Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy 387654!

It appears that I forgot to wish everyone Happy New Year last week. So I'm doing it now in order to be in keeping with everyone else. Personally I've always been of the mind that every day is technically New Years Eve and/or New Years Day. I've also always assumed that this must be the reason that people become alcoholics.

After all, it's an excuse to get drunk and they've clearly understood that as each temporal moment turns it is exactly(ish) 365.25 days since the last time that the planet was in that position in its orbit of the sun (approximately at least (that should stop the pedants!)).

Anyway, Happy 387654!*
* This was a random number chosen by me for comic purposes and I know it made no one laugh.

He loves the forces does Brown!

It never ceases to amaze me these days how Gordon Brown will say things and seemingly doesn;t think about how it will come back to haunt him. As has been evident this week from the press releases out from Government and Number 10, he's a little bit nervous that people don't think he takes the care of military serviceman seriously.

After being slated by the top brass, David Cameron, The Sun, and many others, almost every week we get a press release about how much he is doing for the Armed Forces. Yesterday we were subjected to one where he said he would ensure the Armed Forces woould have "all the resources they need for our defence and their own safety".

Now I apologise profusely for using anecdotal evidence and if you choose to believe it's bollocks then so be it, but I've been told of a tale from a soldiers mothers that some forces personnel in Afghanistan are having to use their mobile phone cameras on reconnaissance missions.

Benazir Bhutto says Bin Laden was murdered?

If you can get over the weird prescience that this interview from November with Benazir Bhutto starts off by talking about her potential assasination just wait until it gets just over two minutes in and listen to what she says.

Catch that? She just said Osama Bin Laden was murdered by someone and she said it as if it was common knowledge and an accepted fact. Notice also that David Frost didn't even pick up on it? What's going on there then?

UPDATE: Erm... watch the video interview on the BBC and get yourself to five minutes. Now why have they edited out those words from the interview? Libel reasons maybe? She is very forthright in her certainty about the name of the person that has allegedly murdered bin Laden.

UPDATE II: Having done the rounds on some other sites, there seems to be a minor consensus forming that Bhutto simply misspoke and meant to say the "man who murdered Daniel Perle". No doubt that line will get the conspiracy theorist going even more though.

Here's looking at Jew!

Why oh why did I never think to look for JewTube before? (link has stopped working for some reason) And what a brilliant site JewLarious is.

Now, whilst I'm on a religious theme, I've just found a place called the Hijab Boutique but they're closed until 15th January 2008. I greatly look forward to it being open again because I am intrigued by the concept of fashion that protects female modesty.

Australia to censor the Internet

Well Kevin Rudd is a socialist so what's the surprise? The Australian Government is going to make it mandatory for all service [providers to filter out porn and "inapproriate content". People will be allowed to "opt-out" but that will of course just make me the Government say "hmmm is that person watching Kiddy Porn?". The Telecommunications Minister Stephen Conroy said

"Labor makes no apologies to those that argue that any regulation of the internet is like going down the Chinese road... If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree."
See that? Anyone who argues against the policy is really a secret kiddie fiddler.... class! He also said,
"There are people who are going to make all sorts of statements about the impact on the [internet] speed... The internet hasn't ground to a halt in the UK, it hasn't ground to a halt in Scandinavian countries and it's not grinding the internet to a halt in Europe.
What does the UK have to do with anything? There is no Government legislation that requires ISPs to filter content, so the comparison is frankly complete nonsense. The key here aswell is that this is not about just child porn, this is about filtering out all pornography and other sites that the Government of a supposedly liberal and free democracy have decided people are not allowed to see by default. If they want to look they have to apply, and once they do that the "Pervert Alert" flag will no doubt be raised.

My heroes and zeros of 2007

I see that, as with last year, the Conservative Party has issued a list of heroes and zeros for 2007. Like last year there is a green theme as well. The list last time praised a Page Three girl for her green comments and riding bikes in order to keep you fit for sex.

Something tells me that a press officer somewhere in CCHQ thought that it was a tremendously edgy idea to basically give an award to a pair of knockers from Lewisham, this years list is less edgy but still silly.

However I am digressing which is easily done when thinking about boobs but I thought why not do you're own list of heroes and zeros for 2007. A list of epic proportions that is only slightly less facile? It will be fun won't it? Here goes, in no particular order.

Heroes
Tony Blair - A brilliant politician who just had the wrong politics. Was able to talk about anything to anyone and at least appear to be on their wave length even if he wasn't. Just look at Gordon Brown for your frame of reference if you find this one difficult to accept.
David Cameron - Really is the 'heir to Blair' for the reason given above about why Blair was so good. Whether the politics turn out to wrong remains to be seen.
Mathew D'ancona - Only UK political periodical editor that has 'got it' (so far) about how to make an old media blog succesful.
The Devil's Kitchen - For being consistently funny and showing that just because you go to Eton it does not follow that you are an upper class tosspot.
Alex Hilton - For understanding that blogging is only significant because of the technology that makes publishing quick and easier for the technically illiterate.
Mick Hume - Always on the money with his analysis of the social authoritarian state we currently live in.

Zeroes
Johann Hari - Irritating left wing columnist that's been accused of making stuff up about his visits to Iraq. Had Robert Fisk not existed, 'fisking' would be known as 'hariing'.
Tory Boy Tossers (TBTs) - Wears a badly fitting suits and thinks it is perfectly normal to talk about their trust fund because surely everyone has one. Will never know what real life is actually like. Violent crime statistic candidate if they visit the wrong pub one day.
Tim Ireland (blogger) - Mark Thomas wannabe without the brains or wit.
Party Political Automatons - Under 30s who have only ever worked in politics and have bugger all notion of what the real world is like. Choose to live in Hackney to experience how "raw" life is but do so in a gated community.
Pseudoscientists - People that talk about science unequivocally proving things. 2007 has seen an explosion in the politicisation of science and it is dangerous.
Harriet Harman - A bit like thrush which Canesten cream cannot get rid of.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Will the Tories support the Government on driving license changes in 2008?

The "War on Motorists" is obviously a nice and easy Daily Mailism, but isn't it rather odd and ironic that it is the Daily Mail that is leading the charge of raising the driving age limit to 18 for full licenses along with a formal requirement for hours behind the wheel under tuition before being allowed to get a full license?

You may or may not have heard about this, but essentially there are talks going on about making it a requirement that new drivers have up to 500 hours of tuition before being "let loose" so to speak on the roads. This is obviously being done in the name of safety, which makes it doubly ironic given the Daily Mail also loves a "'elf n safety gone mad" story too.

The thing is, if as is being suggested the Government does indeed go for such an idea, how will they square it with their claim to want to help the working classes, or what we now call "hard working families"? After all, an hours driving tuition costs around £30. Who can afford £15,000 to get a driving license? Without wishing to sound all Blairite, but that sounds like a policy that benefits only the few and not the many.

Actually it doesn't benefit the many, it positively discriminates against almost the whole country. Of course, in "joined-up thinking" terms it's a brilliant way of reducing the number of cars on the road and the consequent environmental policy targets around CO2 emissions. But wouldn't it be terribly cynical of me to think that such a consideration had been made?

When you add on top of this plans from the EU to try and regulate cars based on emissions as well, you have, in effect, the potential death of the second hand car market, along with the death of car ownership amongst the masses. The masses will not be able to afford to buy a new "legal emission car" whilst at the same time not being able to afford to get their kids a driving license either.

Again I come back to my cynicism that such a plan is being touted, and seriously considered in the name of safety whilst actually it's knock on benefits in terms of other policy areas are the real driving force behind the move (no pun intended). It will be interesting to see where this goes in 2008 and what position the Tory Party take on it.

I have often talked with local politicos about how the key to the Tories winning is to tap back into the "working class tory vote" that brought Thatcher to power and kept her there for so long. Opposing changes to the driving license regime that will price the majority of ordinary people off the road would be one way of appealing to that voting demographic once more.

The lesson for 2008 - leave your comfort zone

There is nothing more cliche than looking back at the year that's just gone by in late December and reviewing what happened. For me personally though looking back this year is far more about a lesson learned than actual events. The lesson is that if you constantly revert to your comfort zone then you will, in the end, push away those that you know that do not exist within the same comfort zone.

The problem you face is that sometimes, when you sit in that zone, you fail to realise that what you think might be interesting might in fact no longer be interesting for those that you speak to because they switch off the minute you start to talk in the same cliches and stock phraseology. You become, in the minds of some, a one-dimensional being.

Think about like this for a moment. you may very well know someone who is totally and utterly obsessed with, a particular subject. The result is that in almost all situations they will find a way of relating whatever might be being discussed to that which they know.

Unlike following the Socratic dictum that it is "better to be silent and appear stupid than to speak and remove all doubt" they have altered it to be that it is "better to relate everything to that which you know than to remain silent and appear a misanthropic social misfit". This lesson is something that not only I need to learn but Gordon Brown should learn too.*

Why would I say that? Well, just take a look at the Prime Minister's new year message. It is a message about the economy, it is a message from a Chancellor. It is a message that may have important content but it's being delivered by a one-dimensional man that is reverting to his comfort zone yet again.

The calculation is clear of course, Brown's strategy for the New Year is that he will try and play, yet again, on his strength as someone that delivered "economic stability". Putting aside the sheer absurdity that Brown alone delivered such a thing, this strategy is a dangerous one for Brown.

Even if one ignores that it is a short term tactic for a long term strategic aim in relation to the polls, Brown has failed to "get" that he's just saying the same things over and over again. Have a read of his speeches since he took over, it is always about "long term economic challenges in the face of global instability" or words to that effect.

He has reverted to type thinking that if he talks about and sounds tough on the economy that he can weather the storm of bad polls and make people trust him on the other issues outside his comfort zone.

When he's forced to mention those other issues his responses are always economic too. Unlike Blair, who could capture the mood and articulate a "vision" through his rhetoric, Brown's message doesn't contain a "vision". He does "emote" a feeling about direction, he simply sounds like a dour economist, take a look if you don't believe me.

'We will make the right decisions, not only this year but for the years ahead, to safeguard and strengthen our economy - and, by keeping inflation low, keep interest rates for business and homeowners low.'
Those are the words of a man that has only one dimension and frame of reference in which he can speak. If everything and anything always come back to just one subject then slowly but surely people will switch off.

As Jack Straw conceded in a Sunday Times interview, David Cameron's message has been one to "resonate" with the wider public and Labour needs to make what they say "relevant to [peoples'] futures and not just [rest] on our laurels." Funny that Jack Straw gets it whilst his boss doesn't.**

The lesson for 2008 for those of us that can feel like socially inept misfits in non-comfort zone situations. Get over it, and step outside more often, lest you lose much that you cherish. I'll be following the lesson, but something tells me that Gordon Brown won't be.

* Yes, I just reverted to my own comfort zone but it's not the New Year yet, and this is primarily a political blog after all, so sue me.
** Caretaker Leadership candidate.

Are teachers cheating in UK schools?

The other day, after realising that I was in book drought mode having just finished Belle de Jour's first book I decided to read something I hadn't for a long time and pulled Freakonomics off the shelf. One of the chapters of this book is about an analysis of standardised testing scores in school to spot patterns that might indicate that teachers are cheating.

The argument is certainly an elegant one. If you have a system where "bad" schools are defined as those that score lowly in tests; and those that score lowly in tests must therefore have "bad" teachers it stands to reason that some teachers might try to help their pupils out in order to keep average scores up.

Now, I have no idea whether standard testing in UK schools is carried out in the same manner as the US .i.e. pencil marks on an answer sheet which are fed into a machine. However, it did get me thinking about whether anyone had ever thought to analyse the test scores in UK schools to see if there were patterns that might indicate cheating by staff rather than the kids.

Of course, some might say such thoughts are just wrong. To accuse teachers of possibly cheating in order to stop themselves getting fired or a school being taken over would no doubt send the Unions wild. However, now that we the Soviet-esque Ten Year Plan from Ed Balls which includes yet more taking over of failing schools, perhaps now is the time to start to look at these test results?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Brown's New Years Honours: Judgement? What judgement?

You can't beat a good Saturday morning with a New Years Honours List to browse over and make the steam come out of your ears. This is especially useful if you can bottle the steam up and use it to heat up the milk for your double espresso latte. Then you're able to get slightly more agitated due to the caffeine and the cycle can start again. But wait, I digress, I was getting angry and then I thought about coffee.

Today's New Years Honours list has, quite possibly, some of the most absurd people receiving honours. OK, the actors and TV stars are too be expected. I mean come on, you didn't really believe that Gordon Brown rejected celebrity culture did you? A man with the charm, wit and sophistication of a shriveled up orange peel reject the opportunity to make some fake friends? Never!

Just take a look at that list for a second though. First up we have Tom Kelly, Blair's former spokesman. The man who actively smeared a Government scientist who later went on to commit suicide?** A blatant pay-off in the hope that Kelly won't write or start briefing about the days Brown was in Number 11? Also receiving a gong is the CEO of the UK Debt Management Office at the Treasury. So what's that for then? Ensuring the country is hocked to the eyeballs or that the population is, or both?

The Deputy CEO of the Border and Immigration Agency, Ken Sutton, gets an honour along with two other colleagues. Yes that's right. Top men at an department in charge of immigration at a time when illegal immigrants have been employed as security guards at the Home Office have been given honours. I would try to satirise it but like so many things the Government does these days it is impossible because it is so absurd.

Not only that, the Director of the Child Benefit and Tax Credit Office at HMRC has received an honour. I know, I know, you're screaming with laughter at the sheer bloody insanity that a man in charge of an office that has been a complete failure in tax credits, whilst also losing the bank details of 25 million people is given a prize for doing a good job. Like I said, beyond satire.

No doubt over the next few days more details about some of the awards will emerge as bloggers and journalists pour over the list looking for possible "Cash for Honours" stories. The most amazing thing for me is that the judgement of Gordon Brown is so poor that he's put people on the list from departments that have been involved in massive scandals in the past few months.

When you put it against the decision to airbrush out the worst bits of the past few months on the Downing Street website you really do get a picture of a man that is totally flawed.

* Apologies to oranges everywhere for comparing their skin to the Prime Minister, it was uncalled for.
** Note that I am accepting the official verdict in the face of know actual evidence to the contrary. 9/11 Truthers beware. Do not start commenting you will be slapped.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Government launches century old policy?

What a funny day today has been. Hegel always said history repeats itself, and then the National Archives releases documents showing that 30 years agio Callaghan was willing to resign over a ptoential strike from the Police about their pay rise. Then, just a few moments ago, Hazel Blears' Department for Communities and Local Government puts out a press release titled "Helping soldiers into homes". The announcement has been made by Yvette "I get the taxpayer to cover my whopping great second mortgage ha ha ha" Cooper.

So what's the Hegelian connection? Well as soon as I read the thing all I could think of was "Homes Fit For Heroes" in the early 20th Century. That was a load of hot air and bollocks too and led to the creation of huge slums and sink estates. The rather irritating thing is that it's a pathetically transparent piece of spin. The press release says that the commitment is "further demonstration of the Government's ongoing commitment to our Service Personnel."

The fact that they feel the need to stress that it is a "further demonstration" tells you everything you need to know. Firstly, that the announcement is cosmetic. Second that they're on the ropes about the military and it scares the shit out of them.

N.B. Is it just me, or does Cooper have teeth like a chipmunk/beaver?

Quick observation

Yesterday morning when I first noted how Brown had airbrushed out the bad bits from his half year in Downing Street the page on the Downing Street was dated "27 December 2007". Today, after the Telegraph and Mail both wrote about the airbrushing too, the page is dated "24 December 2007". Not just airbrushing, but time warping too!

Is it blue or pink?

To lighten the load from having to think about sub-continent civil war, some comedy.

Made me laugh anyway.

Not bovvered

What a fucking liberty!

Two recent post follow ups

Just a quick post with some updates. It appears that since I wrote on Christmas Eve that the Labour Party's youth wing was asking for credit card details over an unecrypted webpage they took the site down and then rapidly got it back up with secure certificates.

Unfortunately I don't know where the data goes when you click submit. It might be put in a database who it might just be emailed making the secure part of the website pointless. My heart wants to say it will at least be the former but my head thinks it is more likely the latter. I see they still accept membership request for one person using someone else's credit card though.

Also, in the Daily Telegraph today, there is a tale about how Gordon Brown has been ever so Stalinist and airbrushed all the bad bits out of his year review on the Downing Street website. Chris Grayling and Nick Clegg are quoted too. Yours truly, who wrote about it first yesterday wasn't. Ya boo! Sour grapes and all the jazz. Who's Nick Clegg anyway compared too me?!!

A doubleplusgood publication

At last a think tank that publishes something worthwhile! The Centre for Policy Studies has published today a "Lexicon of Contemporary Newspeak". As the director of the think tank, Jill Kirby, argues in this morning's Independent, New Labour has taken the act of talking complete and utter bollocks to a new level. OK, so she didn't say bollocks but that is the implication.

Over the past 10 years, thousands of government publications and ministerial speeches have generated millions of words, spawning a new and often impenetrable vocabulary. Replete with sustainable aspirations and ambitious targets, they promise to use key performance indicators to address the issue, bring about step-change and implement a progressive consensus, to raise awareness and streamline joined-up delivery in order to fast-track transformation. But how many problems have they really succeeded in solving?

Reverse the order of any of these phrases, or combine them entirely at random, and you will have an equally meaningless but portentous announcement providing the full flavour of Newspeak, New Labour style. Log on to any government website, or pick up any government publication, and within minutes you will experience the deadening effect of this vocabulary.
Tell me about it! After two years of reading Government press releases there is little more annoying than hearing complete bullshit bingo coming out of Government department and quangos.

The big problem for me is that so much of this pseudo-intellectual crap has permeated into the lexicon of so many of us. One of the things I personally hate is the phrase "going forwards". This is not just because it is the same number of syllables as "in the future" but because it is based on the assumption that forward is good and backwards is bad.

The publication is a much needed antidote to the some of the very worst crap that people are forced to listen to and/or read. Ironically those that use this sort of language are more often than not the very same people who sneer with intellectual snobbery at papers like the Sun for their "low discourse" and yet at least with something like the Sun you get clarity rather than some tosspot trying to sound like he has more of a clue than he actually does.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Whitest Kids U'Know

Not quite sure how I found them (OK, I'm lying, I watched this sketch about masturbation gestures that made me cry with laughter), but this comedy group called the Whitest Kids U'Know do some quite funny sketches.

I am truly puerile and proud!

Brown airbrushes out his disasters

Should anyone wish to have a good laugh on this utterly pointless day back in the office for the shortest working week of the year, then I strongly recommend having a look at the review of Gordon Brown's year on Downing Street website. Pay particular attention to September, October, November and December which make no references to the nightmares he's has faced.

There is no mention of "changes" to inheritance tax which he tried to hail as significant. Nor is there mention of the changes to Capital Gains Tax which have caused so many problems. Nor is there a mention of his desire to map out his vision for the country that we heard so much about.

There is no mention that the tripartite system of banking failed to stop a run on a British bank, resulting in the taxpayer propping it up to the tune of over £20 billion. It gets merely a brief mention in December about how the economy is strong and he's going to save the day.

Don't expect to see anything about the Government's inability to get its own immigration figures right, resulting in correction after correction. As for the loss of 25 million personal bank details from Her Majestys Revenue and Customs it never happened. Repeat after me. It. Never. Happened.

Eight for 2008

The other day I received a kindly email pointing out that I had been tagged by blogging friend, Iain Dale with a meme. Now, I have a policy on memes in that I don't do them, but it's Christmas, and this one happened to be about eight hopes for 2008, so here are mine.

  1. The metrication of time. We have ten digits on our hand so why on earth did someone decide to measure time in such bizarre multiples? 2008 should be the year that finally the campaign for the metrication of time takes hold in the consciousness of the planet.
  2. Gordon Brown is humiliated by his own party constantly. Never have I had such hatred and zero respect for a single politician. This is not a tribalist hatred, but a hatred of a man that I see as a calculating Machiavellian arsehead. A man who has lied and cheated constantly for the past ten years and now is trying to pretend that he wasn't really anything to do with any of the many cock-ups.
  3. I can finally write my novel about a one-legged lesbian who desperately wants to adopt a gay orphan under the age of four. The tale will detail her ongoing struggle to find a child that is aware of their sexuality so young so they can be brought up in all the splendour of woman on woman love leading to a later love triangle in the child's teenage years. This will put the deep emotional content of the book on a par with DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers.
  4. Bernard Cribbins continues to defy everyone by still being alive and popping up on TV at Christmas to choruses in the living room of "I thought he was dead!".
  5. The writers of Dr Who attempt to explain how the actress playing Martha Jones was turned into a half cyberwoman and killed at Torchwood in the last episode to feature Billy Piper and then was suddenly resurrected in the first episode of the next series without anyone saying "errr hang on a second, aren't you dead?"
  6. Deep Purple (Mark II) line-up and Black Sabbath go on tour together and everyone starts arguing again about whether together they stomp Led Zeppelin into the ground of being true Gods of Rock. This leads to Kiss making another comeback in full make-up and lycra.
  7. Christmas Day news in 2008 does not feature a newsreader telling us how many people have died in some explosion or natural disaster.
  8. No one gets slapped; no one dies; no one is injured; no marriages end; and no one sleeps with their brothers' best friends dog or mother in the Eastenders Christmas episode. Everyone just sits down for dinner and is happy and then they all either fall asleep on the sofa or watch the Hollyoaks Christmas Special and complain about the dysfunctionality of Cheshire based soap operas.
As with the last meme about desktops I will not directly pass this on to people like a chain letter on pain of horrible disembowelment and impending death but instead say that if you want to do "Eight for 2008" feel free. Remember that if you don't that puppy you got may really just be for Christmas - this is especially the case if you live in Korea.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Oxford Phlegm to Prayer?

Well I hope people had far too much to eat yesterday and all the usual Christmas stuff. Sticking with a religious theme I thought I would link to this story in the Daily Mail about concerns over a mosque in Oxford. The mosque apparently wants to have a loud speaker system that will broadcast the call to prayer three times a day across the City.

As one would expect there has been some opposition to it. From a purely noise pollution standpoint I would imagine that having the call to prayer three time a day, seven days a week would get rather annoying. At least with church bells it's usually only once a week and maybe twice if there is a wedding going on.

Having said that, when I spent two weeks in Egypt, one week of which was in Luxor, I used to quite like hearing the call to the prayer. There was something rather mystical about the way it sounds, and even better it meant I didn't need to wear a watch, because some guy let me know when it was breakfast, lunch and dinner time.

The only thing I did worry about whether there was a spit guard on the microphone. I guess the prospect of the guy doing the calling having a cold in Egypt was limited, but imagine it in Oxford. It could get messy couldn't it? Wouldn't be so much a call to prayer but a phlegm to prayer.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Joy (Oi!) to the World

Monday, December 24, 2007

Labour exposes youth credit card details?

Anybody heard of Young Labour? It's the youth wing of the Labour Party and recently they had a big push about the fact that you could join for just a quid (no peerage included). The interesting thing is that if you go to the section to join online they ask, as you'd expect, for your personal details. You might notice that the page does not get that little secure socket padlock showing that your connection to the server is not encrypted.

If they were just asking for your name perhaps this wouldn't be a big deal, but, unbelievably, they're asking for people's credit card details as well. What's more they even seem to be suggesting people fraudulently join up too as they say "The credit card holder must be the person joining, or someone from the joiner's household." The data is then sent in plain text to god knows where by a basis POST request.

Will they ever learn? If they can't even be bothered to protect their own membership what can we honestly expect of their ability to protect data in Government?

2007 marked Year Zero for Labour

Some bloggers may be reviewing the year in the next few days, so I thought I would do the same. However, I'm not going to review th events of the year as such, I'm just going to name the single most important and significant day in UK politics this year and it was May 2nd 2007, this was when Year Zero began for the Labour Party.

What do I mean by that? Well, the day that ten years passed since the 1997 election victory, the day that the history went into double figures, was also the day that New Labour became Old New Labour. The Blairites understood this, and so I think did some of the Brownites, that is what they meant when they kept talking about "renewal".

They understood that the message was becoming stale. I can rcall, just before the 2005 General Election that I said, in response to a Labour member saying that they were now the "natural party of Government" that they wouldn't win a fourth term.

I said the reason would be because they would no longer be able to trade on the old message before and that the strategy of having a permanant Opposition attitude towards Government, the rolling campaign and driving home of the same message would start to wain as the time beteen themselves and the last Government edged into double figures.

The old New Labour message of "18 years of Tory rule", "no more boom and bust", "low inflation" and "low interest rates" would begin to hold ever decreasing salience for the voting populace. Memories can be easily tapped when it's less than ten year ago, but if the next election is in 2010 a Government in power for 13 years, cannot seriously expect to trade on memory that are at best 20 years old and in some case over 30.

The evidence for this can be seen in the Independent's poll today by ComRes. It has found that the "time for change" message is starting to gain ground in peoples' minds. That's not simply because of what the Fabian called the "autumn horribilis" it is linked to the idea that New Labour is now actually Old New Labour.

When large parts of the electorate see Gordon Brown talk about not wanting to return to the Tory days of the late 80s and 90s they ask themselves, quite rightly, how something that happened 20 years ago relates to them today. They see a man that has been at the helm alongside the last Prime Minister throughout the last ten years and are not so stupid to think that he cannot be held responsible for things that might happen now.

"Thatcher's Blame", the ability to relate any sort of problem back to Thatcher or the previous Tory Administration in general and, crucially, to make it sound plausible has now passed. That is why May 2nd 2007 was the first day of Year Zero for the Labour Party. That is why the New Labour message, so carefully and brilliantly crafted by Campbell, Mandelson et al is no longer suitable.

That particular political meme is now dead. In the coming year there will be a new message that becomes dominant. Which party it comes from is unknown of course, but what is certain is that the electorate no longer hears the politics of fear about events that have now passed the decade milestone.

"Labour isn't working" was a powerful message that eventually didn't hit the spot anymore. The same is true of "18 Years of Tory Rule and boom and bust". If Brown and his inner-circle realise that fact they may yet turn it around, but it may actually be too late.

Webcameron Rejects

Did you know there was a forum out there for people who post on Webcameron and either get moderated out or just think that it doesn't engage properly? No neither did I until now.

Perhaps in a way it's a measure of WebCameron's moderate success that a forum for the users that is less controlled exists, whilst at the same time it also suggests that the project has gone off the rails of it's original purpose?

Why has no one asked about the encryption?

I see that the Sun is reporting this morning that there have been even more data losses at NHS Trusts across the country. I also notice that statements from the Government have said that lost data has been encrypted which I guess is meant to minimise people's concerns. Although, admitting you don't know what data is on them makes them look incompetent yet again.

However, what I don't understand is why no one has actually asked about what the encryption is. After all, it's all well and good to say something is encrypted but if it's just something known to be weak like MD5 then it becomes quite a meaningless reassurance.

Now there may be an argument that to say what encryption algorithm is being used is itself a security breach, but it would b useful if someone could at least give an indication that however they do it it is not merely some passphrase protection, or that it is a key-paired method using strong algorithms that will take too long to crack to make the data worthwhile.

Wow!

What a day it was yesterday? First thing in the morning at about 6am I was out in my back garden having a cigarette. It was clear, three hours later the fog came. The best thing at 6am was the sight of the full moon as the silhouette of 747 flew across it, just didn't have a camera to hand. This is am amazing photo though.

I was walking on Plumstead Common which is about 5 miles from Canary Wharf and above it on the hill yesterday, I was wondering what it might look like over there. London was cast back into a Dickensian World of fog that's for sure, as the rest of the country was.

How was the fog where you were?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Footballer has sex

What an utterly pathetic piece of journalism there is in the News of the World today. "England ace in sex roast shame" it says - think of a spit roast to understand what they're talking about. The thing is it's the language of the piece that is most laughable, it says

ENGLAND ace Micah Richards has been caught ‘roasting' a young girl fan in a sick sex video passed to the News of the World..... Richards is today exposed as a vile animal captured on video "roasting" a teenage fan in a toilet with a pal..... The film of Richards' roasting—a sick act which involves one man having sex with a woman from behind while she gives a second oral sex—was passed on to friends' mobiles by the swaggering pair.
Simple question. Was it consensual sex? Sure, there is the possible charge of voyeurism if the girl didn't consent to being videoed (assuming she was shown and is identifiable) and it would also have to be shown that the video was taken for later sexual gratification.

However the real question about whether this make him an "animal" and "vile" is if it wasn't consensual. If it was consensual, then frankly, who cares? The supposed "sick act" of spit roasting is something that occurs in almost every hardcore porn film going, and the fact that the hardcore porn industry is a multi-billion dollar one suggests that such "sick" acts are probably quite popular.

Heresy is here again!

As you'd expect this morning, most of the papers seem to be very excited about Blair's conversion to papal heresy*. Did I just say heresy? Damn that Freud and his slips. Seriously though, I guess that Blair's much anticipated conversion to Catholicism is a story of sorts. The important part is that he didn't actually do it whilst in Downing Street and create a constitutional crisis - not that he didn't create constitutional crises elsewhere in his ten years in power.

According to this morning's Sunday Telegraph, Roman Catholics have overtaken Anglicans in the UK as the most common Christian denomination as well. The Church of England is starting to look like it could become a minority faith compared to the popularity of the Vatican. Time to get the matches out and kindling ready then? It is winter after all, and it's got a bit chilly, so remember, "cold is God's way of telling us to burn more catholics!" NO need for an energy crisis anymore!
* all my Catholic friends are heretics. It's a joke before you get all exicted.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Say what?

There is a rather amusing story from Ben Brogan about that former minister that is blind and managed to have to resign twice in disgrace. You know, what's his name? David "I love ID cards because I have a financial interest in them" Blunkett. Apparently after making the usual gags at the What The Papers Say awards he decides to go after bloggers saying,

"Bloggers sometimes but rarely know what they are talking about, sometimes but rarely talk sense."
Well yes, the term "Bloggers" could be changed with any other word possible really and the rather broad vague statement would be still be largely accurate. In fact, you'd have to be blind to not realise that. The most obvious word I can think of to replace it would be "Politicians", but what do I know, I'm just a prole right?

Having said this, let us not forget that these words were said by the same prat that wrote to the Times to argue in favour of ID cards and brilliantly displayed that he didn't know what he was talking about, and didn't actually make any sense. Of course he didn't put his inane ramblings on a blog, instead he gets paid thousands to pontificate to us lesser mortals that have actually done real work through a column in the Sun, so that makes it alright.

Starkey compares Queen to a Nazi

I guess that David Starkey must be planning to give up doing any history that might involve him coming in close contact with the Queen in the future. This morning he has compared her to Goebbels in the Guardian and essentially calls her a thicko philistine.

Now, it may very well be true that Madge is a shameful lover of low popular culture rather than high art, and frankly I quite like the idea of that more than being stuck up one's own arse in artistic and cultural snobbery like Starkey evidently is.

However, if you're going to be a Royal historian it's probably not a very good idea to compare the current Monarch to a Nazi and suggest she's thick. Not exactly going to keep those doors opening for you is it?

Guardian BAE non-story

There is a strange story in the Guardian this morning that has the headline "Blair called for BAE inquiry to be halted" which has court documents showing secret memos from Blair to the former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith effectively ordering the end of the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations. The reason I say it is strange is because apart from the published memos, the news is not news at all. On January 18th 2007, Blair told Parliament,

"[The British public] can already judge for themselves because we have made it clear the reasons why my advice— certainly —was that the investigation would do enormous damage to our relationship with Saudi Arabia. I said that because I believed then, and believe now, that it would do enormous damage to our co-operation on terrorism, and to issues to do with security and the broader middle east—quite apart from the thousands of jobs that would have been lost as a result of the loss of that contract, although that was not the reason why the decision was taken.

I believe that that was right then, and I believe that it is right now. Sometimes, in government, I have to give such advice and take responsibility for acting in the interests of the country as a whole. The Government have to put those views forward. I put them forward then; I believed them to be right then and I believe them to be right now."
So what's the revelation here? Blair told Parliament he gave advice, in other words he wrote a memo, that said that investigation should be halted. We've known that "Blair called for [the] BAE inquiry to be halted" nearly a year ago. If you read the memo what you actually see is that Blair was totally consistent on his advice and what he said in Parliament and was already on the record.

Oooooh! That feels weird, I just defended Tony Blair.

Friday, December 21, 2007

January coup plot against Brown brews?

Whatever should one make of this on LabourHome?

by 12345678 on Fri Dec 21, 2007 at 10:42:03 AM GMT
There is noise circulating this morning of a telephone conference that took place last night involving 17 MP's. The rumour is that this discussion did not involve any of the 'usual suspects', but loyal back benchers and some members of the Government.

The prospect of a delegation being sent to see Brown was discussed, with the intention of explaining that backbench support has been seriously eroded notwithstanding efforts from some senior backbenchers to calm the storms at recent PLP meetings (Kaufman, Skinner et al).

The word is that unless poll ratings improve by late Jan 08, it is more likely than not that the PM will be told he should step aside for the sake of the Party. Apparently senior figures, including a handful of Cabinet members who are briefing openly, fear a 'total meltdown' in terms of results in the May elections next year if he is still in place. One very senior member was reported to have told of 'widespread dismay' at the PM's inability to 'do the politics' necessary to sidestep issues.

Apparently (although who knows why!) the election of Nick Clegg has worried many MPs - another youthful, witty leader who with Cameron will continue to make the PM look out of touch...
Happy New Year Gordon? Perhaps now is time to find out who Tom Watson has given presents to recently? LabourHomies say it's a tory trolling plot.

2008 hails the death of WebCameron

Oh dear. In May this year Webcameron was redesigned. The changes made a site that was quite free and open, restrictive. At the same time much of interactive functionality was removed. Now the site has been merged into the main Conservatives website instead. The forum has gone completely, and the functionality of commenting is basically a pile of crap.

What started as an innovative and brave idea has been gradually reduced to the all too typical corporate malaise of banal discourse. Funny that it should happen as the polls start to become better and better and the need to control a message becomes ever more important. A quick look at the reaction to the change tells you all you need to know.

The email sent out to registered users yesterday opened by saying "[t]here are exciting times ahead for Webcameron". Well that's nonsense, there are boring time ahead for Webcameron in 2008 because it is now just an add-on to a corporate website where even more interactivity has been removed.

Paul is Dead! Paul is Dead!

There has, it seems, been a lot of fuss made over an advert that Mike Huckabee has done in America for his presidential nomination bid which had a "floating cross" in it. Ron Paul has attacked him and so have others because Huckabee is an evangelical. So what do you say in response to such things? Well you do this of course:

Whether you agree with the man's religious views or not, his response was, I think brilliant.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blogger Desktop Meme

Young Mr Greer has requested that I join a meme, and whilst I told him I don't do them, showing off my desktop - well one omany - is always going to appeal. So this is mine. Any other bloggers are free to join the meme. I won;t tag, just post and link here and people will find it no doubt.

Click Image for Big Version

'Rent boys fine, female prostitues not' says Harman?

Apparently Harriet Harman has decided she wants to ban prostitution. This is the oldest profession in the world, and frankly if someone wants to sell their body for sex then that is there business. Harman said,

"I think we do need to have a debate and unless you tackle the demand side of human trafficking which is fuelling this trade, we will not be able to protect women from it. That is what they've done in Sweden. My own personal view is that's what we need to do as a next step.

Do we think it's right in the 21st century that women should be in a sex trade or do we think it's exploitation and should be banned? Just because something has always gone on, it doesn't mean you just wring your hands and say there's nothing we can do about it."
No denies that illegal trafficking is an issue, but as the UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom noted,
"If open borders facilitate legal trade, then by definition it will facilitate illegal trade, and by a much greater degree. With the EU relaxing controls on its internal borders to the east on December 21st, it will be paradise for pimps as they can smuggle more and more people into the country.

"If these politicians want to do some good rather than posturing, then I suggest leaving legal, consensual prostitution alone and looking at how and why these trafficked women are coming into the country."
Personally I think the most important thing to note in Harriet Harman's nannying is that she doesn't seem to be too bothered about rent boys. It's only women in the sex trade that she cares about. So much for her being interested in "equality" huh?

Is there gambling on Tote appointment?

"Ian Good CBE has been appointed as interim Chair of the Tote, Minister for Sport Gerry Sutcliffe announced today" says the press release, and all I can think is "can we get a book opened on if he becomes permananet or who his replacement might be?"

What about other data?

We all know that data security is a big issue right now. The loss of personal details on such a scale as 25 million is never going to be small news. However, I have just noticed in Hansard a response to a question to the House of Commons Commission about their practices and it says

TNT have been used to courier information such as Committee and Delegation papers, artwork and images but only rarely have they been used to transport personal data such as passports and then only in cases of urgency.
OK, fair enough. But here is a question that's just occured to me, and one to which I doubt that an answer will likely be given.

If TNT, and possibly aother couriers are used to transport documents and papers, what level or method is used to transport really really important paper. You know, like "eyes only" stuff where there is only a paper record and not an electronic one? Like I say, I doubt you'll ever get an answer but whilst we're all talking about personal data, what about highly secretive state data?

I don't necessarily mean intelligence here, we could be talking about anything really that could contain significant data of a valuable nature, both political and commerical. How is that transported around, and how secure has that method of transport been?

The Government and Civil Service have a standing policy on the matter of leak inquiries to say words to the effect of "it has been the practice of successive governments not to comment on the subject or outcome of leak inquiries". How many leak inquiries I wonder have found that the leaks have come from poor security proceudres on the transportation of documents?

Don't fly, do fly?

That's right I'm back and it's not a repeat! Oh dear, things must be bad when I don't post for a day and then come back and open with a line from the Lenny Henry Show. Anyways, this morning's first and very bried post is a repeat really because it uses the Independent as a source. The front page of the Indy is all about the proposed common health market across the EU. As a market nut I cannot complain about such things really. Why shouldn't I be able to use my tax money here to pay for treatment elsewhere?

The line that lefty MPs have taken saying this will increae inequality because only the rich and savvy will do it is flawed on so many levels. First up by acknowledging that fact they concede that the NHS is not good enough. Second if someone takes less money for an operation abroad they are leaving more money in the NHS and relieving capacity for those that cannot go abroad. In fact such a scheme would probably improve the NHS not just because it would have to face real competition but because it would start to relieve it's creaking doors.

However I digress. The real reason for this post is to point out the absurd contradiction of this EU policy with it's stated environmental emission targets. On the one hand they want people to travel by air less and then on the other they want to open up the health market whioch, by definition will increase travel by air, train and car. For mew at least this policy brings into focus the fact that environmental policies are driven far more by politics than the so-called 'scientific consensus'

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blogging will be light....

There probably won't be very much from me today, hopefully there will be something tomorrow. Lots to do, people to see, places to go.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Time for an IT Department?

Having digested the news that Ruth Kelly announced to the House yesterday it seems clear that in Government and its agencies the principle of least privilege is dead (if I should add, it was ever alive). You may be wondering how exactly this latest data loss occured. How was it that 3 million personal data records were in Iowa? Who the hell is this company that had the data? Well if you read this blog regularly you will know the answer but for those that don't it goes like this.

The EU ergo the UK have, at least on paper, some the strictest data protection laws in the world. However, in a world on global trade this poses a problem for any company or as it transpires Government that wishes to purchases services that require the transfer of data outside Fortress Europe.

In the case of the USA, the federal government acknowledged this and decided, working in 'partnership' with the EU, to draw up a 'framework' that would allow US companies to take data and 'satisfy' EU minimum requirements. The system that was set up is known as Safe Harbor and works in such a way that a US company that wishes to handle data from the UK has to be assessed against the data protection legislation.

Who does the assessment? Well according to the Safe Harbor website it is the registering company. They download the relevant form, tick the boxes and gets listed on the site. Once on the site this means a UK based organisation, public or private, can send the company data withou worrying about the law anymore. Safe Harbor likewise, if my own reading of the site is correct, acts as an indemity type protection for the US company should anything go wrong.

Pearson Vue (NCS Pearson) are such a company. They specialise in software for testing and assessment, and they are, as we learned yesterday, contracted to a sub-office of the DVLA and Department of Transport. They are also, as I revealed last week, the company responsible for taking data on a daily basis from the Teacher Development Agency, and, unlike with the learner driver issue, the TDA does send date of birth details as well as other specific personal data to the US.

The real problem here though, as I said above, is the the principle of least privilege is seemingly dead in Government agencies. The principle dictates that only those who require access to data should have access, think of it like 'need to know'. This however poses difficult questions when it comes to software development.

After all, if you are developing and maintaining a system that is already in production you need to have some sort of production like data set to test upon. Performance testing for example is something that can only really be achieved against a proper data set, lest you go for linear extrapolation and take the risk of missing a potential clanger of a bug.

Thus, when the Government has a system it will, on occassions, need to have full data available for development purposes. But what do you do when your developer is not in the EU but is in the US or some other country?

Effectively you find yourself in a situation where you have to breach least privilege, and transport your data into an unknown state, both geographically and conceptually. It is at this point at which the system breaks down because it relies entirely on a paper procedure and promises that everything will be OK.

So what is the solution? Well for a start it is time for Government IT to be brought properly in-house. As with the need for a Whitehall wide ministerial position for information security there needs to be a ministerial position and departmental responsibility for IT across Government.

A proper technology ministry responsibile for all IT and security. A department which all other departments resource their IT systems through and which is based in the UK. The bottom line is this. Under no circumstances should any personal data be sent out of the country by Government.

Now some people might say what about private industry? Am I suggesting the same should be true for them? The answer is no, because the private sector is already heavily governed and heavily punished when it makes serious mistake with data security. Unlike the Government, the private sector is already heavily curtailed by the law.

The Government's proposal for jail time for anyone breaching data security is a misdirected solution as well. Putting a Band-Aid over a gaping ash will not stop the blood from leaking. It is the system that is flawed, and heavily punishing those working in a flawed system will not stop the problems occuring.

As long as we have a disconnected system of IT development and systems in Government then there will always be someone else to blame. It's time foe the Government to realise that the buck must stop with Government when Government systems fail. If that means removing responsibility for IT from many and giving it to the few so that there is a place for the buck to stop then so be it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Company that lost hard drive also hold trainee teacher data

Am on the bus on my phone so cannot link, but the company that lost the hard drive in Iowa is Pearson. Some of you might remember I wrote about them last week. They are the same company that the Teacher Development Agency transfer trainee teacher data to every single day. Including addresses, date of birth, and what disabilities someone might have. So much for US Safe Harbor companies huh?

Might Ed Balls be coming to the House next? Look through the archives for the last few weeks and you will find all the details. Never let it be said that Dizzy didn't tell you so.

Update: Here is the post from last week.

3 million UK driver details lost in Iowa

Well you can't deny the "review" into data security isn't turning things up can you? I bet Brown is cursing the fact he announced it. I just walked past the TV screen at the front of my office and Ruth Kelly is making a statment that a hard drive with 3 million driver license details has been lost in Iowa of all places.

:-|

More here.

Update: Seriously though, I said in November that HMRC might just be the beginning. The review that has been laucnhed across Whitehall looks like it is going to show systemic failures. The information security implications are huge, but the political ramifications could very well destroy the Government in the New Year if another Secertary of State has to come to the house and admit that the whole basket of eggs is broken.

I'm one to talk but....

The following is taken from Parmjit Dhana's MP website (emphasis mine),

We the undersigned call on the County Council not to build a giant incinerator in Gloucester capable of burning 90,000 tonnes of waste a year as an alternative to landfill, contrary to their manifesto promises not to intruduce incinerators, and instead look at other methods of disposal.
Mr Dhana is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Education and Skills who praised how the Government's literacy strategy was "getting it right first time". Thankfully he was cast out into the darkness of Communities and Local Government when Bwown decided to welease him and put a guy with a thspeech impediment in charge of edjookasion.

Ten year old arrested for cutting food with a knife

It's not just the UK that's loopy. Florida is too.

An elementary student in Marion County was arrested Thursday after school officials found her cutting food during lunch with a knife that she brought from home, police said. The 10-year-old girl, a student at Sunrise Elementary School in Ocala, was charged possession of a weapon on school property, which is a felony.... read more
Evil killer child clearly.

Labour homies get upset at Major

I see that John Major quite rightly pointing out that the Labour Party has been institutionally sleazy over the past ten years has caused consternation and outrage from people on LabourHome. As you'd expect the fallacy of "double standard" is thrown around whilst at nop point realising that just because someone may have been around when bad things happened they are somehow invalidated from pointing out that bad things happen now.

However, the fact is, when you look at the Labour party over the past ten years you can write a book about all the the corrupt backhanders and dodgy going on that have been endemic of their period in power. Wait a minute, there is a book..... no actually there are two books that catalogue the lies, the sex scandals, and all the things that would have been shameful under Tories but got swept under the carpet since Labour came to power.

Still, it is hilarious to watch the Labour lot burying their heads int he sand and screaming about a few individuals when the integrity of their entire party has been sullied by active illegality.

HMRC 'loses' cocaine and fake passports

Losing cds with 25 million people's personal dat on them is a scandal of stupidly large proportions. It suggests a cavalier and systemic failure of basic security common sense at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs in relation to something as valuable as information.

However losing £80,000 worth of cocaine and fake passport from an HMRC store is just taking it a step too far. The store was at Coventry airport and they have no idea if they've been lost or stolen. Let's pause for a moment. What's the chances that a huge brick of charley with a street value that is even higher once it's been cut up has just been mislaid?

HMRC is fast becoming like an episode of the Keystone Cops.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Not good reading for Brown

This morning's newspapers don't make nice reading for Gordon Brown. The Independent on Sunday is musing upon a possible "winter of discontent" for Brown. The Mail on Sunday says Brown is facing a "spring revolt" if the local elections go badly. One unnamed Labour MP is quoted comparing Brown to Anthony Eden.

Cash for Peerages has raised its head again in the Observer. The Sunday Times says Brown is in a "crisis of morale" and a YouGov poll puts the Tories on 45% compared to 32% for Labour. And the Sunday Mirror reports that the head of North Wales police says the Government are "shabby and dishonourable".

It was Kylie wot won it

Anyone who watched the X Factor final last night may very well be as confused as Iain about why Leon and not Rhydian won. If you can't stand these TV talent show then you're free to not read on, but if you don't you'll miss the answer to why it happened that seemingly a lesser singer won the show. The answer you see is very simple indeed and can be summed up in one word....... Kylie.

The moment that Leon's duet with Kylie had finished was the moment that he won the X Factor because it was the seminal performance of the night. It doesn't matter whether the singing was great or not. It was a moment that had... well it had this little thing called the 'X Factor'. It was the song that anyone wanting to vote would be remembering. In fact, at the very moment that the song ended, I rushed over to my laptop and put as much money as I could on Leon who was trading at 13/1 as the rank outsider because I knew at that moment that he'd won.

Simon Cowell often makes the point to contestants on these shows that even if they have sung well if the song is forgettable it makes them vulnerable. Add on top that if you're the favourite then people will not vote for you because they think you're safe anyway and you can find yourself in a problem as Rhydian did last night. Rhyidan's first song was forgettable. In his duet he was out-powered by Katherine Jenkins, and whilst his last performance was brilliant the damage had already been done.

If it helps think about it like politics and elections. First of all you have the floating voter that reacts to the campaign. Second you you have the problem of not getting your own vote out because they don't think it's necessary to vote in order for the party they support to win Rhydian lost the campaign because he didn't have the "Kylie moment" and his vote didn't turn out because, frankly, they all knew he even if he didn't win he was sorted anyway.

Basically, "it was Kylie wot won it!" and watching it back for a second time just now makes me even more sure of that. The performance was brilliant, natural and didn't feel like something from a talent show final. It could have easily been a Royal Variety performance it was that well done.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Stressed at work?

The super-soaraway Sun has made a rather good point this morning. Just look at the state of the Home Secretary. Not a very good advert for the job really is it?

Meanwhile, has anybody noticed how much healthier Tony Blair is looking these days? I'm not sure I get the need for a YouTube channel though if all it is going to have on it are his media appearances.

Charles Moore, Policy Exchange and Newsnight

Quite a number of people over the last few days have been talking about Newsnight's story that, essentially, because a couple of receipts that Policy Exchange gave them (after it had produced its report on the sale of extremist literature in mosques) might be dodgy the entire report is flawed. As one would expect, the usual suspects on left wing blogs have written long essays about it all.

Anyhow, this morning the Chairman of Policy Exchange, Charles Moore has gone after the BBC in the Telegraph. He's basically said that the Newsnight team have been underhanded and also suggests that Paxman had not been briefed properly resulting in him saying untruths on screens.

Worst though is the news that the BBC indicated where the anonymous Muslim researchers behind the Policy Exchange were from, and now an Islamist website has had calls on it to hunt them down. If they succeed then it will be the BBC that has blood on its hand then.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Taking coals to Newcastle

Earlier this year the Times ran a story about a National Audit Office report that showed that the cost of administering the claims of miners with disabling chest diseases far outstripped the amount of money that was paid out in compensation. The total cost of administering the claims was £2.3bn and more than half of it (£1.3bn) went to pay private lawyers who brought the claims. The Times also noted that,

The [NAO] report was ordered after allegations published in The Times about the financial relationship between the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and solicitors’ firms handling coal health claims, a matter that is now the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation (1).
One of the top ten firms to receive large sums of public money as a result was the law firm Browell Smith & Co, that received £54.6 million from thousands of cases (2). The firm specialises in what some might call "ambulance chasing" and its major clients are the National Union of Mineworkers, GMB and TGWU.

Nothing wrong there of course, but for one interesting thing. There appears to be a financial relationship between Browell Smith & Co and the Labour Party. During all those years it was suing the Government on behalf of miners for taxpayers money in fees and compensation it was also donating to the Labour Party coffers.

As the above shows, between 2002 and 2004 the solicitor, from its Newcastle base, donated £24, 633 to the Labour Party in many small and often odd amounts. Now I'm not saying that that is public money moving out of the Treasury via a solicitor into the Labour Party coffers, I am merely pointing out that it could quite easily look like it might be.

Alternatively, if the Serious Fraud Office is looking into possible financial relationships between the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and solicitors’ firms involved with claims, then what pray tell might they think of the finanical relationship between a solicitor and the party of Government involved in the very same compensation claims?

Having said this, perhaps the donations were actually more of those secret proxy donations coming through the system? It's interesting to note that yet again we are in the North-East of England after all. The same solicitor also sponsored a constituency dinner for Hilary Armstrong in 2006 so they are certainly well-connected (3).

Update: Gareth has noted in the comments that also on the top ten list is a solicitor called "Thompson's" and a law firm called "Thompsons Solicitors" has donated £121,990 to the Labour Party. Is it the same solicitor? I did search originally but did a cut and paste from the Times. Should have removed the apostrophe.

Introducing the B Team

On Wednesday David Cameron asked at PMQs, "Why does the Prime Minister think that Tony Blair has described his Cabinet as the B team?" This was after Peter Obourne noted that Blair had referred to Brown and his inner circle in such terms at a private function. Thanks to an emailer here's what they look like.

Fred Thompson shows his confidence

Following on from this post at the Coffee House, Fred Thompson is growing in confidence too at the last debate before the Iowa Caucas. The voter reaction bar is interesting.

The Independent really is a joke

Back in summer, the editor of the Independent Simon Kelner dedicated a number of pages to rebut Tony Blairs comment about his newspaper being a viewspaper. Simon Kelner got a little upset you see that someone would question the quality of his "quality" paper.

If you ever wanted to see a good example of the pathetic copy that passes for "news" in the Independent then just read this. It's not labelled a commentary piece, it's not labelled an opinion piece, it sits within the "news" section of the paper online and in print.

It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with the actually words written. The point is is that Simon Kelner is up his own behind if he honestly believes that that report constitutes news reporting.

NHS Blog Doctor dies in car crash?

UPDATE: Apparently this is bollocks and a wind up by someone.

The last time the award winning NHS Blog Doctor posted was in October and the following comment appeared on the thread on Wednesday night.

Hello to you all.

This is not an easy comment to write, and I apologise for the lack of a full post, but 'John' was more than a little security conscious when it came to passwords, I have contacted "blogger" to explain circumstances but as yet have not had a reply.

Getting to the point, so to speak, I am a senior partner at 'John's practice, I have only become aware of this 'weblog' after accessing his email account through our internal system. Other partners have read this website, but none of us knew who the author was - although in retrospect there are a number of clues we could have picked up on!

There is no easy way to say this, but the doctor known as 'John' or 'Crippen' passed away in a road traffic accident mid-October. Although I appreciate the esteem in which many of you obviously held him, I must ask that the emails cease as of now - they are all redirected to our mail server and this is causing some difficulty.

Dr. Crippen's identity may no longer need to be secret for his own purposes, but out of respect for his family and remaining colleagues I shall not be sharing this here, neither will I post another message or reply to any left. This webblog will be removed once I can circumnavigate the security protocols for obvious reasons of confidentiality.

This said, I thank all who visit here for their support of our dear, and much missed colleague.

Kind regards, Dr.P.
Tragic news if it is not a wind up*.

* I have known a few people that have 'killed' themselves online as it were in order to reappear anew like a phoenix from the ashes.

Over half a million innocent people on the DNA database

Back in October, the Government said that it would cost them too much to cross-reference the Police National Computer (PNC) with the National DNA Database (NDNAD) in order to establish how many people were on it that had no conviction.

However, yesterday the Government finally gave an answer and the figure is quite scary. There, currently, 519,221 on the NDNAD that have no current conviction, caution, formal warning or reprimand recorded on PNC. Half a million innocent peoples DNA on a criminal records database that is growing at a rate of about 45,000 per month.

That's half a million people who are no longer presumed innocent until proven guilty, but instead presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

He really is strapped for cash huh?

Now that really is a radical policy! Does he have a Madam we don't know about?

ePolitix

Attack Ads from History

Damn that man Kant!

Pouring porridge on the military covenant

If ever you wanted proof that UK military personnel are treated poorly by the powers that be then just take a look at the average spend per day on food for those in non-operational postings. According to the Government, Army and RAF personnel (on base) get £1.63 per day spent on them, and the Navy (when in port), gets £1.78 per day.

Now compare that with the average spend per day on food for those men and women serving at Her Majesty's Pleasure. £1.87. Those in a Young Offenders' Institute get a budget of £3.81 per day, over double the armed forces.

Now I realise some might say that prisoners are entitled to be fed. And it would be entirely disingenuous of someone to interpret the post as suggesting that they shouldn't. What is important here is that a bloody hero like Johnson Beharry VC - who was doing his duty - is catered for on less state money than some scumbag like Ian Huntley who was and is a scumbag.

Still travelling first class at nearly a million a month

Back in September I posted about the Department of Work and Pensions spending £9.48 million on first clas rail travel in 12 months to that date. Yesterday they were asked the question again saying that from November 2006 and October 2007 the spend was £11,650,293.

That's effectively an extra £2 million on first class tickets in a month. As with the last time it looks like far from following the Civil Service and Ministerial Code which states "Departments and agencies must ensure that staff use the most efficient and economic means of travel", the DWP is continuing to take the proverbial.

Topple testing.... what a job!

Until I read a question from Bernard Jenkins MP this morning I had never heard of "topple testing". This is where you try and push a gravestone over with your hands and then attempt to do it with a special "topple tester" device. It would appear that such testing became commonplace back in 2004 when the Health and Safety Executive revealed that three people had died between 1999 and 2004 from headstones falling on them.

As you can imagine I am once again most definitely going to Hell for sniggering at the thought that someone got crushed to death by a gravestone whilst most likely visiting their dearly departed. Yes, yes I know it's cruel but the irony of getting splatted in a cemetry by a headstone is just too much for my warped and perverted sense of humour to cope with.

However, what I really want to know is how one goes about getting the job of "topple testing" and how it would be advertised. "Wanted. Committed individual, probably a goth, to walk around the cemetry trying to push over headstones. No experience necessary however cow tipping experience would be useful. Flexible working hours."

Ministry of Justice goes into the Christmas tree business?

There has been, for the past hour or so, a head scratching moment here. You see I read this question and answer to the Wales Office (emphasis mine) and found myself saying "WTF?".

Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what his Department’s policy is on the selection of (a) real and (b) artificial Christmas trees for his Department’s festive decorations; and how real trees are disposed of.

Mr. Hain: The Wales Office uses both real trees and artificial trees. Its real trees are obtained from sustainable resources, via the Ministry of Justice, which also provides the facility for disposal and recycling of the trees.
My initial thought was that Jack Straw had decided to set up a cottage industry to make a few quid on the side, but it turns out that Wales Office (and Scotland too) actually come under the remit of the Ministry of the Justice.

The Wales Office told me that essentially the budget for a Christmas tree is met by the MoJ. I'm now left wondering whether this means the "Secretary of State" at each office isn't a proper position at all and merely reports to the Lord Chancellor.

How the Government ignores its own advice

Why is it that those who offer the best advice rarely heed the same advice themselves? Peter Mandelson for example was renowned for being brilliant at giving out advice to avoid media hiccups, but when it came to his own private life he was a complete mess.

The same it seems is true of the Government. Take for example the Cabinet Office sponsored sponsors Get Safe Online campaign. The Cabinet Office has spent £300,000 on this worthy campaign will soon provide a futher £150,000 to it to help educate the masses.

The campaign includes very useful and sensible pages such as 'Prevent data theft using removable devices', 'Control access to critical information' and 'Use Encryption'.

The phrase "practice what you preach" springs to mind doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More data protection evasiveness

As already noted here the Government has a stock response to any questions about data security or protection now to any questions from any memebers. Simply refer to the statement by the Prime Minister about the investigation across Whitehall. Occassionally, in those nutty moments, they have also referred to a response from Ed miliband at the Cabinet office which has then refers to Brown's statement.

Yesterday we had another permutation of this referral response. When asked how many data protection breaches there had been at DEFRA, the standard response was issued and then tagged on the end was this. "In addition to this I also refer the hon. Member to a previous response made on 13 June 2007, Official Report, column 1028W, regarding the number of breaches".

The response that he referred to is another standard consolidated non-answer which was being used across the departments in June to avoid answering the question which I posted about at the time here. For anyone sad like me that wants to read Hansard and the written question you will be amazed at how often "answers" will send you on back tracking wild goose chases into the oblivion of non-answer hell. Their evasiveness knows no bounds.

Lost for words....

Sweden: Woman catches fire during hemorrhoid operation
Am going to hell for laughing though.

Web pages lost in the post?

Something has been bugging me in the pages of Hansard for a while now. For some reason, whenever they link to websites they either (a) get the html wrong, or (b) they link to dead addresses. For example, today we have a question that asks about scripts for tax credit call centre staff.

Jane Kennedy responded by saying that there are not scripts but the manual and the technical manuals were publicly available here and here respectively. Don't click the links, you get this.

Poor old HMRC huh? They don't seem to be able to find anything these days. Maybe the pages are lost in the post?

Where that trainee teacher data goes

Last month I mentioned that the Teaching and Development Agency for Schools has a privacy policy on its website that suggested the personal data of those applying to be teachers is transported outside the EU into countries with limited data protection.

I have now learned that the data is sent outside the EU, to a company in the USA on a daily basis. Unlike HMRC the data transfer is encrypted. The data in question contains name, address, phone number, email address, place of birth, date of birth and if you have any disabilities.

The company is called Pearson and they are apparently a Safe Harbor registered company. Safe Harbor was developed by the US Department of Commerce to allow US company to comply with EU data protection and privacy laws.

What's odd though is that Safe Harbor is just a self-certification framework. In other words, you get a form, say you have done everything on the checklist and get yourself registered and UK agencies or companies can freely send data over the wire. Sounds likea false sense of security to me, but there you go.

Efficiently inefficient?

You have to love the way figures get shifted around sometimes. The Office of Government Commerce (OCG) for example "saves" everyone money apparently by reducing administration costs. If you look at this 2005/06 report you will see on page 13 how they saved £84 million in administration costs by introducing the Government Procurement card.

Yet, when asked in Parliament about the level of reduction to the administration costs of OCG, the Treasury minister Angela Eagle said that in 2004/05 the net cost of adminstration to OCG was £34,896,000 and the following year it was £44,271,000, that's an increase of £9,375,00.

In fact, since 2003/04 the adniminstration costs at OCG have been rising every year, and apparently the reason it leapt up so much in the same year that it said it had saved £84 million was because it was "improving efficiency across the public sector.".

Seriously, I kid you not. They said that they saved £84 million in administration costs in a year when it actually increased by almost £10 million to just over half the amount that they said they had saved and it was all because of an efficiency drive.


 

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