Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Monthly Archives: October 2010

Calm Down, Chaps, It's Only The #Ashes

Can I just say to my Conservative brethren up in Westminster: calm down.

Just because Ponting and his schoolboy XI think we’re all whinging poms doesn’t mean we have to reinforce the stereotype.

Australia Big Ben Ashes cricket stunt ‘illegal’

Westminster Council has threatened legal action after a taunting slogan was beamed on to Big Ben by Australia’s cricket team ahead of the Ashes.

Images of cricketers Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke were projected on to the tower with the message for the England team: “Don’t forget to pack the urn.”

In fact, something similar on the Sydney Opera House would be a more appropriate response, methinks. I’m sure we can leave it to the Barmy Army to come up with something more original than “It’s OK Ricky, we didn’t bother bringing the urn”.

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Quote of the Day

It’s a busy day, so I’ll fall back on one of the bloggers’ trusty standbys: the quote of the day.

I’ve been priced out of the Ferrari market. It’s just not fair. Bloody Nazi Tories.

From a commenter at the Grauniad on Polly Toynbee’s latest rant about the housing benefit cap proposals (akin to the Final Solution according to Pol – no, really. Godwin’s Law anyone?)

Yes, Firefighters' Strikes Should Be 'Banned' – But Don't Stop There

The London Fire Brigade's headquarters is at L...

London Fire Strikes - No, Just No.

I’m not the first by any means to suggest that a strike by firefighters should in some way be prevented by the law. Iain Dale has examined the legal position of the so-called “right to strike” here.

I have a tenuous personal interest here. My grandfather was in the London Fire Brigade, rising to the rank of Station Officer (at Chelsea). He would be spinning in his grave at the sight of firefighters on strike. It just shouldn’t happen. My father, who also has LFB experience, holds similar views.

My own view is that there are few occupations where strike action is even justified these days. Only those where the roles are so specialised that there is realistically only one employer might have a case for striking, rather than resigning and going to work for another player in their particular industry.

That, though, should not take precedence over the status of essential services and the necessity of preventing strike action, in the public interest. Such essential services naturally include the fire service, as well as ambulance medics and many others. In fact, there are probably relatively few occupations that are both monopolised by a single employer (who would usually, such is the way of these things, be a nationalised industry or central government) and are not essential services.

So I would not stand in the way of most employers who naturally interpreted the refusal to work as a breach of contract and act accordingly. If that means unilaterally pulling out of some of the anachronistic provisions imposed by the International Labour Organisation then so be it. For those few remaining cases (and perhaps more widely) I do think that Charles Crawford has suggested an elegant solution to a crude ban: removing the trade unions’ incongruous protection from liability when striking.

Either way, the days of the strike must be brought,  if not to a close, then to the penultimate chapter.

Auntie and the Pobol Take a Hit #csr

So we had the expected curate’s egg from George Osborne yesterday. Somewhat like any given Budget, there’s little real consensus on whether it’s too much, too little, too regressive or not. Just like the Budget, it’ll be weeks or months before the full details and impact is known – just ask anyone in local government. However I will, for now, mount one of my hobby horses and give a qualified welcome to the announcement as regards the BBC.

Though I must start by asking why does the Welsh language life support machine otherwise known as S4C, have to be part funded by the BBC? I know it’s just rearranging the furniture, given that the BBC already feed some programming into the channel, and that I’m subsidising it anyway, but why should I subsidise it at all? Let the Welsh Assembly find the money for it – let Cardiff make the judgement of whether Pobol Y Cwm is really worth more to them than free prescriptions. Devolution, localism and all that. Granted, I probably still be paying for it for a time, but we all know the Barnett formula is broken and will, maybe, perhaps, at some time be fixed … please.

Even so, I am happy in a small way that the licence fee freeze and other measures do put the BBC under similar pressure to the rest of us …  and their competitors, who do not (as I will never tire of pointing out) have the comfort of a guaranteed extorted income from their customers. It still doesn’t address the fundamental anachronism of the licence fee, but we take any crumb in these austere times.

“In it together” and all that. Apparently.

Cuts Cuts Cuts … in Blogging

My apologies for absence from blogging for the last few days. Been rather busy with ill children and earning the money to pay the taxes to keep our armed forces up to strength, up to date and properly equipped the overseas aid flowing.

Quangos: Err, Francis, You Missed a Bit

In fact, Francis Maude has missed a few hundred bits of the 901 quangos considered. Never mind, we’re heading in the right direction.

I’m really at a loss to work out how I ever learned to ride a bicycle without the £60m of Cycling England which Christian Woolmar said yesterday has done so much in getting children to cycle. Maybe the axe has gone too deep though: we should worry that without the Office for Civil Society Advisory Body our young ones will no longer be taught to say “please” and “thank you”.

This blog’s regular reader will not be surprised that I disagree with the conclusion of the review as regards one particular “quango”: the BBC. Apparently this body is to be retained “on grounds of performing a technical function which should remain independent from Government”.

How can the BBC – or indeed any body that relies on the State for its funding – ever be truly independent from the culture of ‘big government’ or prevent such institutional bias affecting its output? As for it performing a technical function – so what? So do Sky and ITV.Making TV and radio is not a skill set that is the monopoly of the BBC, and yet the commercial channels can’t expect to extort their revenue from people (regardless of whether they are customers or not).

Farewell to the BA (M Mouse) Degree?

Today’s report into the funding of university education could mark a turning point in higher education that has been a long time coming.

Gratuitous picture of some young women (well, if the Telegraph can do it ...)

A form of grade inflation in higher education has resulted in a situation where, as James Cleverly noted recently, even a ‘Desmond’ – a 2.2 – counts for little. With the push to get 50% of school-leavers into university, regardless of the quality of the qualification they achieve, or the career that they might be heading for, it is little surprise that employers now are not so interested in ‘graduates’ as they are graduates with a First, or a degree relevant to the job, or a Masters or higher, or they place greater store by the reputation of the institution awarding the bit of paper.

And it’s the obsession with “bits of paper” that has been a recurring theme in the working world beyond higher education. If you want to do almost any job these days – even skilled manual labour that previously would have been learnt by years of apprenticeship under an experienced elder – now requires a bit of paper. One wonders these days whether, if you’re responsible for making the tea, do you need a qualification? What if you spill some on someone – where’s your bit of paper to prove you were competent?

Anyway, back to degrees. As with any market, if you increase the supply artificially then you will depress the price – the value – of the good. There has also long been much talk of so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees, in subjects that a few years’ back wouldn’t have even been taken seriously at A-level. If the Coalition does remove the cap on tuition fees, then we might start to see the real cost and value of those degrees. The job market will decide better than any funding bureaucrat what subjects will be worthwhile, just as it now has to differentiate between institutions and grades.

Perhaps also it will spell the end of the cruel deception that is played upon too many school leavers that going to uni and getting a degree will almost guarantee you a job. I genuinely pity all those young people with their degrees in ‘animation’ now wondering if they couldn’t have spent their time getting three years solid experience on their CV instead, and thus giving themselves a real edge in these testing times.

Perhaps it will send a slow shock wave back down the educational ladder and finally prompt a serious reassessment of the grading and value of A-levels and GCSEs, which have suffered from their own problems of grade inflation. Here too, there is a cruel reality for the young people taking the exams; while a few years’ back 5 A grades would have been a stunning result, today it is the minimum expected to even make the cut for many subjects in further and higher education.

As with the public finances and the credit crunch recesssion, it is the poltiicians of yesteryear who bequeathed us these problems, and the longer we leave the job of sorting it out, the more painful it will be.

Conference Goes To The Dogs

By way of a belated and brief conference round-up I must suggest that the Award for Speaking Truth Unto Lobbyists must go to James Paice, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, telling the RSPCA fringe that dog licences would not be the answer to abuses such as dog fighting – and he is right.

Introducing a licensing system to help police illegal activity relies on those conducting the illegal activities going out of their way to … errm … comply with the law. More often, therefore, it is the law-abiding who inadvertently fall foul of the rules who are caught first, not the real targets – something that James Paice pointed out.

Nevertheless, despite pinning his colours to the mast just after the preceding RSPCA speaker had elicited a cheer for stating the Society’s support for the licences, he made it out without too much trauma, which is more than might be said for anyone who wolfed* down the vegetable curry too quick – that was a recipe to sort out the men from the boys.

* See what I did there?

New Olympic Park Named

From a parallel universe:

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has revealed the name of the new Olympic park. The Fidel Castro People’s Park will be at the heart of the Games’ site.

Thankfully, Londoners (and those of us in the outer boroughs) saw sense and gave Ken his P45 a couple of years’ back, so instead we have this welcome news:

The 2012 Olympics will be held at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The name was announced by Mayor Boris Johnson exclusively on LBC 97.3 on Thursday morning.

Quite right too, even if Boris did spoil things by then babbling on about “masterplanning” the area.

Tut tut. I am merely a product of a grammar school – so what do I know – but don’t they teach the difference between nouns and verbs at Eton?

On Cheezy-Peaz and Jilly Cooper

From the current edition of The Spectator:

“… they should advertise Jilly [Cooper]’s novels like the Cheezy-Peaz sketch on The Fast Show, substituting the words ‘sex’ and ‘horses’: ‘Do you like sex? Do you like horses? Then you’ll love sexy horse books!'”

(Melissa Kite on Cooper’s latest offering.)