Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: April 2009

Anyone For Bangers and Mash?

Swine Flu GIF by HappyToast

So, we’re all going to die.


Yes, even as the staggering (though regrettable) total of, err, 7 deaths have been confirmed in Mexico from swine flu (as of yesterday), saner voices are, as usual, struggling to be heard amid the zealotry of the panic-mongers.

Some have pointed out, for example, that bird flu has stubbornly failed to wipe out the 50,000 promised just for the U.K. (the worldwide actual total is, as of the 23rd April 2009, a scary 257).

Many will remember the BSE scare as well, though. We were all going to die from CJD/vCJD because it was caused by eating BSE infected beef (and, naturally, it was all Mrs Thatcher’s fault). We knew this was true because some scientists said so, shortly before asking for public money to continue monitoring the situation, just to be sure.

People laughed at John Gummer. They also laughed because he had fed his daughter a hamburger to demonstrate how safe beef actually was. Well, on this issue (as opposed to his views on evolution), he was right: confirmed and probable deaths from vCJD since 1990 (to 6th April 2009) have totalled 1,390, with 164 confirmed vCJD fatalities. A sum not at all adjacent to the millions forecast by the more shrill experts scaremongers.

Of course, the inconvenient truth about BSE/CJD is that no link has ever been proven between the human and bovine forms, which means that, unlike influenza, many resources have been expended on what is quite possibly the wrong line of attack.

Anyway, in the meantime, I suggest we make the best of it, and while the morons stop buying pork products “cos of the pig flu innit – I gotta fink of me kids”, we can benefit from reduced prices for bacon and bangers. Just in time for the barbecue season.

(H/T for the GIF: HappyToast via B3ta)


How Safe is a Safe Labour Seat?

The recent shenanigans in the Erith & Thamesmead Labour Party have made this weekend a busy one for Colin Bloom, the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in those parts.

The reports of the shambles, such as you may have been able to discern them among the latest “smeargate” episodes and stories of G20 protestors being allegedly thumped by police officers, have referred to the Thames-side constituency as being a “safe Labour seat”.

Yet how safe is it now? We saw in 1997 so many “safe” Conservative seats fall – could we now see the same now for Labour “strongholds”?

Erith and Thamesmead, with the outgoing John Austin at the Labour helm, returned a respectable Labour majority in 2005 of 9,887. Now, however, feeding the latest ICM polling from the Sunday Telegraph into Electoral Calculus gives us a Labour majority of just 5.53% over the Conservatives – which, on an identical turnout to last time, equates to a numerical majority of a shade over 2,000. We are surely into marginal territory.

Erith & Thamesmead General Election Prediction

Erith & Thamesmead General Election Prediction

That, of course, is applying a uniform national swing to a single seat, but it does mean that less then 3% of the remaining Labour vote has to switch to Conservatives for the constituency to turn blue.

Admittedly, that is probably fairly unlikely of the core Labour vote in a General Election. More likely is that the latest upheavals in the local party will cause Labour supporters to simply stay at home … or perhaps vote Lib Dem or BNP. Even so, less than 6% doing so will see Colin Bloom become the first Conservative MP for Erith and Thamesmead.

Electric Cars Subsidies – Not A Gimmick

So, the government wants to give us up to £5,000 to buy electric cars.

Whoop. Ee. Doo.

Where to start?

The intentions are good, let us assume. That is, let us assume that this isn’t just a stitch-on to the environmental cloak that the state bailout of certain car manufacturers is covered in, to get round EU state-aid rules. Let’s assume that the reason the government doesn’t just zero-rate the VAT on electric cars isn’t because the EU won’t let them.

Just how environmentally friendly is the idea? I’m not talking about the fact that the cars will still be charged from the existing power generation network – much of which runs on fossil fuels (until we see sense and start building nuclear again), but that fact that the intention is clearly to have – at the end of the chain – old cars being scrapped. Motor vehicles have the maximum impact on the environment at two points in their life: when they’re made, and when they’re scrapped. The best thing you can do with many vehicles – especially the older ones, which were made from less recyclable material (apart from the obvious metal), is to keep them on the road.

Then there is the small detail that might make one think this is just an ill-thought-through headline-grabbing gimmick: why electric cars? What about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles? If the government is going to subsidise installation of the electric charging infrastructure, what happens if hydrogen proves more sustainable – environmentally and/or financially? If the energy companies find (as is quite possible) that it makes more sense for them to use their existing infrastructure to ship and sell hydrogen, what happens to all those taxpayer-subsidised plug sockets? It seems rather early to be putting all the eggs in one basket.

The biggest problem with electric cars, though, is not the cost – they already qualify for beneficial rates of road tax, company car tax treatment and, of course, don’t incur fuel duties. No: the problem is that they’re rubbish. And if you go for a less nerdy model like the Toyota Pious Prius, then you’re buying something which is more environmentally damaging in its production (some parts have to be shipped halfway around the world … twice) and heavier than an equivalent petrol/diesel vehicle.

Alternatively powered cars are coming, but like all new technology, it takes time to mature. It may be that this is another example of where the best thing government can do is nothing … because it doesn’t have to do anything.

Axe The Beer Tax

I have received (as have many, probably) an invitation to “Axe the Beer Tax”. To heavily paraphrase the line from Jerry Maguire, you had me with Axe and Tax. And Beer.

It’s no surprise that the British Beer and Pub Association are leading this campaign to reduce the tax on beer, particularly in these tough economic times. They make the very valid point that pubs are important centres of many communities. This is a point I myself have made a number of times – we justifiably decry the loss of post offices as damaging the foundation of many communities, yet the pub can serve an equally important and similar role.

Pubs are closing at an alarming rate. Of course, the nanny statists in the government would probably view that as an achievement, but ordinary people – -whether regulars or teetotallers, will recognise the damage that a pub closure represents to the local economy – and collectively to the economy as a whole.

I have a client (nameless, of course) running a classic Inner London hostelry who used to take close to £4,000 per week. Then the smoking ban came in and that figure plummeted to £2,500 per week (being Inner London, the scope for any outdoor space was almost non-existent).

Then the recession bit last year. Yes, last year: that’s when it hit the construction industry which employed many of his clientele. Turnover dropped to £1,900 per week … and he needs £3,500 to make the whole thing worthwhile. If his landlord is understanding he may struggle on for a while until things will recover.

So, shall I sign up to the Axe the Beer Tax campaign? After some hesitation, yes. The hesitation comes from reading their campaigning points:

1.    To stop plans to increase beer tax by up to a third
2.    To enforce existing laws – not create new ones – to deal firmly with irresponsible drinkers and premises
3.    To end the irresponsible promotion of alcohol in supermarkets, pubs and elsewhere
4.    To trust responsible adults to make informed choices about what they drink, not punish them for the actions of an irresponsible minority
5.    To support the British pub as a vital part of social life in local communities.
I don’t know about you, but number 3 stuck out like a sore thumb to me. If we are to “trust responsible adults to make informed choices about what they drink” then who are we to demand that licensed premises end “the irresponsible promotion of alcohol”. Surely it’s not the promotion that’s irresponsible, it’s the minority of morons who take it as a cue to get tanked up and cause trouble?

That being said, 4 out of 5 isn’t bad, so I will sign up and the campaign is duly blogrolled.

Anti-Social Cohesion

It had to happen, I guess. Today we see the deft use of two of the tools of the dark art of government: the deliberate “leak” and the burying of bad (or at least potentially unpopular) news.

As the media’s eyes are on Obama’s arrival in the UK and the G20, we get this via the BBC: (sorry: link broken – will fix it shortly).

Government To Propose Social Cohesion Plan

Ministers are drawing up plans to extend hate-speech legislation to cover all “vulnerable groups” in the interests of improving social cohesion, according to an internal briefing prepared at the Ministry of Justice recently and seen by the BBC.

The document sets out options for promoting social cohesion and tackling social exclusion, and proposes legislation in the Queen’s Speech later this year which would outlaw comments such as Norman Tebbit’s infamous “on your bike” speech, which was widely seen at the time as an attack on the unemployed.

“Following on from the roll-out of Prevent [the preventing violent extremism initiative], and the experience gained from the operation of the hate-speech legislation, it is logical to extend these initiatives to cover hate speech against any vulnerable group.”, says the paper.

It continues “as currently drafted, the bill could criminalise speech such as (former Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher’s statement that there was ‘no such thing as society’, but such anomalies could be corrected by a statutory instrument going forward.”

The note does not expand on what “other vulnerable groups” could include, but civil liberties campaigners fear that any speech or article that is seen as denigrating deprived communities could be caught by the new laws.

“Even an innocent, if distasteful, joke about the elderly could become a criminal offence under the plans”, said Shami Chakribati from Liberty.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Justice was unavailable for comment, but a statement was released, making clear that the legislation would only be used where there was clear and real danger of civil unrest or lasting damage to social cohesion resulting from hate speech.

The Muslim Council of Britain, which had been calling for a blasphemy law, welcomed the move, and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone also backed the proposals, saying, “with London welcoming the world to the Olympics in 2012, we simply cannot afford to have social unrest threatening London’s place as a world-class city.”

Last night the Conservatives warned about the cost of enforcing the new laws, pointing out that the Police were already undermanned and hampered by red tape and paperwork.

Haven’t we been here before? “It’s OK”, say the government, “we’ll only use it against really dodgy people, not nice folks like you”. Just like the anti-terrorist legislation wasn’t supposed to be used against Labour Party conference hecklers, or Icelandic banks.

Yet they’ve left the best ‘til last…

The legislation would be fast-tracked though parliament following November’s Queen’s Speech, to take effect from 1st April 2010.

Oh, just in time for the General Election eh? Fancy that.