29 February 2008

Order of the Brown Nose

From yesterday's Commons Hansard:
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): What a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and to know that we have as our Speaker somebody who is simply not prepared to be pushed around, either by snobs or by bullies.
Ms Harman: ...
May I take the opportunity to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about you, Mr. Speaker, and to remind the House of what we all know—that we, as Members of Parliament, choose the Speaker of this House? It is our choice, not that of the newspapers.

27 February 2008

Every little bit helps?

I fear that this is the same organisation that, every Tuesday morning, cheerfully (despite my residence in a tenement top flat) and efficiently delivers my groceries. The Guardian reports:
Tesco has created an elaborate corporate structure involving offshore tax havens which enables it to avoid paying what could be up to £1bn of tax on profits from the sale of its UK properties.
The complex new structures uncovered by a six-month Guardian investigation include a string of Cayman Island companies, each named after a different colour, from aqua to violet. These are being used by the supermarket giant as it proceeds with its announced programme to sell and lease back £6bn worth of its UK stores.
The stores are being sold to external investors providing Tesco with a big one-off gain which, ordinarily, would be liable to tax, while allowing it to remain in the stores and pay rent to the new owners.

And thus another corporation confirms its place among the bad guys. Not that I really had any prior illusions, but I thought that maybe they were trying a bit harder.

Oh aye, and Prince Alois need not expect any sympathy from me.

People in glass houses ...

This blog seldom indulges in fashion comment. As a middle-aged scruff, I do not really possess the expertise. No such timidity on the part of at least one of our MSPs, however. The Herald reports:

It was an opinion that dared not speak its name - until now. The worlds of fashion and politics have collided after an MSP branded Scottish youngsters the worst-dressed in Europe.
Last night fashion experts defended the country's youth after Christopher Harvie, a 63-year-old politician and history professor, accused them of wearing "what must be the ugliest clothes" in the "entire continent".
Here is a picture of the eminent MSP, historian and fashion expert:

How elegant! Sartorially, of course, it is daring to mix a check jacket with striped shirt, particularly when one is brown and the other is blue, but perhaps it is intended to display an academic nonchalance. And, if one were being hyper-critical, one might gently hint that the curling shirt collar indicated that it had seen better days. But it is not for me to criticise a fashion expert of Professor Harvie's calibre. So let us just note that the guy is a plonker.

26 February 2008

Things we learned today

According to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, it is apparently OK for an MP to use air miles gained as a result of official travel for his private benefit. There is no necessity to deploy such air miles to reduce the costs of official travel.

25 February 2008

Quote of the day

Jackie Ashley in The Guardian (here):
"I don't think Michael Martin should resign this week, or next: you can't begin a campaign to restore the dignity of parliament by letting press attacks hound the Speaker out. He should be allowed to make his decision and announce it in his own time. But it's now clear what that decision should be. When a Speaker is part of the problem, he owes it to parliament to step aside."

Is this a press attack seeking to hound the Speaker out? Or is it not? Would Ms Ashley understand the difference?

21 February 2008

Between a rock and a hard place

Few in the media (and in Parliament) appear to understand the implications of the relationship between Granite and Northern Rock for the nationalisation of the latter. See here, here and here. It is certainly well above my pay grade.

But I presume that the position was fully explained in the advice prepared for the government by the clever clogs and vastly expensive Goldman Sachs. That being so, I am bound to wonder why the government have left it so late to explain themselves. Or did they hope to get away with the nationalisation legislation without anyone noticing the link to Granite?

As so often, they now seem to have made a rod for their own backs.

16 February 2008

The real domestic goddess

For those who have not yet acquired the book, The Telegraph publishes four of Delia's new recipes.

Who? Me? Of course I have. Messrs Tesco assure me that the book will be delivered any day now.

Delia's Complete Cookery Course has always been my bible (although Katharine Whitehorn's Cooking in a Bedsitter comes a close second).

15 February 2008


It's really not good for my blood pressure. And it's likely to give that woman, the Scottish health minister, ideas. The Guardian reports:
A ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone who does not pay for a government smoking permit has been proposed by Health England, a ministerial advisory board.
The idea is the brainchild of the board's chairman, Julian Le Grand, who is a professor at the London School of Economics and was Tony Blair's senior health adviser. In a paper being studied by Lord Darzi, the health minister appointed to oversee NHS reform, he says many smokers would be helped to break the habit if they had to make a decision whether to "opt in".
The permit might cost as little as £10, but acquiring it could be made difficult if the forms were sufficiently complex, Le Grand said last night.
His paper says: "Suppose every individual who wanted to buy tobacco had to purchase a permit. And suppose further they had to do this every year. To get a permit would involve filling out a form and supplying a photograph, as well as paying the fee. Permits would only be issued to those over 18 and evidence of age would have to be provided. The money raised would go to the NHS."

And don't think they'll stop there. First, they'll come for the smokers, then the drinkers, then the hamburger eaters.

It's enough to drive you to a fag and a drink ...

13 February 2008

It's the non-doms, Darling

Just occasionally, you read things in the newspapers that surprise you. For example, these figures in The Independent:
The furore over non-doms has highlighted an issue in fiscal policy as old as the hills, which is the extreme difficulty of taxing the super-rich in any meaningful way without having the opposite effect to the one intended and making the public purse poorer, rather than richer.
A few figures neatly illustrate the nature of the problem. Back in 1978, with still ruinously high marginal rates of tax for those on high incomes, the top 1 per cent of earners paid 11 per cent of the total income-tax take, and the top 10 per cent some 35 per cent.
With much lower rates of tax for high earners, these figures had by 2001/2 dramatically changed. The top 1 per cent of income earners were paying 23 per cent of total income tax, with the top 10 per cent accounting for more than half. These proportions will almost certainly have grown further since then.

I find these figures hard to believe, but I have no way of disproving them. My own inclination is to squeeze the greedy bastards until the pips squeak - so it's probably just as well that I'm not the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Btw, and not for the first time, poor old Alistair seems to be making a right horlicks of it. But what can you expect from someone who went to Loretto?

12 February 2008

Loss of discipline

The Evening News re-cycles this morning's interview from The Herald (without accreditation, needless to say):
SCOTTISH Labour leader Wendy Alexander today appeared to be on a collision course with her Westminster colleagues after a Scotland Office minister spoke out against the creation of more powers for Holyrood.
David Cairns said he did not believe Labour had lost last year's election to the SNP because people were crying out for fresh powers to be handed over to the Scottish Parliament – and he dismissed calls for more tax powers for Holyrood as a concern of the "McChattering classes". His comments came as Ms Alexander continues to pursue plans for a cross-party Scottish Constitutional Commission to look at the question of further devolution. Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory leaders are co-operating on the scheme, which would come up with proposals to give the parliament more powers as an alternative strategy to the SNP's aim of independence.

Some questions for Mr Cairns:
What do you think you are doing? Was it really necessary at this stage to undercut Ms Alexander? Even if you don't approve of the constitutional commission, could you not have kept your mouth shut for the moment? At this moment, do Labour supporters need an outbreak of in-fighting between the Westminster and Holyrood high heid-yins? How will that help the Labour Party in Scotland? What do you think Mr Salmond will do (apart from rub his hands) with your intervention?

I despair ...

09 February 2008

Whatever happened to ...

... round sliced sausage? There is plenty of square sausage on the supermarket and butchers' shelves, but round sliced sausage seems to have disappeared. Can anyone steer me in the direction of an Edinburgh butcher who retains a sense of tradition?

08 February 2008

Civil Service shame

This may appear to be a relatively obscure issue but, for the sake of all those (not excluding me)who suffered under the regime of these people, I am recording this extract from The Herald:
Taxpayers are facing a compensation bill of nearly £30,000 after a tribunal ruled yesterday that two former senior civil servants, one of whom was later suspended amid allegations of bullying, fabricated evidence in the case of an executive who quit over the way they handled her grievance.
The Scottish Government has been ordered to pay the compensation to Leanne Gardner who went off sick with work-related stress after only 42 days in a new job. She was responsible for supervising staff handling planning appeals at the Inquiries Reporters Unit in Falkirk.
She never returned and eventually resigned over the handling of her complaints.
A Glasgow employment tribunal said that correspondence had been fabricated by Susan Beevers, then head of human resources, and Sally Carruthers, director of change in corporate services, who had pretended she had reviewed Ms Beevers' actions.

Ms Beevers and Ms Carruthers were in charge of personnel issues for the entire Scottish Executive. Both were directly appointed imports. A humble apology from the senior management of the Scottish Executive would not be out of place - they appointed these people and never had the guts to sack them. Does Sir John Elvidge have anything to say?

Quote of the day

From yesterday's FMQs (here):
Ms Alexander: We have all learned that defence is usually the First Minister's best form of attack.

I think I know what she means ... but who can tell?


Well what did you expect? Did you really think that the Electoral Commission would throw her to the wolves?

If you read the Commission's actual judgement (here), you will see that reporting the alleged offence of accepting an ineligible donation to the procurator fiscal is deemed to be not in the public interest. As for the other possible offence of cover-up, the Commission takes the view that there is insufficient evidence. Not unreasonable on the part of the Commission, I would have thought.

Does this amount to exoneration? Well, hardly.

Can we move on? I hope so, but I rather doubt it.

07 February 2008

Budget thoughts

It's probably my fault. I'm just not bright enough to understand. I mean, Scottish Labour is led by these great intellects - Wendy, Iain Gray, Andy Kerr. They know what they're doing, don't they? They must have had a strategy to guide them through the budget process.

A policy of non-cooperation with the other parties was part of the plan, right? And if they did not achieve any changes to the budget in the initial stages, well who am I to question the grand design? Eventually, they got an amendment accepted, even if it does not seem to mean very much in terms of actual cash.

They voted against the budget two weeks ago, then yesterday they abstained. What was that all about? Beats me.

OK, the SNP Government is banging on about a great triumph, and the Scottish Labour leadership looks a bit clueless. Hell, even the Tories seem to have won a victory of sorts.

Look, I'm sure that, after mature reflection, Iain and Wendy will be able to explain it to us. Won't they? Won't they?

05 February 2008

Quote of the day

Benedict Brogan in his blog:

"Gordon Brown has written to Michael Martin urging him to press MPs for greater transparency. Noble, I'm sure, but isn't it a bit like asking the brothelkeeper to keep the noise down?"

In praise of Radio 4

During a recent period of enforced idleness, confined to my flat, I have had the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with Radio 4. I cannot praise it enough. I have spent hours absorbed in radio programmes of the highest quality. And the 'Listen Again' feature, whereby any programmes missed can be retrieved and listened to, must be one of the great boons of the BBC website.

I offer the following recommendations for happy listening:

The Week at Westminster - essential listening for a Saturday morning, especially as it is followed by

From Our Own Correspondent - where the great Kate Adie allows the foreign corrs to introduce some humanity into world affairs.

The News Quiz -
still the funniest programme on the radio, even if the demise of Linda Smith and Alan Coren means that it is not quite as good as it used to be.

Start the Week -
Andrew Marr guides an extraordinarily eclectic series of 10 minute discussions.

Midnight News - the calmest and most authoritative round-up of the day's events.

Pick of the Week - Sunday evening's finest.

In our Time -
the much mocked Melvyn Bragg desperately tries to keep a grip of unabashed, if frequently incomprehensible, intellectualism.

I have this morning been listening to Inside Stories, a splendid analysis of the media reaction to particular stories, today on bird flu, last week a tour de force on the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes.

Radio 4 is far from perfect. The witless Just a Minute, for example. is well past its sell-by date, while the insufferably smug Quote, Unquote should have been strangled at birth. But overall a radio station to cherish.

03 February 2008

Maybe the dog ate the missing letter?

This is interesting, if only because it is difficult to envisage circumstances in which both No 10 and Mr Davis can be telling the truth. The BBC reports:
Downing Street says Gordon Brown was unaware that one of his MPs may have been bugged by police as he visited a constituent in prison.
A government inquiry is under way into claims that Sadiq Khan's meetings with Babar Ahmad at Woodhill Prison were listened to by anti-terror officers.
Shadow home secretary David Davis says he wrote to the PM in December to warn him a Labour MP may have been bugged.
But No 10 said they could find no record of Mr Davis' letter.

The Tories have even published a copy of the letter (here).

So what happened to it? Downing Street is notoriously efficient at recording and distributing the vast quantities of incoming correspondence, so it is difficult to believe that the letter got lost in the bureaucracy. And a letter from a prominent member of the shadow cabinet would automatically be marked for the Prime Minister to see personally.

But, hey, perhaps the postie dropped it in one of the darker corners of Whitehall. No 10 does not - as far as I am aware - have a dog which might have inadvertently eaten it. Maybe,it just disappeared by magic.

We may expect to hear more about this mystery ...

Hue and cry

In the good old days, a hue and cry was a process by which bystanders were summoned to assist in the apprehension of a criminal who had been witnessed in the act of committing a crime. According to Wikipedia:

By the statute of Winchester, 13 Edw. I cc. 1 and 4, (1285) it was provided that anyone, either a constable or a private citizen, who witnessed a felony shall make hue and cry, and that the hue and cry must be kept up against the fleeing felon from town to town and from county to county, until the felon is apprehended and delivered to the sheriff. All able bodied men, upon hearing the shouts, were obliged to assist in the pursuit of the criminal.

This morning, the Sunday Herald has raised a full hue and cry:

WENDY ALEXANDER has been reported to the procurator fiscal for failing to register her leadership campaign donations. Dr Jim Dyer, the standards commissioner, has sent a report to the area fiscal in Lothian and Borders after concluding there was evidence the Labour leader broke the rules on declaring gifts.
She now faces a police investigation and possible charges if the fiscal concludes the offence warrants a criminal sanction.
The dramatic development will increase the intense pressure on Alexander to resign as Labour leader and comes as she awaits the verdict of the Electoral Commission's investigation into her campaign team's acceptance of an illegal £950 donation from Jersey tycoon Paul Green.

Presumably it remains open to the Procurator Fiscal to decide that Ms Alexander's alleged offence is trivial and that prosecution would not be in the public interest - not that that you would know it from Ian Macwhirter's hysterical response:

THIS MUST be end of the road for Wendy Alexander, her short reign as Scottish Labour leader is almost certainly over. Her credibility was damaged enough by the dodgy donations affair. But for parliamentary standards commissioner Dr Jim Dyer to refer her to the procurator fiscal's office for apparently breaking the law takes this controversy to a new level. It is the most extraordinary and dramatic development.

Aye, well. Given the current atmosphere, it would be a brave fiscal who opted for anything short of chucking the book at Ms Alexander. But let us hope that judicial process is not entirely subject to media pressure.

Meanwhile, let every able-bodied newspaper hack scream his head off. Sometimes, Scottish politics is a dirty business.