28 November, 2012

Booze and the rich boy

You'd have thought David Cameron would have gone out of his way to shrug off the 'Little Rich Boy' tag, yet he seems to relish it, if reports about minimum alcohol pricing are to be believed.

The papers say that there will be a minimum price of 45p per unit, which would push the price of a bottle of vodka to £12. It would sell for around £6-7 in the civilised world.

This will do nothing to prevent 'binge drinking'. It is more likely to encourage it, as well as other crimes. Alcohol is already far too expensive in Britain; people are drinking less than they did ten years ago. Britain's alcohol consumption is lower than that of France, Germany or Spain. In the EU the UK already has the second highest duty on wine, the third highest on beer and the fourth highest on spirits. Yet the government slavishly follows the anti-alcohol lobby.

Alcohol duty is a regressive tax, affecting everybody regardless of earnings. This will be seen as the Little Rich Boy's attack on the poor.

If he's got any sense Cameron will drop it like a hot coal.

You read it here....

I should tell you that several Italian papers believe that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant and will announce it at the beginning of December.

Of course they believe a lot of other stuff about the Royal Family, much of which is nonsense, but there it is.

The EM and you

The strange figure of Mario Monti, Prime Minister of Italy, has entered the debate on Britain's place in Europe. I say strange because much of Europe (not all) has been democratised for quite some time now and it is indeed odd, while the EU professes democracy to would-be members and to the rest of the world, to see an unelected figure in charge of a major country. He has been in power for more than a year now, without any popular mandate.

Indeed, Monti has held posts of considerable power (in the European Commission) for some time now without ever having been elected to anything. While Leonardo and Goethe have been referred to as 'renaissance man', Monti is that more modern creation 'Europe Man' (EM).

And he walks, he speaks.

Monti is confident in his EM status. He doesn't tiptoe round the continent saying 'Look, I know I've never been elected, but....'. He regards himself in the same light as Cameron or Merkel or poor Hollande. And his intervention tells us a lot, not just about the man himself, but about the debate.

Here's what he said, in an interview with Italian TV (translated):

  I am convinced that a compromise with the British has to be sought and, above all, it is necessary that, one day – and I spoke about this with David Cameron last week – the British ask their electorate not, ‘Do you agree with this further change that other [EU] countries want to make’, but ask the fundamental question, ‘Do you want [your country] to remain in the EU?’ I’m sure that, at that point, faced with such an important set of choices - banking interests, financial interests, industrial interests - they [British voters] would immediately say, ‘Yes, please’."

Where it's interesting is, in part, the tone. Monti, the unelected EM, does not hold open the prospect of membership coexistent with disagreement on the European ideal. He doesn't think the move towards ever loser union can or should change (despite what is going on around him). It can, of course, if the people (remember them, Mario?) want it to but he, like the rest of the crazed Europhiles, can't see that.

David Cameron, by contrast, is aiming for something quite different. He wants what we might call an 'à la carte' Europe, where Britain, for example, chooses to opt in to the single market but out of the Working Time Directive or the European Arrest Warrant. But the European Caste, the EMs, will see that if Britain can do this, others would demand to do it as well. Belgium might leave the proposed European Army; Sweden might decide it no longer wants to belong to the Agricultural Policy. The whole edifice, which is based on the elite EMs deciding what is good for you and everyone going along with it, would crumble.

Cameron hopes that a set of core countries, perhaps the original six, might opt for everything whilst an outer core might opt for half of it and a fringe (Turkey?) might just adopt one or two things.

A brief chat with a EM (Monti was in London last week) should have told Cameron that it isn't going to be possible. It's going to be 'In' or 'Out'.

This blog favours 'Out'.

27 November, 2012

Mark Carney

The new Governor of the Bank of England is a surprise, if only because he had firmly ruled himself out of the running.

There are a few things against him: he is ex-Goldman Sachs, he is only 47, his wife is a barking mad eco-warrior (the papers seem to hold this against him but I don't think it's fair: anyone could find themselves married to a loopy British woman who is likely to occupy St Paul's Cathedral). Oh, and he is Canadian. I can't think of one other major economy with a non-indigenous central bank governor.

Everything else about Carney is good, however. He understands banks (he will be in charge of regulating them) and he understands sovereign risk. This is a major coup for Chancellor George Osborne who must be very persuasive.

We must hope Carney doesn't share Mervyn King's penchant for printing money.


Jimi Hendrix was born on this day in 1942. He would have been 70 today but instead died aged 27.

26 November, 2012

Keep a'hold of nurse

Last week, Alexander 'Boris' Johnson, the Mayor of London, was arguing for a referendum on Britain's remaining in the EU. Today, he is all over the papers saying he didn't think leaving was necessarily such a good idea. The amazing thing is why anyone is interested in his opinion at all.

This blog's view, which has been consistent, is that Britain would be better off democratically and economically if it left the EU. I do not think, however that a referendum is the right method of achieving this. The most important person in  referendum is the one who frames the question and that would be the present government, led by Europhile David Cameron and Euro-loonie Nick Clegg.

And the Europhiles and Euro-loonies would campaign that we needed just a few changes, which they could achieve, and the safest thing to do would be to remain in their newly crafted EU. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.

'Always keep a'hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse.'

One of the things they will say, and this is Johnson's point, is that we need the trade with Europe and that could be damaged if we left the 'single market'. On the contrary: Britain desperately needs to rebalamce its economy away from dependence on Europe. Europe is the old world, plunging into recession and unlikely to return to growth for years, if ever. The new world, in South America, Africa and the Far East, will be the engine of growth in the future.

The 'Single Market' - it's not called a free market because it isn't one - is dragging us down with its excessive regulation and protectionist policies. Several studies have shown that the regulation costs us more than the rather limited benefits.

And the likes of Johnson and Cameron like to imply - with no evidence - that we wouldn't be able to sell our goods to Europe if we left. But everyone else does: Switzerland, North Africa, everyone.

No, we don't need Europe, it is an incubus, and we don't need a referendum to get out. We need a government which with sober consideration works out that we would be better off trading with the whole world, being able to make our own free trade agreements without protectionist France and Italy stopping us, and for that government to support our exit and campaign, if referendum there must be, for a vote to leave.

There is no need to take Johnson seriously, but Cameron must be made to realise his euorphilia is condemning us to years of stagnation and unemployment.

24 November, 2012

Today in Rome

From La Nazione

The schools are on strike

9am the Flc-Cgil union will demonstrate in the Piazza Farnese

10am Cobas, the rank and file Trotskyite union movement marches from Piazza della Repubblica to piazza SS.Apostoli, complaining about politically influenced education cuts.

10am as well, the students, university and high school, march from Pyramide in the south, meeting with Cobas at the Colosseum to march on parliament. This is an unauthorised march along a route not agreed, and there is likely to be violence as the riot police try to defend parliament.

10-2pm a sit in by professors an temporary teaching staff outside the Ministry of Education

4pm-8pm Casapound Italia marches from piazza Mazzini to the Ponte Milvio protesting 'against the government of bankers and in defence of  the social state, to say no to privatisation, speculation, ending of care for workers, loss of national sovereignty'.

Many thousands of people will join the demonstrations, with many buses arriving from all over the country, even though there are other demonstrations in Florence and elsewhere.

There is a continuing investigation of claims that last week civil servants fired tear gas canisters at protesters from the upper floors of the Ministry of Justice.

So, Monti's doing OK, isn't he?

21 November, 2012

Greece is the word

Any idea what this badge is? I'll tell you: it's the badge of the Military of the European Union. Just to explain, each of the 27 countries has its own military, then the EU sets up this extra body which can't command or control or order into battle any of the individual forces which are, naturally, under the control of their respective governments.
I mention this in the spirit of helping to identify budget savings: the world and the EU would be exactly the same if it were disposed of.
And the military is what I want to discuss. Here is a list of countries with the largest military expenditure per capita in the EU
UK €698
France €605
Greece €421
Germany €410
Italy €358
Spain €242
Notice an odd man out there? Can someone please explain why bankrupt Greece has the third highest military expenditure per head in the EU? It has more combat aircraft, 303, than any other country (the UK has 284); it has 375,000 military personnel; it has twice as many submarines as Germany, and more frigates than France or Britain.
How can they afford it?

Women Bishops (2)

Well, I was wrong, and the measure didn't pass, by a very narrow margin. Arrogance, I fear, is the cause: arrogance of those who scented victory and offered nothing to their opponents.

I mentioned in my post yesterday that 'there has to be some get out for the genuine doubters' and it seems this was inadequate. They just didn't try hard enough to accommodate within the Church those who disagreed with the majority.

Zoe Ham of the Church Society (a woman, nota bene: there are many women oppose to women bishops) said that inadequate provision had been made for the minority who could not accept a woman bishop. These number about 900 parishes out of 13,000 and they wanted a guarantee of episcopal oversight they could accept.

Unless there can be some changes at short notice, the matter cannot be discussed again for five years. This means five years of wrangling, disappointment and failure to discuss anything else.

Poor old Church of England.

The EU

The European Union is plodding, slowly but inexorably, towards a budget impasse: it now seems almost certain that nothing can be resolved in respect of expenditure for 2014-2020.

This has been portrayed in the media, including the British media, as recalcitrant, unclubbable Britain up to its old tricks and threatening a veto.

In fact the following countries have threatened to veto the result or hinted that they might use their veto:

Austria (wants a rebate and no cuts to agriculture)

Denmark (wants a rebate)

France (wants to maintain agricultural subsidies)

Italy (wants its net contribution cut)

Netherlands (no increases above inflation)

Poland (wants more subsidies)

Romania (no cuts to farm subsidies)

Spain (no loss of subsidies or cohesion funds)

Sweden (wants agricultural subsidies reduced)

.... and, of course, the UK.

Many of these are mutually exclusive (say, the positions of France and Sweden).

Not quite the happy band of brothers we are led to believe.

20 November, 2012

Women Bishops

The Church of England Synod debates today whether there should be women bishops. The new Archbishop has put his support behind the idea, despite the fact that he is an evangelical, a grouping which tends not to favour women bishops. It is the first test of his mettle, before he has even taken office.

Logic says that if a woman can be a priest (approved nearly 20 years ago) she can be a bishop. The problem is that there is a sizeable minority which believes a woman can't be a priest. This is less than it was, because some have gone over to Rome, but it is large and vocal. This minority says that since a bishop can appoint priests there would be male priests whom they didn't recognise, because they were appointed by a bishop they didn't recognise. If women bishops are allowed this could get murkier: each priest would have to carry his genealogy of appointment around with him. There has to be some get out for the genuine doubters, but it can't last forever.

The Synod is divided into three houses: the professional ones, the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy, are solidly in favour. The vote would need a two thirds majority, however, in the House of Laity, which is less so.

For myself I had doubts about whether a woman can become a priest, but believe the game was lost 20 years ago. The Church of England needs to approve this and move on to more important topics, like spreading Christianity and holding the Anglican Communion together.

I wish Archbishop elect Welby luck. I think they'll pass it, though.

France downgrade

All the talk among European financial folk at the moment is of France. The Economist last week had its cover picture of baguettes tied with the Tricolour made to look like a primitive bomb; Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times by contrast yesterday listed France as one of the things he is not worried about in Europe, suggesting that the mood of French-bashing was politically motivated. Now this morning we learn that Moody's, like Standard and Poors earlier in the year, has taken away France's AAA credit rating.

The stakes are high. France is the second biggest economy in the eurozone. Even at this early stage the effects of its downgrade will be felt: when the rescue funds are leveraged - that is to say when they start to borrow against the guarantees of the constituent members, it is now only Germany, along with tiny Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, which have the top rating; some lenders will not accept the collateral of a downgraded guarantor. So there may be less money to rescue the likes of Spain and Italy, should they need it.

Moodys observes that the chance of a rescue doesn't really apply to France. If Italy and Spain have to be rescued there will be no money left to help France, and if course it is in any case too big. Against that, it is tacit acceptance that France would not go under before Spain and Italy and neither of them has (yet) applied for help.

On the other side of the argument, there is a growing rift between the IMF and the Eurozone. Christine Lagarde started making impatient noises a year ago, hinting that the IMF had been set up to help poor nations, not rich currency blocs. Now she is openly stating that the creditor nations should take a haircut on their Greek debt. Der Spiegel shows how susceptible the various nations are to this. With a 60% haircut on Greek debt, for example, France would lose €55 billion, whereas the UK would lose only €2 billion. If it were Portugal as well, France loses €82 billion (UK €13 billion) and if we chuck Spain into the pot France, losing over €200 billion, would be insolvent.

But in my opinion blanket bad-mouthing is wrong. Yes, France has tied its lot too closely to the fate of the Eurozone, but that is what they all did pre-crisis. Yes, France has a problem of competitiveness, but Hollande has belatedly introduced tax breaks for small businesses, and it may well be that he is seeing the light.

France needs to watch it, and Germany needs to watch France, but it is a long way from disaster.

19 November, 2012


According to the Independent, Britain has lost 44 million birds in the last four decades.

What it doesn't mention is that the cat population has doubled in this time.

Cats are a pest and need to be culled, like badgers.

Prisoners' votes

Parliament is still, I read, tying itself in knots over the subject of prisoners voting. Prisoners have never, so far as I know, been allowed to vote in Britain, but a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights has said that they must be allowed to.

As so often, I find myself completely at odds with Mr. Cameron here. He declares himself to be outraged at the prospect of prisoners voting, but never seems to explain exactly why. It isn't a part of their sentence: the judge doesn't say '5 years in prison and no voting for you' nor is there some sort of custodial sentence with a vote '5 years but in view of there being no previous convictions you can vote.'

People are being arrested right now for saying things on Twitter the State doesn't like, on the grounds that it is likely to incite hatred. If we take away their vote they can't fight their persecution: upset the government and we'll prevent you from voting another one in. This smacks of the banana republic.

And one other thing. Aren't we supposed to be rehabilitating these people? A frightening percentage of crimes are committed by people who have just got out of prison. I should have thought an excellent way for them to get involved with society, to feel a part of it and not an outsider, would be to vote.

What does outrage me is that the decision on whether prisoners vote or not  should be made by unelected foreigners. At least we have been told that we could go against the ruling but we would be fined £100 million.

Mr Cameron doesn't seem in the least bit worried about this part. He appointed an Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, knowing him to be a great supporter of the human rights lobby, and he has no plans to withdraw from this.

If we could leave the whole thing and make our own laws it would be worth £100 million. But they would only find us 'guilty' of some other opinion they don't like and fine us for that.

We have to leave this nonsense behind and allow parliament and the judicial system to make our laws. Only when Cameron gets rid of Mr Grieve will you know that he is interested in the rights of ordinary people. And just think, when some immigrant commits terrorist acts in Britain we'd be able to send him home.

15 November, 2012

Vote to stop lunacy

The polls are open today in the UK (not London) to elect Police and Crime Commissioners. This means that, for the first time ever, the public can choose their policing policy.

It is said that very few people will vote, and I think this a great shame. One of the reasons for voting, and an excellent reason for having these elected officials, is about to become apparent.

Every year about 350-400 people are killed on our roads in circumstances where one or more drivers were over the drink driving limit. Given the number of journeys made each year by more than 30 million cars on the road, it is an astonishingly low figure. It is low compared to similar countries. And yet drink driving is an obsession with the British Police. This is for two reasons. One is that the anti-drinking lobby are well connected and have the ear of police forces, and another is its 100% success rate: the police only know about a drink-drive offence if they have detected the alcohol in someone's bloodstream so by definition they have got their man, a 100% detection and conviction rate (barring those 350 who are dead).

At Christmas they go completely mad. The latest figures I have are for 2010-11, but each year is the same or worse. In the month from 1st December to 1st January they stopped and tested 169,838 people - more than 200 an hour - and achieved just  6,613 convictions, which number includes sober people who were outraged by police officiousness and refused to give a test. That is to say more than 163,000 perfectly sober, law abiding citizens were interrupted while going about their lawful private business by these crazed policemen. More than 96% of the people they stopped were perfectly innocent and should not have been stopped. It would have been a disgrace in pre-1990s East Germany and certainly is in supposedly free democratic Britain.

A police and crime commissioner could put a stop to this. Particularly in country areas where there is no public transport and the roads have little traffic on them, it is a crime which ranks fairly low down the list. Burglaries and muggings would have been lower if the police force hadn't been occupied in this useless, politically motivated pastime.

So vote.

12 November, 2012


The Political Editor, Nick Robinson, has said this isn't the worst ever crisis for the BBC. It is hard to share his optimism.

Here is the story so far. Jimmy Savile, who died last year, is found to be a serial paedophile. He worked for the BBC for decades and committed some of his illegal acts on BBC premises with children invited on to BBC shows. Newsnight, BBC News' investigative arm, was going to produce, towards the end of last year, a programme detailing accusations against Savile but it was pulled and instead tribute programmes were broadcast. This revelation was succeeded by scores of celebrities saying that everyone knew Savile was a paedophile.

Subsequently, the BBC went into a frenzy of paedophile revelations, and all but accused, although not in name, Lord McAlpine, a former Treasurer of the Conservative Party from the Thatcher years. The internet did the rest, in particular with 'tweets' from the Guardian columnist and leftie environmentalist George Monbiot and the Speaker's wife, Sally Bercow. It seems that the 'investigative' journalists only showed the accuser a photo of McAlpine after the programme went out and he said no, that wasn't the man.

The Director General of the BBC said that the programme should not have gone out (a penetrating analysis, weakened only by the fact that he was Editor in Chief) and resigned on Saturday night. He was given a year's salary on top of his substantial pension as a thank you from the taxpayer.

This morning we learn that Helen Boaden, the Head of News and her deputy Steve Mitchell have 'stepped aside'. This is an interesting term for language students like myself. To 'step up' is commonly used for 'to take responsibility' (not much sign of that anywhere); to 'step down' is to dismiss oneself but to step aside? We shall see. It sounds like avoiding a bullet.

Finally the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, has said that the BBC needs root and branch reform.

Well, he's probably right, but in what way? Entwhistle, who was taken on by Patten, seemed extraordinarily unimpressive. His performance in front of a Commons Committee was terrible. He seemed to duck responsibility, passing the buck to juniors. Interestingly his predecessor, during a previous crisis, had said he was on holiday. In the real world above about £75,000 a year you don't get holidays as such, you are on call 24/7 and have to come back in a crisis. And you have to take responsibility for your patch. Again, in this second fiasco Entwhistle seemed to think it was an excuse that he didn't know anything about it. Patten said he knew about it but didn't tell Entwhistle because to do so would be 'absurd'. It was only in his resignation statement that Entwhistle seemed to grasp that if you are in charge you take responsibility. Patten still doesn't grasp that.

There is more about the BBC culture that needs to be thrashed out. I am quite certain that one of the defining causes of this disaster has been that McAlpine was a senior Conservative in the Thatcher years. The BBC's leftie culture demonises Mrs Thatcher, and, I believe, wouldn't feel it so necessary to investigate carefully: such a person would be obviously guilty and they would have reported this with glee. The BBC has other biases, in particular in favour of the European Union and, interestingly, Patten and McAlpine have hated each other for years over just this subject. The organisation doesn't think much of the monarchy and failed to produce decent reporting of the diamond jubilee because it just didn't think that sort of thing was too relevant. Unfortunately it is to the large majority of the population.

It must be clear to even the most blinkered BBC fan that there is a serious problem and that Patten isn't the man to sort it out. He is a comforting duvet of a man, warm and fitting round any shape that's in the bed. He has worked for the Tories, he has worked for Tony Blair, he has worked in Europe; he is at home in the guilt evading soft left arrogance of the Corporation and for this reason must step aside (preferably in a downward direction).

The BBC is too large, particularly for the management it has had so far, and seems to be accountable only to itself. We should sell off more than half of it and put someone decent in charge of what's left.

11 November, 2012


Remembrance Day (Veterans' Day in the USA, Armistice Day in much of Europe) and it hardly ever seems to be on a Sunday (although it was, in fact, in 2007).

Today we remember the soldiers who have died in our wars, of which there have been too many.

And today we learn the plight of Sergeant Danny Nightingale.

Nightingale has spent 17 years in the Army, of which 11 have been in the Special Forces. He has partial loss of memory following a brain injury.

While serving in Afghanistan Sgt. Nightingale was given a pistol by Afghan Forces whom he had trained as a counter-terrorist unit. The pistol, still in its box, was found at his home. A Court Martial, which could have given him a suspended sentence, had him imprisoned for 18 months.

Nightingale's former Commanding Officer has said that the sentence needs to be overturned immediately.

He is right.

10 November, 2012

A star reborn

A welcome return to politics for the absolutely tremendous Ilona Staller, known as Cicciolina.

A well known porn star, she entered parliament in 1987 and at the onset of the Gulf War offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in return for peace. She subsequently made the same offer to Osama bin Laden. She regularly spoke in parliament with one breast bared, declaring 'My breasts have never done anyone any harm, whereas bin Laden's war has caused thousands of victims.'

The beginning of a new era of cynicism about the Italian political class was marked by public realisation that she was due a pension of €39,000 p.a. for her short time in parliament. 'I earned it', she said.

Cicciolina's new party is called DNA (Democrazia, Natura, Amore). She will fight against 'Auto Blu', the governmental cars given to thousands of the political caste, a project dear to this blog, and other privileges to the ruling caste, and in favour of an overhaul of the justice system and social security for everyone.


09 November, 2012

A breath of fresh air

Congratulations to my old pal Justin Welby who has been nominated Archbishop of Canterbury. We knew each other well in the 1980s, when he was Treasurer of an oil company and I was his bank manager (or one of them).

The information you will glean from the press is that he is an old Etonian, inexperienced, in favour of women bishops and against homosexual marriage.

I suppose we must expect that public figures are pigeonholed like this, but I think it a shame. Strangely enough, although I could reel off quite a few facts about the new primate, I never knew he was an old Etonian. People imagine businessmen talk about their schooldays all the time whereas they are of course completely irrelevant. As to inexperience, he is 56, born within a few months of me, which makes him ten years older than the Prime Minister.

I wasn't surprised when Justin threw it all up to study for the priesthood; he is capable of profound thought and able to be decisive. He was an enthusiastic member of an evangelical congregation.

What the public and the establishment will learn about this man is first, of course, that he understands business. We shall no longer suffer the 'all business is wrong, all capitalists are horrid' drivel which came out of Lambeth Palace under Rowan Williams. However, as those grilled by the House of Lords Select Committee on the LIBOR scam found, he is capable of directing a torrent of informed criticism. I don't think he would support the 'Occupy' movement which camped on the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, because it was unfocused. He is however just what they need: someone articulate and influential who understands the case against banks and the governments who regulate them, and isn't scared to put his views across.

Welby is a good debater and negotiator for the simple but rare reason that he takes a lot of trouble to understand where the other side is coming from. He will need this skill as schism raises its head in the Anglican communion.

I think it is an imaginative and perspicacious appointment and I wish him all the best.

07 November, 2012

It's Obama

In the end, Obama won easily. So easily, in fact, that you wonder whether the voices saying it was neck and neck were just trying to make it exciting.

Obama ran a good campaign, Romney ran a bad one. Presumably the world will now hear no more from Willard 'Mitt' Romney except on the celebrity golf circuit. This blog will shed no tears for him.

Obama now has three years to make history look kindly on him (not four, because positioning for the new election will start well in advance of the end of his term).

And it's not going to be easy: the Republicans control the House whilst the Democrats control the Senate and so there will be a fair bit of bickering to get anything through. In particular the 'fiscal cliff' looms. This is a series of measures which come into force on 1st January, 7 weeks away, which will take some $680 billion out of the economy in tax increases and spending cuts. It needs to be done but would be easier to swallow if spread over a longer period, and Obama will need to impose himself on the negotiations, over a Republican party still smarting from defeat.

But Obama mustn't take his eye off the austerity ball: America is mired in debt and if nothing is done it will default some time in the early part of this century, something which would have appalling consequences for the entire world.

It's the biggest job in the world, but not the best.

Nadine Dorries

The Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has decided to be a performer, if that is the right word, in a reality TV programme called 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here'. I have not seen the programme but it is, apparently, a humiliating experience.

Ms Dorries has been suspended from the Conservative Party. I should mention, perhaps, that she is something of a thorn in Mr Cameron's side: she believes that because of him she will lose her seat at the next election. She doesn't agree with the coalition and thinks Mr Cameron should be more of a man, two sentiments with which this blog concurs.

I am slightly curious as to why she has had the party whip withdrawn. Presumably Mr Cameron is not going to suspend every MP who takes time off and earns a bit of money outside parliament - he'd hardly have anyone left. I think her idea was a lapse in judgment but should she be punished for that by a man who has been sending intimate text messages to Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch's henchperson? Andrew Mitchell had to resign as Chief Whip for telling a policeman that he was a pleb who didn't know his place, but he wasn't suspended from his party.

It seems to me that Cameron hasn't really got a grip on things and acts against people who criticise him in a manner one can only describe as bitchy. It is the sign of a weak man.

06 November, 2012

Alexander and the living wage

Every so often you hear a politician talking absolute nonsense and you dismiss it: twerps will be twerps, and these people make their living from associating themselves with new concepts before a national media with an increasingly short attention span. At times, however, the daft concept picks up news coverage and you are astonished to find it attaining some credence. At such times people of sense have to step in and fight, before it becomes accepted nationally.

That is how it is now for The Living Wage. Did you know there is a Living Wage Foundation (I shall try to find out who is funding this) and that this week, 4th - 11th November has been designated (by them) The Living Wage Week?

Years ago, in the early days of the Blair administration, they produced a National Minimum Wage, which is currently £6.19 per hour, or  £247.60 for a 40 hour week, around £12,500 a year depending on how much holiday you get. You may not think it very much and, when times are booming, it isn't. Now, however, there is plenty of unemployment and people feel able to temper their demands to get some income. That is how capitalism works: you have to price yourself into the market.

But right now, if person A can pay £5 an hour for a job and person B is prepared to do it for £5, they can't. It's illegal. A doesn't get his business working and B remains unemployed. Yes, I know it isn't much, but 2 million people in Germany (not Albania, Germany) are working for less than €5 an hour (£4). In China and the Far East they work for a lot, lot less. We have to compete.

The Living Wage takes this to a new level of idiocy. It is calculated not by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not by the Treasury, not even by the Social Services, but by the Department of Social Policy at Loughborough University (Loughborough is a small town in Leicestershire, central England, and is said to be the most difficult town name for a foreigner to pronounce). It is supposed to be the level at which people can lead a decent life, although we are not entitled to know what that implies.

Now Ed Milliband, leader of the Labour Party, we can forgive for espousing this nonsense. He is, after all, one of the people mentioned in the first paragraph who has to associate himself with concepts, it being too far from a general election to deal with actual policies. But on to the scene strides the burly figure of Alexander (Boris) Johnson, who doesn't need to espouse outrageous causes, because he is already elected, but does so because he, like Milliband, is trying to distinguish himself from the governing party (whilst belonging to it).

Just to make things clear, Alex and Ed are not proposing an increase of 20% in the minimum wage (the Living Wage has been set at £7.45, more in London, by Loof-Baroof Uni) because this new thing would not be compulsory. Companies can, and will, simply refuse to pay it. They are saying that companies should pay it, and of course they are willing to do a bit of strong arming. If you want government contracts, they say, you and your subcontractors should undertake to pay this new, arbitrary, Loofy minimum.

So, incredibly, the addle-pated, dewy eyed Mayor of London, claiming to be a Conservative, never having run a business in his life, is proposing, in these times of excess borrowing, that the taxpayers of Britain should pay 20% more for labour, making each piece of government business, such as the Health Service, more expensive. Not just more expensive than is necessary, because the minimum wage is almost certainly more than is necessary in a recession, but more than we do now: more expense, more debt, more recession, more unemployment.

It beggars belief. Johnson must be denounced as an ignorant, self promoting dunderhead who will say anything, whatever the cost to ordinary people, and however contrary to common sense, to get himself in the news.

We would be mad to let him anywhere near high office.

The last day

Friends of mine, during Superstorm Sandy as it is known, were stuck on the 25th floor of their apartment block in New York. There was no power so the lift didn't work, and whilst they could have slid down the balconies, getting back up would have been a bit of a schlep. So they were stuck, probably the worst nightmare for a claustrophobe. But wait: was that the worst nightmare? Supposing the lifts hadn't worked but the Television had, and they were stuck at home constrained to watch the election campaign, unable to run away?

Today is the vote and whilst apparently Mitt Romney is carrying on with the campaign it is, essentially, over. It was slow to get going and when it had started it appeared to be largely negative. One paper suggested that $3bn had been spent in the last couple of days, just on disparaging each other.

In another respect it was a success, though. Americans were left with a clear choice of two different ways forward, something we in Britain or the rest of Europe hardly ever get, the main parties being largely fungible. If, as the polls suggest, Americans have chosen the Obama way, I think they will have made a mistake. We shall see. At least, as I say, they will have had a choice.

People were unhappy with Obama, largely, I think, because he was unable to live up to over-inflated expectations. The election was for the Republicans to lose, and if they have lost it was down to their choice of candidate, and the reluctant way in which they selected him (even with a bad candidate, if he has the whole partly solidly behind him he will start off with some momentum).

Perhaps Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, who seemed sensible, will stand for the Republicans next time. I don't know what the Democrats will do. Shooting stars don't come along that often.

04 November, 2012

New Leader

It is often forgotten that more than 10% of the population of Egypt - some 9 million people - is Christian. The large majority of these are Copts, descended from ancient Egyptians, with their own language, written in Greek script.

The Copts have chosen a new leader - the Coptic Pope - following the death of Pope Shenouda III, who was the first Coptic Pope to visit Rome. Bishop Tawadros has been chosen to replace him.

The method of selection is interesting. Three names are placed in a bowl and one is picked by a blindfolded child. This bypasses the horse trading and politicking in the selection of the Roman Catholic Pope and would be an excellent idea if you could persuade a child to go blindfolded into a room full of cardinals.

02 November, 2012

This blog endorses.....

Four days to go until the US Presidential Election and this blog endorses its candidate.

Talk, certainly in Europe and probably in America too, is of the Republican and Democrat candidates, and I can only say I am not happy about either of them. I suppose Americans know what they are doing when they select their candidates, but, as so often, they seem unsatisfactory, peculiar even.

Obama puts me off because of his preachy attitude. He is unfortunate in having been talked up as some sort of Messiah, a position from which he could only let the people down. But he and his aides are responsible for that talk and let them down he has. Obama is fiercely anti-British and has an attitude to debt which can only be called cavalier. It is my belief that if America can show the world that it is putting some restraint on its fiscal incontinence it will probably remain the leader of the free world. If it doesn't, it probably will not. If you think this, Obama is not your man.

Some sign of sense occurred with Mitt Romney's choice of running mate, Paul Ryan, who is a well known fiscal conservative. However the Vice President never has any power or influence and I don't suppose Ryan will be any different. Romney himself looks highly dodgy. The son of privilege, he can hardly speak for lower and middle America. His foreign policy statements betray the sort of attitude which brought us Iraq and Afghanistan and before that Vietnam. And I don't like the idea of his being a Mormon. There is something unsavoury about Mormons, rather like Freemasons or Scientologists. Perhaps because of their strange beliefs they stick together and you would get the feeling the country was being run by a shady cabal who believed Christ was born on the planet Zorg.

Not liking either main candidate I looked at the others. There is one woman candidate, but she is a Green, and likely to be friendly with Al Gore. There is a Constitution candidate and a Justice candidate, both of whom are likely to be mad, so I think the only one out of the six I could vote for is Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.

Johnson won't win, of course, but I like the Corinthian spirit of standing against the big parties, having done it myself.

Everyone tells me Obama will win, but I think it's bad news either way for America.