Friday, February 29, 2008

Not a very well planned walk

So apparently, some hippy freeconomist that wants to scrap money, decided to walk from Bristol to India with no money and rely on the kindness of strangers but had to stop at Calais because he didn't speak French. Whilst I can't stop laughing at the guy for thinking that everyone would understand him, it's the bit on the BBC website that says the following that I am bemused by.

He now plans to walk around the coast of Britain instead, learning French as he goes, so he can try again next year.
He is aware that France does not share a border with India right? Should we tell him? Via email maybe? Think he uses it? Or should we just wait until next year for the story about how he got to Germany and turned around again? We get to laugh again too if we do that!

Government looks to Saudi Arabia and Seychelles for school advice?

I do love it when MPs asks departments about what travel they've been up to because you always get something interesting in the response. For example, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, (formerly the Department for Education and Skills) has been on quite a few jollies over the past few years to look at how other countries do education.

Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korean Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, USA.

Nice travel if you can get it huh? Didn't cost too much either, only £1,436,939 apparently. I'm sure Saudi Arabia with its Madrassas, along with Pakistan must have a lot to offer us in schooling expertise. And I bet going to the Seychelles and Mauritius must have been enlightening for the wonks, what with the sand and sun.

Speaking of sand, its worth noting that the original list in Hansard had two of the greatest typos in the world in them - even better than some of mine in fact. First there was the "Koran Republic" and then just to make it all the more amusing they said they went to "Sandi Arabia". Oh yes they did!

Off-message Dale?

Should you want an interesting commentary piece to read this mornig, take a look at Iain Dale's piece in the Daily Telegraph about Andrew Lansley and NHS funding. The crux of the article is that Andrew Lansley and other shadow Cabinet members should basically keep their mouth shut on spending and tax, otherwise you end up in a mess as they have done now.

Iain has certainly not pulled his punches with Andrew Lansley's Times interview comments that's for sure. So much for all those people out there who say Iain's nothing more than a mouthpiece for CCHQ.

Lee Jasper the 'anti-semites' friend?

Lee Jasper, now there's a name that conjures up all sorts of opinions. From odd financial irregularities with taxpayers money, to his ever so special and important role as the Mayor's Equalities advisor that tried to stop Trevor Philips getting his current job. Anyone who attacks Jasper is, according to the Mayor, a racist.

One of the things that Lee Jasper famously did in 2003 was disinvite a rather well known holocaust denier from the US called Baba Martin, who was due to speak about one of his books on a platform with the other well known holocaust denier, David Irving. In his disinvitation letter he said that because of

"[A]nti-Semitic and racist activities including Holocaust denial, the Mayor's Office has decided to withdraw its invitation to you to address the First Voice conference on Saturday 25 October.

The appearance of a close association between yourself and extreme right wing academics and organisations at these conferences has left the Mayor's Office with no alternative but to withdraw its invitation."
Isn't it funny how things change though? A few years later you see, Lee Jasper, the Mayor's anti-racism advisor who dislikes extremist anti-semites and anyone that assoicates with them at events went out of his way to meet the very man in Brixton he had told to sod off, even going so far as to have a photo opportunity with him (see the scan above right from a US newspaper).

Perhaps Lee had been talking to his boss about those nasty evil Jewish concentration camp guards that work for the Evening Standard as journalists and had changed his mind? Not only does a cloud of decidely dodgy dealing hang over his head, but he's also decided that having a jolly with leading anti-semite racists is something that he should now be doing.

Note: Have just seen that Harry's Place found the image I was emailed and commented on Jasper's strange switch in friendship a few weeks ago too.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Taking answering a different question to a new level

If you;ve ever bothered to read any of the written questions submitted by MPs to Parliament you will be well aware of the stock and standard responses that are, with amazing regularity, received. A standard one, as I have moaned about many times already, is how often it would simply cost too much for the Government to answer. However, another common tactic is to refer to a previous answer. Take yesterday for example, Grant Shapps asked the Department for Communities and Local Government

whether moving from a weekly rubbish collection of household waste to a fortnightly rubbish collection is deemed to be a cut in service provision, according to the methodology used by her Department for the purposes of meeting Gershon targets.
The answer from the junior minister of no consequence (trust me, you won;t have heard of him), was to "refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) on 29 March 2007, Official Report, column 1736W. What was Michael Gove's question?
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to the answer of 5 March 2007, Official Report, column 1641W to the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), on waste management, whether a local authority can unilaterally leave a joint waste authority of its own accord once it has voluntarily decided to join one.
And the answer from Ben Bradshaw?
No. As stated in my previous answer of 5 March 2007, Official Report, column 1641W to the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) the Secretary of State will only be able to dissolve a joint waste authority in two situations: (i) if he/she receives a request to do so from all the appropriate local authorities; (ii) if he/she considers it necessary. Other models of partnership working are available for those authorities that do not wish their partnership to be placed on a statutory footing.
The phrase "I refer the Honourable Gentleman to the answer to a completely different question that was given almost a year ago" springs to mind. I think it;s fair to say that the desire to avoid answering the first question suggests that they no the answer is "yes" it's a cut to service provision.

Where is the "don't eat metal" warning?

Have just received a press release saying that a new bit of EU regulation will be coming in for toys that have magnets on them. Apparently it will be warning that magnets are presents and will say,

"Warning! This toy contains magnets or magnetic components. Magnets sticking together or becoming attached to a metallic object inside the human body can cause serious or fatal injury. Seek immediate medical help if magnets are swallowed or inhaled."
Two things. First how the hell does one go about inhaling a magnet? Second, if magnets are dangerous because they might stick to a "metallic object inside the human body" where is the regulation saying "Warning, do not put metallic objects inside the human body"?

I probably shouldn't have said that I'll give someone an idea. Maybe they could put up those sort of warnings in operating theatres because the only time I can think when someone would have a metallic object in their body would be if some incompetent surgeon accidentally left his scissors behind. Next week a new regulation is coming in that will say "Warning! This toy contains a toy."

On a related note, should anyone fancy buying me a present I really want these.

How Government Works 101

1: Identify bleeding obvious problem in society but act as if you're the one that discovered it.
2: Announce you're going to hold a 'widespread review' with a plan to create a plan to tackle said problem.
3: Hold review over long period of time and refuse to comment further on policy apart from only ever referring to the fact you are having a review.
4: Publish five or ten year plan explaining how you're going to solve the problem because you've written that you will.
5: Spend next few years always referring to the master plan and that its implementation is coming along very nicely thank you.
6: As the end of the plan's lifetime nears, return to step 1 re-identifying the problem anew.

The inconsistency of the 'line'?

Obviously Peter Hain is a disgraced minister that managed to embroil himself in some seemingly dodgy dealing, but I just thought I would draw people's attention to this little interview that he gave back in 2003, when he was the Government's representative on the convention on the future of Europe that drew up the ill-fated EU Constitutional Treaty.

Notice the language being used? The treaty was, apparently, just a "tidying up" exercise of previous treaties and not anything like the Constitutional "baloney" that the evil euro-sceptic press said it was. In fact, according to the perma-tanned one at the time,

"we already have a Constitutional Treaty for Europe, it's, it's in hundreds of pages of impenetrable text, that virtually nobody who's not a Euro anorak can understand, and what we're tending to do here is bringing it all together in a single constitutional text, so people can easily see what's going on."
Got that? The Government's position in 2003 - a Government might I add that Brown was Number Two in and who said nothing contrary at the time to suggest his view was different - was that we "already have a Constitutional Treaty for Europe" even without the original rejected document being ratified. Now look at what Brown said to Parliament today. Apparently, "the constitutional concept in Europe [and the Lisbon Treaty] has now been abandoned".

In responding to Cameron's questions on a referendum, Brown said that "in Brussels last summer the decision was made that the constitutional concept be abandoned". So apparently Brown used to believe that there was already a constitutional concept before the original Constitutional Treaty was rejected in France and Ireland (hence the original was not a Constitution).

However, Brown now believes that the "constitutional concept" has been abandoned in the Lisbon Treaty, which is about the organisation of a body politic that they said is already constitutional anyway? Now please.... tell me.... how does that work exactly?

It's a bit like saying that you believe the statement that the "moon is made of cheese" is a bleeding obvious one; and then later saying that the moon is not made of cheese, and pretending you never said it was in the first place.

The Government's line has been so utterly inconsistent that it is removed from reality that you'd have to consume 100 liberty cap mushrooms , snort a line of coke, and then drop a tab of acid to believe it! One moment, the pre-Lisbon ratification status quo is a Constitution; and the next Brown is saying that there is no constitutional significance and in fact all aspects of constitutionality have been "abandoned"? What a load of balls.

The bottom line seems to be that the Government now led by Gordon Brown believed that the status quo in the EU was constitutional anyway. Ergo, the original document was only ever a "tidying up" exercise but they agreed to have a referendum. Now they are claiming that the Lisbon Treaty is all about 'amending' (read "tidying up") and is in no way constitutional because that concept has been 'removed' from the thing into which - according to Brown and the Government - it already existed in the first place.

It's easy to say that current scandals about expenses erode trust in politicians - I have done it myself - but the real problem comes when men in power play games with the history to which they are intrinsically linked as Brown appears to now be doing.

Do leave your comments...

Have been alerted to this little Compass Online campaign for the socialist and friend of potential corruption Livingstone. Apparently the campaign to re-elect him is actually of national importance and you should pledge your support with comments. There is no guarantee they will be published of course.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Department of Health banned by Wikipedia for editing

Isn't it interesting what you can find in Hansard when you do a little searching. All manner of amusing things, such as the fact that the Department of Health has had its outbound IP address banned by Wikipedia because of constant editing. Back in January, Ben Bradshaw admitted that between August 2005 and August 2007, people at the DoH had made almost 1500 edits, page creations and/or entries on Wikipedia. This then resulted in Wikipedia banning the DoH's address from the site according to Bradshaw a few weeks later.*

No doubt there were many disgruntled civil servants editing Patricia Hewitt's page constantly and leaving scurrilous slurs against her. The DoH is not alone in being a department to have fun with Wikipedia though. According to Gerry Sutcliffe at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, people in the department have created or amended 103 entires on Wikipedia. No doubt all the edits were necessary because of the constantly changing budget for the 2012 Olympics!**

Most of the other departments are now facing similar questions too, so time will tell if they are found to be hiding something, or perhaps just fibbing. For example, the Chancellor of the Exechequer says that because anyone with an internet connection could do it, it would cost too much to answer.... doesn't look good when the DoH manages it though.
* 5 Feb 2008 : Column 1068W Hansard
**
19 Feb 2008 : Column 620W Hansard

The cost of thinking about what to spend money on?

Have to love the House of Commons Commission sometime. As Private Eye has quite rightly noted this week they have a tendancy to pour money up the proverbial wall quite regularly. A few million quid here for motion sensitive escalators in Portcullis House that don't work; a hundred or so grand there for nice chairs in the restuarant.

I was thus mildly amused to learn that not only do they spend money on tangible things, but they also have a £2 million annual policy development grant budget. That sounds awfully like £2 million of spending each year on thinking about what to spend money on doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's only money!

I know everyone is excitedly looking at the Speaker and other MPs about expenses, but at least they have been mildly transparent. The other day we had news of an internal audit in the EU that potentially showed massive fraud by MEPs and, as the Times reports today, the publication of the report is likely to be withheld, it might cause red-faces I guess. There is also talk - according to a UKIP press release that landed in my inbox - of there possibily being another report of equally damning findings. Still.... it's only money!

Lib Dem MP calls for regulation of shop signage?

Richard Younger-Ross has been at it again with his EDM, but instead of moaning about there not being enough curry houses or full pints this time round it is "shop signage". He's unhappy that they all look the same apparently and wants the Government to regulate so that businesses stop trading under brands.

OK, so he doesn't literally say that, but that is the implication of his motion because he's basically having a go at Costa Coffee and Starbucks, or perhapsd BurgerKing and McDonalds. After all none of them do proper curry or manly drinks like beer, but I digress.

Interestingly he tabled anothe motion just before the signage one - for he clearly likes doing things in twos - complaining about high street chains using single contractors for their building work. Still, on the plus side he did save a little time by starting both motions with the same words.

PolitcsHome enters staging phase and looks for an Editor?

PolitcsHome still plans on using the same logo then and sticking with the name?
They're looking for an editor too on £35K-£45K.
Hat Tip: Puffbox for the Guardian link.

Star Wars according to a 3 year old

Monday, February 25, 2008

Craziness in our schools?

Apologies for the lack posting today, I have been otherwise engaged without a decent Internet connection. However now that I am fully online I have just read the following over at Iain Dale's blog.

Is it me? My 10 year old daughter goes to xxxx Primary School in xxxxx, West Sussex, and has taken a balanced lunch box to school since she was 4 years old - she tends to have a chicken sandwich, yoghurt, baked (low fat) crisps, apple or banana and a chocolate bar (usually a Penguin). I now read on the school newsletter, "I am writing to remind you that we do NOT permit sweets or chocolate bars in your children's lunch boxes."

My daughter is a fit child who is absolutely the correct weight for her height. What the hell gives the school the right to demand what goes in our child's lunch box?

Of course, they ripped the kitchens out of this school years ago.
My instinctive reaction as a parent has to be that a sentence should be made from the following words: Off, idiots, sod, bloody, you.

Stealing Tory arguments and praising dictators

It's Monday morning and that means 'You Ask The Questions' in the Independent. This morning's interviewee is Harriet Harman and her responses are as you'd expect really. For a start she seems to have suddenly accepted and started using Tory arguments on immigration control. Last year I wrote a post that the decison to frame the immigration debate within the impact of public service overstretch was a neat piece of triangulation because it neutralises the charge of racism as the driver for change.

At the time the reaction from Labour and the Government was the typical claims that the Tory policy was not genuine and that secretly those that agreed with the argument were really just racists still. Essentially the reaction was 'I'm not racist but...' type nonsese. When Harman was asked about last weeks announcements on immigration she said, "Britain is a better place because of hard-working immigrants. But there are implications for public services when there are changes in local population."

So there we have it, the Tory argument being made by the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Will anyone charge her with being racist? Of course not because the Left is physically incapable of racism don't you know, they are on the side of angels and it is only people on the Right that can be disingenuous jack booted Nazis if such an argument is deployed. Meanwhile, whilst those on the Left are pure I guess I'm expected to ignore what Harman said about Fidel Castro.

When she was asked whether Castro was 'hero of the left, or dangerous authoritarian dictator' you'd think the answer would be a no-brainer. Even Mark Steel the socialist comedian acknowledged that tourists to Cuba get shown a sanitised view of the country, but what about Harman? She think Castro is a hero, oh yes, but she says it is time for Cuba to 'move on'. That would be move on to a different person called Castro who says the Communist Party will stay in power and he'll consult the original Castro on matters of state.

So Harriet 'I didn't know the cheque was dodgy but I need to pay off my overdraft' Harman has managed to nick Tory arguments and praise a dictator almost simultaneously. That's pretty special.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Government to scrap habeas corpus?

For the first time in ages I actually bought a lot of Sunday newspapers and have finally got around to reading them. Scary thing is, whilst people are concentrating on the Speakers woes, I've just noticed that the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is planning on suspending habeas corpus. OK, so the News of the Screws does not report it that way of course, but that is, it seems to me, the implications of her latest Ten-Year Plan (like Stalin but only better because it's not five years).

Apparently she is planning on allowing the Police to have the power to seize all the assets of a suspect upon arrest. Now, you may very well be a staunch social conservative and think a 'drug pushing scumbag' should get what they deserve, but I'm afraid this really is the thin end of the wedge. If - as Smith plans - the state will be able to seize all the assets of someone before they are even charged then what you're effectively doing is saying that the person is assumed guilty until proven innocent.

When you couple this with the already existing criminal assets legislation, someone can be acquitted and still lose their assets on the basis of little more than 'reasonable grounds'. The difference now is that the limits that say assets no older than a certain time (as well as the exemption of personal property) will be seized without any crime needing to be proven. We often hear Brown, Smith, the Government telling us how they love Britishness right? Well tell me this, is there anything less British than taking Magna Carta and ripping it to shreds?

Let's be under no illusions here, this is a policy designed for pure triangulation on crime. Come up with quite possibily the most anti-liberty, anti-justice policy ever, and then make sure that anyone who may oppose it can be portrayed as 'soft on crime'. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, whenever a separation between justice and liberty is made neither is safe.

Naughty Mr Crick

As I'm posting from my phone I can't do links but if you get a copy of the News of World page 19 has a most amusing story. The BBC's leftie uber-exposer of sleaze Michael Crick has been caught dumping his cancer suffering mistress by text message. Of course I'm a little biased with my crowing as Crick once 'revealed' a story about Clegg's leadership campaign which I posted about months before. Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

An interesting story placement?

I know I shouldn't laugh at this, and clearly doing so ensures that I am going to Hell, but I just saw this on the Sun website and pondered upon the decision to place the birthday wishes around the other stories.

From left to right: Evil Killer, Evil Killer, Evil Killer, Evil Killer, Big Tits, Evil Killer, Evil Killer, Evil Killer.

Saturday Observation

Did Mark Dixie - the man convicted for the murder of Sally Anne Bowman - seriously think that the defence of "I was just walking along and was a little bit stoned and I saw this girl's dead body and thought 'why not' and gave her one" was really going to wash as a defence? More to the point, I wonder how the poor sodding barrister that had to argue that case actually felt about such an absurdity?

Saturday 'elf and safety story

Great health and safety gone mad story from the Mail about some CCTV cameras in an underpass that have not been cabled or powered up because TfL say people need special training for it. TfL has said it's all due to the collapse of Metronet of course, but my personal experience of TfL health and safety rulings make me think otherwise.

I use North Greenwich station each day, and about a year or so ago they started to build a stairway down to the platform so they would have extra capacity when the renamed Dome opened for business. The stairs were completed and then stood there with tape stopping you use them for around five months.

When I asked why they were closed I was told that they had not been signed off by health and safety yet so no one could use them. Eventually they were signed off and opened. Then, all of sudden they were closed again due to safety concerns. Now they are open again but they've put that yellow and black stripy taped all the way down the banisters, presumably to warn people that there is a banister there.

Should anyone else have any good TfL craziness do post about it in the comments.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Gimmick Suggestion

It's just an idea, but I think Gordon Brown should be sending two sixth formers from every school to Kolym, or maybe Norilsk, even possibly Vorkuta. Like I say, it's just an idea, and I admit, I really do, that it is a little gimmicky, but you know, there are some quite important lessons to be learned there too.

This gimmick was brought to you by Sarcasm Inc. Clever arrogant smartarses since 1975 ©

'Victory for the Treasury' I think you will find

Take a look at the image to the right, and read the front page story that goes with it in the Independent. If you can't be bothered to click the link the story goes like this. Yesterday, the Indy ran a story about how energy giants like British Gas, EDF and others were ripping off consumers amid allegations of price fixing.

Quite right too of course to expose the way they've asked us all to bend over and pay more whilst their own profits seem to have gone through the roof, and we, the poor consumers have to choose between expensive or expensive in what does indeed appear to be a slightly skewed energy market.

Today the Indy is thus crowing that it ran a story yesterday, then British Gas announced its profits, and now the energy regulator OFGEM is going to investigate possible price fixing and the companies face the potential of a fine worth up to 10% of their profit. How is this billed in the paper? A "victory for consumers" and "power to the people" apparently, that's how.

Now here's a quick reality check moment. How exactly is the possibility of paying a huge fine into the Treasury by the companies that might have ripped you, me and others off, a victory for the consumer? How is that power to the people? I am a British Gas customer. If they have been price fixing then I, as a consumer, should be reaping the rewards of any possible sanction against them surely? That would be a real victory for me as the consumer.

What is not a "victory for the consumer" is making the company pay huge sums of money (some of it ripped off from me) to the Treasury. That is a victory for the Treasury, and they're essentially turning my ripped off cash into a quasi-tax. When the Independent claims it is "power to the people" its talking absolute balls.

Instead of fining companies and taking consumers money into the Treasury here's a novel idea. How about having a regulator than says "you have to give all your customers X% rebate for being dodgy". Now that would be a victory for the consumer.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Does Norman Baker owe the taxpayer £8,000?

Following on the from the last post about some of the weird and wonderful motions that get tabled in Parliament and how often you find yourself wondering if it is a reasonable use of taxpayers money. I wonder what people would think of an MP that seemingly used taxpayers money through Parliamentary process and then made a profit from it? You'd perhaps hope that the money might be paid back to the country at least?

I ask this because I'm just wondering about the Liberal Democrat MP Lewes, Norman Baker and his recent book, The Strange Death of David Kelly. You see, the book was serialised in the Daily Mail which Baker has registered payment for, along with a contract he has with the publisher in the Register of Members' Interests. Why should this matter you might ask? Well it's how he appears do have done some of his research for the book that bothers me.

Between March 2006 and June 2007, Norman Baker asked a total of 54 Written Questions alone on the subject of David Kelly. Each of those questions requires Parliamentary staff to get involved, and then Civil Service time to answer them. The figure is open to dispute, but it is estimated it costs, on average, between £130 and £150 for each written question to be answered.

Now, obviously some cost more than others, but by my dirty calculations, Norman Baker has cost the taxpayer somewhere in the region of £7,550 to £8,100 in what seems to be the process of researching a book. He has used the privilege of Parliament to ask questions of departments on matters that have nothing to do with his consitituency or remit, and, given the publication date of the book in Octoer 2007 (and the fact there have been no more questions), it seems more than likely those questions were asked as part of that research, right?

So, shouldn't Norman Baker be paying back that money into the Parliamentary purse from the profits and advance payments from the book? After all, there are quite a few civil servants out there that look like they helped contribute to it without any credit. Not to mention the rest of us technically.

Update: Someone in the comments says the cost figure is wrong and it is closer to a thousand pounds. Which would mean significantly more money. A call/letter to Parliament may be required to get the most recent known cost I think.

Richard Younger-Ross and his nights out? I think we should be told!

Can't imagine what Richard Younger-Ross the Lib Dem MP likes to get up to now can we? First we have EDM 987 which says

That this House notes the concern of Asian restaurateurs that new immigration regulations are causing a shortage of tandoori and curry chefs; further notes that this shortage is threatening the viability of many restaurants that have contributed both financially and culturally to the UK; and calls on the Government to review the regulations, such as the need to speak good English before arrival, so as to ensure an adequate supply of temporary work visas for tandoori and curry chefs.
Then we have EDM 988 which says
That this House expresses concern at the continued practice of defining a pint of beer and lager as only 95 per cent. liquid; notes that this costs consumers over £400 million annually; supports the call from the Campaign for Real Ale that a `pint' should be a `pint'; and calls upon the Government to legislate for a pint to be defined as 100 per cent. liquid.
Presumably it was a double-whammy for Richard, he didn't get sufficently pissed because of the 5% loss of beer and then he couldn't find a decent bloody curry house afterwards. You can imagine the conversation too. "aaaahh tell you what *hic* I'll table a bloody motion about this I will. I love you. Oh no, I lost my glasses *hic*"

Next week motions about the appalling lack of reasonably priced lap dancing clubs, and then one complaining about how black cabs costs too much to get back to the taxpayer funded second flat at 3am!

DCLG - Information Blackhole?

You have to laugh don't you when the Freedom of Information section on the Department of Communties and Local Government has been broken now for at least two weeks, wicked irony I'd say. Bizarrely, when you click on it the webserver responds by saying it has been "Moved Temporarily" and redirects you to a non-functional address. Strange that no one at DCLG seems to have noticed though. Has the FoI just assumed that it's a particularly quiet period? Do they have no monitoring in place?

When I spoke to someone at DCLG they didn't seem to know either, in fact, I'm waiting for them to call me back. I only managed to get through to someone after having to deal with a switchboard operator with the strangest accent known to man - that means I kept on having to repeat what she said just to be sure - and then being dumped into lots of different queues which assured me that the call was "important to us".

It's not just no freedom of information, it seems to be no information!

Update: The nice people at the web team called me back. The link of the front page is the problem. So there you go then!

How long is a piece of string?

Great non-answers of our time

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the results of this year’s HM Treasury staff survey will be published; and if he will place a copy of the report in the Library.

Angela Eagle: We can confirm that the results from the 2007-08 HM Treasury’s staff survey will be published on its website in due course.

It's such an utterly banal question you'd think they wouldn't have a problem answering it, so one must presume that the results show working in the Treasury was Hell, and still is Hell.

Labour MP concerned for the thickies in the Commons?

When it comes to insulting people there are two ways you can do it right? You can either just call them a name, which is satisfying, or you can say something that, if thought about for a moment is actually an attack. For some reason I;m thinking the latter is contained within a written question by the Labour MP, Dr Ian Gibson, a geneticist and all round scientific smartypants* by the looks of things.

Yesterday you see he asked the Leader of the Common if "she will make it her policy to make available to hon. Members training in correlation, significance and statistical analysis." Clearly Dr Gibson has concerns about the thickies around him methinks. Concerns well placed as well I imagine.

The answer, should anyone be interested, was that as far as Harriet Harman is concerned if any members want to learn how to number crunch they can claim it on expenses.
* The was a compliment not an insult.

Brace yourself

Good Morning, this is Captain Dizzy speaking and I just want to inform you that we've lost an engine and people should get into the brace position as we are about to crash land. OK, it's a bit over-dramatic but you do need to brace yourself because I am actually about to praise a Government policy. Right, are you ready? Good, then I shall, as they say, begin.

I've blogged before about the problem of those on incapacity benefit. Specifically the number of people that get permanently signed off work but who can actually work. My irritation actually comes from personal experience because I know of someone who was signed off and the reason was because they were unable to work doing what they had done for decades in their chosen profession.

Not allowing this person to do that job for medical reasons was a sound decision. Signing them off onto incapacity benefit was not because they were not actually incapacitated. There were many hundreds of other jobs that they could do but the position of incapacity benefit has always been based upon, or at least it appears to be based upon, signing someone off on the basis of what their skills of current employment are.

Yesterday, Alan Johnson said that changes would occur so that instead of having 'sick notes', you would have a 'well note' that would outline what you could do, rather than simply saying 'this person can do sweet FA'. Now, if you get yourself over the absurd and silly name of a 'well note' you can see that a policy like this could actually be quite beneficial in terms of reducing some of the unnecessary claimants to the incapacity benefit pot.

Of course, there will be those opposed to such things who will see it as evil and right wing i.e. it targets the poor disabled person. But the reality is that unless you're seriously psychotic; an unfortunate born with severe deformities; quadriplegic; have advanced motor neurone disease; or perhaps riddled with bone cancer so much that moving is agony without the morphine, then there is going to be work that you can do. In the last case it's even possible you could work in bed (my mother did before she died).

Now you may think that the work offered belittles your ability. In fact you'd be amazed how many people see the idea of working on a supermarket till as low, but the truth is you'll get more money doing that than you will on benefit and you get yourself out meeting people as well. As someone who spent six years stacking shelves and sitting on tills because I wanted to work rather than sit on the dole like so many other druggie/junkie types I knew at the time, I can at least say I've done it.

Having said this, and having praised an idea by the Government my cynicism does still know no bounds. In principle the idea would have a positive effect on outlining whether someone really is unable to work. I'm thinking here of an adult born with thalidomide deformities like a quarter arm and a finger sticking out of their shoulder. That sort of person is practically and genuinely limited by what they can do. However, someone who was say a bricklayer who can no longer walk can go and work somewhere else, doing something else, and so they should.

The real question of course is whether the Government's announcements are anymore than announcements. If past history is anything to go by we'll probably see the policy re-announced a few times between now and the next election like so many others have been.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Exploding Brown's head digitally?

Not sure I get this video that has just been published on the WebCameronUK channel. That is to say it's the same tune as before, similar format. The main difference is the exploding Gordon Brown head in the middle. that will force you to watch it now.

Too chicken to wear a t-shirt?

Interesting goings on at the European parliament this morning then. As Trixy has blogged, the Pro-Referendum MEPs, mostly from the Independence and Democracy Group, along with other pro-referendum staff etc were wearing t-shirts with "Too Chicken for a Referendum" written on them. However, apparently none of the Tory MEP's wore t-shirts to protest on a matter that is, at least I thought it was, official party policy.

Apparently Dan Hannan took one of them, but not even Roger Helmer, who you'd have thought as a prominent member of Better Off Out, didn't wear one . Perhaps they thought it unbecoming of their positions? However, if the policy for a referendum is genuine, and I don't doubt that it is, surely Tory MEPs should be joining in with a protest calling for a referendum in the European Parliament, shouldn't they? Or were they told not too from above?

What's new pussycat?

Thursday, 16 June 2005

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Monday, 4 December 2006

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Who got a card then?

Apparently, according to an answer by Gordon Brown in written questions, he spent £1,379 on approximately 1500 Christmas cards last year. I wonder who the lucky 1500 were. Did the Blair's get one? What's more at less than a pound a card, they sound like they came from a dodgy discount store.

A break with tradition....

I don't normally do Stat Porn because unlike blogging mates like Iain and Guido my ego is already too big anyway! Only a joke lads! However, have decided to do this one because I'm rather pleased with the fact that, during the last month at least, I have overtaken ConservativeHome according to reach on Alexa. OK, so Alexa is not the be all and end all of stats, and I bet ConHome has quite a high page impression rate because of comment but hey, the graph made me smile so I thought I would share.

I promise to do another post when I suddenly (and very likely) dip back down again, now please excuse me whilst I go and look in the mirror and remind myself of just how gorgeous and great I really am.

The Lisbon Treaty debate and the closing down of debate?

Should anyone want to actually watch that Lisbon Treaty debate and vote that I mentioned the BBC though unimportant then you can do so here. Apparently the European Parliament, in typically democratic style has launched a massive security operation to shut down any protests. This has even gone so far as ITV news apparently being concerned of threats to have their cameras/tapes confiscated if they filmed any of the protests.

Update: Have just been told that the security are now threatening to arrest people in the building for wearing t-shirts with "Too chicken for a Referendum" on them. Praise be for democracy and freedom in action!

Muddying the ends whilst praising the means

So, the Department of Work and Pensions is going to 'get tough' on the long-term unemployed is it? That's what James Purnell has said in a speech to the Social Market Foundation anyway. They've added an F to the New Deal and called it the Flexible New Deal instead. Anyone who has been on their backside too long will be made to do four weeks work or lose their benefits, sounds so tough huh? However just like the New Deal you can guarantee the tough rhetoric will not really be matched up by real action or progress on the headline figure for the long-term unemployed.

Why you may ask. Well the answer is quite simple. By forcing those identified into work for just four weeks it will create rolling statistics so that Purnell, Brown or any Labour MP for that matter can throw out the soundbite of 'the Flexible New Deal has got X number of people back into work'. What they won't say is how many of those people have remained in work after the four weeks is up, and you can be sure that people will be double, triple and quadruple counted too. That's what happened with the New Deal so why should it be any different? You only ever hear about many people the New Deal has got 'into' work. What you don't hear is how many of those people stayed in the New Deal placement when the taxpayer-subsidised employment ended and employers had to start carrying the full cost of the staff.

It's a little bit like the con we have on University figures. We're told each year how the Government is getting more and more of our super-clever young kids into University to do Madonna Studies. The figure they don't like to actively promote is how many of those under-graduates actually complete their course. That is because the dropout rate at Universities has been static at 22 percent for five years. All those extra people getting into University and yet the failure to complete the degree continues at the same rate, suggesting that quite a lot of those people the Government is driving into University should not be going in the first place. The target to get half of 18 year olds into University becomes almost meaningless if the numbers failing to finish does not even fall.

As with almost all the social policy tinkering by the Government, it is the figures at the end rather than the target measuring the means that really matter. Dropout rates, just like employment retention rates are the genuine indicator of the Government's policy failures. The problem of course is that in a world driven by rolling Government announcement and artificial news generation you have situations like Purnell's speech. Where tough rhetoric about means gloss over the structure, analysis and reality of the end. Purnell got the headline he needed to triangulate those people that want to be tough on the 'scroungers' whilst actually outlining an old policy with a new name which has not achieved anything close to what it claims. Spin is dead under Brown. Long live spin!

No more Grooverider for four years

It has to be said that sometimes you can't beat a bit of drum n' bass or jungle. You have to be in the mood for it of course, and I can remember many a happy time at Metalheadz listening to it, or being buried deep in the dungeons of London Bridge at Raindance whilst the bass made my ears bleed. What started as a very underground venture was eventually taken mainstream by the likes of Fabio and Grooverider, but the news today is that no one will be seeing the latter spin the Technics for a while.

Grooverider has, unfortunately, been jailed for four years in Dubai for possession of pot. Not a nice place to be sent down I can imagine. Whatever one's view on prison there are some places in the world where the experience will, if you're not strong enough, break you beyond all recognition of self. See Midnight Express for example. However, at the same time if you're going to carry controlled substances across international borders, and especially into the Middle East you can hardly expect the treatment to not be harsh.

Apparently, Grooverider's lawyers tried to argue that he was just ignorant of the law in Dubai and should be offered a pardon. If I knew my brief was going to argue that to try and get me off I would be just telling the Judge to sentence me and get it over with. Ignorance is no defence after all. It's a shame Grooverider was sent down for so long for possessin of so little, but those are, as I say, the risks you take when you cross borders. I can't believe that he didn't know that Dubai might be a little harsher than your average Western country though.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dan Hannan booted out of EPP

There seems to be a lot going in Euroland today. The Daily Telegraph's very own Dan Hannan MEP has apparently been kicked out of the EPP. Seeing as David Cameron is planning on making all the Tory MEPs leave anyway this at least makes easier.

Who's next?
Hat Tip: Trixy

Spot the Difference?

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs

Countryside Alliance

BBC refuses to cover EU Constitution vote

Did you know that the European Parliament will debate tomorrow and then vote on Lisbon Treaty and if it doesn't get voted through it cannot be ratified? I didn't know that until a few minutes ago myself, but it's true apparently. The EP, which has bugger all actual power for the most part could, tomorrow, stop the treaty dead in tracks. No referendum needed, just MEP's arguments and votes. Of course next to no one in the UK will be aware of that because the BBC, which is the primary source of information for so many people, considers EU politics 'foreign news' even when British sovereignty is at stake - unless it's a Tory Government of course in which case it will be covered to death because that promotes splits, but I digress.

You may be wondering why it won't be covered on the BBC and the answer is quite worrying and equally shameful. Firstly many of the editors and staff there simply don't understand the implications of such things, but in other cases they just don't think it's a matter of importance. This is certainly the case for one of the editors of the Today Programme, arguably the Beeb's flagship agenda setting news programme. Apparently, so Her Royal Highness Trixy informs me, an editor by the name of Tamsin Cantspellhersurname has decided that Today will not be covering the story because it's simply not important enough.

Yes that's right. A debate and vote in the European Parliament on the EU Constitution - sorry I of course mean the Lisbon Treaty - which could see the treaty kicked out, is not important enough for the mighty Beeb to cover for the population and its licence payer. You can bet your bottom dollar TF1, RTL and other euro-channels will cover it, but we in Britian don't get EU news fed to us like the rest of them. Frankly it's no wonder that so-called Eurosceptic 'scare' stories are like they are when the British public has no view of what is going on in EU politics from its state broadcaster that is supposed to have the public interest at heart.

Thank you Auntie I say! A referendum on the treaty is a pretty hot political issue isn't it? Proactively failing to cover and report a crucial vote on it in the European Parliament is surely a dereliction of your duty to us. Nice one, what are you? Too chicken?

Tom Watson avoids a difficult question about Labour donor/lender?

Come off it Tom!

Mr. Amess: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how much was paid by [the] Department to Capita Group plc and its subsidiaries in each financial year since 2000; which contracts were awarded by his Department to Capita Group plc in each year since 2000-01 to the most recent available date; what the cost was of each contract; what penalties for default were imposed in contract provisions; what the length was of each contract; whether the contract was advertised; how many companies applied for the contract; how many were short-listed; what criteria were used for choosing a company; what provision was made for renewal without re-tender in each case; and if he will make a statement. [180690]

Mr. Watson: This information requested for the Cabinet Office is not readily available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.
Is he seriously trying to say the Cabinet Office cannot provide even the most basic of financial records of how much money they paid out to the company headed at the time by a major Labour donor/lender and someone caught up in the "cash for honours" scandal?

Sounds like there might be something there doesn't it? "Not readily available" read "no chance are we answering that and opening that can of worms again"

Iraq Dossier: Source Q?

I see, in between the Northern Rock problem, the papers are reporting upon the FoI release of a draft 'Iraq dossier' written by Jack Straw's former press officer a few days before the JIC's first draft appeared which carried the infamous 45 minute claim. Of the papers I have read they all appear to have carried out comparison 'analysis' and noted that the two reports have strikingly similar wording. Thus, by implication, the newly released draft was not, as the Government says, the press officer working off his own back, but was instead part of the spin operation leading to the final dossier that was released. Oh the lies! Oh the spin!

John Baron, the Tory MP that pushed for the document's release has said that 'the Government must now explain why key passages of both documents are similar or identical'. Why it requires the Government to offer an explanation is beyond me I'm afraid because I can think of an obvious one in a flash. Source Q. I'm sure anyone mildly interested in theology will be aware of Q but if not here are basic details. Q is considered to be missing source for the Gospels. A missing source you see makes sense because there are certain, some might even say 'strinking' similarities between certain section of the Gospels. This suggests that there is a missing source, could be written, might just be spoken, but missing it is.

Now lets go back to the dossiers whilst keeping Q in our mind. It's probably fair to say that the Foreign Secretary' press officer come spin doctor, along with the JIC were privy to the same documents. As such it's also fair to say that they may both have used the same documents when they came to write their dossiers. So consider this, there is a Q document somewhere that they both used. Accepting this does not mean nothing was 'sexed up' in the final document. The point though is that similar wording in the JIC dossier to that of this earlier dossier does not mean, by necessity, that the former is a pre-cursor to the latter. It's entirely possible they both copied chunks from someone else.

I know this doesn't fit with the anti-war lobby's theme about the Iraq War all being based on some dark evil spun lies, but if you strip away political subjectivity and apply a bit of historical objectivity to the two documents it does not take a genius to come to the conclusion that the people that 'wrote' both probably did so on the basis of cut and pasting from the same raw intel report and then did a bit of rewording to make it read in a satisfactory way to their own personal style.

Instead of assuming that the released report is a piece of primary evidence and the JIC is a secondary piece in the 'big spin lie' narrative, it's more sane and sensible to consider the far more probable possibilty that both are secondary evidence based upon a primary source written by some spook analyst and distributed through the relevant upper echelons of the intelligence community.

Monday, February 18, 2008

CF Elections vs Pakistan - What's the difference?

Is there something funny going on at Conservative Future? This is a question I'm wondering tonight as I have just received some rather interesting emails which appear to suggest that CCHQ may have been trying to unduly influence the forthcoming CF elections and parachute in an anointed candidate.

Back in November, there appears to have been plans for a quasi-CCHQ backed launch of a female candidate for the CF chairman position by the CF national organiser Michael Lunn, who said in an email to the potential candidate that he had "reservations" about the current candidates that were running.

In the emails it is made clear by Lunn that he "cannot endorse any candidate" but he later goes on to say that he has "some reservations over the current national candidates" and that the party chairman and David Cameron would welcome a female chair if she was to run. The emails go on to say that "[i]t would be great if you would be willing to stand for cf chairman, the centre is very keen to have a fresh start and attract more women in general, happy to meet you and discuss if u are interested."

A few days later in an email thread where the potential - and unknown - candidate has declined the offer, Lunn says, "[b]e careful how you use me, if you need to consult me can you please do it personally. I cannot afford a whole long paper trail on my involvement or even remote support." This time the email appears to have been sent from a personal account rather than a conservatives.com one.

Now correct if I'm wrong here, but I believe that is what is called a paper trail isn't it? Or perhaps a noose around his neck might be a more apt analogy? I've also been led to believe that an official complaint was made to the party board about this and no action was taken.

Were I still young, and a member of CF I might be slightly annoyed about that. Nay, I would be very annoyed if I was a candidate and I learned that someone was being offered covert help via a CF organiser at CCHQ. I would be even more annoyed that nothing was done about it. Surely, assuming it was maverick rather than Machiavellian action, this sort of thing is a sackable offence?

Leslie withdraws from Hull East to avoid humiliation?

Over on LabourHome there is a post suggesting that Chris Leslie has now pulled out of the race to succeed John Prescott as the Labour candidate for Hull East. What is not mentioned on the post is that the selection shortlist meeting is apparently this weekend and it was very likely that Leslie would not have even made the shortlist.

Word is that instead of facing the humiliation of not even getting on the shortlist he has decided to bow out and avoid having to remove the egg on his face. The race is apparently starting to become a two horse one between Karl Turner, who says he is a barrister but this has been questioned by some, and Gary Wareing, a former local councillor.

It's a local seat for local people clearly.

Jacqui Smith buries a minority report

Whilst everyone is still talking about Northern Rock there was something else announced today it seems. The Home Secretary made some statements about crime. Specifically she said she wanted to reduce violent crime because it was quite bad.

You must of course ignore the fact that only a few weeks ago she was telling us how safe we all were so long as we didn't walk the streets after midnight. What struck me as one of those things that has been quite usefully buried by the Northern Rock disaster was this little announcement though.

[the Government will be] investing over £20 million over the next three years to support the rollout of multi-agency interventions and information sharing, involving local police, local councils, voluntary groups and health workers, across the country to manage and identify people at risk of committing serious violence as well as providing support for victims
Got that? £20 million to be spent on what is essentially a "pre-crime unit" (see this). Scary stuff really, they're going to start identifying and targeting people that they think 'might' commit a crime before the crime they might commit has happened yet.

How will they do this? Well, like it says, they're going to share data between all and sundry right down to volunteers at a local level. That's the plan of the Government that lost 25 million personal data records; hard drives and laptops.

That's the same Government led by a Prime Minister who is currently carrying out a "review" on data security, saying that its going to start sharing data with God knows who, in order to figure out if you 'might' commit a crime, and then go after them to stop them doing what they have not done yet but that their sociological algorithm predicts they will.

What a marvelous day to announce that you plan to target people who have not committed a crime but that you think might do on the basic assumption that you can share lots of personal data about them with every Tom, Dick and Harry. Pass the spade, I have a Minority Report I need to bury.

He really is awful isn't he?

What year is it again? Is it 2008 or 1978? I'm confused. Am I dead? In a coma? Have I travelled through time? No wait, this is neither Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes. I'm not in the past at all, it is 2008 and the Government really has just nationalised a bank. Strikes next I guess to go with the rising and record unemployment rates. Wait, sorry, I don't mean unemployment, I mean worklessness, but I digress.

After six months of Darling and Brown dithering over Northern Rock they've finally done what is instinctive for someone on the Left to do and formally appropriate private property for the state. In this case it means we now have hundreds of thousands of homes being effectively owned by the state. Mortgage holders have become quasi-tenants, literally overnight, and should they default the Government gets to repossess the housing stock and presumably turn it into council property.

It's certainly a novel way to solve the housing crisis and need for affordable homes. Just screw up the economy, nationalise a bank and then watch the market crash and you have lots of property to dole out to people. Whilst you do it pretend that you know what you're doing because you're a politician. Price control will be next and the timewarp will be truly complete. The most amusing mess in all of this is the comment on it in some of the papers. Steve Richards in the Independent reckons that the real losers are the Tories because they are being opportunistic by saying the Government has dithered and also opposing nationalisation. That is of course bollocks.

For a start the Government has dithered. Darling and Brown, so fearful of the mere phrase 'nationalisation' have allowed themselves to be driven by events by not being convicted enough to take a decision. Brown is not the politician of conviction and long termist that he would like people to think he is. He's short term Machiavellian tactician and a rubbish one to boot, especially when the spotlight is on him and he is not operating from the shadows as he had done until last June. That is the truly significant political ramification of yesterday's news. His reputation for economic competence having rode the wave in the good times is crashing down around him in the wake.

The Tory opposition to nationalisation is not in the least bit inconsistent with pointing out Brown and Darling's shortcomings in terms of their inability to take decisions. The question of course on the lips of the anti-tory, or more correctly, anti-right though is thus 'alright clever clogs, what would you have done?'. Personally I don't know the answer to what Cameron and Osbourne might have done but were it me I would have done nothing and said I was doing nothing. I would have sat back and let Northern Rock go under.

Now some might say that would be irresponsible, what about all the mortgage holders? If the Rock went under what about them? Well the bricks and mortar would still have been there with a market value. As we have been constantly reminded, this was a liquidity problem not a solvency problem. Northern Rock, like any bank, deserves no special treatment, especially not for votes. The primary reason the Rock found itself suffering is because it tried to play a dodgy game of risky lending, pushing its customer base too fast and too high.

I was chatting with an Estate Agent the other day or is with the bank. He was noting that even through all it's troubles it is still doling out cash to almost anyone who comes to it and asks nicely. He has sold property to people that he is sure cannot survive the repayments yet they still get approved. The bank's website continues to push unssecured loans to people even though it has not, as we learned, got the traditional levels of deposit backing that the other banks have. That is where the real crux of the problem lies, and as I've said before when I first heard of the bank's problems I laughed simply because the first time I cam across them was when I was a leaseholder and the freeholder got repossessed.

The bottom line for me is that the bank should have been left to sink or swim. A rescue package from the taxpayer should never have been considered and the nationalisation of a mismanaged 'bank' into the hands of politicians flies in the face of any economc progress the country has made since 1979. Brown liked to play on his 'interest rates out of politician's hand' line, now he's just turned the state into the biggest landlord with a significant interest in those rates he has made quasi-autonomous. Add to that Darling saying it is 'business as usual' at the bank and you have a recipe for further disaster. John Hutton was spot on when he was alleged to have said Brown would be a 'fucking awful Prime Minister'.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How the cutting room sub-editor floor works?

There's a rather interesting piece in this morning's News of the Screws titled "Eu to cripple NHS" which is all about the plans to allow people to go abroad for treatment and then claim the money back from the NHS. The general idea was first floated back in December and being a bit of a market nut I quite like the idea of being able to get treatment somewhere else and use my taxes to pay for it.

Having said this, the idea that it could "cripple" the NHS does have some resonance. I'm not bothered by the claim that only the rich will be able to use such a system, but I can see how those wanting elective treatment that they might have to wait for ages for on the NHS could cause NHS budgets to creak as a result - not that they're not creaking at the seams already of course.
However, that's not really the point of this post, the real point is a 'Street of Shame' type thing about the nature of sub-editors. Apparently, the 250 word piece was originally a 1000 word piece about the way the plans - along with many others about loss of justice sovereignty and the like - are to be sneakily reintroduced in the post-Lisbon ratification world. Once we're there the sovereignty will be gone (technically) and there is nothing we could do about it, but I should stress the treaty is not a 'constitution' and is nothing like that document that reads almost identically.

The original copy did not apparently carry any shadow front bench comment either because the story was actually sourced through UKIP, who, support them or not, do at least seem to have their heads screwed on about what is going in the EU. The piece then found it's way into the the cutting room and was excised of most of the really important content. The article quotes William Hague saying,

"This is further proof that on Europe [Brown] thinks he can get away with treating the British people like fools. He wants to keep them in the dark until it's too late. He doesn't want them to know what he's signing us up to"
Can't say that I disagree with the general point of Hague to be honest, and one would presume that this will mean the Tory MEPs will have been whipped to vote against such things in the European Parliament when the time comes.

It is quite an interesting thing to watch how the papers work sometimes though, and I just find myself shrugging when I do though. After all, we had the apparent cynicism of the Daily Mail editorial line of seeking out scandalous stories (that is what sells newspapers duh!) and now a hacks expose cut down into something largely meaningless with inserted quotes. I gather the journalist that wrote it is none to pleased either.

The latest moral corruption of society is mineral water?

Jesus wept. That is all you can say when you hear that the Environment Minister, Phil Woolas, has said that the amount of money that people spend on bottled water "borders on being morally unacceptable". What a complete idiot.

All those people that go a long journey and find themselves thirsty are now it seems morally reprehensible. Why.. doesn't anyone know they should be drinking coca cola? Diet of course so that we can stave off the obesity epidemic, and caffeine free too so that you don't have a heart attack and cost the state lots of money as well.

The MP for Oldham clearly doesn't seem to concerned either with those people in Buxton (just down the road from his own constituency) who have quite a stake in the bottled water market. Meanwhile, his colleague, Tim Lang, the Government's naural resources commissioner said,

"We have to make people think that it's unfashionable just as we have with smoking. We need a similar campaign to convince people that this is wrong,"
Would this be the wrong time to mention the House of Commons spends around £60,000 a year on bottled mineral water, and, since 2002, has managed to purchase £314,056 worth of the stuff?

When I did my dissertation on New Labour I came to the conclusion that they would be social authoritarians, but I must say I never imagined that they would take their social engineering to the level where they would try make people feel morally corrupt for drinking bloody water.

On the lighter side now is the perfect time to remind people that Evian is actually 'Naive' backwards. Them Frenchies have been laughing at us and that's a good enough reason to buy Buxton instead.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

You can bet the other papers are just as cynical

Interesting post over at LabourHome with an alleged leaked email from Diana Appleyard at the Daily Mail which says,

PUBLICATION: Daily Mail (Request for personal case study)
JOURNALIST: Diana Appleyard (staff)
DEADLINE: 14-February-2008 16:00
QUERY: I am urgently looking for anonymous horror stories of people who have employed Eastern European staff, only for them to steal from them, disappear, or have lied about their resident status. We can pay you £100 for taking part, and I promise it will be anonymous, just a quick phone call. Could you email me asap? Many thanks, Diana
I see Alex Hilton decided to publish her personal email address as well. Now there is an obvious line being taken by Alex on this about the Mail's cynicism, xenophobia etc etc. However, I do wonder whether Alex thinks that other papers don't do similar things looking for anonymous stories about evil racist Tories and the like. After all, cynicism cuts both ways.

Why not stop rewarding ministerial failure first?

How tremendously amusing, the Chancellor Alistair Darling has attacked city bonuses that reward failure saying, "[b]oards need to ask themselves, 'Are we behaving reasonably?'… If you're leaning over the fence talking to your next-door neighbour, can you justify what you've done?"

Isn't it deliciously rich to hear a politician complaining about rewarding failure in the city when, under the terms of the Ministerial and Other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991, any minister that leaves office, for whatever reason, gets thrown a severance package of one quarter of their salaries on their last day in office?

Charles Clarke? David Blunkett? Stephen Byers? Peter Mandelson? Peter Hain? How many complete failures in office have there been in the last ten years who have received a fat wad of cash when they've had to resign in disgrace and left a complete mess in their wake?

Don't get me wrong, some of the rewarding failure in the city is bloody absurd. However politicians should get their own house in order before they start pontificating about how the private sector is acting unreasonably.

Why would you use OpenID?

I see that Blogger has now started offering the use of OpenID for posting comments on more than just its Beta and Alpha platform. Am not quite sure why they are doing it though as OpenID doesn't exactly have a safe security model around it. The principle behind OpenID is very simple. You create an ID at a provider site, say Wordpress, and then other sites you go to can present the OpenID layer for authentication and they contact your provider and authorize you.

Spot the problem? The site you visit is responsible for sending your details to your provider. All a site has to do is send those details to a fake provider they set-up that can proxy the authentication to the real provider whilst phishing your details in the process. It's called a man-in-the-middle attack and it is so stupidly simple it's scary. So, you proudly own your OpenID and you visit a website which allows comments via OpenID. Brilliant you think, I can post safely knowing that anyone reading the comment knows it is me. No 'sockpuppeting' here the blogging expert thinks. He happily types his OpenID in and it authenticates and he posts a comment.

Unbeknown to him though, his details have just been sniffed in the middle by the website owner. And guess what, because OpenID is a distributed authentication system that allows people to login in to multiple sites, the phisherman now has access to all those sites too. He can pretend to be you anywhere he wants, and because OpenID "stops sockpuppeting" everyone will think that it was you that posted those comments.

The simplicity of the attack is quite elegant really. After all, we're not talking about a crude attack where someone sends an email pretending to be a bank and hopes that a stupid person clicks the link and gives you their details. Instead what you have is a flaw where the user openly goes somewhere and happily puts their details in because they just trust the system.

They trust a system that relies on distributed and distinct business entities ensuring that they are not compromised, because if just one provider is compromised in the chain then suddenly details are compromised across multiple providers. Someone using Provider A entering their details with OpenID on Provider B where Provider B is compromised now exposes the details that are thought to be secure on Provider A.

Of course, using OpenID or not is entirely up to you. You won't be surprised to hear that I personally find the idea of distributed single-sign-on systems with multiple providers a universally stupid thing. Even if you put aside the very basic security problems that exist around phishing, having one login and identity for an array of websites is one big steaming single point of failure. Lose one password, lose them all. Genius!

If you're in anyway security aware then multiple identities and multiple passwords is the only sensible option and approach to have. It may of course upset those obsessed with so-called 'sockpuppets', but then in most cases they don't understand the technology anyway. They have a tendency to believe the marketing hype and thus think things like OpenID close loopholes when in fact they're just a phisherman's heaven.

Update: Here's a useful link to read.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Want one.....

Want one with weaponry mounted on the sides though.
tankchair.com

Could a single letter convict Hain?

When Peter Hain resigned he said that he was doing so in order to clear his name. However, if the response from the Electoral Commission to a Hain-related FoI request is anything to go then it's not looking good for him.

Back in Jaunary in the Daily Telegraph, Iain Dale wrote that the Electoral Commission had confirmed to him that it wrote to Peter Hain when his deputy leadership campaign began to outline his obligations and duties relating to the declaration of donations.

Since then a FoI request has been submitted to the Commission requesting a copy of that letter. However, the Commission has responded saying that the letter is now formally part of the Police investigation that is currently going on, and they also refer in their response to "detailed background material" that has been handed over to the Police.

The Commission also say that releasing the letter might cause "prejudicial media speculation" which seems to suggest that it is a key part of the case against Hain and they don't want to blow it by publishing the letter.

Like I say, it doesn't sound good for Hain.

Cabinet Office shreds records of Blair police interviews?

Cash for Honours may seem like it's gone, but it is by no mean buried. Apparently the Cabinet Office has admitted that it holds no records of negotiations it, Downing Street and Scotland Yard had when Blair was interviewed by them.

It's generally believed that Dowing Street told the Police that if he was interviewed as a suspect he would have to resign, but sadly we're never going to really know by the sound of things. The Press Association put a FoI request in to the Cabinet Office for the correspondance and was told that none could be found in "paper or electronic" records.

The Cabinet Office are now refusing to comment on whether records did exist and were subsequently deleted and/or shred. A spokesman told PA, "All we can say is that, for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, the information requested is not held".

Cathy Newman gracious in victory

Should anyone have noticed, an entriely unscientific poll was carried out by Iain in order to find the top 20 most fanciable political journalists. The winner was Cathy Newman from Channel 4 who was gracious in victory saying,

"Oh my god! There are way more glamorous people on the list like Daisy and Jenny. Was this a readership vote or Iain Dale himself? If the latter I am clearly a fag hag!"
Quote of the Day winner there too I think.

Smokers Permits - coming to a country that has gone mad very soon

Getting angry is easy to do, I know that, all I have to do is read the Independent, or perhaps the Guardian. It's usually the commentary rather than the news that gets me really fired up, but today is an exception because I am absolutely fucking fuming at this (please excuse the pun).

A ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone who does not pay for a government smoking permit has been proposed by Health England, a ministerial advisory board. The idea is the brainchild of the board's chairman, Julian Le Grand, who is a professor at the London School of Economics and was Tony Blair's senior health adviser....

His paper says: "Suppose every individual who wanted to buy tobacco had to purchase a permit. And suppose further they had to do this every year. To get a permit would involve filling out a form and supplying a photograph, as well as paying the fee. Permits would only be issued to those over 18 and evidence of age would have to be provided. The money raised would go to the NHS."
What the hell is wrong with this country? What in God's name is going on? I have to buy a permit each year and get a phot ID card in order to smoke? I have private health insurance, I'm not using the bastard NHS. Le Grand and the Government can stick their permit up their pipe and smoke it - but only outside of course.
Hat Tip: Her Trixyness

A pointless Livingstone promise

Apparently, Ken Livingstone has promised that by 2010 the Thames through the city of London will be the cleanest river through a capital city in the world and we'll all be swimming in it. Surely there can't be a single Londoner that could believe such a ludicrous and idiotic statement could there?

Let's party like it's 1989!

Let's do the timewarp again!

"Our generals, our security council, consider these moves a threat to our national security... We asked our partners to stop but no one listened to us. So if they continue we will have to react appropriately by retargeting our missiles." Vladimir Putin talking about the US missile defence shield
On the plus side it will give all those anti-american lefty types something to shout about yet again, which mean you can point and laugh at them for being such idiots. After all, there's little more enjoyable than watching rabbit on about appeasing anyone that is against America. Watching useful idiots calms the mind!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A 'blogswarm' around a made-up number

Apparently the anti-war bloggers are having a "blogswarm" to commemorate the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq Invasion. I do love there completely made up button though (see image on right). It's that little old chestnut of an extrapolate made-up figure of "1 million" dead which is based upon a report in Lancet that did a survey of a 1000 people, then expanded it out through linear extrapolation.

Of course, the anti-war lobby loved it, and, as they are such immensely bright and superly clever people they decided to carry on the calculation on the assumption that it represented reality and now proudly display an inherently flawed and unfalsiable figure as a fact - sometimes with an increasing ticker too for added effect!

Immensely bright and clever people who are actually complete idiots that scream about propaganda and then display equally bullshit propaganda as some sort of scientific reality. They're just like the climate change campaigners that say that a "peer-reviewed" document is an unequivocal fact. Funnily enough they tend to be clever and bright lefties too.

Scots who fancy Brown and Cherie

Croydonian has stumbled on an hilarious and equally worrying report survey from Scotland which has the following findings:

Which celebrity most closely resembles your ideal man?
Gordon Brown - I like powerful men - 1.8%

Which celebrity most closely resembles your ideal woman?
Cherie Blair - powerful women do it for me - 0.9%
As he notes, that suggests on the current puopulation of Scotland "2,218 chaps have the hots for La Booth, and a scarcely less credible 4,764 lassies are pining for the Dour One".

Poor unfortunate souls!

It 'could' also have been an accident

Yesterday evening I couldn't help myself from chuckling at the front page of the LondonPaper and this morning I'm sad to say that the Daily Telegraph has followed suit, albeit not on the front page. I am of course referring to the Diana Inquest and the video 'evidence' of the former MI6 spook, Richard Tomlinson. The headline followed this angle 'MI6 could have killed Diana'. Spot that great hedging word 'could'? For pity's sake, saying 'a giant turnip up the bottom could have killed Diana' is an equally valid statement.

When you actually read Tomlinson's evidence you learn that he only thought about this after watching a documentary on the crash in 1998, a year later. So it was telly that led him to the conclusion, along with a mysterious claim, maybe genuine, that there was a plan to assasinate Milosevic in a tunnel in a similar way by MI6, ergo, the so-called 'flash' in the tunnel 'could' have been black ops MI6 spooks rather than paparazzi taking pictures. Plus he's a former spook so he must know right?

Of course, the Express will no doubt be happy as they will be able to get Diana in the column inches once again, just next to Madeline McCann. Incidentally if you wonder what the obsession of the Express is really all about I have the scoop on that from an Express hack. Apparently 'dead blondes sell papers', funny but I thought their circulation was down.

How long before the paedos appeal?

Well isn't 'intent' a funny thing? As the news yesterday showed, the courts have ruled that if you constantly download, watch and share material from the Internet of loony Islamist training for jihad; making bombs; blowing themselves and others up; or watching some poor sodding journalist have his head hacked off with a great machete then it's fine and dandy if you can say that you're just a fantasist and would never actually dream of carrying out such things yourself.

Does this now mean that all those men convicted of downloading the violation of children can appeal their convictions on the line of 'look, I know I had videos of 40 year old men buggering 4 year olds, but honestly m'Lud I wouldn't dream of ever doing it myself, it's just a bit of fantasising really! I know I shared them but I never dreamed that I might be encouraging such things by doing so'? Of course it doesn't and there would, quite rightly, be a huge public outcry if it did. Yet that rather flippant example perfectly expresses the sheer absurdity of the argument being put forward that these lads were guilty of mere thought crimes and were not a potential danger.

I mean, it's not like one of them ran away from a home and left a note saying he was off to fight Jihad abroad now was it? Oh wait, what am I saying, one of them did do that. The judgement that he was just a young impressionable mind and so was a pure innocent corrupted sounds a bit like a celebrity who did porno early in their career and then has to say they were 'young and stupid'. What next, a person appearing in a video containing extreme violence defending themselves by saying that they were just being youthfully stupid, whilst another who watches it just promises everyone that it's just for research whilst he mixes the paroxide?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Under or upon?

Have just heard a rather amusing tale of Government incompetence on a geographical scale. Apparently the Department for Communities and Local Government paid an award of £2.5 million to the wrong Newcastle.

The money was meant to be a reward for promoting local firms, and was given to Newcastle Under-Lyme council in Staffordshire instead of Newcastle upon Tyne City Council in Northumberland. Under-Lyme was only meant to get £600,000 and they've been asked to pay the difference back.

That's what happens when geography is not compulsory anymore I guess!


 

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