistan to mask the source address. Not of course that a source address is always meaningful anyway, after all, on a large network with a single gateway using address translation you could have a 1000 users with one presented IP. It will continue to be that way until we move away from IPV4 (capable of having about 4.3 billion unique addresses) and start using IPV6 at the end user level and not just on the backbones (about 340 billion billion billion billion unique addresses). IPV6 will, in theory mean, we could all have our own IP address.

That however won't solve the problem of re-routing traffic, pretending to be someone or somewhere else. What I do find most interesting is that there are clearly calls from the more authoritarian amongst society to regulate and control the Internet in these sort of ways. The problem is that they fail to understand the nature of the network. There are actually just two choices for Government in this case, either you control information flow by segmenting your nation's Internet off into effectively a very big LAN (see the Great Firewall of China), or you don't. Either way, they'll will always be people out there circumventing obstacles in their way.

YouGov poll gives Labour 3-point lead

According to the latest YouGov poll in the Telegraph, Brown has achieved a swing giving Labour a 3-point lead over the Conservatives. However, the poll results are a little odd. Apparently, whilst 38% said they would vote for Labout over 35% for the Tories the other questions seem to suggest that public is in a split mind.

The results show that 57% of people are not happy with the Government's record over the past ten years. A majority (although not overall) think the Cabinet may have new faces but still looks like the old on. 49% of people are not optimistic about Brown's future Government compared to 43% who are.

I guess this can be explained as the "Brown Bounce" that was to be expected, whilst the public has a better the devil you know than the devil you don't attitude?

Friday, June 29, 2007

What's the Internet for....?

Counting to a million online

Freakish? Weird? Sad? Who knows, but it's the sort of thing that the Internet is brilliant at. Mad cap ideas becoming a reality. These guys have set up a site called millioncount.com and are streaming the act of counting to one million live on the Internet. For more details about why see here. Amazingly the guy counting does have a girlfriend who is, apparently, very patient. They expect the whole thing to take about 3-4 months and he's currently at about 142000.

Made me chuckle anyway

Have just spotted the Sky News ticker on the plasma screen in the lobby of my office it said: "BREAKING NEWS: Police say it is to early to speculate" whilst above a studio of talking heads.....errr....

Our New Prime Minister

Godwin's Law kicks in early!

Hat Tip: b3ta

Taxi!

When iitcomes to answering questions in Parliament you can tell when something mildy shocking is about to be said because the relevant minister will always outline a justification first before dropping the bad bit in. A prime example was yesterday when Mark Francois asked the Treasury how much it spent on taxis last year. John Healey responded saying,

"Use of a taxi at the Treasury's expense is not an entitlement and official journeys should wherever possible be made on public transport. However, when there is no reasonable and cost-effective alternative, for example when travelling home after working late into the night, the Treasury may justify the use of a taxi."
See what I mean? Long rambling justification of expenditure on taxis and how they honestly try to avoid using them wherever possible guv, honest. I left the last sentence out though, so here it is, "[e]xpenditure in 2006-07 was 188,000". If you're wondering, that's approximately 500 quid a day on cabs, how very prudent.

Proof that Government consultations are a waste of money?

Last Sunday, the Scotland on Sunday ran a report about research from Strathclyde University on the Scottish election fiasco which had concluded that failures in the ballot paper design were to blame for the stupidly high number of spoiled ballots. The report noted that,

thousands of people made mistakes because they did not understand the instructions on the papers which, for the first time, asked them to mark two votes on a single sheet.

In both Glasgow and Edinburgh, some of the instructions were truncated to make room for the 23 different parties on the regional list. This, the researchers concluded, was a key reason why people got confused and spoiled their papers.
What the report doesn't mention of course is that the Scotland Office spent £17,000 last summer on an online consultation called "Scottish Parliament Elections May 2007: Ballot Paper Design". Clearly money well spent.

Government IT on a grand scale

Grandiose statements are not uncommon for any Government really, but our current Lords and masters do love to make them. Take for example the Department of Health, which often says that the abortion known as NHS Connecting For Health, is "the largest civilian IT programme in the world". Now, this may indeed be a true statement, and if it it is also the largest completely bloody mess of an IT programme in the world as well. However, on what evidence does such a statement have any basis in fact?

It seems, according to Caroline Flint - who I am assuming is still a Health minister today - the answer is none. When she was what the second largest IT prgramme in the world was she admitted that no actual research has taken place, and that the statement was based purely on the Government not being aware of anything bigger. Apparently the statement is based on its 1.3 million user base - that is probably users with accounts in the system, not actual active users incidentally. Along with it being the largest virtual private network and it's plan to having 50 million records including digital images and pateint care records.

Of course the claim that the Government doesn't know of any larger civilian IT programme is, as ever, nonsense. Two days ago for example Joan Ryan made a statement to the Commons about SISone4all and VIS. It's OK, I'd never heard of them either at first so let me explain.

SISone4all is the replacement to SIS and SIS+1 and is the Schengen Information System. This system is an EU wide database system that exists for the sole purpose of maintaining and distributing information related to border security and law enforcement under the Schengen Agreement Application Convention. The UK Goevrnment has use and access to the secure system, but does not submit data to it.

VIS meanwhile is the Visa Information System. Again the UK (and Ireland) do not submit information to it (yet) but do have access to it. It's another EU database which contains 70 million records of every visa issued by each member state in the EU. Those records contain photographs and all ten fingerprints of the individuals if you're wondering.

So what's my point? Well for a start the claim that the NHS Connecting for Health is some how unique in its size and data capacity is firstly bollocks; secondly the Government knows it's bollocks; and thirdly, if you think the National Identity Database is bad, you ain't seen nothing yet. Whilst the Government remains outside SISone4all and VIS for now, Joan Ryan made it clear that the issue of joining "will be explored further".

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Quentin Davies CLP - a well oiled election machine?

I imagine Quentin Davies must be very please at the well-oiled election machine that is the Grantham and Stamford Constituency Labour Party. Perhaps someone forgot to tell them they had an MP now? "Gone to Lunch" is swinging on the website door!
Update: It appears someone posted this link in the comments on another thread here which I missed (busy coding and just bulk moderated today without really reading anything). So they actually beat me too it.

Orwell would be proud

Readers of Nineteen Eighty Four will recall that Ministries usually dealt with the opposite of what their name implied. So the Ministry of Peace dealt with war, the Ministry of Plenty dealt with starvation, the Ministry of Truth dealt with lies, and the Ministry of Love dealt with hate.

In Brown's Britain we no longer have the Department of Trade and Industry but instead the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. What's the betting it will interfere with business, stifle enterprise and implement red tape?

As Ronald Reagan once said, "the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Buried under the rubble of Beckton

Some people may be wondering why I am not writing about the new Cabinet. Basically I don't see the point, Iain, Guido and the Speccie Blog clearly have all that stuff covered, and frankly, I don't care that much (who am I kidding, Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary? Is he completely insane?). The thing is, whilst all this lovely "low skullduggery" is going on what about the other news? You know, the sort of stuff that gets, shall we say, "buried".

Well for a start, there is Tessa Jowell's parting news for James Purnell at the DCMS. Lovely old Jowelly agreed a new "memorandum of understanding" with Livingstone yesterday about the £675 million raid on the National Lottery to pay for the 2012 Olympics. Apparently the Government will be paying it all back. This is a good thing you might think. But the devil is always in the detail.

You see they are going to pay it back from the assumed profit they make after the games when they flog off all the assets. Things like the Olympic Village, the stadiums that sort of thing. So, in six years time or so the DCMS (assuming it still exists) has said it will pay back £675 million into the lottery fund. Sounds great, but there is no mention of inflation in the payback deal.

So yes, the DCMS has raided £675m, and the figure it will payback is £675m. The assumption it seems is that inflation will be, from now until then, 0%. Given we're talking about property sales though, where the inflation rate is way beyond the CPI, what we're actually talking about is a payback scheme that will, in effect, still be the equivalent of a raid on the lottery fund well above £100m whilst making it look like you're paying it all back.

Amazingly the former Culture Secretary said in her statement that the new deal should "give lottery distributors real confidence that the additional funding necessary for a successful Olympic and Paralympic Games will be re-paidproviding them and the whole country with a further 2012 dividend." What a load of bollocks.

But hey, who needs the arts?

The irony of Blair's last act of Prime Ministerial patronage

How ironic that one of the last acts of a man that has destoryed a number of liberties and also precided over a social authoritarian Government (continuity with Brown there I imagine) should be to re-appoint a "Surveillance Commissioner" under the Orwellian Regulatory Investigatory Power Act.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): In accordance with section 91 of the Police Act 1997, I have agreed to re-appoint the right hon. Lord Coulsfield as a Surveillance Commissioner and, in accordance with section 63 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, I have also agreed to appoint his hon. Norman Jones QC as an Assistant Surveillance Commissioner. Both appointments will run from 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2010.

Lord Coulsfield has served as a Surveillance Commissioner since 2004.
As he leaves the stage he reminds us all that the surveillance society that has built up under his leadership is still going strong.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Quentin Davies still in two minds?

Still a bit of blue and an interesting constituency office address that is...err...well. Love the squeezed in Labour logo.

Great links too!

Tony Blair Office website launched

Don't worry if you miss Tony Blair. It looks like he may have set up a special website to keep in touch called the Tony Blair Office. The domain is registered by lawyers to the Royals, Farrer solicitors. I called them to check it was legit and I was told that client confidentiality restricted them from possibly answering any questions. So that's a yes then.

If there is no Government why are they carrying a Bill?

Just a point of interest, but when Blair offered his resignation to the Queen that was not just him resigning but his Government as well. That means all those Secretary's of State and Ministers aren't officially in those jobs anymore from a constitutional point of view until the new Prime Minister announces his Cabinet.

So why is Vera Baird in Parliament this afternoon taking a Bill through? Why is Education Questions happening tomorrow morning when there will, technically be no Education Secretary until Brown announces the position as expected in the afternoon?

Technically - and some constitutional nerd may correct me I'm wrong on this - there is currently no Government and so there can be no legislation carried this afternoon/evening.. yet.. apparently, the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill is going through Parliament as I write. So how does that work?

In other news, apparently Jack Straw is going to become the next Justice Minister - which is a bitch of job given it means being responsible for prisons which are in a complete mess. Wonder what poor sod will get Home Secretary though?

Operation Gobble's resurrection?

Should anyone want to listen to Brown sounding like he's having a nervous breakdown then Tory Radio has kindly made it available here. Unfortunately I am busy coding today so wasn't able to watch him deliver this speech, but the sound of his voice is rather worrying.

I expect later on today that Alistair Darling will be confirmed as Chancellor (although I could of course be wrong). Tomorrow, if the rumours are true we will have another defection, and I imagine, given his reference to reaching out beyond party boundaries he is going to try and bribed some other politicians with the levers of power.

Some may recall, in the early Blair Years, "Operation Gobble". This was the strategy whereby Campbell and Mandelson wooed Tory grandees and tempted them with quasi-Goevrnment positions with the hope that it would further marginalise and push the Tory Party under Hague to the Right.

I'm starting to think that Operation Gobble is back in a new name. For all the talk of reaching out, it's clear that divide and rule is the most likely strategy from the man who so many have called a control freak.

To the victor the spoils?

So now that Gordon Brown has finally taken over the questions that everyone has been wondering is who will be getting new jobs, who will be promoted, and who will discover they're on the "shit list". One of the people I've been wondering about is Tom Watson, a key element in the alleged failed coup against Blair that was part of the catalyst that led to today's events.

Will he find himself with a promotion back into a junior ministerial role? Apparently he'll be running the by-election campaign in Ealing Southall - which theoretically Labour should easily win, but will of course be billed as a "test for [insert Party leader name here]. Is this the beginning of his long slow walk to internal party rehabilitation?

Blair's last PMQs

I thought Cameron and Blair were going to have a hug for a moment there. Best moment was Blair's response to a question from Lib Dem MP, Richard Younger-Ross where he simply said "I don't think I can be bothered with that one" and sat down.

What would a defector's CV look like?

If Ed Ball's is to be believed, and the Labour source that said that "Thursday will be better" than Tuesday then there is another defection in the offing for Gordon Brown tomorrow, and it's going to bigger than Quentin Davies. That suggests someone fairly major, the question is who? After the Davies defection you'd think that to be better it would have to be someone who was slightly more inclined towards Labour sensibilities. After all, Davies is not exactly a shining example of left wing thinking. So whoever it is will be someone who has expressed views that lean leftward.

Of course, it's likely that they would be someone not always on the Left, and have probably moved slowly leftwards over time. Possibly influenced by someone in their personal relationships, who may or may not be known to symapthise with the Labour Party. They'll probably have been a member of traditional right wing groups like No Turning Back or the Monday Club at some point. I imagine they've rebelled quite a lot against the Tory whip as well, under at least three leaders, and probably, although not necessarily, served in the Shadow Cabinet that Quentin Davies did. They may have even rebelled in recent weeks over something like the Grammar school row, and perhaps - if Balls is not telling porkies - past rebellions have been orchestrated by Labour defection handlers?

It's also likely that any defection would be "numbers neutral" in the sense that at a General Election they would stand no chance of ever retaining the seat they currently have (like Quentin Davies), and Brown could do with a friendly southern face for his new Cabinet, so the Home Counties would be a the place to look I guess. A defector would also, I'd say, probably be someone who has their current seat by virtue of having the word "Conservative" in front of their name on the ballot paper, rather than because they were, necessarily, an obvious Tory.

Given all these sort of requirements, the potential list - if Balls is to be believed - can't be very long, can it? Or maybe Balls is talking balls.

Blair stage manages to the very last

Have just seen Sky News live and there is a big, and I mean, massive removal van outside Downing Street. It's pathetic, they're sod all in there for him to remove, it's not like he's taking the curtains and beds with him, or the fridge. Plus he's been living above Number 11 anyway. What a complete load of bollocks.

Brown to ignore the West Lothian Question

It should come as no surprise really, but it looks as if Gordon brown is planning to simply ignore the West Lothian Question altogether. He has also made it quite clear that he sees no problem in the idea that Scottish MPs can vote on matters affecting England but not the other way round. In the Independent's "You Ask the Questions" this morning he was asked,

Do you think it's right that you can vote in Parliament on issues affecting English people but English MPs can't vote on issues affecting your own Scottish constituents?
His response ignored the question entirely and answered something completely different saying,
"I think a system where MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were excluded from voting in the Commons would inevitably lead to the break-up of the Union so I will never support it."
Now, as I say, it should come as no surprise that he will ignore this question, after all, he's a Scot that represnts a Scottish seat, plus without Scotland the Labour Party is screwed. Given this, it should, in my view, be the case that the West Lothian issue is relentlessly pursued as a matter of democratic principle.

Divination from Jim Devine

Yesterday in Parliament, super-duper Nanny, Patricia Hewitt, when answering Health Questions got a rather prescient supplmentary response from the Livingston MP, Jim Devine who said,

"I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that history will be kind not only to her but to her Front-Bench colleagues, and, dare I say it, to her Parliamentary Private Secretaries and formers PPSs"
Perosnally I think it would've been easier to say "last day huh Patty? Nevermind". When you're colleagues start telling you how history will judge you you know the end is nigh, right?

An Orwellian Defection

This morning's Times carries two excellent op-ed pieces today which, on the face of it are about different things, but the second can neatly link into the first. The first is by Alice Miles about the Quentin Davies "defection that defies belief". She points out, quite rightly, the ridiculousness of the defection noting,

Here is the man who, in his only and brief frontbench position in 20 years as an MP, tried to break the Northern Ireland peace agreement, ending the bipartisan approach on the Province that had endured at Westminster for decades. Here is a man elected as an MP under Margaret Thatcher, who served in the Cabinet of Iain Duncan Smith, the most Eurosceptic Tory leader ever, who stood for re-election under William Hague and Michael Howard, and now claims a collapse of confidence in Conservatism under David Cameron and then moves to the left, not the right! It is simply ridiculous.
The second piece is by Mick Hume with an interesting observation of how the phrase "smokefree" is a great example of Orwellian NewSpeak (as per Orwell's own appendix explaining it,
"Orwells little-read appendix to 1984, The Principles of Newspeak, identifies a B vocabulary consisting of words deliberately constructed for political purposes that were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them. These were compound words, welded together in an easily pronounceable form. He gives the example of goodthink (to think in orthodox manner). Today he might just have chosen smokefree.

Orwell also shows how free was used to mean something other than freedom. Newspeak restricted the use of language by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings. The word free still existed in Newspeak, he notes, but it could only be used in such statements as This dog is free from lice or This field is free from weeds. It could not be used in its old sense of politically free or intellectually free, since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts.

Ring any (last order) bells? Next week England joins Scotland, Ireland and Wales in becoming smokefree but people will no longer be free to smoke. Perhaps we will next see government promise to make Britain antisocialfree or even riskfree, as it imposes measures of control in the name of making us fearfree.
Perhaps we'll hear Quentin Davies described as principlefree soon?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Is Facebook breaching data protection laws?

Privacy settings on any sort of application are important, but on social networking they're crucial. Facebook has privacy settings and you're able to make your profile private so that, for example, recruiters can not find your drunken pictures etc.

However, the privacy settings are not that clear when you make your profile "private". If, for example, you fail to change the search privacy settings it entirely possible for some to cross reference search for people and find out information that is meant to be private.

For example, an advanced search for all Muslim men in London who are also gay throws up many results, including profiles of people that have restricted access to information about their sexuality. Whilst the information is not displayed, Facebook has, by providing the result, confirmed that information about a person.

There is a simple fix for this if you have a "private profile", simply lower the "search privacy" settings right down so that your profile cannot be cross-reference searched by someone data mining. The big question is whether, in it's default mode, Facebook privacy settings are actually breaching data protection laws?

For more information see here

Obligatory Quentin Davies post

This is an obligatory post about the Quentin Davies defection. In simple terms it's weird. Quentin Davies, when you look at what he's said in the past about Gordon Brown simply does not match up with what he has said today in his letter. A letter, which, incidentally, parrots so many official Labour lines it's bloody obvious it was written for him (although I would expect nothing less).

Interestingly his letter bangs on about Cameron's PR and about how the party is vacuous of values or policy, and then proceeds to explain how he's leaving for policy reasons. He can't have it both ways. His record in Parliament is also quite socially conservative and not in line with the mainstream of the Labour Party which makes me instantly wonder what job he has actually been offered by Brown.

Basically the defection is weird, and its clearly silly season come early. What next, Frank Field defecting to the Lib Dems?

More comparison of "then and now" on Iain's blog

Run Forest Run!

Dizzy Thinks Monday , 25 June 2007, 19:56 GMT: Have just heard that the Labour Party has begun mobilising its forces for a by-election in Sedgefield. There are also unconfirmed rumours that Wednesday is going to have one last little "surprise".Historically the Labour Party have held multiple by-elections on the same day in its seats to squeeze Lib Dems resources, so I wonder if it will be on the same day as Ealing Southall?
BBC News Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 17:02 GMT: The Labour Party has been put on standby for an announcement by Tony Blair that he may step down as the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield. Officials said Mr Blair was expected to attend a meeting of his local party hours after quitting as prime minister.... There is also expected to be a by-election in Ealing Southall, prompted by the death of local MP Piara Khabra last week. It is likely both by-elections would be held on the same day.
Guardian Tuesday, 36 June, 19:15 BST: Tony Blair will tomorrow quit as an MP as well as stepping down as prime minister.
*gloat*

Any final requests?

The lobby seemed to be having some fun today. When they started asking what Blair was planning to have for breakfast tomorrow morning, the PMOS apparently told them he wasn't sure he was comfortable with the undertones of the question but that Blair would be having a normal breakfast.

Apparently Arnold Schwarzenegger gave him a guitar as a gift today as well, so maybe he will play us out tomorrow?

Are the Welsh Office rate tarts?

When I was still a student I, like I imagine many students, was a "rate tart". What that meant was that I would jump ship between credit cards and transfer balances to get the freebie 0% interest rate and rack a bit more debt for my hedonistic pleasures.

I fear that someone in the Welsh Office may now be doing the same thing. Apparently in 2004-05 the spend on the corporate credit card in the office was just £1,213.41, The following year it was £4,371.46. Then something odd happened in 2006-07 - in a department of just 60 staff it leaped to £13,950.40.

Balance transfer anyone? According to the Welsh Office the steep rise "is the result of an active programme within the Wales Office to encourage their use." (a policy success?!) Apparently this has actually "saved" money on processing and transaction costs and so "the increase reflects greater usage of cards, rather than increased overall spend."

I'm impressed I must admit. I never thought I'd see the day where daily compound interest of an average of at least 10% pitched as a way of saving money. I reckon they're all just getting they're own back for the poor bonuses.

Just say "no"!

Hat Tip: Croydonian

You have me thoroughly confused

Poor lass, how could they be so nasty to something so pretty?

Hat Tip: Crossed Pond

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sedgefield by-election mobilisation underway?

Have just heard that the Labour Party has begun mobilising its forces for a by-election in Sedgefield. There are also unconfirmed rumours that Wednesday is going to have one last little "surprise".

Historically the Labour Party have held multiple by-elections on the same day in its seats to squeeze Lib Dems resources, so I wonder if it will be on the same day as Ealing Southall?

Update 04:01: So Blair is about to become some sort of International envoy to the Middle East? Hmmmmm.

Consultation on multi-billion pound hole in the ground begins

Well it's nearly been a whole year since the Government announced how it was going to dispose of nuclear waste and now it seems it's started it's consultation on where they're actually going to do it. Apparently, according to the Environment Minister, Iain Pearson, the disposal facility will be a "high-technology, multi-billion pound project that will bring investment and jobs for generations. It will result in significant economic and social benefits both for the host community and the wider surrounding area."

Considering the report last year said that the best thing to do was dig a really big and really deep hole, I have to say that a really bloody expensive hole. But seriously, whether it is safe or not, I'm not quite sure how many people are going to want to live in the "wider surrounding area". Of course if they live there already I guess it'll be a case of tough shit. Press releases about the consultation appear to have been sent out to select regions thus far, bizarrely including London.

Blogging will be light today...

Am going to be working through the coming night so there won't be much from me between now and this evening as I will be in bed trying to get as much sleep as possible. I'm sure I will have something for you all come about 16:00 this afternoon though.

"New" is back!

When Blair announced his resignation all those weeks ago, the Labour Party had a radical overhaul of their website. Something else that happened was the purging of all things "new". The phrase "new Labour" no longer appeared anywhere on the website, it was like a truly Soviet handover of power where the history of what had passed was to be purged.

However, this morning it is back. It's not "new Labour, new Britain" anymore though. Now it's "new Labour for Britain" (draped in a Union flag). So why the sudden reversal? Has there been some snap focus group research that show the "Labour" brand remains more tainted than the "new Labour" one? Or is it just a sop to the Blairites? One thing is for sure though, there's absolutely nothing "new" about the Labour leadership team.

Harman may have won, but the Labour bloggers seem flat

I'm sure there is one out there, somewhere, but I'm having real difficulty finding a Labour blogger who is really pleased that Harriet Harman won. Sunny, over at Pickled Politics, seems to be the closest thing to someone who is pleased but even he's circumspect saying it is "probably" the best outcome. Apparently apologising for Iraq is important.

Most posts seem to be about how Cruddas did so well, and obviously there are some sour grapes out there. Kerron Cross said "God help us all." Whilst Hamer Shawcross said he was going to pub after which he would "cancel the small donation I make to the Labour Party whose membership.... it would appear, is entirely comprised of people who think that being A Woman (what is Blears then?), and having Nice Shoes but an Inexpensive Handbag, is what political discourse needs."

Tom Watson hasn't really said much other than to link to Luke Akehurst and appear to agree with his sentiment. Meanwhile, Bob Piper posts saying Harriet Harman won in the title and then simply says "Congratulations to Jon Cruddas". One of Bob's commenters simply says "I think I feel physically sick".

Meanwhile at LabourHome there is some introspection with one commenter saying "Better her than Johnson. Still, I don't think this is a great thing to celebrate". Obviously there is one person who is very happy, and that's Jon Worth the guy that did Harman's pink website (but a member of Team Harman doesn't count).

After six weeks of campaigning it does seem like there is very little excitement or passion out there about the results.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fraser Nelson: How Harman Won

There's an excellent bit of analysis by Fraser Nelson over at the Spectator Blog about how Harriet Harman managed to win the Labour Deputy Leadership with a neat reference to Auf Wiedersehen Pet. He recalls a time when the lads decide to vote on what colour to paint the hut and how they;re all aghast when the colour pink wins.

"Neville explained that no one voted pink as their first choice – it had come through on second- and third-preferences. “Brilliant” said Oz. “So everyone gets what nobody wants.” That sums it up what’s just happened for Labour."
I wonder how many Labour activists are right now saying "proportional representation for Parliament. Not on your life!"?

Interesting timing....

When the news broke that Ford were thinking of selling Jaguar and Landrover it didn't take long for the inevitable Early Day Motion to appear raising concerns about how a sell-off might impact on jobs in the different factories around the country. One of the signatories was the MP for Liverpool, Wavertree Jane Kennedy.

As some might know, Jaguar have a plant in Liverpool at Halewood so it's perfectly understandable that a local MP would be concerned about the potential impact (if a sale happened) of the plant shutting down. It's worth noting that this isn't the first time Jane Kennedy has talked about Jaguar and the Halewood plant in Parliament.

Back on the 6th June (a few weeks before the Ford story broke) she was praising the Jaguar Halewood plant saying it had a "groundbreaking production process that is driven by new technology", and went on to ask the Secretary of State at the DTI, Alistair Darling if he would visit the plant.

There's nothing whatsoever wrong with that of course, and I'm sure it's purely a coincidence that, on the same day she was asking Darling to come and visit the Jaguar plant, she also entered into the Register of Members' Interest that she "received the loan of a Jaguar XK8 car for a weekend from the Ford Motor Company."

Will Hain be recycling the literature he didn't deliver?

Well it's finally all over. The Deputy Leadership contest of the Labour Party comes to an end today. It's pretty clear that Alan Johnson will be the victor, second place will come down to Benn and Cruddas. Who will come last though, that is the question!

One thing is for sure, the Orange One has definitely not taken advantage of all the money he managed to drum up in donations. Hain had literally thousands of leaflets printed all about how great he was, and about his historic fight against racism but it seems that not many Labour members ever received them.

Currently his make-shift campaign office still remains rammed to the brim with boxes full of the aforementioned leaflets. The Mandela poster has been taken down as well. The question is, will he be recycling all his literature? After all, they is quite a lot of it. It's even starting to spill out of the office.

We should of course feel sorry for the Labour MP for Slough as well. Fiona McTaggart, presumably in a "moment of madness" decided to chuck £1,050 in the direction of Harriet Harman's campaign. A grand down the swanny! Still, she gets paid by the taxpayer right, so when you think about it, it wasn't really her money anyway!

Update: Hahaha... that will teach me. £1,050 well invested.

Blair and Prescott stay on in grace and favour homes

Can you imagine what the Labour Party would have said if, after Margaret Thatcher left office, she had carried on living in Chequers? Can you imagine how Alastair Campbell would've portrayed a Deputy Prime Minister who resigned from Government but stayed on in a grace and favour home at the taxpayers expense? The charge of sleaze would have been thrown around and briefed to the press over and over again, of that you can be sure.

A couple of days ago it was reported that Tony and Cherie Blair, apparently because they're Connaught Square home is not ready yet (tough), will be waited on hand and foot at Chequers at the taxpayers expense after leaving Downing Street. And now today, we learn that John Prescott has cut a deal with Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, to be allowed stay on in his grace and favour Admiralty House flat, apparently whilst he searches for alternative accommodation.

Without wishing to sound like I'm "outraged of Kent" how exactly is this not outright piss taking on their part? Seriously, if you leave office, you leave office. You don't step down and then carry on taking all the perks as if you were still in the job. They've both known their leaving date for well over a month, so claiming that they've not found somewhere to crash in the evening is, frankly, complete bollocks.

Another Sunday, another day of Brownite spinning

So here we are, the day that Gordon Brown becomes leader of the Labour Party, and Prime-Minister elect (albeit without an election). Most of the papers this morning are talking about the EU Summit and demanded, quite rightly, for a referendum on the Constitution that has been proposed. However, the Independent on Sunday has splashed on documents it says it have which show details of Blair's plan to sack Brown after the last general election and install a "new Chancellor".

The story itself is of course not new, nor is the story about Cherie Blair allegedly demanding Blair sack Brown as well. However, what is new it seems are the leaked documents that "prove" it. According to the Sindy, the documents were drawn up by a Downing Street team of officials secretly, with proposals to get Treasury civil servants to work on the plans without Brown finding out.

Apparently the plan was not only to fire Brown but also to take away the spending control that the Treasury had amassed as part of a ten year plan called the "Gov 2015" programme. Apparently it was only due to the faltering of the 2005 election campaign and a new deal that Brown agreed which meant the documents got filed and never actioned.

There's no doubt the Sindy's story is pretty sensational, but, as Elliot Carver says in Tomorrow Never Dies, the "key to a great story is not who, or what, or when, but why". Why would documents showing Blair as an evil plotter against Brown appear on the day that Brown will be crowned as the new Labour leader? Hmmm... I can't imagine why.

Kremlinology is always good fun, but the Soviet parallels with this spin leak are quite surreal. Trashing your predecessor has always been a good Soviet tradition initially kicked of by Stalin himself. Of course, to do it before you've even officially taken over is a new step, but it seems rather obvious that Team Brown is the source of this story.

Ask yourself this. If the leak came from Number 10, what's the motivation? Why would someone leak a document slagging off the incumbent and portraying his successor as a victim of a plot the day the successor gets formally confirmed in the top job? There's no doubt the documents are great for those of us that like to pour over political events. But their timing and the line the story is pushing is so transparent it's almost risible.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

CIA declassifies "Skeleton" files

Not sure if anyone is aware of the National Security Archive at the George Washington University. If you're a history buff and want to know more about American foreign policy, or if you're an anti-American and fell you need to read more about why you hate them so much, then its a bookmark for you.

Currently the top document release on the site is a voluntary release by the CIA of the 1970s "Skeletons" Files. These files support the news broken in 1974 that the CIA had been illegaly wiretapping journalists and other dissidents in domestic America for 25 years.

Definitely change, and clearly continuity

On the day before he becomes leader of his party, what more could Brown possibly want than to have virtually all the papers pushing a "Strong Brown saves Britain from weak Blair and the French" line? After a couple of days of headlines where Brown - some might say successfully - created the perception of reaching out beyond tribal party politics, we now have a brilliantly timed moment of Brown's "strength" at the EU Summit which he wasn't even attending. But how did it happen?

If you look at the path the British position at the EU Summit has taken over the past 48 hours it seems rather an odd one when placed against what we know about Blair. Initially the French protectionist move was dismissed; then we were seeking "clarity" of their position; next we were saying "you know what, it's actually not that bad really"; and then suddenly we're back to square one after a phone call where Brown is alleged to have "ordered" Blair to tell the French to stick it.

Thus we have "Brown forces Blair to stand up and veto a French stitch-up" (Mail), "Brown acts to avert Blair ‘cave-in’" (The Times), "EU agrees mini-treaty as Brown calls on Blair to stiffen his resolve" (Indy), "Go back and stand up to the French, Brown orders Blair" (Guardian), "Blair's EU 'cave-in' ends truce with Brown" (Telegraph), "Brown vetoes Blair and France" (Sun).

Call me a feral cynic if you will, but what if the British concession was never actually serious? Put it like this, if one accepts that Blair was genuinely about to concede to Sarkozy (and Brown wasn't) then one is also accepting that Blair is on the Left of Brown when it comes to economics and the markets. That is after all the implication behind the headlines. Brown as the anti-protectionist free-marketeer against the protectionist left winger Blair.

Say what you like about Blair and his ten years in Government, but it simple isn't credible that Brown is on the Right of him. So how could such a situation as today's chorus of headlines actually come about? I'd say there are two possible explanations. The first (unlikely) explanation is that the whole thing was part of a news management operation from start to finish. That Blair and Brown were complicit in creating a "Brown stands up to the EU" line the day before he took over.

The second (and more likely) explanation is that the rivalry between the two men is so bitter that Blair decided he would try and stitch Brown up by agreeing to something that he knew Brown wouldn't accept. This would mean Brown, upon taking the reigns of power, would have to go back to the table and renegotiate, finding himself embroiled in a mess not of his making.

As an aside here it's interesting that in the Daily Mail, a newspaper edited by Gordon Brown's close friend, Paul Dacre, that the phrase "stitch-up" is actually used, albeit in relation to the French rather than Blair. It's also worth noting that when the news broke about Britain accepting the French position the words "cave-in" began to appear in media. They were always in quotes, yet always unattributed. Someone somewhere was briefing that line.

Next up is the "phone call". When you look at the papers what you see - consistently - is the line that a phone call was made by Brown to Blair which involved Brown "ordering" Blair about what he must do. Now, clearly that view of reality is not something that will have come from anyone in the Blair camp. Can anyone seriously imagine Blair's spokesman briefing the press that his boss took orders from his inferior? Exactly.

I'd say it's far more likely that the conversation involved Brown telling Blair that his attempt to stitch him up had misfired and left him with two choices. He could either (a) carry on safe in the knowledge that Brown would ensure the phrase "cave-in" was everywhere and that he would make sure Blair was remembered as the man that threw Britain away; or (b) he could U-Turn and be briefly humiliated by Brown but ultimately save himself from looking a complete tit as a result of his final act as PM.

Putting it simply, it was a win-win situation for Brown. In the first instance he knew the press, being largely euro-sceptic, would pump the "Blair cave-in" line for all that it was worth. And in the second he knew he could push the "Strong Brown" line if Blair was willing to capitulate. Of course, this is all wild speculation on my part, but the lines across the media in the past 48 hours seemed amazingly syncronised that all I could think about was "continuity and change".

Friday, June 22, 2007

John Simpson - BBC bias

There was a brilliant example of an assumed position this evening on the BBC. On the "Gordon Brown Question Time" on Newsnight, John Simpson, speaking from Kabul said, and I paraphrase,

Many people have said that Tony Blair is George Bush's poodle and has surrendered British foreign policy to the USA. Are you going to be same? Are you going to have an independent foreign policy?"
So.. an "impartial" hack says that many people think something, and then asks two question which clearly suggest he himself is one of those very people?

Throwing the web away?

A few weeks ago it was reported that the man behind WebCameron, Sam Roake, had decided to move on away from CCHQ for bigger, and presumably better things. Since then WebCameron has had a massive overhaul, much of the interactivity of the site - which was groundbreaking and unprecedented - has been lost, and, as ConservativeHome points out today the frequency with which the site has been updated has meant it's "in danger of making the dead tree press look fast".

From a purely technical point of view, WebCameron has clearly become a much more controlled environment. It's not regressed to Web 1.0 but it is, undoubtedly a Web 1.5 site rather than a 2.0 one. All of the video embed code is still available, and the visual quality of the video has approved remarkably, but there is now a flatness to the site that there wasn't before.

This is both understandable and frustrating. The web provides politicians with the ability to interact, yet, at the highest level, when you interact with people in such an open and non-mediated environment you will, inevitability, attract those that you wish you could not. I have no reason to think that the changes on WebCameron happened because the level of interactivity had become too much, however, shying away from it may be OK now, but in the future I don't think it will be.

We're seeing the impact in the US already, where politicians are finding themselves faced with videos of what they've said, compared to what they've done, en masse. In a few years time the UK will catch up, and WebCameron had a chance to preempt that problem. It seems though that the loss of the so-called "tea boy" * (as some left-wing bloggers called him) may actually have ruined that chance.
* For clarification, Sam Roake was anything but a "tea boy" and losing him was not a good thing.

Communication and Marriage - the key to success!

Dizzy: I should have a look at Facebook
Wife: Are you on Facebook?
Dizzy: Yes. Why? Are you on Facebook?
Wife: Yes
Dizzy: Oh!?

Ron Paul for limeys

Last week I wrote about the outrider Republican nominee Ron Paul who appears to have quite an Internet following (but is of course a no hoper and will not win the nomination for the Republicans ever in his wildest dream (Go Fred Thompson! w00t!))

This said, the Crossed Pond limey blogger Adam - who brought us some brilliantly funny Limey Guides to America - has written a handy pull-out and print guide to Ron Paul just for us (where "us" is defined as ignorant subjects of a tyrannical regime that controlled the tea market and thought George Washington was a terrorist (oh yes he was!)).

Contracters at the Passport Office costing £500,000 a week??

A strange and bizarre anonymous SMS message appears in this evening's London Paper which says,

"I work for the Home Office and it spends £1 million a month on contracters. That is taxpayers' money. There 50 people in the passport/ID card department earning £2,000 a day. Worst place I've ever worked"
Yes, the maths is wrong, if the rate is correct it works out to £2m not £1m a month. The question is, is it true?*
* Probably not

Lord Stepens turns Brown down

It's being reported on Channel 4 News this evening that Lord Stephens has been approached by Brown for a job like Ashdown was, and, like Ashdown, turned Brown down. This is starting to sound like spin gone bad. Brown is cearly trying to shed any perception that he's a Stalinist centralising politician.

The fact he's offering jobs out to so many people, and, being turned down, makes me wonder whether he is choosing people he knows will say no. He can then at least claim that he tried right?

Health Ministers contradict each other over payments to Brownite research consultancy

How interesting, yesterday in Parliament, the minister at the Department of Health, Ivan Lewis, told Parliament that Gordon Brown's preferred pollster and consultant, Opinion Leader Research, had received a total of £311,744.69 since 2002. Payments were for commissions to "undertake a number of studies to support and inform policy development within the Department".

However, back in February some may remember that I posted about the Health Minister Andy Burnham, informing Parliament that the Department of Health paid Opinion Leader Research £1.05 million for the "Your Health, Your Say" consultation in 2005/06. This poses one very short and simple question. Is one of these Health Ministers lying?

Journalists giving political campaign contributions

A rather interesting report has appeared on MSNBC detailing 144 journalists from different organisations have been making financial political contributions to campaigns over the past three years. According to the report most of the contributions lean to the left.

A CNN reporter gave $500 to John Kerry's campaign the same month he was embedded with the U.S. Army in Iraq. An assistant managing editor at Forbes magazine not only sent $2,000 to Republicans, but also volunteers as a director of an ExxonMobil-funded group that questions global warming. A junior editor at Dow Jones Newswires gave $1,036 to the liberal group MoveOn.org and keeps a blog listing "people I don't like," starting with George Bush, Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition, the NRA and corporate America ("these are the people who are really in charge").
So is it a scandal? After all the US media is free, it is by no means non-partisan, nor is it impartial. So should we be surprised by such revelations. What this does make me wonder though is how many (if any) UK journalists have donated money to our party political system. Also under what circumstances we might have a right to know anyway?

If they were say BBC employees perhaps it would be reasonable, but if a hack from Guardian which is a private organisation had been donating money to Labour politicians does it really matter?

It's a big ass table!

Pentagon hacked

On Wednesday the Pentagon was hacked which compromised 1500 machines (non-classified systems luckily). Interestingly, the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, when asked if his email was compromised, said "I don't do e-mail. I'm a low-tech person." Some people have asked, "how does he communicate?" which sounds like a reasonable question.

My guess is that he was telling a little porkie pie because his Cabinet boss appears to be having a few problems relating to email right now so probably best to stay schtum about the subject in case the feral hoardes get the wrong end of the stick.

This aside, you have to ask yourself an important question. If the Pentagon can be hacked, what do you really think about when you hear the Government (on ID cards) or the EU (on data sharing) talk about "safeguards"?

Top Gear crash: HSE says BBC failed to write a document properly

Apparently those nice people at the Health and Safety Executive have decided that the BBC had "failures" in its risk assessment before Richard "The Hamster" Hammond got into the Vampire and proceeded to stack it at 288mph.

The annoying thing here is that if you read the report they explain why the crash occurred, that there was pretty much sod all that could've been done to stop it, and yet still, someone gets it in the neck about not carrying out a piece of bloody paperwork.

Richard Hammond, I imagine, would've driven the thing anyway irrespective of what a risk assessment said (see the video below). Personal responsibility is the key here. Saying that the BBC failed is little more than finding someone to lay some sort of blame on, and crucially, had they performed the risk assessment 'properly' it wouldn't have changed a thing.

The tyre would still have been damages on the earlier run, and would still have had a blow out on the final one. It's called an accident in a complex and random world of unknown events.

2p or not 2p. That is the question

If you're a special person in Government then you get a nice chauffeur driven car. If you're really unlucky you'll get yourself a Toyota Prius (which makes you feel good even though it looks horrible), unless of course you're the Lord Chancellor and think "sod that I want a Jaguar XJS". There is thought one seriously unlucky sod who's managed to get lumbered with a Mondeo but I digress.

All these cars are from the fleet of the Government Car and Despatch Agency which manages to clock up mileage in the millions each year. At the same time they also manage to clock up quite a few fines, especially for parking. It's not a particularly high figure to be fair, but there is something quaintly amusing about the fact that they use taxpayers money to pay the fines.

Last year they paid 5898.02 in parking tickets, which, as I say, isn't a lot of money really considering it is just being moved around anyway. What I really want to understand though is where the two pence came from? It will, I'm sure, remain a mystery of life to me just like the question about why we consider it necessary to nail down the lid of a coffin but I'm going to say it anyway.

All the Prime Ministers Ad Men?

It wasn't long ago that we learnt, from the Electoral Commission and the Register of Members' Interests who it was that was helping Gordon Brown out with his leadership campaign. One of the entries on the Register was for "Design services" for his leadership campaign from the advertising agency Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO Ltd.

Abbot Mead Vickers are undoubtedly huge when it comes to advertising, and are the people behind memorable campaigns like Guinness' surfer advert. It also looks like they're the Government's ad agency of choice being responsible for over 30 campaigns since 1997, including, but not limited to.

Speed reduction, English Heritage, Climate Change, Mobile Phone Abuse, Kill Your Speed, Rear Seat Belts, Greener Motoring, Drink Drive, Are You Doing Your, Y2K Public Awareness, Leaded Petrol, Think, Pregnancy and Smoking, Science Year, RAF Recruitment, and of course, now, in a non-Government capacity, Gordon Brown's personal leadership campaign.

Payments to Abbot Mead Vickers for their work by the Government since 1997 totals £10,837,449. I wonder if that relationship will continue as well after next Wednesday?

Don't mention the war!

Don't mention the war, I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it. A classic comedy phrase from Basil Fawlty in a series which I suppose, if it was shown now, would probably draw tonnes of complaints about racism, sexism, political incorrectness whilst remaining hilarious funny of course.

"The Germans" is a classic episode where Basil, having concussion, starts saying the wrong things to his German hotel guests and proceeds to goose-step around his dining room whilst doing Hitler impressions and talking about piano wire whilst equaling reminding his staff that they must not "mention the war". The entire thing culminates, if I remember correctly, like this,

German: Will you please stop talking about the war?
Basil: Why? You started it?
German: No we didn't.
Basil: Yes you did you invaded Poland.
It seems though that someone forgot to tell the Polish Prime Minister at the EU Summit that he probably shouldn't mention the war (even though they were invaded of course). According to the Mail during discussion on the whole "Poland voting rights issue which Germany says should be based on country size the following was said,
"It was the Germans who inflicted unimaginable injury, terrible harm, on Poles - incomprehensible crimes - and Poles like Germans, while Germans do not like Poles."

"We are only demanding one thing, that we get back what was taken from us. If Poland had not had to live through the years of 1939-45, Poland would be today looking at the demographics of a country of 66 million."
God I love the Poles! What with their irritating ability to be drawn in the same group as England at football, their willingness to speak so plainly is diplomatically refreshing. Plus of course we can have German war complex problem together!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The ultimate niche radio station?

Only just heard about this one, Women's Parliamentary Radio. Currently they appear to have done a deal with Parliament and the BBC to enable streaming content. All very admirable I know, but still quite a niche market audience. Apparently they're seeking further funding at the moment. Time for a FaceBook group calling for Ginger Parliamentary Radio perhaps?

Excuse me?

John Hemming: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the extent of the backlog is in dealing with correspondence and other contacts at HM Revenue and Customs.

Dawn Primarolo: HMRC has received over 26 million items of correspondence from customers in the last 12 months. At the end of May 2007 it is estimated that around 76,000 items are more than 40 working days old.
Customers? I am not a "customer" of the taxman.

Brown snubs Hain by offering Ashdown Northern Ireland

So "Sky News sources" (i.e. they read it somewhere else) are reporting that Ashdown was offered the Northern Ireland Cabinet position of Northern Irleand. What an amusing move by Brown if true. Offering the Lib Dems the one Cabinet job that no sod wants, in an area of devolved power where there is sod all to do.

At the same time of course Gordon Brown sends a clear message to Peter Hain that his time is up. Presumably he thinks that Hain became to closely associated with the Orange Men. This whole Lib-Lab mischief that is playing out at the moment is rather amusing. As Steve Richards pointed out in this morning Indy it's a bit like a flashback to the 1990s.

Revealed - What Prescott actually does

Poor old Prescott huh? A moral hypocrite caught with his pants down after slagging all the dirty old men from the Tory Party that did it too? Always being jibed about how he doesn't actually do anything. Well this is not a Soviet style rehabilitation, but I actually think I can - dare I say exclusively - reveal what John Prescott actually does.

Yes, he does do something, at least sometimes I think. That something is that he actually personally writes his written answers to MPs. That is the ones that appear in Hansard. When you see written answers you can tell that they're written by civil servants usually, but when it comes to Prescott's there is always a tone that is, well, Prezza-esque.

OK, it's entirely possible that he has demanded his civil servants write his answers in his style, but it's interesting that the rest of Government responds in a dispassionate non-party political way to questions, whilst Prescott does the complete opposite. For example, yesterday, in response to a question about transport he said,

"Over the past 10 years, this Government have spent 128 billion on transport. After 18 years of neglect, 10 years of investment mean we now have more people travelling on public transport..... We are placing buses at the heart of our transport agenda, to reverse the previous deregulation in 1985 which did so much to damage public transport across the country.
See the reference to "18 years of Tory Rule" and the "deregulation" stuff. No other minister, in written answers, does this.

Incidentally I'm not saying it's wrong, I just thought it was an interesting observation, on the day after he did his last DPM Questions, that written answers always carry of tone of the Prezza-style about them, unlike the rest.

EU Treaty - a question of the language?

Now admittedly I'm no lawyer, and I also have no experiencing in writing treaties, but I keep on reading that in order to produce a wording in any EU Treaty that exempts Britain from say the Charter of Fundamnetal Rights that cannot be challenged is nearly impossible. So, can someone, anyone, explain to me how or why a clause that says "X does not apply to Y under any circumstances ever" is not suitable?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Lost crash - in real time

Someone has put together the first three seasons' flashbacks and plot twists and made the plane crash in Lost viewable in synchronised forward time. Obviously if you don't watch the show it won't make sense at all - then again neither does the show a lot of the time!

Miliband's new website b0rked!

Well that'll teach them! This morning, David Miliband and DEFRA sent out literally hundreds of press releases across the country with a personalised letter from David Miliband (they just changed the county in each one) to inform us all that the Government's new "carbon calculator" had gone live on the DirectGov web infrastructure.

There was loads of publicity, including the BBC, Sky News, the entire works in fact. There is of course one general rule when you go for such a "big bang" approach to a website launch. Make sure you load test the bloody thing first and get your metrics right! Right now, the site is, as we say in the business, b0rken.

Update: At least they're being honest about their failure to load test properly. You'd think the arse might tell the elbow to stop sending out press releases with "Miliband unveils CO2 calculator" as the title though.

Gordon Prentice slams Pakistan's "medieval attitudes"

He may be a lefty but at least someone said it,

That this House deplores the reported comments of the Pakistan Minister for Religious Affairs, Ijaz ul-Haq, who apparently believes it would be legitimate for a suicide bomber to take the life of Salman Rushdie following the award of a knighthood for his literary achievements; further deplores the resolution of Pakistan's lower House of Parliament condemning the author's knighthood; believes that such utterances reflect medieval attitudes which damage Pakistan's reputation in the world; and urges the country to embrace modernity and tolerate differences in views and in religion.
Ann Cryer has signed it, along with Mike Penning and Andrew George. Where are the rest of them though? Yes yes, I know I moan about the waste of money most motions are, but at last there is one that is mildly worthy and only four people have bother to sign it.

Who are the Treasury Six?

Apparently, in the last month, six civil servants at the Treasury have handed in their resignations. It couldn't be all those "temporary" civil servants that make up Brown's "Council of Economic Advisers" by any chance could it? I mean, Gila Sacks only just took the job on!

I guess we'll know if there is an announcement of six recruits into a new Downing Street policy unit in the next few weeks? Having said this, they may all have quit because they really hate Alistair Darling, Jack Straw and Ed Balls and are getting out now before they have to work for one of them.

Brown's Britain: A nation in serious hock

We're always being told what a wonderful economy we have had under Gordon Brown. Anyone with an ounce of honesty knows however that the figures and books look OK simply because of some shifting accounting practices that, were Brown the CFO of a company would probably get him put in jail.

However, we're also told that we've all never had it so good, but as most people also know personal wealth, or more correctly spending power, has been based on nothing more than increasing unsecured debt amongst the general populace. A quick look at the official figures put out by the Treasury from the Office for National Statistics show just how much Gordon Brown's claim of fostering a strong economy and is based on debt.

In 1997, the average annual income per person, where a person is defined as those over 18, was £12,307. The total debt per person at the same time was £12,894 which equates to a total debt as percentage of income of 104.8%. Last year, the average annual income per person £17,344. The total debt per person was £28,509 equaling a total debt as percentage of income of 164.4%.

The next time you hear the words "low interest rates" just remember this, the debt is rising, and each time the interest rate moves 0.25% up the debt rises faster as well. Isn't it all so prudent?

Who said only the Scots were tight?

Everyone loves their yearly bonus don't they, and the Civil Service is of course no different. Back in May we learned how the Home Office, which the Home Secretary had described as "not fit for purpose" some months previously, managed to pay out £3.5m in bonuses to its staff who had officially been labelled as crap by their boss. God knows how much they'd get if they'd actually been any good.

Such generosity from a Scot (were we playing around with cultural stereotypes (I bet someone calls me racist for that)) is a surprising thing of course, but I never realised that the Welsh might actually be trying to steal that label from their Celtic brothers.* You see, unlike the Home Office where staff were paid huge bonuses for being rubbish, in the Welsh Office they paid staff crappy bonuses for being, well, one must presumed good because they've not be labelled otherwise.

In fact, in the last three financial years, only three members of the sixty strong staff in the Welsh Office have actually received a bonus at all. The total cost of those bonuses before tax? £862.30 (no I've not made a mistake with the decimal point placement). One of those bonus payment was £362.30 which, presumably (although not actually known) means the other two shared a monkey between them.

Peter Hain, huh? Tight git.

* Obviously I realise that Peter Hain is not really Welsh, therefore to suggest that Welshman are competing for the stereotype of being thrfty tightwads against our Scottish (ex)Home Secretary is completely unfair. Everyone knows they have more in common with Kiwi's anyway. Meanwhile, I, being English, have appallingly bad teeth and cannot handle my beer.

Thermal comfort in Portcullis House

Why is it that a building like Portcullis House, which cost a small fortune, seems to have so many problem with the 'elf and safety? If it isn't the flagpole, it's "thermal comfort". What's that you might ask? Well apparently it is defined in one of those British Standard safety requirements (BS EN ISO 7730 to be precise) and is "that condition of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment".

Yes, you read that right, it's a safety standard that is based on the subjective perception of the awkward troublemaking worker. It's not a standard that is defined as "between x and y temperatures is acceptable", no, it's a standard that says if one worker out of an infinite number of workers is not experiencing "thermal comfort" then you're doing something wrong as an employer.

Personally in these situations I either put on, or take off my coat, but then I'm a personal responsibility nut who doesn't think the company is to blame (except of course if they make the air con pump out at say 5 degree C which is of course taking the piss (unless I was meant to be working in a fridge in which case it would fine by, I digress)).

So yes, apparently Portcullis House is having problem with thermal comfort. I don't know who's complained, nor do I where in the building they may be, I just know that someone somewhere has - it may be even more than one person, who knows! Apparently the complaints have been caused by a knackered temperature control system and air conditioning cock-ups. All par for the course I guess in a building that's only a few years hold and cost £234 million to construct.

Never fear though, the 'elf and safety fascists are on their way soon. Well I say that, but I am making an assumption based purely on the fact that the House of Commons Commission haven't carried out a "workplace temperature risk assessment" (yes there really is such a thing). Naughty naughty them! They'll be a GNN press release next about how the HSE has fined the HoC Commission £50,000 but no one will mention the fine would be revenue neutral.

Oh I'm such a cynic this morning aren't I?

Cameron "snubs" EPP leader meeting?

Both the Times and the Indenpedent are this morning reporting that Cameron has "snubbed" the meeting of European leaders from the European Peoples Party in the European Parliament tomorrow, although the official line is that Cameron has "diary commitments".

Not going to this meeting seems a tad odd to me though. Of course, Cameron has said that come the next European elections the Conservative Party will form a new centre-right grouping in the EP and move away from the federalist grouping. This line, dependent on ones view, was either the fix (or the failure) of his leadership campaign commitment to withdraw the party from the EPP.

However, in the meantime the party does remain a member of this grouping and it seems a bit wierd frankly to not be going to a meeting where he can put his case across to the likes of Angela Merkel and the Francois Fillon. After all, there are a couple of years to go yet before the party is not in the in the EPP (assuming the commitment to withdraw happens).

I have no idea what the diary commitments are of course, and I'm sure by tomorrow we'll know, and there will be some more pouring over whether it was the right or wrong thing to do. On the face of it it just seems odd to me. Genuine diary clash, or gesture gesture to the right of the party (as Denis MacShane reckons)? I don't bloody know.

Gordon Brown to answer 'gay questions'

Have just seen the following link highlighted by someone on Facebook. The headline is confusing me, it says "Exclusive: Gordon Brown will answer gay questions". You see the article goes on to say

"Do you have a question for the next Prime Minister? Gordon Brown will take office on 27th June, and he has agreed to answer questions submitted by our readers."
So why am I confused? Well basically I don't understand the use of the word "gay" in the title. OK, so Pink News is a newspaper with a specifc target audience of the gay community. However, does that mean when one of the readers asks "why have you screwed my pension?" the question is a "gay question"?

Of course, it might turn out that all the questions submitted end up being about gay issues, in which case they might be "gay questions" although I'd personally just call them questions all the same. If it said "Gordon Brown will answer gays' questions" then that would work. Maybe it was just a subbing problem?

There is another explanation for the headline of course. but I'm not sure Pink News is into such subtle tabloid innuedos.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Need a hospital in Scotland?

In my last post I mentioned the new NHS Choice website. An anonymous commenter has pointed something rather amusing about it. Let's say for example, you're in Glasgow (G1 3JL) and you need to get to hospital quick. What do you do? You drive to Cumbria of course.

Be grateful though, if you find yourself in need of emergency treatment whilst walking around Stormont Castle (BT4 3TT) you're going to have to swim.

So much for the National Health Service huh?
Note: Before anyone mentions devolution you're missing the point.

Action Man and Barbie at the NHS

Much fanfare today about the new NHS website which lets you search for doctors and hospital services based on your postcode and then provides maps and aerial photos of the hospital and surrounding area. Please note this is NOT the same as using Yell and Google Maps. You can't look at birds-eye view countrywide on the NHS site for a start.

You can also self-diagnose yourself too with the handy body maps. I imagine though if someone had, shall we say, an "itch" they might be confused as to how to get help. It's the end of urinary medicine as we know it!

Nonsensical stuff from John McDonell

I have to be honest, as far as online Government services go the Land Registry, in my experience at least, is pretty bloody good. You can visit the site, search the land registry and download the information you need on a property for little more than a fiver if I recall correctly. Last time I moved it was a God send frankly as it meant I could check that the my crap conveyance solicitor actually did what I paid them to do.

The reason I bring this up is because most Land Registry enquiries these days are carried out over the phone anyway, or online. Being able to go into a local office is not something that happens that often. This has led to the closure of some offices, for example the announcement of the closure of the Harrow office.

Clearly whenever something closes there may be redundancies or relocations, and usually the argument made by organisations like the Unions are done so on the basis of people losing their jobs being bad for those people (which is true but also a reality of life). However, what you don't often see, or should I say this is the first time I've seen it, is opposition to the closure on the basis that there won't be enough non-white ethnic minorities working in the organisation anymore.

This however is the argument that has been put forward by the failed Labour leadership wannabe, John McDonnell in a motion in Parliament. The motion states,

That this House expresses concern at the decision by the board of the Land Registry to close the Harrow office in 2010, despite a diversity impact assessment that identified there would be a disproportionate impact on black and minority ethnic members of staff; notes that 22 per cent. of the entire department's black and minority ethnic staff work in this office; further notes that if this closure goes ahead the diversity of the department will be severely reduced; and therefore calls for urgent discussions between the recognised trade unions, management and Ministers on this matter and a reconsideration of this decision.
I am sort of lost for words and to be honest confused. I've heard of the old fashioned producer interests argument being used when redundancies loom, but never have I heard that an office shouldn't be closed because the mixture of skin colour in the department as a whole will be reduced.

In fact, it's actually quite patronising and insulting to all the employees in the Land Registry as well as those who might lose their jobs, isn't it? Essentially it's saying that the value of an employee is founded upon what colour their skin is rather than their actual ability.

It's all seems very weird and nonsensical to me.

How much does each MP actually cost?

I love the figures like this, I'm not casting judgement upon whether they are good or bad to be honest, it's up to people to decide. I imagine there are some MPs that people will say don't do nearly enough work to justify the spending, and others that go above and beyond their relative cost.

This said, the House of Commons itself, including MPs and general running costs is expected to have cost the taxpayer £365,800,000 in 2006-07 (subject to final auditing etc). According to the Leader of the House, Jack Straw, this figure equates to a cost to the taxpayer of approximately £550,000 per member, per year.

Make of this what you will, I am merely the messenger.

Breaking News: Government answer yes or no question!

Worthy of framing?

Mr. Carswell: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will request the Director of the Serious Fraud Office to reopen the investigation into the allegations of bribery in relation to the Al Yamamah contract.

The Solicitor-General: No.
I guess that's that then. We'll just leave it to the yanks to investigate instead.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Salman Rushdie and mentalist reactions

How odd, it seems there has been lots of reaction to Salman Rushdie getting a knighthood. Reaction that is from the likes of Pakistan suggesting it is some sort of diplomatic incident which justifies suicide bombings. I must be honest, I am somewhat with Iain on his books, I tried to read the Satanic Verses once and failed dismally.

This said, the idea that he should not be given some sort of recognition for his work, which clearly has been successful, simply because some other country doesn't like what he wrote is absurd. What's more the idea that giving him an honour is justification to blow up innocent civilians is, to say the least, well... well it's mental.

Danny Finkelstein has also posted about this over at Comment Central and is using the Downing Street petition system to ensure that Rushdie still gets the award.


 

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