31 August, 2010

Quote of the day

From Natalie Solent on the excellent Samizdata Blog, discussing some idiot demands that the law regulate cricket:

'Dear Lord, what misery has been inflicted upon the world because no one ever looked good issuing a call for inaction.'

In that bin

It must have happened to you: you listen to one of those ‘phone-in programmes on the radio – in this case ‘Any Questions’ – and someone asks a question such that you wish you were on the panel to answer it yourself.

In this case, a lady, referring to a rather overblown story about a woman putting a cat in a rubbish bin, asked ‘who would you like to put in the bin?’ and immediately I knew. I should like to put in the four male cloned failures in the Labour Leadership campaign, and see the lid closed by Diane Abbott.

I mean, we know these people, don’t we? They were cabinet ministers in the last government, taking collective responsibility for the decisions it made and for its performance. They must have agreed with what was going on or they would have resigned, wouldn’t they?

So when Gordon Brown proposed debt levels which were certain to leave the next generation in poverty, they nodded and said ‘Yes, Prime Minister’. When he wanted to take away the 10% tax rate for the poorest ‘We’re with you, Prime Minster; who gives a stuff about the poor anyway?’

Society deserves a rest from these men: Balls. Burnham and both Millibands. And they would be well advised to announce a 5 year sabbatical while they work out and articulate what, if anything, they believe in. Labour are going to lose the next election anyway as the voters give that nice Mr Cameron a chance, and the four could come back in 2015 hoping nobody remembered what they had been up to in the years to 2010.

Let there be no doubt: as the exciting leadership contest moves to its closing stages, this blog favours Diane Abbott for leader of our great (ok, that’s enough. Ed.).

30 August, 2010

Andrew Symeou

The Sunday Telegraph and Ian Dale are now running with the story you read about here on 23rd August

The State and your private life

CIS is the Customer Information System of the Department for Work and Pensions. Notice how we are customers now. They used to be civil servants.

CIS is the largest database in Europe, with 90 million records (snooping is one of the few things we’re really good at). It has details on every man, woman and child in the UK.

Now Computer Weekly Magazine reports that ‘Some 225 government staff are now known to have abused their right to access CIS in their job. Workers at numerous local authorities and courts have been disciplined for looking up the personal details of people - usually celebrities or acquaintances - when they had no business justification for doing so.’

Of course, if 225 people have been caught, it will be a lot more than that who are guilty of a bit of private snooping.

Notwithstanding the fact that the system is full of holes and that they have failed in their duty of care to safeguard the public’s right to privacy, the Department is going to inject this data into a new scheme called Employee Authentication Services, to make it available to lots of other snoopers, professional and amateur.

The British State cannot be trusted with personal data and we are going to have to find a way of stopping them keeping it on file.

If you are a footballer, by contrast, life is easier. Three superinjunctions have been issued to protect details of their private lives emerging in the press, even though these people are public figures, earning money for endorsing products and letting 'Hello!' magazine photograph their summer holidays. I say three but it might be more than that since with a superinjunction you are not even supposed to know that it is in existence, much less whom it refers to.

The superinjunction was invented by Mr Justice Eady who might have been better employed ensuring that there isn't one law for the rich and one for the poor.

Ghadaffi: new charm offensive

And we thought it was just going to be a display by 30 arab horses. But it seems some traditions are too good to miss, and Ghadaffi has once again hired 500 'hostesses' to hear the word of the Koran.

The great man said that all Europe should convert to Islam. Of course they tried this in the 15th century but without the same charm.

One paper says that three of the ladies converted on the spot.

Give way

Part of an occasional series on Italian road usage.

This is from Treviso, Northern Italy

29 August, 2010

Match Fixing

On the last day of the last test match of the summer, cricket fans woke to allegations in the News of the World that several Pakistani players had been involved in a betting scandal centred on the match.

Alas, it seems likely that the allegations may be true. But we should bear in mind the following:

Firstly they are at the moment just allegations. The players, two bowlers, the wicket keeper and the captain, have made statements to the police.

Secondly, every sport suffers such goings on. Even in cricket we have had the shabby tale of Hanse Cronje in 2000, and the strange case of Shane Warne’s ‘weather forecasting’.

Lastly these bookmakers focus on young, impressionable players, in this case from a country where corruption is endemic and even the Prime Minister is known as ‘Mr 10%’. But if all this is true they cannot play for Pakistan in the future, or no one will be able to trust what is going on in the game. In the case of Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir, brilliant young talent will be lost to the sport. For a few dollars.

How to treat the media elite

It seems that Peter Salmon, the astonishingly well paid (£430,000 a year) director of BBC North will after all be moving north as his department is transferred to Salford, near Manchester. Initially he had said he didn’t like the idea of it. He won’t be moving for a few years, though, and still wants us to rent him a flat.

If it were me in charge I should assume he had turned the job down. You could send a note of regret along with his P45 and hire a replacement for a fraction of the sum.

Now Salmon has come out with a perfectly Mandelsonian response to the public outrage: he says people are trying ot talk down the North of England and it is quite disgraceful. I don't think even the Dark Lord could have done this better. Of course nobody has been saying that: what people have been saying is that it seems he doesn't like the North of England. It is not his critics that have whinged about having to live near the department they are being grossly overpaid to run.

It is rumoured that the Human Resources director is refusing to move as well. This seems like an excellent way of culling overpaid staff. Perhaps we should move the whole damn thing to Anglesey: think how much we’d save!

Meanwhile the Director General, Mark Thompson (£864,000 a year!), has said that Rupert Murdoch is too powerful. Thompson needs to be reminded that Murdoch is not running a £2bn deficit and that everyone who subscribes to his channels has done so not by force but because they wanted to, even though they were already paying for the BBC.

Something urgent needs to happen here: these people are living in anther world, at our expense.

27 August, 2010

1,000 today!

This blog started a little under three years ago and this is my 1,000th post.

Thank you to everyone who has read it.


Ghadaffi returns!

It was only in November last year that the great man was in Rome. You will remember that he ordered up 500 hookers and tried to convert them to Islam.

On Sunday he'll be back, this time bringing, as well as his tent, 30 thoroughbred horses. Colonel Francesco Ferace, of the 4th Regiment of horseriding carabinieri, has been in frantic discussions with the Libyan Embassy over their dietary requirements (no wine, I expect, Francesco, the Colonel will already have converted the horses to Islam). The horses will make a display to celebrate the second anniverasry of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between Italy and Libya.

I suspect Ghadaffi comes here because the Italian love of ceremony coincides with his own; whatever, it's great theatre.

26 August, 2010

Madness in Durham

You will hardly find a clearer case for the Conservatives' plans to make police forces accountable to the public than this:

The insane County Durham Police have, within a three hour period, stopped more than 600 motorists who were going about their lawful business and breath tested them for alcohol. That's 200 an hour; more than three a minute.

All 602 proved negative. 100 percent of them.

You will not be surprised to hear that Durham residents are paying for a 'strategic road policing department'. These extremists are quite undaunted by the fact that their mad experiment has been a humiliating disaster and propose to do it again.

The British people really must regain control over the police, who are out of control.

Polly Peck

I never met Asil Nadir, but while working in the City I did business with Polly Peck and knew the company fairly well (only one person, Mr Nadir, knew everything about it).

Now it seems that Nadir is back in the UK to 'clear his name'. I think most people have come to the conclusion that he is guilty; certainly the press has. So why has he returned? Perhaps he felt Northern Cyprus was too small for him, although at nearly 70 years old it would seem an excellent retirement haven.

As a matter of fact I don't think a conviction is going to be that easy to reach. Polly Peck was an interesting business model. Its cost base was in Turkish lire but its sales, low level electronics and fresh fruit and vegetables, were in hard currency. In the late 1980s and 1990s the Turkish Lira was in free fall so the asset side of the business was falling, while the income side was strong. What Nadir was doing is rather like hedge funds do today (quite legally). The surplus cashflow was invested in new businesses and it grew bigger and bigger. It is a system which works wonderfully until the music stops and you have to find a chair. Some investors found their stake was worth 1,000 times what they paid for it. Polly Peck was one of the 100 largest companies on the stock exchange. Then in September 1993 it was worth nothing.

The charges against Nadir are that he syphoned off around £200 million into Northern Cyprus. He will presumably claim that this was the very nature of his business, earning pounds and dollars and investing in production faciities where they are cheap. If his accounting procedures were over simple he could be disqualified as a company director but that is a civil procedure. To convict him of fraud they will have to do better than that.

But the bookkeeping systems were inadequate: the figures are untrustworthy; getting information out of Northern Cyprus to show he pocketed the money rather than invested it is hardly going to be easy (if we can't even recognise them diplomatically they aren't going to bust a gut to help); the events were nearly 20 years ago; some of the people involved will be very grateful to Mr Nadir.

The trial starts on 3rd September. It will be interesting, but I don't think it will be easy.

*PS I should say that although it is alleged that £200m went missing, the charges relate to £34m

25 August, 2010

Welcome, Firenze!

Florence Rose Endellion is the name given to David and Samantha Cameron's latest child, who was born while they were on holiday in Cornwall. This blog welcomes her, though she will have to cope with a father of increasingly dodgy political beliefs. St. Endellion has a pleasing music festival and the Endellion String Quartet is one of the best.

When thinking of the effect on children of giving them strange names I often think of the Beckhams, who called a child Brooklyn because that is where he was conceived. Shortly before they had been in their home in Sawbridgeworth......

If Florence regrets her name in later life she can reflect that her parents might have been on holiday in Mousehole.

24 August, 2010

Fall of Rome

Today is the 1,600th anniversary of the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths under the leadership of Alaric, a Bulgarian born commander in the armies of Emperor Theodosius, ending a civilisation unequalled in Europe until Ottoman Constantinople in the 17th century.

That same year the last Roman legion left Britain, plunging it into the Dark Ages.

Alaric, who was a Christian, was later killed trying to invade Africa and is buried near Cosenza.

23 August, 2010

This could be you

Andrew Symeou is 20, British and lives in Enfield near London. At least he’s not in Enfield right now, he’s in prison. In Greece.

The story is quickly told: Andrew went on holiday in July 2007 to Zante, a Greek Island. In the early hours of the morning on 20th July a young British man, Jonathan Hiles, was punched in a nightclub called Rescue, fell off a stage and was killed. Mr Symeou says, and this is corroborated by several witnesses, that he was not in the nightclub at the time. Friends of Mr Hiles say that the assailant was tall, blond and clean shaven; Mr Symeou is short, dark and at the time had a beard.

I quote from the report on the case of Fair Trials International:
Zante police interviewed a number of witnesses in connection with Jonathan’s death, including two of Andrew’s friends. According to complaints they made to UK consular officials, police held the men for 8 hours, denying them food and water, and they were beaten, punched, slapped and threatened until they made statements implicating Andrew in Jonathan’s death.

An examination of these statements, which were later withdrawn, reveals them to be recorded word for word. The same police officers were recorded as interviewing different witnesses at the same time, raising further suspicions of evidence fabrication by the police.

These statements also conflict with the voluntary witness statements given to UK police as part of the subsequent coronial inquest into the death Jonathan Hiles. In the Greek version, three men state (word-for-word) they directly witnessed the incident. According to statements made later to UK authorities, the matter was only witnessed by one man who was unable to confirm what the perpetrator looked like.

Anyway, the Greeks issued a European Arrest Warrant and Mr. Symeou was arrested by British Police and sent to Greece. By the time his trial comes round he will have been in prison nearly a year.

There is no law of habeas corpus in Greece or indeed anywhere in Europe. Mr. Symeou was refused bail on the grounds that he wasn’t Greek. Police brutality is the norm in Greece and the prisons are dreadful. The establishment Mr. Symeou is being held in, Korydallos Prison, is where David Daubney was found dead last year. The European Court of Human Rights described conditions there as degrading and inhumane.

Tony Blair it was who allowed British citizens to be dragged away on the say-so of some inhuman regime, probably in return for some concession on something like duck eggs. Would Mr. Cameron have done the same? Will he consider doing something about this disgraceful shambles now?

Yes, and no, are my answers.

We should refuse to implement European Arrest Warrants until the other countries in Europe clean up their act and change their primitive legal systems.

21 August, 2010

Advance Australia Fair!

That, by the way, is the name of the Australian National Anthem. Waltzing Matilda is of course a better tune...

Anyway, exciting stuff in the election where the two candidatesa are scarcely a billabong apart. She is a 1970s nutcase socialist who tried to get Melbourne twinned with Leningrad and he is called the Mad Monk.

Can the Queen stop this?

Eyeless in Gaza

There is much to be chewed over in the US Government's promotion of talks between Mahmoud Abbas (confusingly called Abu Mazen in much of the international press) and Benjamin Netanyahu, of Palestine and Israel respectively.

One of the reasons Americans don't play cricket, it is said, is that they couldn't play a game for five days and end up with no winner. So it is that the imposition of a one year deadline for success in these talks seems, to put it politely, to be the triumph of hope over experience.

The various cases against the talks are clear: some believe Netanyahu, in a strong position domestically, is not prepared to concede anything valuable. Some say that Abbas, in a weak position domestically, wouldn't dare concede anything at all. And Hamas is running Gaza; they are not participants in the talks for the simple reason they are not in favour of peace with Israel.

There is a number of counterpoints to these arguments. One of the first, I believe, is Hillary Clinton. The USA has seldom had a more determined, more self-assured Secretary of State; her striving at all costs for a result could be infectious. The second is that it has only ever been the right wing Israeli Likud Party, which Netanyahu leads, which has made any progress in the various negotiations over the years. This is known as the 'Nixon in China' syndrome, whereby if a side which is known to be hard line starts to talk, people think it must be all right. The reason Netanyahu may well make concessions - he has said that everything is on the table - is that his principal concern must now be Iran, which opened its first nuclear power station yesterday.

But without Hamas? Are we saying that Abbas is the President of Palestine which includes Gaza, where there is a hostile local administration? Or is this an attempt at a 'three state' solution?

And lastly, as I always ask, where are the Gulf States in all this, why aren't they involved, more supportive of the Palestinians? That perhaps is the biggest mystery of all.

20 August, 2010

Leon Brittan

The news that Lord Brittan is to become trade adviser to the Government must have left any serious political thinker open mouthed. Many of Mr Cameron's bacbenchers would have been qualified for the job, and jobs in government are hard to come by, but he exhumes this tired, bigoted old failure as if it were an obvious choice.

Brittan, eclipsed intellectually by his brother Samuel, was a poor Chief Secretary under Mrs Thatcher and a short lived Home Secretary. Eventually he resigned over the Westland affair.

Brittan is a euro-nutcase, and stupidly, Mrs Thatcher sent him to Brussels where he remained for ten years, eating well.

Now, just as you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the arrogant, self-absorbed old freeloader is back. This can only be taken as a sign that Cameron is pro Europe and has no intention of standing up to the Brussels bureaucracy to defend our interests. It is a bleak day for those of us who were taken in by his faux-euroscepticism before the election.


I feel very sorry for the aspirant undergraduates who can't find a place at university. It is increasingly difficult to find a decent job that doesn't require a degree and their hopes had been raised by Tony Blair's idiot idea that 50% should go to unversity: even if he had achieved it, the result would have been that the degree would have been devalued. Calling Cowley Technology College 'Cowley University' is not going to get us one step forward.

Amidst all the lip chewing and evasiveness, however, I must say that I am more worried about the people at the bottom. Some 20% of our children leave the education system with inadequate literacy and numeracy skills. Since the minimum wage is around twenty times what an unskilled Chinese gets, they are unemployable and condemned to a life of handouts.

I know universities are important but this, in my view, is more important.

Fresh Prince

The Prince of Wales has made a list of twenty lifestyle changes for the average family in the blurb to his new environmental movement Start. They include taking fewer baths and recycling used paint tins.

I am not saying this is wrong: if you believe that unrecycled paint tins caused the flooding in Pakistan it is your duty to do something about it and the heir to the throne is helping you.

It’s just that...immediately this stuff was issued, reporters wanted to know whether the Prince never took baths, and of course his staff didn’t feel able to discuss his toilet with the riff raff on the streets (or the ‘great unwashed’ as they used to be called).

Queen Elizabeth I, in a 16th century PR démarche, announced that she took a bath once a month whether she needed it or not. But we live in more genteel times now.

What I am against is that this is all going to bring the PoW under scrutiny and make him look a twit, which is something he really doesn’t need right now.

For me, there is a strong similarity between the Prince of Wales and the State of Israel: instinctively I want to support them both, but each seems intent on making it as difficult as possible for me to do so.

19 August, 2010

The silly war on drugs

Sir Ian Gilmore, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Surgeons, has publicised a report in favour of the decriminalisation of the personal use of drugs. Gilmore is not a nutcase, and nor is his co-author Nicholas Green, a barrister.

I think the first thing to be said about this is that we have lost the war on drugs. Cannabis is increasingly used by quite young children. In many of our housing estates heroin and crack dealers walk unmolested by the authorities. The middle classes, among whom cocaine use is increasing, are scarcely an example. Every month a new drug is invented, classified by the authorities and nothing done to stop its use. We can’t carry on like this, as Mr Cameron famously said. The thing is, what are we going to do?

The option of an increased police involvement and a crack down (if you’ll excuse the pun) no longer seems to exist. We can’t afford it, we haven’t the prison space, and society won’t tolerate the massive assault on its civil liberties such an operation would imply. Nor is it likely to work.

Since 1961 it has been legal to kill yourself in the UK. That is to say I am allowed to buy a knife and slit my throat (yes there are medical and police resources required here, too), jump off Beachy Head, drive my car into a wall. I can also damage and kill myself through obesity, cigarettes, and alcohol. For all these, if I am still alive at the end, I am treated free of charge by the NHS.

So it must be with drugs. If someone wants to take them that is their lifestyle choice (the Government has, I believe, a duty to warn the public of the dangers as long as this is a serious cost to the NHS). Let’s free up the prisons, free up the police and concentrate our diminished resources on treatment. Portugal decriminalised personal drug use ten years ago and consumption has gone down, not up, as addicts come out into the open and are treated.

The war on drugs is not a moral crusade: heroin is not inherently worse than alcohol. Let’s have some clear thinking for a change and debate Sir Ian’s proposals sensibly.

100 days

The coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg seems to be scoring fairly well with the newspapers at the 100 days mark.

For me I am not so sure. Firstly, of course, I don’t think we should have had it in the first place. Cameron should have run a minority government and called another election when continuation became impracticable, which would have been less soon than you might think, given the fact that the Liberals were not popular and the Labour Party had no money for another campaign. As it is, the policies were decided after we had voted, so if, like me, you reluctantly supported the Conservatives on the grounds that they were pledged to repatriate powers from Brussels and that they would have nothing to do with changing the voting system, you have been cheated.

I don’t like 100 days as a point for the analysis, either. It is not enough time to analyse policies, much less the effect of those policies. All you can do at the 100 day mark his analyse the direction of travel, as it is called these days.

One must give Cameron and Clegg full marks for activity. This, I think, is generated by Cameron, who, in the closing stages of the election, brought out a policy a week (sometimes it seemed like a policy every fifteen minutes). The result is movement on a wide range of fronts, in the Home Office, local government, schools and higher education, and the hint of changes at defence and foreign policy. Much of this has been good, some tepid.

One disappointing aspect seems to be Cameron’s lack of backbone. He must be bright enough to see the sheer idiocy of the state providing milk in schools and of providing bus passes to the well off. He has simply avoided short term unpopularity using our money.

The deficit is of course the main preoccupation of the government and, after some good publicity work, of the country. Here we must regretfully report that even the plans – and we don’t know how much spineless backing down Cameron is going to do when the whingeing starts – even the plans do not provide for the elimination of the deficit in the proposed five year term: not one penny of the bloated national debt will be paid off, indeed it will increase.

So, for me, 5 or 6 out of ten. The question people will now ask is how long this administration can survive. Not being used to coalitions in Britain we may have forgotten that the seeds of destruction are sown internally. The arguments are blue on blue (and yellow on yellow): it has been remarked that if a Conservative minister makes a blunder he is slapped down publically, whereas if a LibDem made the same blunder there would be policy meetings to resolve the issue. The backbench Tories are concerned, as am I, about the lack of movement on Europe, the wishy washy support for the armed forces, the lack of muscle on the deficit and proposed referendum on AV. The LibDems are mumbling that they didn’t come into politics to see benefits cut.

In truth, British political parties are themselves coalitions, broad churches where the right can combine uneasily with the left, the eurosceptic with the europhile. If coalition is to become entrenched in our national life there is no reason why the Tories and LibDems shouldn’t split into at least two parties each. I am not convinced this would necessarily be a good thing either for the parties or for our democracy.

So how long will it last? I am less pessimistic than some. I believe there will be difficulties at the Comprehensive Spending Review in September but they will stumble through. I think, though, that after four years if the Tories are further ahead, and I believe they will be, or the LibDems suffering in the polls, it will be time for the amicable separation. I for one hope that this particular couple never gets back together again.

17 August, 2010


The death has been announced of veteran Italian politician Francesco Cossiga, aged 82.

A Sardinian, Cossiga was made Minister of the Interior in 1976 by his mentor Aldo Moro. The mid 1970s were known as the 'anni di piombo', the years of lead, and Cossiga found himself fighting terrorists from both right and left. In 1978 Moro was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades. Cossiga led the hunt for his killers but after the body was discovered in Rome declared himself 'politically dead'. He resigned.

Cossiga felt that Italy had to recover from the 'revolving door' administrations - it averaged one prime minister a year - and ironically became PM, in 1979, lasting 14 months.

Cossiga became the 8th President of Italy in 1985, holding the post for 7 years, unpopular for continually urging the political parties to reform. At one stage he sent a chunk of the Berlin Wall to the Communist party. He was know as 'il picconatore', the wrecker. Cossiga's party, the Christian Democrats were, however mired in corruption (the 'clean hands' investigation into this paved the way for Berlusconi) and he resigned early.

History's verdict will be mixed.


The UK Independence Party anounces the resignation of Lord Pearson of Rannoch as its leader. Pearson, a decent cove, said 'I have learned that I am not much good at party politics'. This is rather understating the case.

Best wishes to anyone brave enough to take it on, but I fear that there is no one in the UKIP ranks with the visibility of Nigel Farage who, after his plane crash on Election Day, is said not to want the job.

In the 2009 EU elections UKIP came second, ahead of the Labour Party, with some 16% of the vote.

16 August, 2010

Tony Blair: not an apology

Tony Blair's decision to give the money from his memoirs to the Royal British Legion is to be welcomed. The money is sorely needed and it will be over £4 million, it is said.

Some normally sane commentators have unfortunately gone all loopy, suggesting he is a man of conviction and puts his money where his mouth is.

This is too much. Blair is said to have made £20 million doing not much more than giving speeches in America on the tough decision to go to war. In my opinion he was merely brown-nosing George Bush, not making a statesman-like decision - otherwise why did he lie continually on the reasons for attacking?

I also rather think that this means there is something else due to come out. We'll see.

The money will be good, but an apology would have been better.

14 August, 2010


'Gaza cannot remain a prison camp' said David Cameron last month. Seems he got his wish.

Lord above

I have been trying to think of the last time being a peer actually amounted to something. I think it was the early part of the 19th century, when someone with a title was seriously rich and had thousands of tenants looking up to him, over whom he wielded considerable powers.

Now it is a squalid business, the House of Lords being inhabited by failed politicians, time servers and chancers. A couple of peers, including Lord Taylor of Warwick (pictured) are being investigated by the police for fiddling their expenses.

I once heard Helena (Baroness) Kennedy say that rather than being Lady Kennedy she should simply have ML (Member of the House of Lords) after her name. I disagreed at the time, but now I am not so sure.

If we are not going to abolish it completely, and there is a case for this, when the very necessary move to elected members happens I believe we should change the name of the House to The Senate. I am certainly fed up with using the same name for John Taylor as I do for the Almighty.

13 August, 2010

The Pakistan floods

I think the crisis in Pakistan should make us look to history for our response.

The last of the great religions to start up, Islam was confined to a few small villages in what is now Saudi Arabia until the first quarter of the 7th century. By the middle of the 7th century it had spread north through Syria and outwards to Iran and Iraq in the East and through Egypt to Tunisia and Libya in the West. By the middle of the eighth century it had spread like wildfire to north-west India in the East and right across north Africa and up into Spain, not much more than a hundred years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed.

The way this happened was not just the fruit of a highly trained army, in the way of Alexander the Great a thousand years before. It was due to the appeal of the new religion to the poor and distressed. Islam promoted iconoclasm while the mediaeval Christian churches were hoarding gold, and it practised charity. A man had, by law, to give a percentage of his income to the poor. With the handouts came the proselytizing.

If we are not quick in Pakistan the millions of distressed will believe their only hope is the local Muslim organisation. In Gaza, Hamas distributes largesse to the poor and positions weaponry on top of the schools so it is targeted by the Israelis. These people are long-term players and we cannot let the same thing happen in Pakistan, which has still, in large part, a pro-Western, fairly secular administration.

The Americans have got the right idea, diverting helicopters and manpower from Afghanistan: this crisis is more important. We should step up our aid to these unhappy folk, and that aid should be clearly stamped with the UN or Western Government flags, and handed out by westerners.

Otherwise we are going to lose this.

Today's the day!

Paraskevidekatriaphobia, a word coined by an American psychotherapist which unfortunately has not made it into the Oxford Dictionary, means, of course, fear or hatred of Friday 13th. There seems to be a lot of it about – perhaps 20 million Americans won’t go to a restaurant on Friday 13th, it is said. Many think the origin is from the New Testament, particularly the last supper, although there are theories that the origins may lie in Norse folklore.

It has been said that people with thirteen letters in their name are evil, such as American serial killers Charles Manson, Theodore Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. And Jack the Ripper. And Timothy Hedges.

Anyway, you Paraskevidekatriaphobes can take comfort in the fact that a Friday 13th cannot occur more than three times a year, and today is the only one in 2010.

(written with my fingers crossed)

Labour Leadership Contest No.6,914

Exciting news from the Labour Party leadership contest.

No, actually that was a lie. I was even going to make something up for your amusement but couldn’t think of anything, other than the voluntary break-up of this near purposeless body, which could remotely be called exciting.

Just to recap quickly, the election was on 6th May and a few days later it was certain that Gordon Brown would have to go and there would have to be a contest for a replacement.

The result will be announced at the Party Conference on 25th September, that’s after 20 mind-numbing weeks of the five dithering functionaries who are in the contest trying to decide whether they were in favour of the previous set of policies or not.

The candidates, in no particular order, are
The geeky one who gets his hair cut with a hedge trimmer, who was photographed holding a banana.

His brother

The one who helped Gordon Brown shape our economic miracle

One that nobody’s heard of with a reassuring northern accent

The one who isn’t a white male and sends her child to public school.

The thing to bear in mind is that it must be clear even to these modest intellects that they are not going to win the next election. The reason is that a new government always gets the benefit of the doubt (‘let’s give them a chance’) and this new coalition thing is too interesting (I didn’t say it was good) to let go in a hurry.

So this is a great competition in which to come second, grab a shadow ministerial portfolio and in 2020 look as if you are the one they should have chosen all along.

Perhaps that is why none of them is saying anything interesting. Anyhow the funny haircut guy looks as if he has most to lose.

12 August, 2010

Savage Cuts

Congratulations to John Redwood MP for reminding an astonished BBC interviewer that there were not, in fact, going to be any cuts in public spending. The BBC's shtik is to bemoan savage cuts, starving children, worse than Mrs Thatcher etc.

As I have said before there weren't any cuts in Mrs Thatcher's time and there won't be now (at least not for the next five years). Public current spending will rise from £600.6 billion in 2009-10, the last Labour year, to £692.7 billion in 2014-15. That’s a rise of  £1500 for every man,woman and child in the UK. Would that there were going to be some cuts.

When the BBC stops advertising for staff in the Guardian it will slowly cease to be full of lefties and might start talking sense.

11 August, 2010

The death of innocence

Sion Jenkins was a Deputy Head teacher. In 1998 he was found guilty of the murder of 13 year-old Billie-Jo, his foster daughter. He claimed, and still does claim, that he had returned to their house and found her body. After six years in jail he was released pending a new trial. In that and in a subsequent one (the last Labour Government abolished the ‘double jeopardy’ rule so the State can have as many goes as it likes at proving you guilty) the jury failed to convict him.

He now wants compensation for the six years he spent in jail.

The compensation committee and the minister concerned say he doesn’t merit compensation because to get it you have to show you were ‘clearly innocent’.

Now, there isn’t a court in England which can pronounce you innocent. The best they can do is ‘not guilty’. Under the presumption of innocence, which has also suffered under a succession of illiberal Home Secretaries, someone who has not been found guilty is not guilty.

There is, for example, a whole raft of crimes of which I am not guilty, such as throwing a custard pie at the Lord Chief Justice, or hanging up former Home Secretaries David Blunkett and Michael Howard by their heels and beating them with a hosepipe until they admitted they only tampered with the centuries-old justice system for political gain.

But I have not been found guilty of these crimes and must be regarded as innocent of them.

The second reason our treatment of Mr Jenkins is outrageous is that, as stated above, the state can continue prosecuting you, once a year for the rest of your life, until it gets the verdict it wants. After being found not guilty of a crime you cannot just sit back, happy that your name has been cleared, you have this threat hanging over you until you die. So you can never be ‘clearly innocent’ as the compensation committee requires.

If our justice system means anything at all Mr Jenkins must be allowed his money and left in peace.

08 August, 2010

Politicking while Pakistan floods

The newspapers in England, and more particularly in Pakistan are demanding why President Asif ‘Mr 10%’ Zadari has been swanning around Britain while his people are suffering from the most appalling floods.

I am not here to defend Zadari, who is corrupt, as was his late wife Benazir, but with less political nouse than her.

In fact, a president is not required in such a disaster. The police, army and rescue services would prefer that he didn’t micro-manage the effort and there is not much he can do. The Prime Minister is in charge.

Zadari, apart from perhaps some personal business – you will recall there was a fair bit of investment in the UK by him and Benazir – was here on political business, shoring up his supporters, without, it seems, much success. What he needs to do now is to collect some increased aid pledges from us, the French and Germans and Father Christmas in Brussels, return to Pakistan and say ‘look, I have brought food, tents, water treatment. That is my job’.

In short, he needs some PR. I’m sure Peter Mandelson is free.

Free milk

Good grief

I had thought Mrs Thatcher had put a stop to this years ago. But it seems that nursery and primary school children still get free milk.  Now a Scottish Health Minister has written that there was no evidence the scheme improved health and government was considering replacing the universal scheme with more targeted help for the poorest families. 

Now Cameron, about whom I continue to have serious doubts, has decided he doesn't like the idea of taking away the milk and will stop it.

Mercy me. By all means give poor people enough money to be able to buy milk for their children. And by all means advise them that milk is good for their kids (although I had lots of it and turned out quite tubby). But this recession is a golden opportunity to stop some of this state-centric nonsense and the Government should have the courage of its convictions: it is daft giving free milk to wealthy families and it is quite wrong having another whole generation where the State has told them what to eat and drink.

It isn't the £59 million the scheme will cost, which is in context tiny, it is the principle. Milk is available everywhere in supermarkets and grocers at minimal cost. The State being so patronising as to tell parents they don't know what is best for their children and therefore it will supply a basic foodstuff away from the family home is disgraceful. Cameron should wake up and stop it now.

Otherwise what, exactly, does he believe in?

The State and your health

Professor Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, enters the national health debate in an article in the Observer. It is a narrow tightrope, but one which, I think must be walked. Field walks it quite well, with the occasional lapse into hysteria, such as describing smoking in front of your children as ‘child abuse’.

The problem of balance is perhaps epitomised by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary. Lansley, who is thin, says doctors should tell the overweight not that they are obese, which sounds like a medical condition, but that they are fat. At the same time, he says that the work of Jamie Oliver with school meals is ‘lecturing’.

Double standards are common in this area.

There is a great temptation for governments to ban anything which is bad for you and to make it illegal not to do something which is good for you. In my view excessive government action is not only unhealthy politically – it looks as if the people are the servants of the state – but also probably counter-productive. I have often said that people in Britain drink too much because it is naughty, and the State pumping out regulations and laws to curtail it will just make it naughtier.

At the same time the people are entitled to have the information they need to conduct a healthy lifestyle, be it about breast, cervical or prostate cancer, or heart disease, diabetes, and the dangers of smoking. I am rather in favour of Jamie Oliver – it seems to me that if he is prepared to spend his time conducting this information transfer we should be grateful to him.

Where we do not have private help in this way a simple solution would be to have all government sponsored food lecturing to be done by the NHS on its budget. So if they believed that a £250,000 TV campaign on drinking would save more than £250,000 in the hospitals, they should go ahead.

At the end it is the experts who should lecture and they should be paid by how much they save us.

06 August, 2010


The anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima gives everyone, I think, pause for thought. Today is the 65th. For myself, born after the war when we had heard of Japanese atrocities during the conflict, I have never hesitated in believing it was the right decision to make.

For me, the important thing is the new era the bomb heralded. All my life, until the fall of the Soviet Union, there was the threat of a bomb landing on us. I remember air raid warnings kept on from wartime, instructions what to do in the event of a nuclear disaster, the uneasy confidence inspired by Mutually Assured Destruction.

That threat has gone away, replaced by others, other weaponry, other enemies. Now however on 6th August I think less of us but of the unsafe countries which possess the bomb: Pakistan, Israel, N.Korea, perhaps Iran.

God help us all.

PS Of course China has the bomb too. Good luck everyone in Macao, Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan.

A bear of very little brain

A mobile 'phone registered to Winnie the Pooh helped police track down fugitive Italian gangster Vittorio Pirozzi in Brussels.

Pirozzi, a senior member of the Camorra, was on Italy's 100 most wanted list.

Blood exports

The appearance of super-model Naomi Campbell at the trial in The Hague of Charles Taylor seems to have attracted public interest where there would otherwise have been none. Let’s hope it is for the better; so far the prosecution who subpoena-ed her to testify have now rejected her as a witness..

I must say Nelson Mandela has interesting dinner parties: the invitees on the evening in question appear to have included Mia Farrow, Naomi Campbell as token celebrities and Charles Taylor as token genocidist. Perhaps Bob Geldof and Radovan Karadzic were there too. Miss Campbell claims she had not spoken to Mr Taylor and had never heard of him or of Liberia, which after a moment’s listening to her is believable. Anyway two men came to her door that night as she slept, she opened it, as you do, and received a pouch containing ‘some dirty pebbles’.

I am really not sure about war crimes trials. We know that there was a lot of cruelty and murder in Sierra Leone but suppose for a minute the rebels being financed had been freedom loving democrats; Mr Taylor would have been applauded for selling them weaponry. And Liberia can sell arms to whom it likes, can’t it? Britain certainly does. And dealing in ‘blood diamonds’ has never been a crime: it has been limited by international agreement, the Kimberley Process, in 2000, some years after Mr Taylor’s alleged dealings. Note that the Kimberley Process allows exports from Zimbabwe.

So if something good does come of all this, the trial of a president of a sovereign nation, the silliness of a supermodel whining that she really found it rather inconvenient to turn up, I don’t suppose it will be much in the way of natural justice. If it attracts international attention on how evil regimes are maintained in power through trade, it might be something. I would begin with the shipload of Chinese armaments found last year trying to get to Zimbabwe to prop up Mugabe, in return for diamonds and minerals (‘blood minerals’) and perhaps go on to the shipments of timber by the evil regime in Burma, again to China, in return for weapons to repress the people (‘blood wood’).

But it’s easier to get hold of a little fellow like Charles Taylor.

05 August, 2010

What is going on here?

We clone cows. You or I might not have known it but we do.

Now it seems some people have drunk the milk of cloned cows, or rather the grandchildren of cloned cows  because all this has been going on some time, and some have eaten the meat and the whole world is up in arms. The Food Standards Agency has (GM-free) egg on its face.

But if we are not allowed to drink their milk and not allowed to eat their meat..er..why are we cloning them?

The Devil and his fun

Something I missed from last month was the death of Fritz Teufel (Teufel means devil in German). It is a reminder that the 60s were not just a musical revolution. Teufel was the founder of the Spass-Guerrilero or 'fun guerillas' group which seemed to laugh at authority without, regrettably, being able to laugh at itself.

Teufel and some friends were imprisoned for a supposed assassination attack on Hubert Humphrey, the American Vice-President in 1967. But he and his Spass-Guerrileri were found to be armed only with puddings. The incident made the Berlin police look heavy-handed and silly.

Happy days.

Teufel in less frivolous times became an unsuccessful journalist and died recently aged only 67.

04 August, 2010

Politics as usual

I don't know if there are lessons to be learned for the UK Coalition government in what is going on in Italy but it certainly seems fun.

The story so far. Gianfranco Fini was head of the very slightly, um, fascist party MSI. He gradually went more centrist and in a grand move to get out of the mire of multi-party government merged rather than coalesced with Berlusconi's Forza Italia party to form the PdL. This pushed the Left into similar manoeuvres and heralded an era of two party politics.

Fini grew a little fed up with Berlusconi, mumbling about the sexual scandals (although his own marital career is far from perfect: his first wife left her husband for him who then tried to kill himself, and he now has an illegitimate daughter with a woman twenty years younger). Anyway this sort of thing doesn't really matter in Italy. Mostly it was that Berlusconi was hogging both the limelight and the parliamentary time, trying to make laws to keep himself out of chokey. And Fini thinks that some of Berlusconi's fellow travellers are less than savoury, which is probably true.

Anyway the rows got more and more heated and culminated in the magistrate's investigation into Giacomo Caliendo who is the Justice Secretary (whoops!) for supposedly founding a political masonic lodge. As it came towards a vote of no confidence in Caliendo Fini seceded from the PdL with 33 MPs.

But Berlusconi seems to have faced him down, announcing that at the first sign of a problem he would call an election. Fini's group abstained and the vote was won by Berlusconi.

It is hard to know what Fini was up to - the easiest thing to do with Berlusconi was ease him into retirement as President and simply assume the reins of power. Berlusconi is still, despite recent setbacks, popular, and would probably win an election.

As I have said before, Berlusconi's problems would be minimal if he had actually done something for Italy. He needs to start talking up the improvements in education, policing and budgetary control and just step into the shadows a little.

Unlikely, though.

BP and the vote winning disaster

It seems that three quarters of the oil spilled from the BP Gulf of Mexico blowout has been collected, burnt or has been broken up by the movement of waves. Three quarters. So it isn't the worst disaster that ever happened to mankind.

Doubtless President Obama has apologised for his shameless behaviour in trying to bag votes by a hysterical response but I can't seem to find the apology in the press. BP has done a fantastic job during this disaster and its vilification has been the last refuge of a scoundrel president.

Obama continues to lose popularity, which is what comes of getting on the wrong side of this blog the truth.

Le Criquet

Disturbing news reaches me that cricket is taking off in France. Of course France is the reigning Olympic silver medallist (cricket was last an Olympic sport at the 1900 games) but really.

It seems that while the ICC, cricket's ruling body, has been whingeing about lack of funds it has wasted donated some €250,000 to support cricket in France. In addition the French government is promoting the game in 200 schools.

Call me wrong, call me chauvinist (and Chauvin was a Frenchman) but I don't think they've got the temperament.

03 August, 2010

The third man

News that Gordon Brown has been voted by historians the third worst Prime Minister since the war is puzzling. The two worst were apparently Anthony Eden and Alec Douglas Home, who had on their watch respectively Suez and the Profumo/Christine Keeler scandal.

I can't really see that these two were worse than Brown. They never lied about statistics, never misled the public over what was going on and, crucially, never brought the country to its knees financially.

What may be interesting is that they all followed Prime Ministers of their own party who were perceived as safe pairs of hands - Churchill, MacMillan and Blair. John Major scored badly too, but then again he deserved to.

02 August, 2010

Normal service

It amuses people when I say that telephony, wireless and fixed, doesn't work here in bad weather.

I spend three days trying to get the 'phones working in Rome, return to Umbria and a mild summer storm blows everything. We are not allowed a lightning conductor on the house on the grounds that it...er... attracts lightning.

Normal service will be resumed..etc etc

Mr. Grumpy