Vir Cantium

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Monthly Archives: September 2009

So Which Voices Is Gordon Listening To?

So Gordon Brown has made his speech at the Labour Party conference. Has it saved him from a backstabbing from his colleagues? This Conservative certainly hopes so.

Anyway, the speech contained some interesting points.

“… no council flats and no welfare benefits available to unmarried mothers under the age of 21. Instead they will be placed in ‘mother & baby homes’. Here they will receive academic education as well as parenting classes, plus courses covering all aspects of their social development.”

“Gulags for Slags” quipped one commenter on Political Betting, with the sort of gift for an effective ridiculing soundbite that some Labour spinner displayed once with “Hug a Hoodie”. I must own up, though: the above quote wasn’t actually what Gordon said, though it would be hard to tell the difference from a single hearing of what he actually said. No, the extract is from the BNP manifesto.

From “British Jobs for British Workers” to this. Who said that Labour isn’t afraid of losing votes to the Far RightLeft BNP?

H/T: Guido


The PM Who (Doesn’t) Like To Say Yes

To be more precise, I expect he will say yes to Sky’s Leaders’ Debate, but he won’t like doing it. Then again, since I doubt either Cameron or the other one will be asking him, Andrew Marr style, about the contents of his bathroom cabinet, he might feel now that it won’t be all that bad.

Brown will say yes because he has no other choice. The trouble is, like a guilty person who has taken too long to answer a straight question, the real issue is why he didn’t just accept the invitation when the other two leaders did. One reason might be that it took this long for Labour strategists to come up with the strategy that was being rumoured last night: that Labour will suggest that there should also be debates between the top front-benchers as well.

So, in the Treasury debate, we will have Darling, Osborne and Cable.

Without fawning interviewers on the other side of the microphone, Vince Cable will probably see his media sainthood finally revoked.

Darling’s strategy will surely be to perform competently enough to keep himself in the running for the subsequent Labour bloodbath leadership race. His greatest difficulty will probably be to refrain from pointing out that it was all Gordon’s fault and that, like a Crimean battlefield nurse, there was little else he could have done. That line will, presumably, come after May (or March, depending on where you’ve put your money).

In fact, Osborne should be the only one who can really benefit – he already has to face jibes about his suitability for chancellor, based on his youth (and as he is only two days older than me, I am bound to defend him!). So with his stock already thus discounted, it would be the ideal arena for him to prove the sceptics wrong, and with Labour also now helpfully floating the unpalatable probability of tax rises and spending cuts, doing much of George’s expectations management for him, there will be little that he can really do wrong come the night.

Of Sandal Wearers and Flip-Flops: The Inexplicable Popularity of Vince Cable

Guido at the weekend brought the attention of myself, and of course many others, to Andrew Neil’s expert demolition of Vince Cable’s reputation as the Greatest Economic Mind Since Keynes. Now I see Paxman has had a go, specifically on Cable’s tax plans.

Andrew Neil, and/or whoever does his research, deserves a pint or three for their work. The interview, thanks to the unique way the BBC is funded or whatever, is only available until next Wednesday (21st), but here is a short summary of the main points:

Cable on quantative easing

Flip: Described q.e. as “the Robert Mugabe school of economics” (January 2009)
Flop: “The authorities threw the kitchen sink at the problems and were right to do so … creating money, quantitive easing …” (Setpember 2009)

Cable on interest rate policy

Flip: In 2003, dismissed an IMF warning that UK borrowing and asset prices were too high. He said that we shouldn’t be panicked by the IMF into tightening our belts.
Flop: Now says that he was arguing for interest rate policies to deal with housing inflation and that we needed to change the way the Bank of England operated.

Cable on fiscal stimulus

Flip: “It isn’t possible to run massive budget deficits, because the Government’s public finances won’t allow it.” (Autumn 2008) “It is entirely wrong for the Government to stimulate the economy by yet more public spending” (October 2008)
Flop: “We believe the government stimulus is right and necessary” (February 2009)

Cable on the Lloyds/HBoS merger

Flip: “We have no quarrel with what the Prime Minister did.” (October 2008)
Flop: Complained of PM’s “murky dealings” and Lloyds being “dragged down by the dead weight of HBoS”. (March 2009)
(To be fair, he admits a change of view here, and that the merger was a mistake).

Cable on Bank of England Independence

Flip: “The Government must not compromise the independence of the Bank by telling it to slash interest rates” (September 2008)
Flop: Urges the chancellor “to write to the governor demanding a large cut in interest rates” (October 2008)

So will the media continue to use Vince as a reliable rent-a-quote? Will left-leaning producers still choose Vince as the acceptable choice of a left-wing politician giving economic commentary?

Chips (On The Shoulder) With Everything

Clare Irby with, we assume, her knickers on.

Clare Irby with her clothes on

From the Express (but you could take your pick of other outlets):

A SOCIALITE accused of having a drunken romp with a stranger on a plane wept tears of joy yesterday as she was acquitted.


It was claimed that Miss Irby, who had been on holiday in Goa, drank large amounts of red wine, allowed [fellow passenger Daniel] Melia to fondle her breasts and stripped to her knickers. … [she] was accused of leaving her two-year-old son alone and crying while she kissed and caressed Melia.

One passenger claimed Miss Irby told Melia she was feeling more relaxed than usual because of “all the opium I’ve been taking”.

… witnesses including four air stewardesses and the captain of the flight from Bangalore, said Miss Irby and Melia were “loud and disruptive” during the flight.

… Miss Irby was said to have continued to demand “more and more” wine from the crew. She allegedly called them over every 10 minutes, was rude and insulting and even threw a dirty nappy onto the seat behind her.

I’ll bet that was a fun trip.

There are two things about this story that I find somewhat depressing. First, the alleged behaviour, about which plenty of condemnations have already been made and which I agree with.

The second troubling aspect, though, is the reaction to her acquittal. Now it seems the result of the trial hinged on whether she was still drunk by the time the aircraft entered UK airspace.

Judge John Denniss told the jurors they had to decide whether Miss Irby had been drunk on an aircraft while in the “territorial jurisdiction” of the UK. This started about 20 minutes before the 11-hour flight landed at Heathrow at about 5pm, he said.

In the light of medical testimony and the flight schedule, the jury appears to have decided that she was not.

Yet that’s not what happened according to the wisdom of the callers to Jeremy Vine’s show this lunchtime, as well as various online comments. Miss Irby, it is implied, got off because she had status / money / was an heiress. Short of bribing the jury or the judge, I’m not sure how those factors had any bearing on the jury. (OK, so Miss Irby may have had a good lawyer … but that doesn’t negate the validity of the legal arguments put forward).

People are entitled to their bitter and spiteful views, of course. Nor am I going to excuse Miss Irby’s behaviour – indeed I am as disappointed as anyone that she will not face punishment if what allegedly happened did happen, but try this: what if the accused had been of an ethnic minority? Would we be hearing speculation that she only got off because she was black? Of course, not; at least not much beyond the BNP message boards.

My point is this: Clare Irby was born an heiress, so why is it OK to let rip with prejudice against class or money when most decent people wouldn’t dream of doing so in reference to race, or some other characteristic bequeath by the circumstances of their birth?

The EU: Not A Place To Do Business

At least, certainly not if it involves employing people. Here is a legal ruling on a case brought, in part, by some HM Revenue & Customs employees:

Employees are entitled to accrue holiday pay while on sick leave and can carry that leave over into another year if they are too ill to take it, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

Okaaaay. Here’s the best bit though:

Individuals may also be able to claim for annual leave payments dating back more than 10 years, to when the Working Time Directive was first introduced, if their sickness absence had meant they were unable to take holiday, and hadn’t already claimed benefits from their employer.

Great! Well, great if your employer is, say, a large organisation that doesn’t have to worry much about having enough cash at the end of the month to pay the bills. Anywhere else, and either your employer will be pushed that bit closer to the edge, or you’ll find yourself strangely frustrated in your career path.

I will be fair here (maybe because I deal with them regularly): normally it’s not HMRC staff making life difficult for businesses, but the system they work in and their Whitehall and political masters. Therefore, this case might count as unusual in being a case of HMRC staff making like difficult for businesses entirely from their own initiative.

Trouble is, it does not seem that the principle cuts both ways, though. If one is sick during work time, can the employer dock the employees’ pay, or compel them to work unpaid overtime to make it up? Funnily enough, no. Now that would be equitable.

H/T: The Register

Lord Ahmed on Life and Liberty

The former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is living under police protection in London at the moment. This has caused some upset, not least among a Labour Muslim peer:

Musharraf’s presence in London stokes unrest, says Labour peer

Police protection for Pervez Musharraf, the former President of Pakistan who is living in London, should be cancelled amid fears that his presence will stoke unrest within the Muslim community, a Labour peer told The Times last night.

Lord Ahmed of Rotherham has written to the Home Secretary urging him to stop spending taxpayers’ money on protection by Scotland Yard for the exiled leader.

So which is Lord Ahmed’s primary concern: the implied waste of taxpayers’ money (which would be a first for a Labour politician), or the unrest that Musharraf’s presence is causing “within the Muslim community”? This might be a silly question, but how would not providing police protection deal with Musharraf’s presence? I am not pretending that the ex-dictator is in the Mother Theresa league of those who have done good for the world, but the truth is there are some people around who would like to despatch Musharraf to meet Allah face to face, somewhat earlier than might be otherwise expected.

As for Lord Ahmed … now, where have we heard that name before? Oh yes. He was the one who accused Salman Rushdie of having blood on his hands. According to Ahmed’s logic, Rushdie wrote stuff that upset some Muslims – so upset were they that they did violence. So, it’s Rushdie’s fault.

He was also the one who threatened to have 10,000 Muslims march on parliament to stop Geert Wilders from speaking. In Ahmed-world, if there’s someone who says things you don’t agree with, it’s OK to threaten them with who-knows-what from a baying fanatical mob. The government, displaying the sort of backbone that didn’t win us Waterloo, gave in.

Now he wants the government to be complicit in the possible murder of Pervez Musharraf because otherwise some members of the “Muslim community” might get grumpy.

I hope Mr Musharraf has kept his will up to date.

Lib Dem Mugged by Reality

This is a somewhat random item to blog about since I’ve never been to Stoke on Trent, but it caught my eye. It’s not going to trouble the psephologists much, but a Lib Dem councillor on Stoke on Trent City council has defected to become the sole (and, I think, first) councillor for the Libertarian Party.

Gavin Webb, who was selected as the Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Burton in 2008 and elected as a Lib Dem councillor on Stoke-on-Trent City Council in 2007, has today announced that he has resigned from the Liberal Democrats.

Stoke appears to have a rather eclectic mix of political groupings – I expect the council must need plenty of committee rooms available for the groups’ meetings nights, what with the City Independents, Labour, BNP, Conservative/Independent Alliance, Lib Dem, the “Non-Aligned” (which, I guess, are independent of the Independents) and the Potteries Alliance (I assume a reference to the area, rather than a trade body).

Now we all know that defections can often be prompted by an anticipation, on the part of the defector, of a fall from grace in their old party – such as a deselection – yet Cllr. Webb was the Lib Dem parliamentary spokesman for Burton. Could this be an example of that rare thing – a genuine defection on a matter of principle?

Whatever. In announcing his departure he says that the Lib Dem party has:

“… unfortunately firmly wedded itself to the belief that there are primarily government solutions to the problems facing our country, and in the process, they are adopting policies that undermine our rights and freedoms as individuals.”

So, it seems a Lib Dem has realised that the Liberal Democrats aren’t actually that liberal anymore. The only question is: why did it take him so long to notice?

(H/T: The Devil)

Ooh! Look Over There!

It seems to be a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the more countries agree to do something, the less likely it is that such an agreement will actually change anything.

So it’s no surprise that the headlines from the G20 have centred on the latest “action” from the finance ministers to curb bankers’ bonuses (boni?).

This is, or course, to miss the point of yesterday’s declaration. The huffing and puffing over bankers’ pay is just another distraction technique to divert attention from the real issues – the failure of the UK stimulus package, how most other countries are set to emerge from the recession before us, etc, etc. Always easier to burn a few witches rather than get on with actually tackling the plague, eh?

It is a sad reflection that the focus on those evil bankers paying bonuses for the heinous act of making profits for their employers, appeals to the basest human instinct towards envy.

Then there is the effect on the tax take. How? Well, although a few may be playing the residency system, most will have paid tax on those bonuses (or paid tax on one year, rather than spread over longer periods). They would have paid tax at typically 51% (ignoring the effects of pension and personal allowance restrictions). Now, those bonuses, if not paid and retained by the bank, will be taxed with the banks profits at 28%. if circumventing the rules involves converting the bonus into capital, then we’re looking at just 18% tax. All this assumes, as I mentioned, that those bonuses/profits even get taxed in the UK now. Nice one, Darling.

The irony of all this, though, is that the curbs on bonuses are aimed at reducing the short-termism that is blamed for giving rise to the irresponsible borrowing by individuals lending by banks which set up the credit crunch. Whereas, on the other hand, the short termism of trying to reduce the incentives to profitability and success in a major UK industry, and the reductions in tax revenues that will result is somehow visionary and far-sighted?

Armageddon Beckons

It may be Friday afternoon, but Kim Jong Il clearly doesn’t stop work early….


[Insert schoolboy assessment of nuclear weapons proliferation here.]

All of which is only slightly less frivolous than the latest on the Great Leader’s visit to a trouser factory.

I Didn’t Think Things Were Getting That Bad …

Again via the InformationIsBeautiful site, I came upon Good Magazine and their wealth of “transparencies”, including this one: an analysis of immigration into the USA.

So far, so mildly interesting – until you look at the more detailed figures around the main graphic. It seems that, of the 16,189 people who moved to the US from the UK last year, 64 were doing so as refugees or asylum seekers.

So, should I finish this post with the words “I say, that’s a bit much!” or …

“What, only 64?”