30 June 2009

There's always the French?

Let us think seriously about who may attack us. The Scotsman reports:

SCOTLAND is safer as part of the United Kingdom than it would be if it separated, the man who until recently headed the British Army has claimed.
General Sir Mike Jackson, who led Britain's armed forces into Iraq, made his claim on a programme marking ten years of devolution by BBC's Panorama last night.
His view was that a collective British force was more cost- effective and better able to defend the British Isles than if the UK was broken up.
Terrorism is always going to be a problem. But let us not imagine that MI5 or the MOD has Scotland at the forefront of its mind (unless of course there is a nuclear interest).

So, whom should the home guard worry about? I think that we can rule out the Russians. North Korea, Iran and Iraq are probably too far away and, anyway, why would they bother?

My bet is on the Danes and the Norwegians. They have always wanted Shetland back and I worry about the loyalties of that Tavish Scott. So then, prepare to repel the vikings ...

The re-launch re-launched

If the Prime Minister's re-launch of yesterday is intended as a preview of his election manifesto, which it presumably is, then it leaves Scottish Labour in something of a quandary.

Of the measures proposed, those on housing, health, policing and education will not apply north of the border. Which leaves the oft-proposed but seldom-implemented idea of depriving the young unemployed of their benefits. This latter is not really something to gladden the hearts of the Labour footsoldiers as they trudge wearily on their canvassing way.

It is not as if prospective Scottish Labour MPs can even promise similar action for Scotland. For it is simply not within their gift to deliver.

So I guess Scottish Labour will be left to argue that their cuts will be less severe than those of the Tories and that implementation of Calman will restore Caledonia to the happy land of yesteryear. Not likely to make for an exciting Scottish manifesto, however.

29 June 2009

The financial in-fighting explained

The Independent reports:
Mervyn isn't happy with Alistair because Alistair's housekeeping doesn't quite add up. Adair isn't happy with Mervyn because Mervyn wants to play with Adair's regulatory toys. Alistair doesn't trust Mervyn because he suspects Mervyn is sneaking off to tell George all of Alistair's secrets. Mervyn is irritated because Alistair refuses to show Mervyn his new White Paper. But George is full of cheer because he thinks Mervyn is his new best friend.

And, above it all, looms the baleful presence of Gordon, always ready to throw his toys out of his pram or his mobile at all or anyone he chooses.

Little wonder that the financial crisis is set to continue ...

28 June 2009

Cricetus, cricetus

Nice to see that, notwithstanding the credit crunch, the recession, etc, etc, the EU still has time for other important matters. The Independent reports:
The European Commission has brought a case against Paris in the European Court for allowing the Great Hamster of Alsace, the only wild hamster in western Europe, to decline to the point of extinction.
If found guilty, the French government faces fines of up to €17m (£14.5m) – or €68,000 for each of the 250 animals still thought to be living in the fields around the city of Strasbourg in the east of the country.
The Great Hamster, European hamster or Cricetus cricetus is much larger, and prettier, than its familiar domesticated cousins. It has a brown and white face, a black belly and white paws and can grow to be 10in long.

27 June 2009

It's a hard life ...

... but I mustn't grumble. It's just that this week in Spain the temperature has been in the upper 20s every day. Too hot for me - I can do nothing but sip the San Miguel under an umbrella.

It would be unfair to describe the little Spanish village which is my home from home as Wester Hailes by the sea. But the predominant population is British. I don't really fit in, as I have neither a beer belly nor any tattoos. Nor do I believe that it is acceptable to walk the streets or sit in a bar without a shirt. But, hey, no point in getting upset about it. Go with the flow n'all that. And the San Miguel (or the Mahou or the Alhambra) is rather splendid, even if it does cost 2 euros per pint in the (relatively) upmarket howffs it is my pleasure to frequent.

The agenda for today is of a sporting nature. A stroll down to the pub to watch the Lions, then back to the flat in time to see young Murray thrash the living daylights out of some East European. Not sure when I will be able to fit in a siesta but you can't have everything.

26 June 2009

The military two-step

Those of you who will be watching the Lions on Saturday afternoon may wish to observe closely Mr Mike Phillips, the Welsh scrum-half.

Phlllips is in many ways an admirable scrum-half but he has a wee problem. When he receives the ball at the back of a scrum or ruck (or even at a line-out), he feels obliged to adjust both his feet before he delivers the ball in a pass to his outside-half. He receives the ball, one step, two step, then pass. It does not take him long - less than a second - but it is just long enough to allow the Springbok defence to close in on the Lions backs.

Compare the Springbok scrum-half. Once the ball is in his hands, it is immediately despatched.

I am surprised that Phillips has not had it hammered out of him when he was a teenager. But as long as the Lions propose to rely on a scrum-half with such an obvious deficiency, I fear that success in South Africa will be elusive.

Humble he ain't

Do not read the complacent, self-congratulatory ramblings of the Director General of the BBC in this morning's Times.

For you will not find even a hint of concern that the Beeb sees fit to deploy our licence fees on paying an annual salary of more than £160,000 to 50 (fifty) executive apparatchiks (not including the Wogans and the Wosses of this world). Nor does it seem to occur to the DG that there might be something reprehansible about swanning around the world in fancy hotels, spending a fortune on fine dining and giving each other prezzies, all at public expense. In brief, everything in the BBC is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

And you thought that it was only bankers and MPs that lived on a diferent planet ...

Don't cry for me

Extract from an e-mail by the Governor of South Carolina to his coy mistress, the Argentinian 'Maria':
"I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light – but hey, that would be going into sexual details."

I suppose that this is intended to be romantic rather than bathetic. Embarrassing or what? When will people realise that writing something in an e-mail is about as private as writing it on a sandwich board and parading along Princes Street in it?

25 June 2009

It shouldn't happen to a financial adviser ...

Maybe it's my age but I can't help feeling a certain glow of satsfaction on reading this tale of derring-do:
A group of pensioners has been accused of kidnapping and torturing a financial adviser who lost over €2m of their savings.
The pensioners, nicknamed the "Geritol Gang" by police after an arthritis drug, face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty of subjecting German-American James Amburn to the alleged four-day ordeal.
Two of them are said to have hit him with a Zimmer frame outside his home in Speyer, western Germany, before he was driven 300 miles to a home on the shores of a lake in Bavaria.
Mr Amburn (56) says he was burned with cigarettes, beaten, had ribs broken, was hit with a chair leg and chained up "like an animal".

19 June 2009

Number of the day


The amount of expenses repaid by MPs.

How much, I wonder, would have been repaid in the absence of the forced publication? Not a lot, I bet.

Quote of the day

Following his u-turn on the secrecy of the Iraq inquiry, I have to wonder if the Prime Minister is losing the place (here):
Mr Brown, in Brussels for a summit of EU leaders, told The Independent: "I am in favour of openness and transparency and we balance that with the interests of national security and the desire of people to give the information they want to the inquiry."

Leave aside the sheer mendacity of this statement. Ask yourself what kind of self-delusions he must be suffering to think that on a Monday he can announce a secret inquiry while the Thursday following he can opine that he is in favour of openness and transparency. Bizarre.

The rewards for failure

Well? Are you satisfied that
The former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin bowed to public anger today by agreeing to give up more than £200,000 a year of his ­controversial pension.

Is your anger appeased? Or does the following still rankle?
Under the deal, Goodwin will be paid £342,500 a year, down from the £555,000 set in February when he took out a £2.8m lump sum on which RBS paid the tax. He will keep the lump sum and the £2.6m bonus he was paid in his last year at the company.

I guess the RBS staff facing redundancy may not be entirely happy ...

17 June 2009



Wanted: respectable anti-federalist rightwingers ...

... but racists, neo-nazis and homophobes need not apply. The Times reports:
David Cameron’s efforts to form a new group of anti-federalist MEPs have run into difficulty within days of the European parliamentary elections.
After his pledge to quit the EU’s main centre-right bloc was criticised for isolating him from Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, recent attempts to avoid xenophobic allies are causing friction with his Czech partner.
The Czech ODS, led by Mirek Topolánek, the former Prime Minister photographed naked at Silvio Berlusconi’s villa, wants as many parties as possible to join Mr Cameron’s group of MEPs to give it extra clout. But Mr Cameron is resisting the more populist candidates, such as Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League and the similarly inclined Danish People’s Party (DPP).

All very difficult (if entirely predictable). Perhaps, after all, it might have been better to stick with Angela, Nicolas and Silvio.

Quote of the day

Hard to disagree with the Star Chamber's verdict:
A Labour Party spokesman said: "After considering in detail the case of Jim Devine and speaking to him, the Labour Party's special NEC endorsements panel today unanimously recommended rescinding his endorsement as a Labour candidate.
"He will not be able to stand as a Labour candidate in any constituency at the next General Election.

Yes, well, fine. But is there any reason why he should be permitted to remain an MP for the next 12 months? If the Labour Party is not satisfied that his expenses claims have been above board, then why should he be allowed to limp along as a lame duck MP?

Oh and incidentally, about this star chamber. It has now dealt with 5 cases and - apparently - has no more pending. How does this square with the statements made when it was established? The BBC reported:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has vowed to take "all the action that is necessary" to discipline Labour MPs who have "misbehaved" over expenses.
A Labour panel has met for the first time to discuss whether MPs under fire over expenses can seek re-election.
Mr Brown insisted he was taking a "strong line" against alleged offenders and his aim was to "make sure that politics is something that is about service to the community and never about people serving themselves".
He said any MPs found to have "misbehaved" by the three-member disciplinary panel, set up by Labour's ruling National Executive Committee, "will be told they can not stand at the next election".

But so far, the panel has only looked at 5 cases (and three of them were pre-decided). Where is the "strong line" on misbehaviour and "all the action that is necessary"?

And the Tory equivalent panel seems to have been no more industrious.

15 June 2009

Much ado about not a lot

The Scottish Government, acting through the Scottish Parliament, has always had the power to vary (up or down) the level of income tax by up to 3 pence in the £. It has never used this power. The latest proposition is that it should have even greater power to vary the level of income tax. But will any political party actually want to?

Control over stamp duty, landfill tax and air passenger duty is not be sneezed at - but it is hardly a significant change in the parliamentary terms of trade.

Similarly, responsibility for airguns and for the administration of Scottish parliamentary elections is not wholly negligible, but in the wide range of powers already available it is fairly marginal.

So, nothing to get too excited about.

14 June 2009

How bare-faced can you get?

Ah yes, the 66 metres of shelving at a cost of over £2000 to us, the taxpayers.

The story changes again. The original proposition was that the shelving was to be installed in the constituency office. Then it was to have been installed in the London flat. The latest version has it installed in a pub cellar or shed - although if you believe The Sunday Herald this latest explanation is unlikely to be any nearer the truth than the earlier ones. And it seems equally likely to be disproved as quickly as the earlier ones.

Somehow, I expect a member of parliament to be able to come up with a more plausible rationale. And, yes, other MPs have taken more horrendous liberties with the expenses regime. But this sad farce marks something of a new low.

11 June 2009

On not counting chickens

So that's it then. The recession is over. Been there, got the t-shirt. And the sunlit uplands are now just over the horizon.

But, as I contemplate the half-empty glass, I fear that it will not be so simple. And, anyway, if the recession is indeed over, we will need to turn our attention to the public debt.

09 June 2009

Yawn, yawn ...

... puff, puff. The Scotsman reports:
SMOKING costs the NHS more than £5 billion a year – up to five times the previously accepted figure, researchers have said.
Previous studies put the cost of smoking to the NHS at between £1.4 billion and £1.7 billion in 1991. But the new analysis pushes this figure to £5.17 billion in 2005/06 and the researchers believe this is still an underestimate. It equates to £571,000 an hour.

It does not report that tobacco duty contributes over £8 billion per year to HM Treasury. (This excludes VAT which is also payable on tobacco sales.) So who, exactly, is subsidising whom?

05 June 2009

Quote of the day

From Caroline Flint's resignation letter to the Prime Minister (which might have been a little more convincing if she had not engaged in the photoshoot exemplified above):

You have a two tier Government. Your inner circle and then the remainder of Cabinet.
I have the greatest respect for the women who have served as full members of Cabinet and for those who attend as and when required.
However, few are allowed into your inner circle.
Several of the women attending Cabinet - myself included - have been treated by you as little more than female window dressing.
Incidentally, Hoon, Beckett and Paul Murphy have also jumped (or been pushed).

Swine flu

Should we be worried? If that were the case, do you think that they would tell us?

Goodbye Mr Hutton

It's not just Balls you know. Here's another one with mad staring eyes:

Oh dear, he's resigned as well ...

Maybe I'm going soft in my old age

It is a measure of my increasing cynicism about the political process that the resignation of Mr Purnell has me casting about for an ulterior motive. I ask myself, what's in it for him?

Unlike mesdames Smith and Blears, he was not facing the prospect of defenestration from the cabinet. Indeed, if you believe the gossip, he had been offered Balls' post as children's secretary, arguably a promotion of sorts. Furthermore, the Prime Minister had gone out of his way to dismiss the speculation about his alleged dodging of capital gains tax on the sale of his London flat.

Nor has there been any pretence about wanting to spend more time with his family or reconnecting with his labour roots. No, it was a straightforward 'Gordon, you're not up to the job' (I paraphrase, but only slightly).

Furthermore, while the Prime Minister may be wounded, he is still the biggest beast in the jungle and well capable of wreaking a terrible revenge. And the Party still retains more than a vestigial attachment to loyalty, which may make Mr Purnell's life in his constituency or on the back benches less than entirely comfortable.

Finally, as the assassin who wielded the knife, Mr P must be aware that his chances of succeeding to the leadership of whoever replaces Mr Brown must have diminished to almost non-existent.

Could it possibly be - just possibly - that Mr P acted as he did because he thought he was doing the Right Thing?

04 June 2009

It's a bit of a mess, actually

Remember the Lisbon Treaty? The lovely Tamzin explains the Tory position:
Mr Hague has gone to exhaustive lengths to explain what he means when he says he can’t say whether or not he will say what he means when he says he can’t say what we will do if the Lisbon Treaty passes into law before we get into government, or not. To recap from the briefing notes: ‘“We will not let matters rest there” is a hypothetical holding answer to the hypothetical question of whether or not we will do something about a situation in the future we want to prevent happening in the first place and as such we can only answer a question pertaining to the opposite turning out to be the case because to do otherwise would be to elaborate on the unknowable.

Oh Sir Humphrey, thou shouldst be living at this hour ...

Polling day

Yes, thank you, I've done my duty.

And I can report - for what it's worth - that, as at 10 am, polling in Stockeree is holding up well.

Slightly surprised by the length of the ballot paper; who are all these people who want to become MEPs? And somewhat nonplussed by the request of the polling clerk that the paper be folded lengthwise.

Not a canvasser in sight.

03 June 2009

Healthy eating?

Apparently, he has yet to reach 20 stone, but he does like his snacks. The Telegraph reports:
While other politicians billed for flat screen televisions and moat clearing, Mark Francois, the shadow minister for Europe, claimed for a wide variety of on-the-go snacks through his expenses.
His claims included Mars bars, Snickers, Kit Kats, wine gums, Twiglets, Jaffa Cakes, chocolate biscuits, Pringles crisps and "bags of sweets".
The Conservative MP for Rayleigh in Essex also claimed for Häagen-Dazs ice cream, lemon sorbet, choc ices, crisps, Starburst, Bourneville dark chocolate and Trebor mints. Among his purchases were several Peperami "hot" 5 packs. The spicy pork snack is marketed with the slogan: "Peperami: It's a Bit of an Animal".
Under the second home allowance MPs were allowed to claim a food allowance of up to £400 per month without receipts. But, unlike many of his colleagues, Mr Francois was scrupulous about claiming exact amounts for his food purchases and submitting receipts for them.
A typical receipt from a trip to his local Tesco showed that he spent £7.87 on ice cream, £4.36 on bags of sweets, £3.24 on Kit Kats, £2.68 on Mars bars, £1.28 on Snickers bars, and 96p on wine gums.
On another visit he spent £5.04 on Mars bars, £3.24 on Kit Kats and £2.42 on a Pot Noodle. A separate grocery trip saw him picking up two Peperami "hot" 5 packs for £2.18 each, and spending £14.26 on biscuits, and another £3.26 on "bags of sweets".

I don't mind buying the fat boy an occasional ice-cream cone but this seems an excessive burden on the taxpayer.

Revenge of the monstrous regiment

Sisters are doing the reshuffle for themselves. First Jacqui, then Beverley and now wee Hazel. It's beginning to look orchestrated ...

No signs of urgency

One might argue that some of our MPs appear to be corrupt; some may simply be greedy. But they would also appear to be spectacularly incompetent. The Times reports:
The official release of MPs’ expenses could be delayed until the last day of June because of a stand-off between MPs and House of Commons officials.
MPs on the committee that oversees the running of Parliament are desperate to end the drip-drip release of expenses data by publishing it in a redacted form on the internet.
Others, though, are arguing with the Parliamentary Fees Office over what should be redacted, suggesting that they are trying to prevent publication of some entries which could seen as embarrassing.

How long have they been talking about this? How much longer do they need? Would anything ever have happened if The Telegraph had not published what it has?

Even worse:
... it emerged that the external body promised by Gordon Brown to go through every MP’s claims will not be created until January at the earliest. It will be voted through Parliament in the autumn.

So until some time after next January, there will be no authoritative examination of MPs' expenses claims. (I do not regard either the Labour Party's star chamber or the Tory equivalent as being remotely comparable to an independent, qualified assessor; indeed, in the absence of an independent qualified assessment, it is difficult to see how these party bodies can reach reliable conclusions.)

A conspiracy to delay matters? More likely, it reflects a spectacular lack of awareness that, outside the Westminster bubble, the whole issue is viewed with rather more seriousness.

01 June 2009

A brief note of explanation

The more perspicacious of my readers will notice that my sign-off below has been changed from the rather cryptic 'HW' to a more prosaic appellation, which is in fact my first name.

When I first started this blog, a little more than four years ago, I was concerned to remain anonymous for two reasons. First, it might have been a load of crap (and I accept that some might think it still is); and, second, I had no wish to embarrass my previous employers.

But calling myself HW always seemed a bit precious. And now that time has placed a cordon sanitaire between what I do now (not a lot, to be honest) and what I did then, I can cheerfully revert to a simpler style.

Look, he's probably got a lot of books ...

So why is The Herald picking on Jim Devine MP?

OK, so he put 66 metres of shelving on his office expenses and asked his pal, the local publican, to carry out the work (also on expenses) at a total cost of £2,300. Just because the shelving is not immediately apparent from a brief inspection of his office, it does not necessarily mean that the shelving does not exist, does it?

And all right, so he claimed against the £2,000 cost of rewiring his second home. Just because the electrician was recommended by a guy in a pub and now seems to have gone missing, to have traded from a mythical address and to have had a mythical VAT registration, does not make Mr Devine a bad person.

These kind of things could happen to anybody, right?