Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Monthly Archives: September 2008

Questions for George

My brain hurts, and it’s not because of last night’s excellent beer and curry event courtesy of the RSPCA, or any imbibing at the Grauniad or CWF receptions.

I made one of my rare forays into the main conference hall this morning to hear George Osborne. Over halfway through the speech and there it was: this year’s “inheritance tax moment” … a two year freeze of council tax (then ominously in the next sentence, “for those councils who sign up”).

I like the sound of this, but it does raise many questions. How will the mechanics of the scheme work? Will the extra money necessary be added to the formula grant – if so, then Councils on the grant floor* may not see it. Where will the money come from in any case? Do we know whether cutting back consultants and advertising will free up enough cash? Will the “freeze” relate to the headline council tax, including precepts, or just the borough/district/county’s own portion of the council tax? What happens then if, say, my borough were to “sign up” but the GLA was not? What strings will come attached?

* Ah yes, the grant floor. You’ll hear a lot about this if you hang around certain councillors too long. The formula that is used to determine how much central government gives to councils, in an increasing number of cases, is leading to a figure that would mean a significant cut in funding, so the “grant floor” is the safety net – a guaranteed increase. In Bromley’s case, the difference is in double millions. Even then, the grant floor recently has been increasing by far less than inflation (just 1.75% next year).

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Now Now, Girls

Boris has just described Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as a “monosyllabic Austrian cyborg”, Boris’ view of Arnie being somewhat coloured by the Governator’s reaction to Boris’ performance last year. This one could run and run.

So That's Alright Then

What would be the reaction of the Left, from the unions to the Toynbees, if a large organisation, enjoying a monopoly in its field, were to use it’s muscle to take over, say, a bank and sell off all the valuable assets and dump the rest?

Evil asset strippers, putting jobs at risk, how can the government allow this. Something Must Be Done.

Well, if they haven’t shut up after Northern Rock, they ought to keep quiet now. (They won’t)

Brum Brum

To Conference, and another few days of surveying who does the best selection of free food and drink quality debate, political conversation and general political anarok-ness.

Blogging may be either lighter or much heavier. Lighter if I can’t be bothered to lug the laptop around and don’t return to the hotel until sometime a.m. Heavier (maybe) if the ICC’s “free WiFi” does actually work, and/or the Travelodge doesn’t try and screw me for connecting back at the dorm.

Say hello if you see me around.

If Only They’d Nationalise the Weather

I was listening (well, Radio 4 happened to be on and I was in the room) to the News Quiz, that politically-balanced (cough) and hilarious (splutter) look at the week’s news.

One of the panellists was continuing the leftist meme of the last few weeks in describing the current economic turmoil as the “end of capitalism”. Yeah, you wish.

This is no more the end of capitalism than a hurricane is the end of the weather.

I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to paraphrase Mark Twain in describing the death of capitalism as exaggerated, but it is strange how the reaction of the Left to the events has been to decry the lack of regulation, surplus irresponsibility and short-termism in the City.

As Boris said this week (in welcome contrast to his bonkers views on the licence fee) there is plenty of regulation already and we hardly need any more thank you very much. As for irresponsibility, isn’t it odd that while attacking bank bosses and short sellers, those who were at the heart of the current crisis – mortgage borrowers who knowingly loaded up with a dangerous level of debt – are not only being largely forgiven but are now generating another burden on the taxpayer, many of whom may have been a lot more prudent? I certainly wouldn’t be the first, of course, to point out Gordon Brown’s own irresponsibility and short termism, for instance, in borrowing to the hilt when times were good and selling our gold reserves at the bottom of the market, as well as helping himself to another dollop of credit in the vain attempt to buy off the voters of Crewe and Nantwich.

OK, rant over. I’ll go and finish packing now.

No IDea

What is the biggest issue with the ID cards, the design of which was unveiled by Jacqui Smith this week?

Was it the growth of the single database recording everyone’s highly sensitive details in one place, especially given the Government’s impressive track record (cough) in protecting confidential data?

Was it the prinicple of the State holding such a quantity of data in the first place – knowing that once such a system is in place, it will be very tough to dismantle it?

Was it the irony that in a so-called free country, one shoudl not be able to walk out of one’s own house without a government-issued piece of plastic in the back pocket? (And please don’t start with the “it’s only voluntary” line – the card will be useless unless possession and presentation become compulsory.)

Was it the flimsiness of the “if you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” justification? After all, if I’ve nothing to hide, why should I have to prove it if I’m not a suspect of a specific crime? And anyway, who decides what’s worth hiding?

No, all these concerns are all lower down the list of searching and urgent questions to be asked of the ID card scheme – according to the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 today – than the one key question;

Does the new design sufficiently represent the UK and all its constituent “nations”?

Yep. In the weird and wacky world of the BBC, it is the critical issue of whether all the Celtic fringes get their fair crack of the whip on the card design.

The conclusions? The English contributor (Rod Liddle) though it too European (fair point), the Scot was happy, as was the Welshman, and the Ulsterman thought it would start another argument between Unionists and Nationalists.

Arts Gratis

Suppose your business is having trouble attracting a particular section of your potential market, or simply wants to expand that market. You know that one big problem is the price of your goods or services.

Do you:

(a) Look at your costs and cut your prices?
(b) Make more of an effort in marketing your wares?
(c) Go cap in hand to the government for a handout?

Well, most businesses have to make do with either (a) and/or (b). Not however, if you are the sacred cow that is the theatre.

Government backs free ticket plan
Up to 95 publicly-funded theatres across England are to offer free tickets to young adults as part of a £2.5m government-funded scheme.

This is in the name of the mantra of “access”. No-one, not least on the publicly-funded BBC (strangely enough), has asked why cinemas, for instance, have not found the need to suckle at the teat of the State, even though their ticket prices are not always cheap either, especially in the West End.

One would have thought that if the theatres are producing what younger people want to see, at reasonable prices, then they shouldn’t need subsidies to survive. If on the other hand, they are producing things which don’t interest their audiences, or at inflated prices, then why should the taxpayer stump up for something that the theatre-going public themselves don’t think is value for money?

I just trust that next time (say) Peter Gabriel goes on tour, I can have some “free” tickets. After all, this is Brown’s fairer Britain, is it not?

A Fool and Her Money…

JK Rowling has wasted donated £1m to the Labour Party.

I often wonder whether celebrity endorsement in politics is more dangerous for the party/candidate being endorsed or the celeb doing the endorsing.

There is the obvious danger for the endorsee that the celebrity will fall from grace, often at the hands of the tabloids, or will turn out as fickle as many voters and switch sides later on.

On the other hand, celebrities need to think of their own followers and fan base. How many times has an admirer of a particular actor or musician felt alienated when their idol comes out in favour of Labour, Conservatives, Obama or McCain?

Of course, it may be that these days, celebs enjoy more loyalty than politicians (perish the thought!) but just as the tide of celebrity can turn in a moment, so all those “slebs” who were happy to be seen at Number 10 in 1997 might just be wondering how much good it did to their long term careers?

Boris Talks Cobblers

I’ve been somewhat busy the last few days, so am only just catching up on the other stories around the blogosphere. Rather than bore you (even more) with outdated opinions on stuff that happened three days ago, I’ll just mention one perennial chestnut – the BBC licence fee.
Now I campaigned with and for Boris and will almost certainly do so next time, but on at least one non-London specific issue he is, as Iain Dale rightly says, talking utter codswallop.

Boris’ thoughts on the licence fee included this myth gem:

Take away the licence fee and you take away the Beeb’s ability to spend £6 million on the world’s greatest festival of classical music. [The Proms]

Boris, sadly, is thinking like a socialist. He doesn’t believe, it seems, that things can happen without the State underwriting them. He thinks that without the BBC extorting money from its customers, no-one would be interested in coming up with the readies, either in the form of sponsorship or otherwise, to keep the world’s greatest festival of classical music going.

I am not a friend of the licence fee. It is an anachronism that provided an efficient means of funding the BBC when it was the only broadcaster. Therefore, logically, it should have been given up in the early fifties when ITV came along.

It boils down to this basic question, which I have never yet heard a supporter of the licence fee answer (at least without resorting to vague meaningless concepts like “public service broadcasting”):

If the BBC is so good, then why does it have to threaten its customers with fines or imprisonment?

Actually, that question isn’t quite right, since to refer to licence fee payers as “customers of the BBC” is like calling any driver a “customer of the M1 motorway”. (Some of) your road taxes go to pay for it, whether you ever use it or not. To continue the car analogy, the licence fee is like buying a Toyota and finding that you also have to pay a fee to Daimler-Benz.

Frankly, I’d have abolished the licence fee years ago if I had the power, but as it happens, it need only be until 2012 that we have to endure this vestige of pre-war paternalism, as by then the digital TV roll out will have completed and the BBC can be funded by voluntary subscription using a scrambled signal and decoder cards just like many other channels seem to manage.

Now the Conservative Party policy is to share out some of the licence fee with other broadcasters. While it makes it a little less unfair on the other companies, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. That, I guess, reflects the fact that there is a considerable difference of opinion in the party over the licence fee. Sadly, too many of my fellow Conservatives fall for the emotional scaremongering that Boris and others indulge in. It will take time, therefore, but I am convinced that the days of the licence fee are numbered.

Wow. A whole post about the BBC and not one mention of bias!

The Slow-motion Car Crash Continues

Sky (h/t Guido) are reporting that “a small number of Labour MPs have requested Labour leadership nomination papers”

Good stuff. Nothing substantial will come of it of course – i.e. Gordon being kicked out – which is a good thing for Conservatives (even though the Labour ship would carry on sinking quite satisfactorily, whoever was at the helm). At most this is Labour at their Anthony Meyer stage. The reality is like asking for an application form to join the Forces – it’s still a long way from actually peering over a garden wall in Helmand province while the bullets whistle past.

More mundanely, most Council groups at their AGMs will send out nomination papers for all sorts of positions. If they’re like Bromley’s Conservative Group, those papers will always include a nomination form for Leader. Quite often someone (usually the same person) will, each year, fill out that form in a fit of rhino-thick-skinned sado-masochism, and trigger a “leadership challenge” which does nothing more than defer the AGM finishing time by a few minutes while we go through the motions. It’s become so regular that no-one, not even the local rags, bother to comment on it anymore.

But this is for the Prime Minister’s job. Even if none of those forms are sent back, it happily sets the scene and chimes with the mood music that has been playing for some time in the media, and which will reach a crescendo in just over a week’s time.

(In the meantime, the Lib Dems are meeting at their conference, with Nick Clegg also facing questions over his leadership, but who cares?)