Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: February 2009

Rewarded for Failure?

So, Gordon Brown shares the public’s anger over former RBS head Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension which, it turns out, his treasury approved.

If he shares the criticism over failure being rewarded, something which of course never happens in the public sector*, then presumably he’ll be waiving a significant proportion of his own pension when he is thrown out of office.

* You may calibrate your irony meter now.
UPDATE: Great minds think alike … NotaSheep, Martin Day and Cato are also onto this.

Ivan Cameron RIP

As a family looking forward to our second addition in April, we were particularly sad to hear the Camerons’ tragic news.

Our deepest condolences to David and his family.

Option C: Do Nothing

So we have the latest instalment in Labour’s efforts to drag the UK down to the status of economic basket-case.

Bank of England Governor meets Chancellor to discuss printing money
Mr King met Mr Darling to discuss of increasing the quantity of money flowing around the system after the Bank’s policymakers admitted that recent rate cuts were proving ineffective in tackling the deepening recession.
Economists suggested that the move – known as quantitative easing – could be made within weeks in a bid to get people spending again.

Of course, if the government starts artificially pumping money into the economy, the prudent will probably put any extra money (assuming any of it comes our way) into savings, while the prolifligate will be rewarded for their previous irresponsibility.

In any case, printing money is to forget the lessons from history (Weimar Republic, cash in wheelbarrows and all that) and a certain southern African country currently spiralling towards economic oblivion.

Lowering the base rate below the already ridiculous level still won’t stimulate the economy, because it’s not the price of credit that’s the basic problem, it’s both the availability and the fact that no-one wants to take out a three year HP agreement when they don’t know if they’ll have a job in six months.

Philip Shaw, an economist at Investec, said: “There does seem to be a risk that the committee will not bring the Bank rate down any further and rely solely on quantitative easing for further monetary stimulus. However on balance the temptation for a further rate cut will probably prevail.”

Well, I guess that’s the lesser of two evils (though those surviving on investment income might disagree), but there seems to be scant consideration of the far more sensible option c: do nothing. Despite Labour’s best efforts to paint the Conservatives as the “do nothing” party, an increasing number of ordinary people are probably starting to think that doing nothing is the best thing that politicians should, err, do.

Gold is trading at $974. Just thought I’d mention it. In case you were interested. For any reason. Perchance.

So, We Should Have Let Him In Then

Chris Grayling, drawing the short straw yesterday, gave the party’s statement on Geert Wilders’ being banned from the UK.

“… If Geert Wilders has expressed views that represent a threat to public security, then we support the ban….”

Well, I’ve watched the film. Some of the scenes aren’t pretty, but one hardly expects Blue Peter*.

Having watched it, I still can’t see any threat to public security … at least eminating from Mr Wilders or his film. Since I assume the relevant members of my party’s front bench have seen it before commenting on it (a reasonable assumption), then the condition of us supporting the ban has not been met.

So why couldn’t we just say so?

*Don’t say I didn’t warn you: There are some gruesome scenes in there, definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Room 101 Awaits Prince Harry

So Prince Harry is to receive further re-education equality training after the recent three year-old “Paki” incident.

I assume the Army thinks it must do this to assuage the widespread rage among the general public at Harry’s comments. Sorry … that should have read “the salaried rage among the professional equalities industry, republicans and left-leaning media”.

The Army just doesn’t seem to get it. They have, by all knowledgeable and unbiased accounts, a dire shortage of quality equipment, rations, time off, and so on, yet they can find the personnel, money and time to give equalities training? A few years back, it would have been a grimly amusing parody, today it seems it’s reality.

The lions are once again being let down by the most senior donkeys.

Acting on the Hype: The Sustainable Communities Act

Tomorrow sees a public meeting in Westminster on the Sustainable Communities Act. The Act passed with cross-party support, which should immediately set the alarm bells ringing if you thought that it would actually change anything. Unfortunately, there are a few people who do think it will change things.

Once you cut through the hype (and it takes some cutting) the act boils down to this: councils must convene “citizens’ panels” of local residents, these panels will come up with ideas which councils and panels must try to reach agreement on, which the council then forwards to the Local Government Association, which then selects a sortlist of ideas which it puts to government. Government then has a legal duty to “co-operate and try to reach agreement” on the ideas.

This, apparently, is the “process where councils and communities can drive the actions and assistance that central government does”. Call me a pessimist, but if this is a way to “drive the actions … that central government does”, then it seems more akin to trying to steer a car by pushing on the wing mirror.

Then there is the much of the blurb that accompanies the Act’s introduction, led by the Local Works group. There is an underlying assumption in the stated aims and examples that local communities’ problems can be solved by government. Yet so many problems have probably been caused by government interfering, trying to do some good in the past, instead of letting people get on with it. Of course, it is entirely possible that a suggestion would be to eliminate a particular regulation or duty, but it is frankly unlikely that such a suggestion would get far.

I would bet that at least half of the suggestions that come forward boil down to a lack of resources – but the thorny issue of local government funding is not something that is going to be resolved any time soon, and I doubt that a seemingly esoteric debate on the intricacies of the formula grant settlement or NNDR distribution is likely to satisfy those who come up with the suggestions – rather it will reinforce the view that politicians too often come up with reasons not to do something.

The biggest problem for act will be meeting the aspirations of its cheerleaders. I suspect little will change. Cynical? Yes, but cynicism borne of over ten years in local government, much of it dealing with central government either directly or as part of a Council that has almost constantly been involved in representations to Whitehall, often on the subject of poor central government funding for local government.

Councils are expected to “opt in” to the act. It is not clear whether this boils down to a stark choice for councils: either stay out and be barred from direct contact with government, or opt in and have to operate through the bureaucracy of the LGA channel. Either way, it’s hardly set local government alight with excitement. As of today, the Local Works website lists only 69 councils (out of a potential 400+), including just 7 London Boroughs and the Welsh Assembly has not yet (again, according to Local Works) asked to be covered by the act.

The fact is that the act is well intentioned but ultimately a benign piece of legislation. Councils have always been able to “make suggestions” to central government, many engage in public consultation. Most good ideas in local government started “on the ground”. All the act does is introduce some positive words into the process, along with a lot of new bureaucratic machinery. Government must “try to reach agreement”, which translates in practice to “try to bury any idea the Treasury doesn’t like the look of”. I hate to say it, but the supporters of the act do seem to have rose-tinted view of how government works, but I’m not going to condemn them for having some idealism and a can-do attitude.

If there is one big plus point of the Act, it is the requirement on government to publish local spending reports – analyses of how much public money is being spent in total in a particular area. It is a sad fact that government has become so large and unwieldy that it has taken years of badgering to get central government to answer the simple question “how much taxpayers’ money is being spent in [area]?”


Sporting Socialism

When considering the old chestnut of BBC bias, much debate is had on its news and current affairs output. Yet if we are to truly appreciate the unintentional institutional nature of the bias, you have to look beyond that, and Mihir Bose’s feature on the Superbowl last night was a good example.

I am a rare viewer of the BBC’s evening news output – my PVR favourites list excludes BBC News in favour of Sky, but we stumbled upon BBC1 at the wrong moment.

Describing the funding for NFL teams, which is distributed equally(ish) to each team, we were helpfully presented with a bullet point screen headed – and yes, I did a double take as well – “Sporting Socialism”.

I kid you not. I wasn’t quick enough to take any sort of screenshot, but he has repeated the idea in the depths of his blog post on the subject.

It says a lot about the mindset of Bose and his colleagues that in order to paint a positive picture of something as benign a subject as funding in sport, they think it appropriate to label it “socialism”. You know: the same political doctrine that, in extremis, has claimed millions of lives through its totalitarian practitioners, condemned many other millions to starvation at the hands of its adherents in the developing world, and is doing its best right now, through the befuddled and incompetent stewardship of Gordon Brown, to send the UK back to the door of the IMF of the first time in over thirty years.

Funnily enough, I’ve always thought that a true socialist sport would be an achingly dull affair: you’d have to have everyone in the same strip, on the same side, playing in the same direction, making sure that everyone looked busy, but where no-one was allowed to actually “win”. There wouldn’t be many spectators, because everyone would have a role on the field – as long as they were in the right trade union. Come to think of it, a socialist sport would be bankrupt, because the few spectators left would have been charged so much for their season tickets (“cos they can afford it cos they’re rich innit”) they would have defected to the elitist competitive haven of something like cricket.