Monday, February 28, 2011

Nick Clegg's Holiday In Davos

Nick Clegg went to Davos when he should have been running the country.
The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister clearly don't co-ordinate their schedules. This does not inspire a relatively ordinary voter with any degree of confidence in their government. However, was this error the result of a problem with Mr. Clegg's scheduling, or a problem with someone else's? Was it taken at the only time that he thought he could be away from work, or only when someone else could be away from work?
And if it was taken at a time when only someone else could be away from work, does that mean that other peoples' schedules are more important to Mr. Clegg than what one would assume to be his high and severe duties as Deputy Prime Minsister?

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John Fareham

Guess it kind of takes one to know one, dude.

Pillock.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Anomalies, I

Richard Dawkins is the former Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford.


Johnny Ball used to make TV science shows for children.


While he held his professorship, Richard Dawkins seemed to use a portion of his energy to advance his views on religion.




If you ask me, it would seem that, unless he holds that status already, Mr. Ball should become a Fellow of the Royal Society, in recognition of his outstanding, and lifelong, services to the public understanding of science.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anomalies, II

As I indicated in my immediately preceding post, I am currently reading Clive James's 'The Revolt Of The Pendulum'. While for the most part very enjoyable, readers of this book should be clear that it is not only the pendulum that has the capacity to revolt.


One is surprised to see a man so civilised, and such a dedicated movie buff, as Mr. James make such an elementary mistake as thinking that Sam Spiegel produced David Lean's film 'Doctor Zhivago', when even a lowly clod like me knows that the task fell to Carlo Ponti. I know this because I spent my third year at the ruinously expensive Jesuit secondary school I attended learning such factoids.


Speaking of which, it would be interesting to know in just which 'cafeteria across the street from the Glasgow School of Art' Mr. James was sitting in when he started drafting his essay 'Robert Hughes Remembers', a work I'll return to shortly. While perhaps trifling to the reader whose attention must be hooked within the first three paragraphs, it is of great interest personal interest to this author, if only because the said ruinously expensive Jesuit secondary school sits right next to door to the Glasgow School of Art. Time makes a fool of all our memories, but having gone up Hill Street and down Scott Street for the past 29 years, to the best of my knowledge and belief the GSA straddles both sides of Renfrew Street, with the nearest cafe being on the ground floor of Fleming House, a good 100 yards away. For Mr. James to have mistaken the side wall of the Glasgow Film Theatre for the front door of the Glasgow School of Art would be emblematic of the depth of perception and sense of perspective that, in my opinion, he sometimes displays in this book.


The suspicion that the shadow of intellectual inconsistency sometimes looms heavily over Mr. James is not easily allayed. For example, in his essay 'A Question for Diamond Jim', concerning the late Australian Labor politician James McClelland, he thinks nothing of telling how funny he found a story of McClelland's concerning Rupert Murdoch's alleged tight-fistedness, while in 'Gateway To Infinity', he acknowledges the support he has received for his website from 'Times Online'; support that apparently gives him absolute editorial control.


His essay 'Robert Hughes Remembers', a review of Mr. Hughes's memoir 'Things I Didn't Know', is, in my opinion, one of the nastiest pieces of ad hominem writing that I can ever recall reading. While he acknowledges the genuine greatness of Mr. Hughes's intellect, and the breadth of his achievement, he makes at least two inappropriate references to the physical consequences of the near-fatal car accident he suffered in 1999, specifically how the metal in his body must now light up airport scanners. As far as I can see, there can be only one root for Mr. James's apparent surprise at the bewilderment Mr. Hughes feels following his son's suicide, which is that none of his own loved ones have ever taken their life. Having once been on the fringes of such a situation, the bewilderment of suicides' survivors seems to be a universal constant. If Mr. Hughes should be bewildered by his family's tragedy, it shows that he is in the mainstream. In these matters, perhaps it is Mr. James who is in the avant-garde.


While trying to discern a career path for myself at my ruinously expensive Jesuit secondary school, I read the story of the trial of Oscar Wilde, and of how Wilde had complained that Edward Carson had pursued him with all the venom of an old friend. However, at that age what Wilde meant by that was a mystery. After reading Clive James on Robert Hughes, I know his meaning now.


Yet immediately after this quite unpleasant piece, Mr. James, in his lecture 'Modern Australian Painting', narrates that he used to play with Mr. Hughes in the latter's garden, with Mr. James once even accidentally shooting one of Mr. Hughes's paintings with an air-pistol. As I read that, a little piece of music came to my mind. I have to say I sat bolt upright, and that's not as easy as it sounds. It goes 'Two little boys had two little toys/Each had a wooden horse/Gaily they played each summer's day/Warriors both of course...'


That Robert Hughes is an outstanding Australian polymath is beyond question. He seems like the sort of guy you'd never want to get into an argument with, if only because, no matter the subject, he'd know more about it than you would, without resort to the bulldog tenacity that seems to have got him through life's ups and downs. Yet while as a critic, historian and broadcaster he has helped Clive James and many others, including me, appreciate art, I can think of another outstanding Australian polymath who may have done more than he has not merely to advance appreciation of art, but to get children to pick up the brush; certainly in the UK. He's been doing it for more than half a century. His name is missing from Mr. James's essay on modern Australian painting, yet at the age of 80 he's painted a portrait of the Queen, while also having done such various other things as introducing the British public to Aboriginal art and music, promoting animal welfare and taking his cover of a Led Zeppelin track into the UK Top 10 at the age of 63. He was the opening act at the Sydney Opera House, and has had a retrospective at the National Gallery. If memory serves, I have even heard a poem written about his abilities as a swimmer, something which hopefully the poet in Mr. James would be able to appreciate. He has been the UK's Art Teacher General for as long as I can remember, and he's still on the job, and still on television (unlike Mr. James, a state of affairs he seems to mention so often I think it rankles), still madly enthusiastic about teaching children not merely to appreciate art, but to make art.


And for what my opinion's worth, at this stage in his career he could be doing with some seriously overdue critical praise for his achievements in art from some of his more ostentatiously intellectual compatriots, some of whose names are inexplicably taken more seriously than his own; and when I say that, I'm not thinking of Robert Hughes.


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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Clive James On Aphorisms

When reading 'The Revolt Of The Pendulum', the collected essays of Clive James from 2005-2008, and a book so enjoyable that I really don't want it to end, the high degree of the author's obvious civilisation and refinement could easily make one forget that he became a household name by showing clips of Japanese gameshow contestants enduring the indignity of having maggots stuffed into their underpants.
On the other hand, watching his show provided me with enough intellectual savvy to be able to see through 'Dragons' Den'. What Clive James might have to say about the importing into the UK, and the investing with credibility, of the type of Japanese humiliation gameshow that he used to be paid to make us laugh at could be worth hearing, if only because it might say more about us, and what we have become, than about the Japanese, and what they might always have been.
James was, of course, the deserved recipient of the most brutal put-down effected by one human being upon another that I have seen in all of the mostly fruitless years I've spent watching British television, and on one of his own shows as well, the early Channel 4's 'The Late Clive James'. If memory serves (I was only 12 or 13 at the time), it went something like this -
'Clive James - So where did you learn about sex?
Frederic Raphael - Well, I certainly didn't learn about it in the gutter.'
And bravo to you, Mr. Raphael, for the question was disgraceful.
I suppose that when you confess an attachment to 'Portnoy's Complaint', as James does, you could be said to be taking your life in your hands. However, James is clearly a civilised man. His reviews of John Bayley's criticism are a useful primer for those of us unlikely ever to encounter it, never mind even think of reading it. His raucously vicious deconstruction of Elias Canetti is a joy to read. There are times when his concern for the degradation of the English language seems so curmudgeonly, so more suited to bubblegum TV like 'Grumpy Old Men' than a collection of essays, that one almost thinks 'Which cares?' Yet these are minor quibbles. He is so civilised that he reads Karl Kraus! And Alfred Polgar!
His quotation of Polgar's aphorism that 'Striking aphorisms require a stricken aphorist' was a bit too close to the knuckle for comfort; conjoined to his assertion that '(o)ne of the basic things a young writer about any branch of history needs to learn is that if a quote sounds good, the person quoted is saying something that somebody else said first', it became a 'See You, Jimmy!' challenge.
And a fruitful one it was as well, for I have disproved James, and in the short distance between the sofa and the kettle as well; for if one were trying to describe a romantic interlude between a well-known actress and a well-known cricketer, one could say that she had won the toss.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Downfall

Anyone interested in my opinion of Muammar Gaddafi has been able to find it on the right hand side of this blog for the last five years.
It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, one whose goons have been indulging in what seems to be the Libyan national pastime, shooting at innocent people from first floor windows, even to the end. This is what Romania in 1989 would have looked like, if the Romanians had banned foreign media.
The suggestion that he has gone to Venezuela might show either that even shitehawks obey the maxim that 'birds of a feather flock together', or is the biggest piece of black propaganda to be released into the public domain since Tony Blair uttered the words '45 minutes'. Either way, the greater good of the world demands that Muammar Gaddafi not be president of Libya. It is gratifying to see that even his own apparitchiks are deserting him. Et tu - brute.

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Bill Aitken

While one would hope that all reasonable commentors would refrain from using the expression 'He was asking for it' in the context of Bill Aitken's resignation from the chairmanship of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee, the depths of the apparent unpleasantness behind his offending, and offensive, remarks seems difficult to fathom. David Cameron must be tearing his hair out, and thinking of doling out a punishment of making Aitken watch and re-watch 'The Accused' on a repeating loop for the term of his natural life.
This has been a grossly tacky episode, and I'm glad that I only became aware of it at the endgame. Yes, indeed, folks, it's still the early days of a better nation...kind of...

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Short Thought On Children And Culture

My paternal grandfather, born in Glasgow in 1907, was a very accomplished violinist. Born into perhaps not grinding or abject but certainly a degree of poverty (I have little time and less sympathy for that most irritating of Glaswegian habits, the prolier-than-thou plumage display), we don't know where or when he heard the Bruch violin concerto that he could play by ear.
Scroll forward a century. I can turn on my TV and get both BBC Four and Sky Arts. Virtually every other TV set in the country has at least one of those channels, and most have both. Shouldn't this immediate and almost universal availability of culture, unprecedented in our history, mean that we should be rearing the most cultured generations ever to have existed? And if that's the case, why don't I see the evidence of that around me?

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The Alternative Vote

It's just another example of how not only proportional representation but also any and all other methods of electoral 'reform' away from first past the post is a form of gang warfare waged by political parties, but most viciously by the Liberal Democrats, upon an unsuspecting public. AV will help keep the Liberal Democrats nearer the centre of power than their true level of support in the country would suggest is necessary. This is a good enough reason for opposing it absolutely.
Going into coalition with the Liberal Democrats for what everyone hopes will be a five year term of electoral reform, internationalism, porn and the undermining of public religion might have seemed like a good deal to the Tories at the time; after all, one suspects that David Cameron would have performed the Can-Can naked in Trafalgar Square if it would have helped him become Prime Minister. Yet this one just isn't going to run and run. The Liberal Democrats have shown themselves to be greedy, both for power and its trappings. They are only there at all because Clegg played a blinder in the televised debates, making the right noises but with nothing in the tank by way of a track record of achievement. If they push their agenda too hard now, as they seem to be doing with AV, they will dissmulate and triangulate their way back to the parish councils which are their true level. This could only be described as being a good and wholesome thing.
I know little and care less of what goes on in the football world, but when a football club has to employ a manager on a five year contract, it seems likely that they have insisted on this length of term in order to provide them with some security in the event of their eventual dismissal. It's the same deal with this coalition; and Nick, Danny, Uncle Vince and all the rest of them might find the 1922 Committee to be a particularly unforgiving board of directors.

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Paying Your Debts

Old habits die hard in the north Atlantic, I see.
Mind you, it could have been a lot worse for them. They could be paying a debt to the Americans.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Uncle Vince Cable's Dissimulation On The Link Between Pensions And Earnings

On last night's 'Question Time', Uncle Vince Cable tried heroically to score a cheap political point, by using an economist's sleight of hand - did you notice it?
Uncle Vince said that the coalition government had restored the link between the old age pension and earnings; for the old folks, mind. However, what neither Yvette Cooper nor any member of the audience seemed to clock on to is that wage growth in the UK is stagnant - indeed, ensuring that real wage growth is stagnant seems to have been the only real long-term economic policy that every British government since 1979 has actually pursued.
Oh, for sure, the people this will help more than any others will be the Boomers, being subsidised once again as they come onstream; but the actual cost to the system will reduce with every subsequent generation that comes into the system, for their earnings will have been less. For people of my age, 40, it probably won't make any damn difference at all.
It was a neat trick, though.

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The Compensation Payable To Prisoners Who Have Been Denied The Vote

Should the law of the land ever be changed to enable prisoners denied the vote to receive compensation, one would, of course, have no objection to that in principle. However, one could think of a couple of administrative provisos that could be built into any compensation scheme - purely, of course, on the grounds of economy.
It is a standing disgrace that persons who have been wrongfully imprisoned in the UK, often for many years, have the cost of their bed and board deducted from whatever compensation subsequently becomes payable to them. Accordingly, while this deduction continues to be made from innocent people, it would be appear to be grossly unjust not to make the same deduction from sums of compensation payable to guilty people.
And by the same token, the full cost of any award of criminal injuries compensation paid to a third party as a result of the actions of a prisoner who is subsequently awarded compensation for wrongful denial of voting rights should be deducted from any such award of compensation payable to that prisoner. At the very least this seems only fair; the actual quantum of criminal injuries compensation awards often in no way reflects the loss, injury and damage which has been inflicted upon the claimants. Not to make such a deduction would leave them in the invidious position of seeing the people who injured them being awarded significantly more substantial damages than they have received, damages which would not have become payable to them had they not inflicted criminal injury in the first place. That scenario cannot be in line with good public policy.
As I say, these are idle musings. We'll see what the Treasury has planned.

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You Can't Keep A Good Man Down

The BBC reports that,
"Three Muslim prisoners have been found guilty of a revenge attack on a Bosnian war criminal in Wakefield jail.

Indrit Krasniqi, Iliyas Khalid and Quam Ogumbiyi were found guilty at Leeds Crown Court of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Radislav Krstic, 62, was serving a 35-year sentence in the jail for his part in the killing of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 when attacked.

He was attacked last May by the men. They were cleared of attempted murder."
Unless I'm greatly mistaken, that would be the same Indrit Krasniqi serving a life sentence, mininum tariff 23 years, for the torture and murder of a young woman named Mary Ann Leneghan; another one who bit the dust due to unclear and inconsistent sentencing policy. Good to see that Mr. Krasniqi's rehabilitation is proceeding apace. They've only got another 18 years to work on him.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

As Predictable As The Day Is Long

Larry Auster on Lara Logan, reminding me of why I now read his blog only very rarely.
The guy who said that pitilessness was the last conservative value might have been on to something.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Local Government Pay

This is another of those instances when one finds it difficult to understand what the source of the current crisis actually is. It's almost as obscure as the Crimean War having started as a dispute over the guardianship of the Holy Places.
Some local authorities pay their CEO's mega-wedges. They presumably do so because there is a competitive market in local authority CEO services. I may be being particularly stubborn here, but in terms of labour mobility and fluidity, there seems to be more of a competitive market in local authority CEO services than in many other public offices, such as the Prime Ministership, or the Director-Generalship of the BBC. Accordingly, if the market in local authority CEO services is working correctly, it would seem to make perfect sense for some of them to paid more than the Prime Minister, if only because that's the perfect barometer of that market's efficiency.
If there is a market for a particular type of service, one which actively indicates the scarcity of top quality labour by the payment of large salaries, it's difficult to understand why a government apparently keen on markets should be interfering with it. The only reason one can think of is that it's the type of market our current government doesn't like, one that advertises its jobs in 'The Guardian' rather than 'The Times' or 'The Daily Telegraph'. The question of whether either of those two latter publications would spurn the de facto subsidy provided by local authority job advertisements if they were ever to be offered them must, of course, remain moot. Having once worked, very briefly, on the outermost fringes of the extremely zany industry known as newspaper advertising, it really wouldn't surprise me if they grabbed the money with both hands.
Or else our government just hates the idea of any power at all being held at the local level, and wants everything to be run centrally instead, a not unreasonable conjecture given the extreme centralising tendencies exhibited by every British government since 1979.
When confronted with the jowls of Eric Pickles wobbling magnificently in the breeze as he slashes and burns his way through perceived 'waste' like a parish council crank, it is difficult not to recall the immortal words of John Kenneth Galbraith from 'The Affluent Society', already quoted here, and about to be quoted again, on the subject of right-wing infantilism concerning the provision of public services -
"At best public services are a necessary evil; at worst they are a malign tendency against which an alert community must exercise eternal vigilance. Even when they serve the most important ends, such services are sterile...Such attitudes lead to some interesting contradictions. Cars have an importance greater than the roads on which they are driven. We welcome expansion of telephone services as improving the general well-being but accept curtailment of postal services as signifying necessary economy. We set great store by the increase in private wealth but regret the added outlay for the police force by which it is protected. Vacuum cleaners to ensure clean houses are praiseworthy and essential in our standard of living. Street cleaners to ensure clean streets are an unfortunate expense. Partly as a result, our houses are generally clean and our streets generally filthy".
But Eric Pickles knows better than JKG on this one, even down to the basics of the laws of supply and demand. The Liberal Democrats might contain more than their fair share of nutters, but at least they possess the lunatics' candour regarding their desire that you should recycle/eat less meat/hate yourself more. Other than brute ideology as stale as last week's morning rolls, the Tories have no excuse.

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Said Musa

One step forward, two steps back. Ten years on, 1,000 years back.
That's the fruit of a decade's worth of your taxes having been put to work in the name of liberal internationalism, by the way. All it seems to have produced are endemic corruption, boy catamites and Christians condemned to death for being Christians. The War on Terror is great value for money, innit?
'With honourable exceptions, (some) scholars of 'geopolitics' have taken the humanity out of the study of nations and concealed it with a jargon that serves great power. Laying out whole societies for autopsy, they identify 'failed states' and 'rogue states', inviting 'humanitarian intervention' - a term used by imperial Japan to describe its bloody invasion of Manchuria' -
John Pilger, 'Freedom Next Time', page 21.
'(The Bolsheviks) were fanatical Marxist communists. They believed that their accession to power in Russia was only the opening of a world-wide social revolution, and they set about changing the social and economic order with the thoroughness of perfect faith and absolute inexperience' -
H.G. Wells (as devout an internationalist as has ever breathed), 'A Short History of The World', page 366, only about 80 years ahead of Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Great White Other

Without really adding much more to my comments of 27th January, the only reaction one can really summon to the news that inflation hit 4% last month is that this one can't be pinned on The Great White Other, and all their trade unions, and all their gala day marches.
It is astonishing to think that while we have had successive governments that proclaim their faith in markets, our country still possesses some of the most draconian anti-trade union laws in Europe. The TUC is no more a threat to the market than the British Chambers of Commerce. Both are private entities which lobby on their members' behalf, yet one is lauded and listened to while the other is deemed to be almost a threat to our survival. This does not compute, given that both represent vital interests.
Why this should be the case is surprising, if only because it's so cussedly anti-democratic. Nobody has ever voted to develop what is euphemistically called a 'flexible' labour market, as if labour can be bent like iron and bounce back into shape like rubber, or voted to advance the policy, not a process, called 'globalisation'. Their lack of mandate renders both policies morally illegitimate. Trade unions should exist to protect their members from the effects of such illegitimate policies, yet to become a trade unionist, as I have done, is made to almost seem pointless, when the reverse is demonstrably true; if that weren't the case, why are the papers full of union horror stories?
The role of the yellow British tabloid press in bringing about this state of affairs will hopefully give the historians of the future much merriment, if only because they will have the pleasure of wading through 40 years of 'Sun' editorials and get paid to do it. One can barely open the 'Daily Mail' without seeing some horror story about trade unions threatening to dare to keep Geoff, usually an overweight, mustachioed builder (whom HMRC are probably into for tens of thousands of pounds of unpaid VAT), and Pippa, a mousy administrator, from their two weeks in Lanzarote. Just as many in our current political and media class would quite happily collaborate with occupying forces in time of war, the two week summer holiday now seems to be the sole motivation of many British working people, and how you pay for it, and whose rights get trampled over so you can get it, be damned. For some of our newspapers, it will forever be the summer of '79, with Margaret Thatcher riding into Downing Street like Boudicca, so intent on smashing the flat caps and Scouse accents she perceived to be in her way that she smashed their industries in order to do it, possibly the worst case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in all of British history. Of that lady, one can only echo David Lindsay's wonderful comment, that she found a nation full of men like her father, and left it full of men like her son. For that, exercising the right of collective action in order to protect your livelihood was made vastly more difficult than it ever had to be; but the point was made, those who mattered still mattered, and all was well with the world.
Shortly after Ed Miliband's election as leader of the Labour Party, I recall an edition of 'Question Time' in which almost the first question was whether the Labour Party was now in the pockets of the trade unions. This jarred; although I do not belong to it, it has always been my understanding that the Labour Party is a private body, and that its leadership election had been fairly, indeed scrupulously fairly, conducted within its own constitutional parameters. As I do not belong to it, it is no business of mine whose pocket it is in, indeed whether it is in any pocket at all. Speculation upon such matters is as idle and fruitless as any upon which of the warring factions on Yetts o' Pitmuckle Lawn Bowls Club's management committee is currently in the ascendant. In one respect, it was gratifying to see that the Labour Party could actually conduct an electoral process, given the mess it made of the Scottish Parliamentary elections of 2007. However, it would be interesting to see if a similar question would ever be asked of David Cameron, whether the Conservative Party is in the pockets of Rupert Murdoch and the bankers. While the question might not be strictly fair, that's certainly my perception. If the Labour Party ever achieves power again, it may be in the pockets of the trade unions, Rupert Murdoch and the bankers, as good a definition of a national government as the 21st Century may be capable of providing us with.
The trade union, combination of workmen, whatever you want to call it, is still viewed as being the mortal threat to oligarchy, the path to Jacobinism, that the sainted William Wilberforce thought it to be. Its continuing demonisation is symptomatic of British oligarchy's deep immaturity, of its unwillingness to share power, or resources. Only when they overcome that immaturity, and seek to pursue policies for the betterment of all British people, will this place become what it could be. But when you've been kicking The Great White Other for centuries, I suppose it becomes a way of life.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

A Dangerous Precedent

The European Court of Human Rights has done much good for the people of the United Kingdom over the past 60 years. It has allowed gay people in Northern Ireland the right to be gay. One need not approve of homosexuality in principle to agree with the idea that it should be permissible in civil society.
On a personal note, it banned the practice of corporal punishment in schools. Having been subjected to a class-wide belting at the age of nine, an ignoble exercise in the use of brute force on the weak, the ECHR's decision to abolish it has no firmer supporter than myself.
One can cavil at the wisdom of the passing of the Human Rights Act. HRA was intended to make the remedies capable of being delivered by the European Court of Human Rights capable of being delivered by every court in the land. In principle, it was a brilliant idea. In practice, it has turned into a nightmare, a law abused by greedy and unprincipled lawyers. It may have been intended to be used as a scalpel, but has instead been wielded like a broadsword. One can also question the wisdom of allowing Clitheroe Magistrates Court all the powers of the House of Lords (RIP); under HRA, the whole idea of having appeal courts has, to a greater or lesser extent, become meaningless, with appeals instead becoming transformed into exercises in second guessing what the European Court of Human Rights either might or might not do when faced with the same case.
However, what is unusual about today's vote is that this is the first time I can ever think of that Parliament has decided to deliberately snub a treaty obligation. If it can do it for votes for prisoners, can it do it in respect of any other treaty obligation, such as those created by those treaties which created the European Union, and those which created its predecessors?
Yes it can!

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Lord Lang Makes The Irrefutable Case For The Reformation Of Ministerial Pensions

Lord Lang is the chairman of something called 'The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments'. Although it sounds like an upscale recruitment consultancy, the sort of outfit one might see advertising a vacancy for a director of holistic change management, heuristic sexual harrassment, transgendered diversity development, and bee-keeping at £100K a pop, its apparent purpose is to screen the potential employment of former ministers. Not whether they are suitable for the employment, you understand, but whether the employment is suitable for them. It sounds like the ministerial version of Remploy, or one of the more inbred jobs for the boys type of Soviet co-operative. Perhaps he should not be described as the 'chairman', but the 'chairperson'. Or even 'chair'. Or, best of all, 'convenor', as if he were running the shop stewards' committee in a Clydeside shipyard in the 1970's. While I am sure he might deplore the comparison, it may be the case that his function and that of the convenor of a shop stewards' committee might not be too different. What goes around comes around, after all, and some convenors of shop stewards' committees might be more equal than others. Power to the people, comrades.
The noble lord, to my mind a dead-ringer for Derek Fowlds, Basil Brush's longest serving straight man, has become the latest Thatcher era High Tory to open their mouth and make the case for a radical cut in their own pension.
While giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee, he is reported to have remarked, concerning his own view regarding the eligibility and fitness to serve of candidates to serve on his committee, that,
"I would hope, however, it would be a lay member who had experience and proven success in a relatively important profession or trade – somebody who had achieved distinction – rather than a waitress or a bus driver."
Hopefully he is more partial to call-centre operators; after all, the government of which he was a part helped make so many of us, by destroying the industries we might otherwise have worked in.
Despite being 70 years old, the noble lord is reported to have many different business interests. A figure so sprightly and energetic as himself would seem to have no need of the state handout he receives in the form of his presumably generous ministerial pension, and accordingly should be means-tested before he receives a penny of aid from the British taxpayer. After all, we're all in this together.
One of the saddest cultural developments in the UK in recent years, perhaps a sign of our terminal civilisational decline, is that so many of our retired politicians seem intent on proving the truth of the maxim that where there's brass, there's muck.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

The Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Bill

It is disappointing to see that the Scottish Parliament allowed the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Bill to pass its first stage without giving it a full Solonic irrigation.
The title of the bill is, of course, very misleading. It should instead be titled The Abolition of Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Bill, for that is its purpose; but one cannot let such a simple thing as clear language stand in the way of the Scottish Parliament's wishes.
It now passes to the Justice Committee for scrutiny, under the leadership of Bill Aitken. One would not wish to seem uncharitable, and this may perhaps be unfair, perhaps the fault of how he is represented and not what he represents, but for all the years I have heard and read what he has to say, Mr. Aitken has always seemed to be what Ronnie Corbett might be like if he had been imagined by James Herbert, or Stephen King.
We await his committee's deliberations with great interest.

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Votes For Prisoners

No, thanks, solely on the basis that it would enable convicts to have a say in the development and administration of penal policy. There is an enormous difference between sick people voting on health policy, and prisoners being allowed to vote on penal policy; although it's extremely unpleasant, being in jail is not an illness.
Did the noble justices of the ECHR not think about that, even for a second? Doh!

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The Man In The Paper Mask

And so the release of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, The Man In The Paper Mask, was considered to be British policy. Although there never was any judicial conspiracy to convict him, there certainly was a political conspiracy to release him.

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Filibustering Lords

My congratulations to those Labour peers who recently talked out a pernicious bill intended, by my understanding, to reduce the number of Members of Parliament.
That odious bill sprang from the loopily right-wing idea that Members of Parliament should be in some way 'employed', perhaps on the same terms and conditions of service as pole-dancers, or double-glazing salesmen, with the high and solemn business of governing the nation being reduced, like citrus fruits, or the heads of historically unfortunate aboriginals, to some banal exercise in delivering 'value'. They work for you, doncha know?
No, I do not, for I wish my MP to deliver value no more than I would wish them to abseil from Big Ben while dressed as Charlie Chaplin. I wish them to govern wisely, to be of an independent caste of mind, and to be moral and honourable. I do not wish them to be hounded by hostile, perhaps even megalomaniac, journalists and newspaper editors into not taking pay rises to which they are entitled, leading them to try to pad their incomes with unnecessary expenses claims.
Most of all, I want them to be left alone, in the perhaps forlorn hope that they will return the courtesy. Whenever one sees or hears of some Thatcher-era Tory grandee holding forth on the size of the House of Commons, one is reminded of Grampa Simpson, talking toothless gibberish day after day after day. Worst financial crisis in 70 years? They've never had it so good!

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The Speaker Of The House

I don't really share the sympathy some feel for John Bercow, if only because he turns up for work half-dressed. One might as well meet the Queen wearing an ensemble of baseball cap, pursuivant reversed, and ripped jeans barely covering one's buttocks, as sit in the Speaker's chair wearing an Oxford gown as the only indication of one's rank.
Cover your nakedness, man! Fie thee to Jermyn Street, and get thyself kitted out in breeches and wig! The Speaker's quasi-Jacobin abandonment of the robes of his office makes one wonder why he lives in the Speaker's apartment- after all, if one enjoys the privileges of office, one must also labour under its responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is projecting an image of continuity and authority. For centuries before John Bercow climbed into the chair, like a particularly bumptious munchkin, Speakers of the House had seen it as a privilege to don the breeches. The breeches have been worn in times of national peril far greater than any we face at the moment, indeed, sometimes even when the threat has come from abroad. They are part of the image of Parliament; and as the man in charge of our parliament, he has a responsibility, not only to those who went before him but also to us, to ensure that, at the very least, even just the image of Parliament's authority is preserved.
In her memoirs, Madame Campan, one of Marie Antoinette's ladies-in-waiting, wrote of the late queen's disregard for the etiquette of her own court, and of how she failed to realise that the etiquette was the glue that kept the whole damn show together. Having flaunted etiquette, lack of respect for etiquette flaunted her right back. One recalls this memoir when one sees the Speaker of the House shouting 'Order! Order!' in a piece of cloth intended for schoolteachers. He'll be doing it without a tie next, and inviting new members to take their seats saying, 'Call me John'.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Soi-Disant, Ersatz 'Scottish Government Gleefully Enslaves Scots In The Grand Manner Of Its 17th Century Heroes

'The prevalence of vagrants of divers sorts formed a distinctive feature in the social life of the nation for a very long period. In his "Second Discourse on the Affairs of Scotland" (A.D. 1698), Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun gives a very forcible picture of the state of matters in this respect, as known to him. At the date of his writing, the occurrence of three bad harvests in succession had no doubt made things worse; yet, says Fletcher, "In all times there have been about one hundred thousand of those vagabonds who had lived without any regard or subjection either to the laws of the land or even those of God and Nature. No magistrate could ever be informed, or discover, which way one in a hundred of these wretches died, or that ever they were baptized. Many murders have been discovered among them; and they are not only a most unspeakable oppression to poor tenants—who, if they give not bread or some kind of provision to perhaps forty such villains in one day, are sure to be insulted by them—but they rob many poor people who live in houses distant from any neighbourhood. In years of plenty many thousands of them meet together in the mountains, where they feast and riot for many days; and at country weddings, markets, burials, and the like public occasions, they are to be seen—both men and women—perpetually drunk, cursing, blaspheming, and fighting together"...Fletcher had the courage of his opinions, and he believed in thorough-going remedies. Therefore, founding upon the example of the "wise antients," such as the Greeks, he tells us he would have had all these lawless wandering people assigned in perpetual servitude to the owners of the soil and others. He did not doubt of his proposal being met "not only with all the misconstruction and obloquy, but all the disdain, fury, and outcries of which either ignorant magistrates or proud, lazy, and miserable people are capable." But they must pardon him if he told them that he regarded "not names but things." -
"A new law has come into force across Scotland which means low-level criminals can be ordered to do manual labour instead of serving time in jail.

From now on, courts will be encouraged to consider imposing a Community Payback Order as an alternative to jail terms of less than three months.

It means offenders can be tasked with removing graffiti or renovation work.

Labour said it was a "dark day for justice" but ministers said jail was the right place for serious offenders.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "But at the other end of the scale, we need to address Scotland's appalling reoffending rate for low-level offenders.

"These offenders are going in and out of prison, time and time again and committing more crime in communities upon release.

"All the evidence shows that getting offenders out doing some manual labour in the community works far better than short-term prison sentences and actually stops them committing further crimes."

Apart from making offenders work, payback orders will also allow courts to require them to undertake treatment to try to address the reasons why they have committed crimes.

The new system replaces community service orders, which have been viewed with suspicion by many judges and sheriffs." -

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