29 October, 2009

The Internet: now we are 40

At 1030pm on 29th October, 1969 the first message transfer beween two computers took place, on what was then known as the Arpanet. The first message was 'lo'; it was meant to be 'login' but the system crashed after the first two letters.

I believe the designer went on to produce Microsoft Vista.

I have had the internet since 1990 and can confidently say it is the most life changing thing ever. It enables you to read this blog, for example.

28 October, 2009

David Shepherd, Cricketing man

The cricket world mourns the loss, at 68, of David Shepherd. Shep made over 10,000 first class runs for Gloucestershire and became a Test umpire in 1985, officiating in 92 tests.

His superstitious habit of standing on one leg when the score was 'Nelsons', (111, or a multiple thereof), became a bore which he carried on for the crowd.

Shep was a Devon man, decent, honest, convivial, loved and trusted by everyone in the game. He had a good eye, but after one match late in his career, where he was shown to have made a few errors, he was heartbroken, and retired soon after.

For me, Shep was pretty well what the whole damn thing is about.

27 October, 2009

George Osborne

The shadow chancellor has just made one of the most stupid speeches of the year, against some pretty stiff competititon. He says that high street banks should limit their cash bonuses to £2,000 per employee. The suggestion is daft for a number of reasons.

1. It seems rarely understood by the Left (although one might have thought a Tory would grasp it) that shareholders are themselves capitalists and stick to as much of their own money as they can, as capitalists do. They pay what is needed to keep staff; they don't accept lower dividends so everyone can have champagne.

2. Now the Government is a shareholder, it too must pay staff what is needed to keep them (it will be a bit less this year because there aren't so many jobs for them to go to). If you don't pay them you risk losing them.

3. This sort of state interference in a nationalised industry is what Tories should be condemning, not promoting.

4. If the banks lose their best staff they will be worth less when the Government finally sells them off, meanng a loss for the taxpayer.

5. Osborne's wizard wheeze is that the staff will be paid bonuses in the banks' shares. No objection to this, except for the fact that they cannot cash them in for several years so they are seen as tying the employee to the bank. The best ones can get jobs without this restriction. The worst ones will stay.

6. Osborne says this will free up £10bn of bank lending. It won't (increased capital ratio proposals, which Osborne ahs not objected to, will swallow up most of it), and even if it did, that would be such a trivial amount as to be unnoticeable.

Perhaps Osborne is hoping to look like the People's Chancellor and that we'll forget the detail of his speech. My view is that this is an issue on which he would have done better to keep silent.

26 October, 2009

Italy: new leader of the left

Pierluigi Bersani has had an easy victory in the run off to select a leader for the Democratic Party.

Bersani is best known for the 'Bersani Law', passed when he was Minister for Economic Development in the Prodi Administration, which made a stab at deregulating various businesses, including lawyers' fees and making it legal to have your hair cut on a Monday (although it is still next to impossible)

This is good news for the Left, having a clear winner and a credible, experienced candidate. It now needs some policies.

BNP again

It has been said following his appearance on the programme 'Question Time' where all the questions were about his party, that Nick Griffin will benefit from the sympathy vote.

After public criticism from his Mother-in-law, who called him a 'work shy pretender', this can only increase.

24 October, 2009

Italy: economy bigger than Britain

Il Sorpasso was what it was called when in 1987 Italy's economy outstripped Britain's and there was a good deal of publicity, a good deal of celebrating. Italians like to feel proud of their country and this was as good as winning the world cup.

The positions were reversed a few years later and by the turn of the century Britain's economy was a third bigger than the Italian one.

Now there is a second Sorpasso and if Berlusconi has any sense he will milk it for all it is worth. It has been caused by the strength of the euro and the weakness of the pound and is unlikely to last for long. Because it is not in the euro Britain has the right exchange rate and its export industries will benefit. Italy has the wrong exchange rate and will find emergence from recession extremely difficult.

The pound is weak because international investors are worried about the appalling level of debt which Gordon Brown built up even in the good times.

I think that it is too much to expect that Gordon Brown should fall on his sword, although there are whispers that he might do so at Christmas. But it would need more than that to restore confidence in the currency. Britain desperately needs a change of government.

23 October, 2009

UK: The BNP on the telly

I suppose it was a milestone of a sort but the appearance of the British National Party leader Nick Griffin on Question Time has failed to live up to its billing.

I really don’t know if the BNP is a fascist party, which requires an adherence to a corporatist, one party state (just like communism). What I do know is that the British media have engaged for years with communists, equally anti-democratic statists, who have been apologists for the Russian gulags and Chinese labour camps, which have killed tens of millions of people, far worse crimes than the holocaust. So another ghastly anti-democrat here or there on the TV isn’t such a big deal.

The biggest incidence of fascism I saw was leftist thugs bussed in from all parts of the country who claim that freedom of speech in Britain should be restricted to things they agree with. One of those arrested even seemed to be wearing a black shirt.

It was always going to be the case that Mr Griffin would have been better off representing a daring, anti-establishment vote, particularly in a time of widespread criticism of our politicians and that once subjected to the glare of publicity he would look a shambling fool. That is indeed what happened but the BBC came close to ruining it by limiting questions to the subject of the BNP itself.

Griffin needs to be asked about foreign policy towards Russia, about the relevance of quantitative easing, about drinking amongst youngsters, the education system, what we spend on the national health, a host of things for which he is poorly prepared and confronted with which will not look like a political leader.

Still, I suppose it was a start.

21 October, 2009

Bank Regulation: nanny knows best

The announcement by Gordon Brown of restrictions on bank lending, with the stated intent of restricting mortgages to those able to repay them, the statement put out in advance of the Financial Services Association draft rules, is significant for one thing: it is symptomatic of New Labour, of the way the UK has been governed these twelve years.

1. It is superficially attractive. The lay public see the banks offering 125% mortgages and see them go bust, and so think that the one caused the other. But they did not go bust lending to the public. It was their commercial, wholesale lending (a far greater sum) which did for them.

2. It treats the public as idiots, who can’t be expected to work out what they can afford so the government has to regulate it.

3. It displays a complete lack of understanding of business. (a) it is not just the mistaken assumption that personal lending was the cause of the bank’ collapse; they don’t realise that this analysis goes on already. Some people’s circumstances change, losing your job for example, and that cannot be forecast (b) these risks are within the framework both of the banks’ business model and the customer’s self assessment. They are both happy with the risks they are taking and don’t need the government to intervene.

4. Gordon makes the announcement, his placeman in the supposedly independent quango draws up the rules. This shows that the Tories would be right to impose their own people, even though they acknowledge that government patronage is too high, and that it would be an idiocy if Adair Lord Turner were, as has been mooted, appointed a deputy governor of the Bank of England.

These awful people just can’t help interfering. It will be a huge weight off the people’s backs when they are finally voted out.

18 October, 2009

Italy and Afghanistan: strange news

I return from a short stay in France to all manner of strange stories. The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, is let off with having to make a brief, grudging apology to Parliament, after defrauding the taxpayer of over £100,000, telling blatant lies to civil servants. A Tory MP is accused of paying £3,000 a month of expenses money to a company owned by him and his partner and he says the system was approved by the authorities. A further 27 MPs are being investigated by the taxman.

But the most interesting story, as is so often the case, involved Silvio Berlusconi. It is reported in the Times that the Italians bribed the Taliban to keep quiet in Sarobi, the region of Afghanistan they were given to look after. They failed to tell the French, who took over from them, what they had been up to, so the French underestimated the risk and ten of their soldiers were killed. Berlusconi has denied the veracity of the report. The Taliban say it is true.

The evidence for believing Berlusconi was that there is a long running dispute between him and Rupert Murdoch over Italian pay-TV, and the Murdoch papers are known to be looking for stories to discredit him. I put it to a number of Italians at a lunch party, some of them pro-Silvio some anti, and they all thought it was true (ie they believed the Taliban, not their Prime Minister) but not really wrong. This sort of tricksy manoeuvring, furbizia as it is known, is rather admired in Italy. Most people thought they should have told the French, though admit it would have been embarrassing to do so.

It is a curious philosophical question. Is it wrong to spend quite a small sum of money in order to avoid casualties? Wouldn't the British and Americans rather have spent, say, £10,000 per man and avoided all those fatalities?

But in that case why send the soldiers at all? Why not just identify a trouble spot somewhere on the globe and post a cheque? Is the Italian action wrong because we would be gaining credit for being all military and tough and moral when in fact the matter had been handled not by soldiers but by accountants? Or is it that such an expediency merely invites more violence, since the violent get paid?

Those are the questions with which the whole of Italy is entirely unconcerned this weekend.

11 October, 2009

BBC: climate change shocker

This from Paul Hudson, the BBC's climate change correspondent under the headline 'What happened to global warming?'

'This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.
And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise
. '

Of course these facts are not a surprise, many of us have been repeating them for years. What is a surprise is that the BBC should undergo this Pauline conversion, after only 11 years of cooling.

The new theory they favour is Pacific Decadal Oscillation (following the temperatures of the Pacific Ocean) which suggests we have another 30 years of cooling ahead of us.

Perhaps we could now have an apology?

10 October, 2009

Moon conspiracy theory

The Americans say they intentionally crashed a spacecraft into the moon.

I wonder: I'm sure I heard a cry of 'Allahu Akbar' as the thing went in.

09 October, 2009


It is being said in the left wing press that it is too early to cut expenditure; economists are being wheeled out to say it would be a mistake and this is being used as the Labur led attack on Cameron/Osborne economics. I think there is some (intentional) confusion here: it is not easy to find an economist who thinks this level of government expenditure is sustainable for long or who believes a sudden surge in growth is going to come from somewhere to get us out of the problem.

It is of course true that if you start pressing down on the money supply while the economy has not yet emerged into safety you run risks of stalling the recovery. My opinion is ignore this: what little exsperience of expenditure cuts exists (and it is usually forgotten in Labour circles that under Mrs Thatcher it rose inexorably, year after year, no cuts at all) suggests that it takes longer than you think. Look at the options:

Pension age: nothing is going to happen with this until 2016.

ID cards: to the extent these expenditures are already in the figures, this would be an immediate cut.

Local government: we all think that local councils shouldn't have diversity advisers and minority culture co-ordinators, but without taking away local powers (and quite the reverse, localising more, appears to be the fashion) all government can do is cut the subsidies. Local councils are then quite capable of keeping the diversity advisers and closing schools. It would take years to educate them out of this.

Big projects: someone always asks what the alternative would be. Cut the Navy's new aircraft carriers and they'll ask how they can get their planes around. Cut Trident and we'll need some other force de frappe to maintain our seat at the top table. Cut the Eurofighter and there will be tales of woe from the RAF. Cut the east coast main line and we'll have to spend more on roads. And each one will want a public enquiry, taking years.

And so it goes on. Civil servants don't want to lose their departments and introduce delays of their own. My advice is to start trying to cut as from Day 1. Then over a five year term you might have started. Start by selling things; everything a government doesn't need to own but which can be run perfectly well or better by the private sector: hospitals, post offices etc. This brings in immediate cash, the other things are just tinkering.

Nobel Peace Prize

The award of the Nobel Prize for Baroque Obama is perfectly ridiculous. Apparently he was nominated two weeks after his election and even now has achieved nothing on the world stage except increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.

They would have done better with Silvio

08 October, 2009

Boy George

This from the excellent Matthew Parris who is covering the Conservative conference for the Times:

Anxious on Tuesday to establish the time of George Osborne’s speech expected towards the end of the morning, I approached a senior Conservative MP. “Osborne?” I said, “About 12?”

“Goodness me, no, dear boy. He’s at least 14.”

Italy: new problems for Silvio

Silvio Berlusconi said when he finally passed through parliament the bill guaranteeing him immunity from prosecution 'now I won't have to spend Saturdays talking to my lawyer'.

Now he has lost his immunity and if it is bad news for Silvio it may also be bad news for Italy. Despite asserting the primacy of the constitution and despite eliminating what was clearly a cynical manoeuvre to keep the Prime Minister out of the courts, the country will now have to suffer a new era of mistrust between the government and the judiciary, and few years of political posturing by those who see themselves as his successors, both inside and outside his party.

The business of government will have to take second place for a bit.

06 October, 2009

Australia: unmitigated tinnies disaster

Their case almost unheard in the cosy human rights salons of the West, Australian motor racing fans are suffering inhuman crackdowns to their civil liberties.

Spectators at the Bathurst 1000, a 3-day motor racing event, will be restricted to 24 cans of beer a day, or 4 litres of wine.

There is no word yet as to whether the British government intend to copy this rule.

EU: Greece: no change

When I used to visit Greece on business in the 1980s the President was called Karamanlis and the Prime Minister Papandreou. The latest election in Greece has been fought between George Papandreou (son and grandson of previous Prime Ministers) and Kostas Karamanlis (nephew). It seems to have been the turn of Papandreou, with his PASOK (Pan-Hellenist Socialist Movement) party, in defiance of a movement all over Europe towards the centre right..

Both PASOK and its opponents, New Democracy, are deeply corrupt and no change is anticipated to the direction of Greek life, which is downwards. The policy of both parties is to await the next cheque from the European Union, which one day will not arrive.

05 October, 2009

Scotland: not for a Cameron

It gives me a warm, generous feeling to recommend to you an article in the Guardian by Jackie Ashley. You see, not only is Ms Ashley the long suffering wife of New Labour apologist turned tricky questioner Andrew Marr, but it is a rare treat because usually she writes complete bilge.

The article makes the point that the referendum David Cameron ought to be worried about is not a possible one on Europe (don't hold your breath is my advice) but one in Scotland on independence. The argument runs that once the Scots have seen the extent of the budget cuts, and given that New Labour is likely to be weak north of the border and the Conservatives even weaker, they will flood to the polling booths and vote for secession.

'Bring it on' is my view, but the article's title 'Cameron could well be the last ever UK Prime Minister' does make you think.

03 October, 2009

UK: The Conservatives and Europe

I have often had my differences with the Conservative Party, but the one major problem for me has always been its supineness over Europe. I was once a Conservative, culminating in being on the shortlist for the candidacy in a safe seat, but left and helped start UKIP because of John Major's acceptance of Maastricht.

Mr Cameron, when it became clear that the Labour Party had no intention of honouring its pledge to hold a referendum on the European Constitution, or Lisbon Treaty, said that the Conservatives would hold a referendum. This then changed to holding a referendum if Lisbon hadn't been ratified by the time of the election, and if it had they 'would not let matters rest' whatever that means. You see: supine.

The result of the Irish vote is due this afternoon and if the opinion polls are to be believed they will vote yes. It now seems less than likely, as Mary Ellen Synon thinks, that Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic can hold out. The Conservative Conference is about to start and Cameron and Hague cannot get through it without some open debate on Europe. If they stick to their original pledge to hold a referendum whatever, then the first year or so of Conservative rule will be smothered by the European issue (although this might be a good thing: if you want to take some unpopular decisions do it while the press are wittering on about something else). If they roll over should the Treaty be ratified they will look weak and unpopular to the Eurosceptics; Ukip came second in the European elections and has 13 MEPs.

One answer being mooted is that they accept Lisbon but pledge to repatriate some spheres of influence from Brussels. This could include the Working Time Directive, which makes a criminal of anyone trying to do the best for his family and work overtime.

Such a statement, and it would have to be a clear statement, would be good enough for me. I don't want the rescue of the economy to be overshadowed by the European issue, but this would be a clear statement that we are going to insist on a two speed (or multi-speed) Europe. So in the future we and other countries would have the option according to this precedent of opting into or out of any more nonsense like an upgraded European army, or repatriating a few more, like foreign policy.

Let's see what happens over the next few days. This is Mr Cameron's chance to show a bit of steel. He'll get my vote if he does.

01 October, 2009

BAe and bribery

BAe Systems, which we used to know as British Aerospace, Britain’s largest manufacturing company, may face bribery charges. Ironically the Serious Fraud Office will approach Baroness Scotland, herself recently found guilty of a breach of the law in relation to her employing an illegal immigrant. This is a good example of why Baroness Scotland should have resigned some time ago: even if she is inclined to rule out a prosecution she will go ahead so she doesn’t seem corrupt (Ha!).

BAe is alleged to have paid bribes relating to contracts in Africa and Eastern Europe. An earlier charge of bribery with respect to a Saudi arms contract was not pursued on the grounds that it was not in the national interest to do so (it would have brought up the names of which members of the Saudi Royal Family were on the take, and it’s a fairly long list).

People often forget that the sin here is the taking of the bribe. It means that someone of influence has caused the Saudis to buy British planes or weaponry, irrespective of their suitability, because of the bribe: in other words someone paid by the Saudi Government (or Tanzania or whatever) is not acting in the interests of their employers and feathering his own nest at their expense.

Everybody would like to see this practice die out but to use as a means of killing it the banning of the paying of bribes is plain daft. In some countries it is impossible to make a sale without paying bribes and if you don’t you lose the business. Badly run countries are being allowed to pass on the burden of policing their corrupt systems to foreign contractors: these governments are quite happy with the bribes system and do nothing to stop it– senior people are involved, after all. It is only the bien pensant West (and not all of that) which is troubled by it.

In the meantime there are plenty of nations which are quite happy with the concept, for example France and China, and so British jobs are lost.

This is madness. I could almost forgive Barones Scotland her sins if she had the courage to stand up and say so.

National Day

1st October is national day in The People's Republic of China, Cyprus and Nigeria, each of which has a history of bloodshed, illicit government and cruelty.

Obviously not a good day to start a country.