30 March, 2009

Jacqui Smith

I don't know if it's spin; if it is the whole of the media seems to be complicit. Every time you hear about the Home Secretary's claim for adult movies as expenses they make it clear that they were not watched by her, but by her husband, who is employed by her and trousers £40,000 a year.

The veracity of this might be a job for an investigative journalist, although she might claim that, whilst in the same house at the time the movies were being played, she herself was not watching but working on some new scheme for restricting our individual freedom, with more ID cards or CCTV or whatever.

But the point is, I don't care. She does not need a subscription to Sky Movies for her job (Mr. Speaker, has the Home Secretary seen the latest movie with Jennifer Aniston?) and I don't want to pay for any of her family viewing, regardless of taste and of who was watching at the time.

Lastly, and it should scarcely be necessary to say this, she it was who applied for this to be paid for by the taxpayer. She it is who must take responsibility for her employee (in this case her husband) who has been flagrantly abusing a position of trust.

It really, really isn't enough to say she didn't see the movie.

29 March, 2009

The Act of Settlement

I am in no doubt whatsoever that Gordon Brown has tried to engineer a debate on the rights of succession to the throne for his own narrow political interest - he wants to draw our attention away from the lamentable state his stewardship of the economy has left us in.

But this is a subject always worth giving a bit of thought to.

Firstly we must dispel the mystique to it all. Parliament has decreed that the heir to the throne should be male if possible, a descendant of George II and not a Roman Catholic. If Parliament has decreed this then Parliament can change its decree.

I have no objections to pure primogeniture - that is to say the eldest child inherits the throne regardless of sex. But allowing Roman Catholics to become monarch is a proposal of a different sort. The Monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Thus such a change would involve the disestablishment of the Church.

There are plenty of good reasons for disestablishment, some of them in the interests of the Church itself. But we must not go off at half-cock on this, as Labour did over hereditary peers: destroying something that works, because you don't like the look of it, then finding it too difficult to decide what to replace it with.

This has to be thought through over a period of years and should have nothing to do with the next General Election, or Mr Brown's electoral plight, which is entirely of his own making.

The Tories and Europe

I have often said that I feel I could vote Conservative again if Mr Cameron repeated the pledge he once made to repatriate powers from Europe.

Now Stuart Wheeler, the biggest donor to the Tory party, has left them and joined the UK Independence Party (with his chequebook). He says that Cameron is merely hoping that he doesn't have to say anything on Europe, that he wants the subject to go away.

Mr Wheeler has lost patience. Come on, Mr Cameron, say it and stop the rot.

Treated like idiots

The clocks have changed again under the Government's bogus 'Daylight Saving Scheme' (not one nanosecond of daylight will be 'saved' - there will be exactly the same as there would otherwise have been).

Sometimes they express it in terms of having 'one less hour in bed'. Ignore them. Spend as long as you like. On Monday if you go into an office you will be going in an hour earlier. Why not just say that as from Monday the office starts at 8am not 9am (because that's what's happening)? You have the intellectual ability to handle that.

I have no objection to things starting earlier and finishing earlier, it's being treated like a bloody idiot that I can't stand, and by people I'm paying to do it.

28 March, 2009


Light blogging because I have been getting my book together (in the unlikely event of it ever being published I shall not hesitate to give myself a free plug).

There is a story going round that China plans to celebrate the 50th aniversary of its illegal invasion of Tibet with a 'Freedom from Serfdom' day. If this is true it is the most disgracefully cynical act imaginable. China has taken over the government and poured money into illegal Chinese settlements, leaving the Tibetans unrepresented and alone.

It used to be that we held off criticising China because of its importance as a trading partner. Now we are no longer buying its plastic shoes, Christmas tree decorations and non-working computer parts perhaps someone in some western government will have the gumption to stand up and denounce China for the aggressive totalitarian dictatorship it is.

22 March, 2009

Jade Goody

The short life of Jade Goody – I am already getting tired of the ‘tragic’ cliché – seems to me to tell us a lot about ourselves.

Reality TV may be said to have its roots in John Osborne’s ‘Look back in Anger’ of 1956. Until then, and indeed since Aristotle, drama had been about the aristocratic or at least the slightly posh. An ancient dramatist would have been amazed that the poor might want to see something about themselves – surely they got that sort of thing every day?

In a straight line through Coronation Street we seem to have demanded more and more of this stuff and Reality TV has been, so far, the latest development. You live with, and interact with, ordinary people, then go home, turn on the TV and see...ordinary people. The concept has always seemed bizarre to me.

Jade Goody, as one of the ‘star’ protagonists of this genre, seemed to me an almost extreme example of what the creators were trying to achieve. Ignorant and foul mouthed, she dumped the worst element of modern society right into our TV dinners. But, for the creators and producers of Reality TV, the ghastly people who felt we needed or deserved this, Jade Goody had a surprise. She made, as is more common with ordinary people than the bien pensant imagine, a racist remark. There were tens of thousands of complaints: ‘we paid to see ordinary people behaving in an ordinary way. How can it be that one of them said something the politically correct disapprove of? Surely she should be stupid, uneducated and like coloured people?’

Now, amongst the chattering classes who run the BBC, a racist remark puts you down at the level of Josef Fritzl. Perhaps worse: he only abused people of his own family. The calamity was so bad that the Prime Minister, holder of an office which hitherto had been regarded as deserving some respect, felt he had to meet the insulted party, an Indian actress.

So how is it that Jade Goody is now anointed with the spikenard of public sympathy? The short answer is that she employed Max Cliffiord. The even shorter answer is that she died. Max was on a no-brainer here: a consultancy with an end date.

Jade Goody decided to end her days in the spotlight and paid a consultant to make sure she did. She did it, she admitted, for money, so that whilst she was ignorant her sons would not be. Creditable, if not quite saintly. The press, the investors in this ghastly drama (one magazine brought out its Jade Goody Tribute edition while she was still alive), are now trying to make out that she was conducting some cancer awareness campaign, and that she was ‘brave’. And of course our cynical, self-serving Prime Minister was immediately back in on the act with an oleaginous statement.

‘Brave’ means understanding the risks and freely deciding to take those risks. It applies, for example, to servicemen who risk their lives for comrades. Inoperable cancer, by contrast, is a fait accompli. Facing it, for money for your children, does not make you brave.

I am sympathetic to Jade Goody. The million or two earned will comfortably achieve, if her children have the right guardian, the aim of letting them make what they can of themselves. I condemn only the press and the readership. There is talk of breaking a taboo, and I can’t help thinking that some things should remain taboo. It has been an unsightly business.

If we’re lucky, the public mawkishness which began with the death of the Princess of Wales at the beginning of the boom over a decade ago, will end with this and the recession.

19 March, 2009


The first signs of spring are with us: almond blossom, crocuses, the occasional house fly and the warning that the weather, having got warmer, is about to get colder again. Hey-ho.

The first braod beans are here. The Italians eat them raw, with slivers of pecorino (sheep's cheese).


Josef Fritzl has been sentenced to life.

I often wonder what to think about these things: the Brady/Hindley case in Britain in the '60s is relevant here. Is there a crime which is so horrible that by definition the perpetrator must be mad and therefore not guilty? I, and I expect you, can magine myself committing many crimes, but this?

But is such a feeling relevant? Lord Denning said that the sentence must reflect Society's revulsion of the crime. Is that right? Even if he's mad?

It is now being said that Fritzl pleaded guilty because he heard his daughter's testimony. The BBC have got a trick-cyclist to say that he pleaded guilty because he realised he was no longer in control. I heard he had offered to plead guilty if he got agreement to be sent to the right (most comfortable) prison. Some say that in Austria life means 20 years. Surely it isn't possible he could be released in his lifetime?

The reason I express all these doubts is that what society, and in particular Austrian society, needs is certainty, now. It has all been rushed through to prevent a debate on whether there is something in Austria that permitted this to happen behind closed doors. In my view that debate would have been beneficial. Sometimes you have to let the wound bleed a bit to cleanse it.

16 March, 2009

Health Fascism

Sir Liam Donaldson is, of course, the crazed fascist who stopped smoking in public places, abandoning all science to tell us that passive smoking - all passive smoking, even if there is a ventilator and you are leaning out of the window - was dangerous, while at the same time pretending to be a scientist. This outrage has had little or no effect on the public health but has virtually closed the pubs down, thus wrecking a very British way of life which has subsisted for centuries. Donaldson, you see, didn't like the idea of you smoking.

Now he is on to alcohol. Many people warned alcohol would be next. He wants to double the price with a minimum per 'unit'. Interestingly both he and his colleague in Scotland, which is making the running on this particular piece of nanny stating, admit that in Mediterranean countries alcohol costs a lot less and yet there is a lower incidence of drunkenness and of liver disease. They may even accept that in Scandiavian countries alcohol costs more than in Britain but the incidence of alcoholism is greater. Facts won't stop these bogus scientists. They want to stop you behaving in a way they disapprove of. The only reason Donaldson isn't getting his way now is that there is an election coming up and even Gordon Brown, not normally a chap to worry himself about what might affect the ordinary man, can see it isn't exactly a vote winner. In fact, like his removal of the 10p tax band it would penalise the poor. Chateau Lafite has the same alcohol content as cheap Argentinian Malbec, Lowenbrau the same as Fosters.

Sinisterly, Donaldson says he is in this for the long term and feels that, like the smoking ban, he will get his way in the end.

It doesn't affect me because I shall live out my days with decent wine at around €1 a litre, plonk a bit less, but I really do think that these people need to be exposed - 'scientists' who don't let evidence get in the way of their opinions - and that the State should be firmly told the limits of its power.

Otherwise what's to come of Britain?

Bank Regulation

I was just talking to my partner over dinner last night about renewing the Glass-Steagall Act, you know, the way people do, when up pops Nigel Lawson in today's FT suggesting the same thing. Perhaps he was hiding under the table - he certainly doesn't look as if he eats much.

It's quite interesting actually. It's about how we regulate banks in the future - more, or better. Glass Steagall was brought in in the 1930s after the last major recession. Quite simply it said that commercial banks shouldn't be allowed to own investment banks. Bill Clinton repealed it in the 1990s.

When last year the whole pack of cards looked as if it were tumbling, the government thought it had to rescue the banks, or the economy would grind to a halt. But in fact all it needed to do was rescue the commercial banks, the ones which we hold our accounts with and which do the banking for small and medium sized businesses, make credit card payments and so on.

What I propose is that in the future the government guarantees 100% of customer deposits and tells banks accounting for, say, 80% of UK commercial banking business, that they will bail them out but in return they must be tightly regulated, as to their leverage (how much they lend and borrow in relation to their capital) their bad debts and so on. Unlike with the Glass Steagall Act they would be welcome to indulge in investment banking but this business would be kept separate and allwed to go bust.

Simpler and better than the needlessly complicated Gordon Brown scheme of 1997. In fact rather similar to what we had before the clueless rogue came on the scene.

14 March, 2009

Quantitative Easing

The new money 'printed' by the Bank of England is going towards buying back the gilts it issued. Official figures show that more than a third of gilts are owned by foreigners. So much of this new money, perhaps even all, will leave Britain. It will not serve as a stimulus to the economy because the foreign holders, aware that we are printing new money, will want to be out of sterling and into gold or the dollar. The move is likely to depress sterling even further.

So why are we doing it? It is whispered that the only effect will be to firm up the price of gilts, thus perhaps putting off the day when the government can no longer finance the massive debts it has committed us to. Gordon Brown is using our money to improve his credit rating and let him continue his policy of spending, perhaps until he is re-elected and can put up taxes.

The way to use quantitative easing is to send a cheque to each family in the country. Send them John Lewis vouchers. Get them spending.

A better alternative would have been to cut government expenditure on all but essential items and reduce taxes, but you can't see Gordon doing that.


Pete Hoskin has a piece in the Spectator blog criticising the Muslim Association of Britain’s statement on Sudan and Darfur, which said that it opposed the ICC arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan, on the grounds that similar prosecutions haven't been launched against war crimes in "Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya". Hoskin points out, rightly, that Bashir is about as nasty a piece of work as you are likely to find and that many of his victims were Muslims.

I’m afraid, however, that in one sense the MAB, normally a safe haven of unargued nonsense and racist cant, are right. Just as our war against Saddam Hussein lost legitimacy because there was nothing he had done that China hadn’t (invaded a neighbouring country, acquired WMD, ethnic cleansing, persecution of its own political dissidents) – and we weren’t going to invade China, were we? – so the lack of investigation other suspected ‘crimes’ by the ICC – and I don’t necessarily agree with the MAB’s list – makes this look as if it were a whim of the Western nations, self-righteous posing.

The UN scarcely lifted a finger to help Bashir’s victims. It is a little late now to enter judgment.


Posting has been a little light due to computer iffyness. It turned out after a lot of hard work and expense that despite being set for automatic updates - essential for Vista users since Microsoft are still fixing the faults - it did not receive 3 of the updates but didn't tell me it hadn't got them. Anyone else experienced this?

Apparently the new version is going to be better. I'm just trying to remember where I've heard that before... oh yes...


Can't resist lifting this from Danny Finkelstein

An economist friend has just told me a wonderful story about a professional colleague of his. The colleague was waiting at the airport for his flight to be called when a man ran into his section of the lounge, slightly out of breath. "Is there an economist in here?" he called out.

My friend's friend was delighted. He has always wanted to help out in an emergency. He puffed out his chest, stood up and in a clear voice called out. "Yes. I am an economist."

The man looked back at him with a mixture of contempt and bewildered surprise. "The magazine," he said slowly.

09 March, 2009

Telegraph hacked

If you subscribe online to any of the Daily Telegraph services it is possible your password is compromised and you should change it. The Telegraph has been informed of this but hasn't told subscribers. More if I learn anything

06 March, 2009

Your guide to quantitative easing

In order to bail out the banks the Bank of England borrowed money by issuing gilts. Now, under quantitative easing it is putting money into the economy by..er..buying them back.

Easy, this economics stuff.

We the people

The BBC's Mark Mardell reports that the EU is planning to put booths in city squares all over the European Union's 27 countries so citizens can "send a message to Brussels".

Oh, please...please do this.

Mardell says "I am sure those leaving London's pubs and clubs in the early hours of Saturday mornings will be forming queues to have their say. Or at least thinking of ways to put the booths to good use."

05 March, 2009

Sudan: an international shambles

So the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, for war crimes (not for genocide, as had been requested by the prosecution). Mr al-Bashir was not present at the deliberations of this court, nor did he recognise its authority.

In retaliation Sudan has expelled aid agencies, putting at further risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

One can't help thinking that a little less idealism and a little more realpolitik would have been useful here.

But I have grave doubts about this court. Supposing you were to be told, having done what you imagined to be the right thing, and as far as you were concerned perfectly legally, that it was in fact illegal, under laws made thousands of miles away in different language and under a different historical, political and philosophical background. Supposing the International Muslim Court sentenced you to death for adultery some years ago?

That it is of zero or negative use is amply demonstrated above. Is any African leader, about to attack his enemies as they have done for thousands of years, suddenly going to say 'Oooh! I might be indicted by the ICC and my name would be mud in Europe' ? I don't think so.

But also I don't think we, who emerged from barbarism just a few hundred years ago, have the moral right to condemn people who haven't yet.

04 March, 2009

Mr Brown goes to America

Thanks to Sky's Jonathan Levy for noticing that CNN's US news round-up, as you would expect, featured high on the list a British Politician talking in Washington. Unfortunately it was Tony Blair addressing the Climate Change Conference.

I do not have it in me to feel sorry for Gordon Brown, but I nearly did.

Ted Kennedy

'Senator Kennedy, you cheated at school, you panicked at Chappaquiddick, what makes you think you're fit to be President?' was the opening line of a somewhat tough (but fair) interview of this ambitious member of the American Royal Family.

This is a man who is famous for having a famous father and two famous brothers. He is distinguished for nothing else except his political longevity (he became a senator on the back of his brother's presidency in 1962).

Now we learn that Her Majesty the Queen is pleased to grant this person a knighthood, and that Gordon Brown will announce (perhaps even confer?) it on his visit to Washington. I suppose Ceaucescu and Mugabe got them but it really is time this nonsense stopped.

Mark my words, it'll be Des O'Connor next.

01 March, 2009

The dying days of Labour

So, Mr Brown wants to sack Harriet Harman, despite the fact that she has been elected to her post.

And Harriet Harman wants to reduce Sir Fred Goodwin's pension, despite the fact that he is contractualy entitled to it and that it was agreed by a Government Minister.

What has happened to these people? Their minds have gone, like crazed emperors in the dying days of Rome. They think that everything they say will be seen as true just because they have said it, and that for something to be accomplished they only need to give the word.

Now Brown is going to lecture Congress and return clutching a part of Obama's clothing expecting to be hailed as the saviour of the world. And none of his aides has the courage to whisper those few words into his ear....

Truly, Britain hasn't got a government at the moment.