31 December 2009

So farewell Gum-gum

John Gummer is to stand down at the next election. Regardless of his (relatively - at least for a Tory) virtuous life in recent years, he will only ever be remembered as the agriculture minister who - at the height of the BSE scare - sought to feed his four-year-old daughter a hamburger.

Unfair? Probably, but that's the way of the world.

30 December 2009

Sleeping on the job?

Strange. Mr President condemns his own government. The FT reports:
Barack Obama said on Tuesday that “human and systemic failures” were to blame for allowing a would-be terrorist on to a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas Day, placing the responsibility for the security blunders at the foot of the US government.
Delivering a hastily arranged statement at a marine base in Hawaii, where he is on holiday, the US president said that the mistakes were “unacceptable” and ordered preliminary investigation results to be delivered to him on Thursday.

Does Mr Obama not realise who is in charge? He has now been the boss for a year and, if the US security systems are not up to scratch, who is ultimately responsible?

It is never attractive for a politician to blame his officials. Perhaps fewer holidays on Hawaii and more time at his desk might help.

29 December 2009

Quote of the day

From The Times (here):
There are now 65 generals in the Army, with 43 major-generals, 17 lieutenant-generals and five four-star generals. In addition there are 190 brigadiers, a one-star rank; 20 more than in 1997. The figures were rovided in a written answer in the House of Commons.
There are more than 30 admirals in post in the Navy: two four-star admirals, six vice-admirals and 25 rear-admirals.
In the RAF there are 36 top brass: three air chief marshals, nine air marshals and 24 air vice-marshals.

Too many chiefs for the numbers of Indians.


Is it OK for a non-elected official, however important he may be, to challenge the position taken up by a legitimate political party?

Even if you consider that the Conservative Party is - in this case - barking up the wrong tree, as well as behaving in a disgracefully opportunistic manner, and even if you agree with the sentiments expressed by Mr Starmer, there is something not right about his outburst. Who elected him to take up a position on a matter of political controversy? And, the next time a non-elected official sticks his oar in, it may not be in pursuance of right-on, liberal-thinking policies.

So perhaps, like a good cobbler, Mr Starmer should stick to his last and leave the politics to those elected for that purpose.

26 December 2009

The triumph of hope over experience

The Scottish Tories' seasonal celebrations have been a trifle overdone. How else to explain this report in The Times:
Tories believe that the party will reap the benefit of a late “Cameron bounce” north of the Border in the last few days of the coming general election campaign.
Party strategists have pinned their hopes on undecided voters opting to go Conservative because they believe that David Cameron is heading for Downing Street.

Perhaps Santa made them a promise, or maybe it was the Christmas fairy. Either way, they're a couple of kilted sausages short of a Christmas dinner.

23 December 2009


Remember The Shawshank Redemption? The scene where the cons are watching a movie? Well, the movie concerned, Gilda, is on BBC2 (unfortunately at 2.10 am) on Christmas morning.

It stars the great Rita Hayworth, the sexiest woman ever to adorn the silver screen. (It was her poster that Tim Robbins first put up in his cell to conceal his rock excavations.)

Worth a look, if you're up and about at that time of the morning.

Moats and beams

The Herald sees fit to criticise local authorities for their spelling mistakes, while parading this at the top of their news section:
Two woman killed in Christmas coach crash
Published on 23 Dec 2009

Two woman have died and 47 other people were injured after a coach overturned on an icy road in Cornwall.

22 December 2009

Fantasy economics

Nobody loves them but they are simply unaware. The Scotsman reports:
In a letter responding to the Liberal Democrats in Scotland Mervyn King says if [an independent] Scotland kept the pound, the bank's monetary policy committee may set rates with no input from north of the order. The Liberal Democrats initiated the correspondence.
Like, at present, the Bank's MPC gives two hoots about any developments whatsoever outside London.

Life's too short

Four and a half hours of televised political debate during prime time, plus whatever is arranged for Scotland as an afterthought. How many will watch beyond the first five minutes?

Not me for one. I may be a political junkie but I'm not entirely lost to the human race. I'll catch up with the summaries the next morning, although I will try to avoid the endless analysis about the colour of their ties and the rest of their body language.

20 December 2009

Call my bluff

Would you like to move your work and family to Spain? The Independent reports:
Goldman Sachs has threatened the UK Treasury with plans to move up to 20 per cent of its London-based staff to Spain in a standoff over tax and
I'm far from sure that 20% of the staff would be prepared to go. Spain does indeed sound nice for a holiday (and each year I spend three or four months there) but think of the disruption to family life - the children's schooling, the friends and relatives, the cultural life, the need to find property to live in and to dispose of existing housing. And the clincher - relatively few Spaniards speak English.

So maybe the Treasury should call Golden Sacks' bluff.

17 December 2009

Quote of the day

Fast Eddie Miliband (here):
"Things are getting held up by procedural wrangling," said Miliband. "People can kill this agreement with process arguments. It will be tragedy if we cannot reach an agreement on substance, but it will be a farce if we cannot agree on process."

It's not looking good. Any agreement they reach seems unlikely to be strong emough to reverse global warming. Prepare to fry.


So Flyglobespan, which was my regular carrier on my flights to Spain, has gone into administration. It is tough on those on a pre-Christmas holiday to the Med who are now stranded.

I always thought Flyglobespan as well-run. The flights were usually on time, they were reasonably priced and the planes were invariably full.

I suppose that some other carrier will now fill the gap; alternatively, I may have to fly from Glasgow or Newcastle

15 December 2009

Your fashion editor opines

So Signor Berlusconi doesn't wear a vest. The more fool he. Didn't his mother tell him to wrap up warmly?

They may not be very fashionable. But wearing a vest never did any harm to Bruce Willis ...

14 December 2009

Always look on the bright side

I wonder who this happy soul is?

Well it's certainly not Santa.

Fluffy gets the bullet

Internecine strife among the Scottish Tories. The Times reports:
David McLetchie, the former Scots Tory leader, is to head the party’s general election campaign in Scotland in a move that will be seen as sidelining David Mundell, the Shadow Scottish Secretary and the only Conservative MP north of the Border.
The decision to overlook Mr Mundell as general-election co-ordinator will also fuel speculation that he is unlikely to become Secretary of State for Scotland if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister next year.

Poor old Fluffy. Admittedly, he's not very bright but he's a Tory MP. What do you expect - brilliant intuition?

11 December 2009

Can they not pay for their own calls?

I suppose that we'll never know. Some might argue that we should not be entitled to know. But that can be discounted as we taxpayers paid for the call. The Times reports:
Details of private phone calls from Gordon Brown’s Scottish home, including a call of 2 hours 42 minutes call to a mystery address in Canterbury, were made public yesterday.
The time, length and geographical destination of 21 calls were disclosed when the BT bills submitted as part of his expense claims were published by the House of Commons. The numbers were blacked out.

Who was he phoning in Canterbury? And what did it have to do with his parliamentary duties? He has a fixed telephone link from his constituency home to 10 Downing Street so it is unlikely to have been on government business. Or could it - just possibly - have been Mrs Brown?

10 December 2009

Too clever for his own good

What a sneaky trick. The Independent reports:
The cigarette and booze industries have been hit by a "hidden" excise charge this year, after the Government failed to cut the duty to make up for higher VAT.
There were no changes to alcohol and tobacco duty rates in yesterday's pre-Budget report, after they had been increased a year ago to offset the temporary reduction in VAT. Industry expects predict that the impact of VAT going back up to 17.5 per cent on 1 January and no respite in the burden on excise duties would add up to 18p on a packet of cigarettes and at least 6p on a pint of beer.

See that Darling fellow - he's just like the rest of the politicians.

09 December 2009

Quote of the day

Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph (here):
Even before we’ve trawled through the small print on pensions and tax changes, the pre-Budget report has lived up to the billing. Scorched earth, poison pill, you can choose your metaphor but the key point is that this was a political statement designed to protect Labour’s sectional interests, boost its core vote and stuff the Tories at every turn.

Oh good!
The measures likewise: for example, a whacking great increase in the value of the state pension (2.5pc when inflation is negative?!), ditto other benefits, represents a gratuitous increase in the cost of entitlements, in the knowledge that the Conservatives need to review them downwards. Reckless, unaffordable, yet how can the Tories reasonably be expected to reverse that one?

Darling is a clever lad - he'll go far.

08 December 2009

They think we're idiots, you know

After five paragraphs of fluff, The Times finally gets to the newsbite:
The Tories are now on 38 per cent, down one point since early November, while Labour is up one point at 30 per cent. This is the first single-digit lead found by Populus this year.
The Liberal Democrats have continued to improve their position this month, up two points at 20 per cent, with other parties two points down at 12 per cent.

38% to 30% is not enough to guarantee an overall majority. Expect much more media speculation on a hung parliament. Yawn ...

Pseuds' corner

From The Guardian (here):
The precedents of Bohemian Rhapsody are as much in the 19th-century classical traditions of rhapsodic, quasi-improvisational reveries – like, say, the piano works of Schumann or Chopin or the tone-poems of Strauss of Liszt – as they are in prog-rock or the contemporary pop of 1975. That's because the song manages a sleight of musical hand that only a handful of real master- musicians have managed: the illusion that its huge variety of styles – from intro, to ballad, to operatic excess, to hard-rock, to reflective coda - are unified into a single statement, a drama that somehow makes sense. It's a classic example of the unity in diversity that high-minded musical commentators have heard in the symphonies of Beethoven or the operas of Mozart. And that's exactly what the piece is: a miniature operatic-rhapsodic-symphonic-tone-poem.

The antidote:

07 December 2009

It's all very difficult

Sounds easy, doesn't it? In order to save public expenditure, sack a few (or rather more than a few) civil servants and move the rest out of London.

Well, surprising as it may seem, civil servants are also people with certain rights. So when it comes to making them redundant, they are entitled to a pay-off, based on the length of their service. Alternatively, the more elderly may choose to retire, in which case HMG has to cough up a lump sum and a pension.

And, even if you move civil servants out of London, they are entitled to take their London weighting (in terms of additional salary) with them, at least for a year or two or three. Furthermore, renting office accommodation on the scale undertaken by the civil service is not like renting an individual flat; the terms of the lease will invariably preclude you from giving one month's notice before gadding off and you may be committed to the property for years.

So sacking or moving civil servants may well bring about public expenditure savings, but these may not be realised very quickly. In the meantime, treat the alleged savings quoted by Ministers with a pinch of salt.

Quote of the day

The Prime Minister writing in The Guardian (here):
... we need to create wealth and quality of life, not by putting carbon into the atmosphere but by taking it out. We need to build, in short, a low carbon economy. And not just at home: our aim must be to do this in every major economy of the world.
This will involve change: a shift from the energy dictatorship of oil and traditional fossil fuels to the efficiency, self-reliance and security of low carbon energy systems, which will be the engine of growth and job creation over the coming decade.

Is this the same Prime Minister whose government authorised the third Heathrow runway and the development of the coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth and who as Chancellor scrapped the fuel price escalator?

Still, better a sinner who repents than one who persists in his waywardness.

04 December 2009

The Addison of the Scotland Office

As today's subject is the alleged functional illteracy of a fifth of our compatriots, you may care to cast an eye over this slightly inelegant contiribution to the political debate.

It is not for me to imply that the Rt Hon Jim Murphy, Secretary of State for Scotland, is less than wholly literate, although he might make closer acquaintance with the use and abuse of the apostrophe. But, as his blog is part of the Scotland Office website, is there no-one in that august institution who might edit out the more obvious infelicities before each post is published? It is not as though they have lots of other things to do.

03 December 2009

Headline of the day

From The Independent (here):
RBS board may quit if £1.5bn bonus plan is vetoed

Well, Alistair? Are you a man or a mouse? This is your chance to demonstrate that the government will not always lie down and beg in front of the bankers. OK, the RBS board might resign but I doubt it. And even if they did, it's not as though they could not be replaced.

In any case, we taxpayers are about to own 84% of RBS. Might as well go the whole hog and natinalise the whole shebang.

02 December 2009

The beginning of the end

So the First Minister sacrificed Ms Hyslop when the opposition parties threatened to gang up behind a no-confidence motion. The bold Mr Salmond had - much earier - let it be known that the success of such a motion against one of his cabinet secretaries would lead to the resignation of the entire government, a ploy which discouraged the opposition parties from pressing their arguments.

But pusillanimous no longer - this time the opposition forced the First Minister to blink.

So what happens the next time the opposition has a beef with one of the cabinet secretaries? Say with Mr Swinney over the budget? The First Minister cannot keep on downgrading his cabinet secretaries. But can he risk a successful no-confidence motion?

Political life gets more interesting ...

The audacity of hope

I suppose that it might be alright. The Afghan army might double in size and vastly reduce its desertion rate while being trained to take over the role of the NATO forces; to do it in 18 months seems on the optimistic side but you never know. The Taliban of the less fundamentalist variety might be peeled away from their more committed brethren, even though they now know that the NATO forces will be leaving soon. And President Karzai's government might turn over a new leaf by ridding itself of currupt warlords and drug kingpins.

I wouldn't bet on it though ...

01 December 2009

Transparency, integrity, trust

You couldn't make it up. The Guardian reports:
Zac Goldsmith, the Tory candidate for Richmond, and one of David Cameron's closest advisers on the environment, insisted yesterday he would not be corrupted by power, and said politics had to enter a new era of transparency and integrity to regain trust, including on green taxes.

That would be the Zac Goldsmith who, we recently discovered, is a "non-dom" for tax purposes