Tuesday, 22 December 2009


An increasingly desperate Prime Minister is now using the politics of fear to attempt to win points from the Tories. He has announced that a Conservative victory at the next General Election would be a danger to the economic prospects of the UK. Whilst glossing over the not insignificant matter of how Labour would turn around the country’s finances, he is trying to portray David Cameron’s party as the potential creators of “an industrial wasteland” that would decimate public services.

Brown has shown many times over the last couple of years how massively out of touch he is with the nation. How he can stand up and announce that another party would be worse for the economy than his, displays the delusional nature of the man.

This is the man who "abolished boom and bust": time will tell - he inherited a boom and created the bust. There is no sign of a fresh boom.

This is the man who cosied up to the bankers and hedge fund managers, a bunch of people with an eye only on their next Porsche or holiday home, and not the best interests of the UK.

This is the man who has sanctioned the spending of nearly £200bn of our tax revenue to prop up banks, banks that have then used that money to pay themselves bonuses and not to finance the rebuilding of the UK economy.

This is the man who has permitted the civil service to expand to the point of torpor and allowed them to amass a £900bn pension deficit that is conveniently kept off the balance sheet.

This is the man who manages to find billions to spend on grandstanding projects such as the Olympics, climate change, ID cards and Trident, but can't finance equipment for the brave soldiers who fight in the two unwanted wars that his predecessor dragged us into.

Given that little lot, I can't see how anyone else could be a bigger danger to the economy than Gordon Brown and the Labour party.

To paraphrase Neil Kinnock’s rallying call from the 1983 election: don’t be ordinary, young, old or ill, otherwise the Conservatives will leave you by the wayside.

Or in Gordon’s words: “If Labour wins in May 2010, rejoice all ye who are scroungers, dole cheats, civil servants, bankers and hedge fund managers. The rest of you can get your cheque books out (although only until 2018 - credit cards accepted too)".

But of course Kinnock lost, too.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Mandy for Mayor

According to the Daily Red Rag, Lord Mandelson wants to stand as a candidate in the next London mayoral election. If true, this is the best news that Boris Johnson has had for ages.

If the Inebriated Newt, Ken Livingstone, decided to run again, there are just enough deluded souls to the North and East of London to hand him a victory; but apart from a few of the Notting Hill set, I can't see anyone in London voting for Lord Mandy of Pandy.

Then again, if I was Bojo, I would be happy to hand back the shambles that will be the 2012 Olympics to the administration that so wanted it in the first place.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas is bad for your wealth

At least it is if you are one of the poor saps who contribute tax to the funding of the NHS. One of the administrative departments of the NHS, based in Southwark, has spent £2,500 on a Christmas tree to decorate its office.

This is wrong in so many ways that it is difficult to know where to start, but I will. Firstly, why is a manager given the authority to sign-off such a large purchase on what is basically a frivolity? Is the NHS so efficient and awash with resources that this sum of money can be afforded in preference to front-line services for patients? I think we know the answer to that one.

Next, how do you go about procuring a Christmas tree that costs £2,500? Allowing for the fact that Southwark is in London and therefore prices are higher than elsewhere in the UK, a decent-sized tree should not cost more than £100, and even that is outrageous. The tree is reported as “dressed”, so it must come with tinsel, baubles and lights, but even the most ardent spendaholic would struggle to waste more than a few hundred quid on decorations. So that leaves a balance of about £2,000 to deliver and set up the tree, which means someone is trousering a nice little earner.

But if this is a symptom of the spending patterns within the NHS, where Christmas decorations are bought for a minimum of 5-times their actual value, what does it say about the rest of the spending within the NHS? At a time when companies and households are trying to spend less, and when even the presiding party has woken up to the fact that the civil service might be a tad corpulent, it’s time for a full audit of the procurement process within the health department.

The NHS spends about £8bn per year on drugs: maybe that should be nearer £2bn? What about all the medical equipment? Then there are the IT systems, of which at least £12bn has been wasted on a national system for patient records. The total NHS budget is about £100bn, or should it be £20bn?

The Tory party has said that it will “ring fence” the NHS budget if it wins next year’s election. This cannot be justified in an economy where there is a £200bn budget deficit. If the NHS is wasting thousands on Christmas trees, how much is it wasting on core services? And how much are the other departments wasting? There is plenty of scope for reducing the deficit quickly, as long as there is political will to do so and cooperation from the civil service.

The next government needs to move on from Labour’s “think the unthinkable" and actually “do the undoable” – reduce the size and cost of government, whilst delivering better services.

Boilers, Broadband and Bingo

Alistair Darling’s pre-budget report did little for relations between himself and Gordon Brown, but I’m sure his eyebrows will lose no sleep over that. Brown wasn’t exactly friendly with his former boss. Tensions between Prime Ministers and Chancellors are nothing new. Although in this case, when is someone going to point out that there is a common denominator: Blair and Brown don’t get on and run the country into the ground; Brown and Darling don’t get on and just keep on digging us deeper.

But Darling’s PBR did wonders for the Conservatives’ chances of being elected in 2010. Not only did the Chancellor fail to tackle public debt, but he also saddled most taxpayers with tax rises in the form of additional National Insurance payments. Darling should do the honourable thing and cross the floor of the Commons and sit with his natural party, the Tories. Not only has he helped them win the election, but his public school background will sit well with their breeding. At least that is probably what Gordon Brown is thinking, a man who was disabled at his local school, but thinks this is preferable to having your policies tainted by a private school upbringing.

And the winners out of last week’s mini budget are those wanting to scrap their old boiler, rural communities without broadband and those with a disposition towards fat ladies and little ducks.

Introducing boiler scrappage is a curious ploy, but he can dress it up as a green initiative whilst actually targeting the low-paid and pensioners; the reduction in bingo duty is obviously aimed at the Jeremy Kyle-watching layabouts who cannot get enough of this government’s handouts. And broadband is touted by Lord Mandy of Pandy as an essential utility, akin to water and electricity. It has also been described as a “human right”.

So it’s a human right to watch monkeys pull peanuts out of their bums? Or to announce on Twitter that it is cold/sunny/wet or what you had for breakfast? And the last time I looked, provision of broadband in this country was the responsibility of private companies. I resent having £6 taken out of my pocket each year to help BT and other companies to improve the nation’s broadband infrastructure. Darling appears to have forgotten that BT is no longer part of the civil service.

I commend this budget to the workshy, infirm and impressionable males wanting free porn. And please vote for me.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

War, what is it good for?

If the government is to be believed, they and us are currently waging many wars: there is the war on terror, which is physically costing lives in Iraq and Afghanistan; there is a war on benefits cheats, which is failing, as the number of people watching Jeremy Kyle increases every year; there is a war on drugs, which is obviously doing really well, too, judging by the number of people who go to the NHS with heroin addiction and end up with methadone dependence instead.

And the latest war that Gordon “Superman” Brown is fighting is against climate change. You would have thought that with his previous form with starting wars he can’t finish or win, he would know better than to take on nature. But the PM does not let little things such as impossibility, implausibility or lack of ability get in his way. Or the issue that the “science” behind climate change is not exactly rock solid.

The publication of emails from the University of East Anglia suggested that “scientists” were prepared to interpret their results in a manner that strengthened their argument for man-made climate change. There was a piece on the BBC news last night where a very large bar graph was shown, indicating the rise in global temperatures, but if you looked at the scale of the graph, the actual rises over the past two decades were about 0.1 degrees every 10 years. There are articles in the press every day about climate change that are littered with words such as “if”, “would”, “could” and “may”. I like to call them “green passive conditionals” – GPCs.

I doubt very much that there is a global conspiracy to propel climate change into the limelight and blame it all on overpopulation, meat eaters, flying, Land Rovers and cows. But it does seem that way sometimes. And I wouldn’t mind – quite so much – if there was any credible science behind the claims of the proponents of climate change. And by credible, I mean the empirically measurable, cause and effect kind of science that keeps buildings upright, aircraft in the air and that ensures 1+1 will always equal 2.

And talking of aircraft, the government yesterday gave the “green” light (forgive the unintended pun) on the third runway at Heathrow. Even though having more aircraft over London will generate more CO2, this will not matter as long as those aircraft are cleaner and there is a high-speed rail infrastructure to take passengers to destinations that normally require short-haul flights. So that’s great, the project is good for the planet.

Er… hang on, rewind. Notice how a couple of those green passive conditionals slipped into the government’s report? “As long as the aircraft are cleaner” – that stipulation will require all of the airlines using London’s airports to completely re-engineer their fleets to use less fuel. This is not cheap: a basic Airbus A319 costs about £36m; the current model Boeing 747 is about £150m. And that’s before they are redesigned to run greener, a project that will not happen overnight. And before all the airlines agree to swap their existing fleets, or at least the engines, for greener models, which the government has next-to-no power to force the airlines to do. It also overlooks the not insignificant matter that most airlines are running at a loss these days: the last thing they need is to replace their planes to satisfy the conscience of the green lobby (40,000 of whom are quite happy to use aircraft to jolly it over to Copenhagen…)

There was also a second throwaway GPC in the government’s statement: “a network of high-speed rail lines connecting the UK’s major cities”. Not only do we have a gratuitous misuse of statistics to justify an airport runway, but we also have the repeated announcement of Lord Adonis’ #1 Christmas present: a high speed train set. This is at least the 3rd time it has been announced this year. But not 1 inch of track has been laid. There has also been no planning as to where the track will go and which cities it will connect. It is a pure vanity project on behalf of Lord A, fuelled by vapour and propelled by steam. As I am oft to quote, it took eleven years to lay the 67 miles of railway between London and Dover for the Channel Tunnel High Speed Link. At that rate, it will take about 22 years to connect London to Birmingham, another 13 or so to get to Manchester and the same amount again – thirty-plus years – to get to Edinburgh. And that’s before they think about linking North-East to Newcastle or West to Bristol and Cardiff. The government thinks that by talking about something, it will magically happen. This is government by Harry Potter spells.

But not wishing to duck the issue of climate change completely, are there solutions that are less onerous than forcing us to kill Daisy the cow, exterminate every second-born child or give up our foreign holidays and cars?

Yes, and it’s called geoengineering. This is the appliance of science (remember that?) to combat a perceived threat from the climate, regardless of its cause. There are simple measures, such as planting trees and reflecting heat from roofs. There are also some Star Wars-y ideas that involve pumping sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to cool the planet, or building machines capable of generating clouds from sea water, which again cool the air. These schemes are not cheap, but they do represent a return on the investment that the government is asking us to make in the name of green taxes. What would you rather see from your fuel duty? A waste of our money that is used to bail out banks, create quangos and provide civil servants with cushy pensions? Or, a machine that is capable of taking the waste products from mining and pump them into the air to cool the planet?
Geoengineering in itself is not the cure for climate change. But to use a GPC: what if climate change is not man made and cutting down on burgers, holidays and journeys to work does not cool the planet? Shouldn’t there be a Plan B? By all means let the climate change scientists beaver away at their models and predictions, but at the same time, let’s get some smart people like CERN and Intellectual Ventures to use some of those tax pounds, euros and dollars to investigate alternatives to disrupting the economic, social and labour fabric of society.