Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Monthly Archives: March 2009

Turning Back the Clock

Today some people are observing “Earth Hour”, when lights are switched off for an hour so that some well-meaning souls can show how committed they are to parading their piety saving the planet.

So just what is the message that Earth Hour is sending out?

For the sake of argument, we’ll suppose that one completely buys in to the man-made global warming theory. Surely the only conclusion to be drawn from the “Earth Hour” exercise is that the only way to reverse climate change is to revert back to the dark ages (literally) and that employing science, engineering and plain common sense to more efficiently use our limited resources plays little part in tackling the “problem”.

Suffice to say, the energy-saving light bulbs in my own home will remain switched on this evening.

2012 Beckons

Coming up on Radio 4 next week … the history of the humble park bench. And because there are lots of park benches in London, it’ll include an interview with former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

Following that, on Cbeebies, a programme about the letter “L”. “London” starts with the letter “L”, and so there’ll be a piece from former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

Yes, I’ve exaggerated to make a point, but you do you get the picture? There must be some media-studies intern at the Beeb tasked solely with finding excuses to get old Ken on the air.

On the PM programme this evening, there was a package on the forthcoming Gordon Brown shows the world how it’s done expo G20 summit, and the number of protests that are planned to coincide with the event. So, was there an interview with someone from the police? No, too obvious. The Mayor of the last city that hosted the G20 (Washington D.C.), for that international perspective? You must be joking: Justin Webb’s busy, so we would have to have an American on (old habits die hard). Maybe a two way discussion between one of the soap-dodgers and, say, a right wing commentator? No, too much chance of some wacky and unacceptable views being aired (you know, like scepticism about man made climate change, or something in support of capitalism).

Nope, the obvious choice of interviewee was, of course, “someone who has been involved in preparations for security for summits before” … former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

I wonder how many other commercial radio presenters (Livingstone hosts his own show on LBC) get so much airtime on the BBC? Nick Ferrari gets on Steve Wright’s Radio 2 show once in a blue moon … and that’s pretty much it.

Of course, our Ken has never hidden the fact he wants to return to City Hall (and not just to sit in the public gallery nursing his carrier bag). His brothers under the skin at the BBC are clearly on board with the project.

Is David Cameron glad that Daniel Hannan is inside the tent?

Sometimes a blogger tries to take a slightly different approach to a story or issue, or give a different but interesting angle as a point of view.

Yet with the expertly delivered verbal kicking that Daniel Hannan gave Gordon Brown this week, I can say little more than “hear hear”.

It’s not that the speech was a barnstormer – quite the opposite. It was possibly all the more effective for being a calm, measured and articulate demolition of the very foundation of Brown’s discredited approach to the recession. It’s not that what he was saying was new – many others had been saying the same thing – but here he had a chance to say it to Brown’s face. John Redwood has been prescient in his own regular dismantling of the government’s economic policy, but John, sadly, has an image problem (though I wouldn’t have thought that would stop him being on the team – Chief Sec to the Treasury perhaps?)

Famous speeches often have the benefit of good timing – and so does Hannan’s, and I’m not just referring to the digestible pop-single-length of the speech. Not only did it seem to catch a good wave on the internet, and comes just days before the G20 summit, but the attention it has drawn in the US comes just as the gloss has come off Obama’s presidency – yet before the fawning mainstream media have summoned up the guts to notice the sartorial deficiencies of The One. (Obama is less popular now than George W Bush was at the same point in his presidency.) Thus Hannan’s speech has acted as a surrogate for the frustrations and fears not only of the British public, but of many in the US too, who face near-identical problems and a leader with a near-identical blinkered and meek approach to tackling it.

If there’s one thought of my own that I’ll offer (and, such is life, it’s probably been asked already a thousand times across the blogosphere) is this:

Is David Cameron glad that Daniel Hannan is inside the tent?

Is This How It Happens?

The Governor of the Bank of England, in the roundabout terms that he is bound to use, warns Brown that he is at risk of bankrupting the country.

This morning, the markets refuse to advance any further credit to the government.

Is this how it happened in 1976, when the IMF had to bail us out?

I am genuinely curious, because at that time my Meccano held my attention far longer than the news.

Socialism: A Children's Guide

At a dinner party recently (oh, how very Islington), we were relating our former school experiences. There, a friend told us the following true story.

At pre-school one day, the class were given some plasticine and, this being one of those hippy let-the-kids-do-whatever type of schools, let them get on with it. Our friend decided to sit and carefully rolled and moulded his plasticine into a near perfect uniform ring. Very proud of it he was too. Most of his classmates, on the other hand, had spent most of the time messing around, testing the ballistic qualities of the substance, being generally “expressive” and losing most of it.

Eventually one of the timewasters piped up to the teacher. “Miss, he’s got more plasticine than us”, addressing our young friend.

“Well, of course”, thought our hero, “I’ve been working on it and making something, not wasting it.”

Yet, far from the teacher explaining the value of this diligent behaviour, took our friend’s plasticine and divided a load of it up to distribute evenly – “fairly” no doubt – among the rest of the class. Our friend was gutted, such that the experience has stuck in his mind for the rest of his (so far) quarter-odd century of life.

Now some on the Right have had a sneaking suspicion that the teaching profession might be, on average, leaning to the left of the political spectrum. Just a teensy bit. It’s not that we all think that socialist indoctrination is a core module in the national curriculum, but that a statist ethos might run through much of the educational establishment.

Yet this story isn’t about right-on lefty teachers. As it happens, the teachers I do know personally fall pretty evenly into either the Lib Dem or (closet) Conservative camps. Not too many Labour ones showing their colours right now though. Funny that.

No, the story is a near perfect allegory of socialist thinking, from the unwarranted redistribution of carefully husbanded resources, through the failure of authority to protect the deserving, to the rewarding of sloth, imprudence and irresponsibility.

Here endeth the lesson.

ToryLogo Generator Struggles On

Having been crashed by Guido’s co-conspirators (yours truly included), the whole concept of the Tory Logo generator is happily backfiring on Labour’s interweb nerd-wannabes.

I really should be working, so I’ll leave you with my achingly tame lunchtime effort…

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Full size version here (go on, it’s Labour Party bandwidth – you’ve probably already paid for it one way or another).

Go over to Guido’s for more (and better, probably) – have fun.

Poor Jose Manuel Barroso

No, I’m not really feeling sorry for the unelected head of a “government” that seeks to control so much of my life – after all, Gordon Brown only has less than fourteen months until he’s out of No.10.

And I guess I don’t really feel that sorry for Mr Barroso (President of the European Commission) either, but does he really deserve the Curse of Jonah?

Gordon Brown has given his support for Jose Manuel Barroso to serve another term as European Commission president.

The prime minister met with the Brussels chief at Downing Street, and gave his public backing for the president to run for a second term in office.

Not that it makes much difference – I’m sure Barroso’s replacement will be straight out of the same well-worn statist Napoleonic mould.

Concerning Alcohol

Plans For Minimum Alcohol Price

The government’s top medical adviser has drawn up plans for a minimum price for alcohol which would double the cost of some drinks in England.

Under the proposal from Sir Liam Donaldson, it has been reported that no drinks could be sold for less than 50 pence per unit of alcohol they contain.

I seem to remember hearing that before somewhere.

So, a senior government doctor calls for government intervention to tackle a social ill. Government funded fake charity supports his call. State-funded broadcaster carries the item at the top of the news (it was item two on Sky).

I think we can see where this is going … and despite that fact that such intervention (in the form of taxation) has been used over many years – presumably to little effect, or they wouldn’t be calling for this measure (no pun). And let us not forget that the licensing trade, particularly pubs, have already been dealt two hammer blows in recent years with the smoking ban and the recession. Pubs are as important part of many communities as the post office (remember them?)

This is all apart from the sheer inequity of making the responsible majority pay more to punish the weak-willed few.

Never mind, the good doctor has called for it, and so it will happen – although only after due consultation, of course!

It’s just the sort of thing that Devil’s Kitchen goes on about, and rightly so.

Fraser Nelson's Banking Experience

Fraser Nelson over at the Speccie has had an interesting experience with RBS:

Some tip-offs are so awful that you almost hope they are untrue. When I was told by Geoff Robbins, a computer consultant, that he had been asked about his political connections before opening an account with the state-controlled Royal Bank of Scotland it sounded fantastical.

Sadly, it seems, it was not fantastical. Fraser’s investigations revealed that indeed RBS are/were asking about political affiliations. The staff were blaming the Money Laundering Regulations. To be fair, the Money Laundering regs do require organisations, from banks to accountants and beyond, to ask some damn silly and pointless questions, but such is the nature of state regulation that the real targets of such measures often carry on as before, while the majority of the law-abiding are inconvenienced.

However, for a bank – a state owned bank in particular – to be asking about political sympathies is way out of order.

RBS’s response ran thus:

“As part of our implementation of FSA guidelines around Anti-Money Laundering activities, we introduced questions on Politically Exposed Persons as part of our account opening procedures. This has meant that staff in some instances have been asked to enquire about whether someone is a Politically Exposed Person. Unfortunately, they have asked the question of political affiliation instead. We have taken all necessary steps to ensure that our customers teams are aware of the difference and will change practices with immediate effect. This issue will also be highlighted in our ongoing staff training programmes on this important topic.”

Now in accountancy we also have to abide by the regulations. Many firms are regulated by their respective professional bodies, others by HM Revenue & Customs directly. For some enlightenment as to what a “politically exposed person” actually is, we can turn to HMRC’s guidance (pdf, 677kb, page 22), which would be near-identical to the FSA rules cited above:

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The Real Lesson From Madoff & Baby P: The False Security of Regulation

Today Lord Laming presents his second report into child protection services, and Bernard Madoff will plead guilty to fraud charges. So what could possibly link these two stories?

Let’s take a hypothetical situation ….

Something bad happens. Of course, everyone ducks for cover, so the government has to be Seen To Do Something. A regulator is set up and inspects the organisations and people responsible. Because this is about being Seen To Do Something, instead of actually doing something, this will involves procedures that can be documented (i.e. seen) which inevitably involves every inspector’s friend: the checklist. This isn’t to ensure that bad things don’t happen again – it’s to ensure that when they do, everything possible will have been done to prevent it.

Sorry, that should read “everything possible has been seen to be done” to prevent it.

So the inspectors tick their boxes, and so do those being regulated – after all, they need to be seen by the regulators to be doing things right. Thus more time is spent on satisfying the regulators, and the regulators spend time satisfying the need to be seen to regulate. Unsurprisingly, apart from the time spent on checklists, nothing changes on the ground.

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