Sunday, May 29, 2005

Tessa Jowell's personal civil servant

May readers will be aware that Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell's hubby has been accused of tax evasion in Italy. The full story is here if you haven't heard it before.

Now Tessa is admirably standing by her man, and one can only applaud this sort of loyalty. However our Tess has now apparently got one of the mandarins at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport working on PR relating to the case on behalf of her hubby. As Theresa May has pointed out this contravenes the ministerial code of ethics. My prediction: it will be found to be an oversight and no further action will be taken.

The story is from Media Guardian (registration required) via Abolish the TV licence. It's reproduced in full below.

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell today found herself at the centre of a row over cabinet ethics after one of her civil servants released a press statement on behalf of her husband.

Paddy Feeny, the news and communications chief at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, emailed a statement to the London Evening Standard from Ms Jowell's husband, David Mills, about allegations of corruption he is facing in an Italian court.

Senior Conservatives claimed the email broke the ministerial code, which states that ministers' public duties must not conflict with their private interests, and bans politicians from using civil servants to do their personal work.

"It is clear that Mrs Jowell's head of news has acted on behalf of her husband in putting out this statement," said the shadow culture secretary, Theresa May.

"This statement concerns ongoing legal proceedings, and should certainly not have been handled by the civil service. It is difficult to believe that a powerful and high profile international lawyer would not have had access to a facility to put out such a statement."

Mr Feeny emailed a statement to the Evening Standard after it ran a story about Mr Mills, an international corporate lawyer who is facing charges of tax fraud and money laundering as part of an investigation into the Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr Mills has vigorously denied the allegations, describing them as "unjust", adding, "I know absolutely I've nothing wrong".

Today Mr Feeny said neither Ms Jowell nor her husband had asked him to send the statement and that he had never worked for Mr Mills or briefed anyone on his behalf.

"The Standard ran a story and Mr Mills had a statement he wanted to go out," Mr Feeny told the Daily Mail.

"I rang the Standard and asked whether they would like somebody to dictate it. They said they wanted it by email. This was a personal statement by Mr Mills. I have never acted as his spokesman, his media adviser or in any other capacity."

The ministerial code was at the centre of allegations last year about David Blunkett's relationship with Kimberly Fortier.

Several civil servants were later reprimanded for getting involved in the former home secretary's private dispute.

Ms May said she would be "asking urgent questions in the House in order to obtain a fuller picture over what has actually gone on".

"The rules governing the conduct of ministers' staff are very clear. Civil servants should not act in personal or private matters, and this was reiterated to all ministers and staff following the David Blunkett incident recently," she said in a statement.

"Yet again, it appears that the ministerial code has simply been ignored. I will be writing to the cabinet secretary, and to the permanent secretary for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to demand a full and thorough investigation of events. It is essential that this government does not call in to question the independence and impartiality of the civil service."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Blog post solves murder

Via The Volokh Conspiracy an amazing story of how a blog post identified the murderer of the post's author.

Democratic accountability

In Hartlepool, the chief executive of the NHS trust, Joan Rogers, has requested early retirement.

The trust was listed as one of the top 40 in the country in 2002. Unfortunately it turned out that the waiting lists had been underestimated by 300. Mrs Rogers has been on sick leave ever since this discovery.
Hospital chiefs moved to quash rumours there was any connection between the waiting list problem and Mrs Roger's absence. The trust's acting chief executive Aidan Mullan spoke out in December saying there had been a "misunderstanding over numbers" on the waiting list, but said no-one was to blame.
This is what is called democratic accountability.

(Via Hartlepool Mail)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

BBC strike

The strike at the BBC, as expected, seems to have provoked something of a backlash. The comments on this page at the Times are almost all hostile. One can only be stunned at the naivete of these pampered public sector workers with their index-linked pensions and 1970s-style overmanning complaining when a hint of the real world catches up with them. Every viewer lost brings the end of the licence fee a little closer. The BBC staff are bringing about their own ruin.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Labour party bought again

The government has sold itself again:
A WIND farm company owner who is set to make millions of pounds from the government's policies to embrace alternative energy is one of Labour's biggest election campaign donors, it has been claimed.

Quote of the day

Laban Tall:
I'm drawn inevitably to William Langland's ploughman, who falls asleep on the Malvern Hills and dreams a dream of social justice in the days when those words didn't mean "a heavily subsidised underclass".


So Gordon Brown is going to try to buy his way out of trouble by trying to support the housing market.

Has anyone else been struck by how closely the announcement of bribes for first-time buyers followed on the from the survey that nurses and teachers couldn't get on the bottom of the housing ladder?

Assuming it's not a coincidence, either Gordon Brown is making up policy on the fly or Bank of Scotland (which did the survey) is in his pocket. I wonder which it is?

An everyday tale of government incompetence and deceit

The National Audit Office released one of its dull but worthy reports last week. As far as I know it wasn't picked up by any of the mainstream media outlets. Entitled "Driving the Successful Delivery of Major Defence Projects: Effective Project Control is a Key Factor in Successful Projects" it is an attempt to get the MoD to stop cocking up its procurement projects by finding out how the private sector does it. As the introduction to the report notes:
the last 20 years the annual Major Projects Report has highlighted the variable performance of the Ministry of Defence’s (the Department’s) highest value defence equipment procurement projects, many of which have suffered cost overruns and delays.
You really have to hand it to the NAO though. Their internal team, ably supported by a battalion of consultants have broken new ground in the fight for efficiency in the public sector. You can see it there in the title.
Effective Project Control is a Key Factor in Successful Projects
I cannot believe that it is necessary for a project costing (presumably tens of thousands of pounds) to reach such a consumate statement of the obvious. The MoD procurement people are meant to be professional project managers! This is like telling a chef he needs to switch the cooker on for Pete's sake. Frankly the NAO is a waste of space if this is the best they can come up with.

Anyway, what else did the report say? The press release states:
The MoD uses the same set of tools and techniques for monitoring projects as similar commercial organisations but the balance between their use varies. For example only 44 per cent of project teams used external cost or money spent as an explicit measure of progress achieved compared to 78 per cent of commercial project managers surveyed.
Yes, you did read that right. In less than half of the MoD projects surveyed was cost considered a key performance measure!! Frankly I'm completely gobsmacked that 12% of the commercial organisations didn't measure exteral spend - as far as I can see there is no mention of which particular ones don't report cost, but my guess would be that this is due to an error in the response or the analysis rather than an accurate reflection of the facts.

The press release goes on to say:
On the other hand, compared to the commercial survey, more MoD teams are using a joint risk register with their suppliers which is a good way of ensuring that both parties have a common understanding of the challenges of a particular project.
Now, read that again. We are invited to believe that the MoD are outperforming the private sector in certain areas. But the wording is just a bit strange. "More" MoD teams are using joint risk registers, not "a higher percentage" of MoD teams. Time to dig.

In fact, according to the full report, every project methodology in the survey was used to a greater extent by the commercial teams. The press release can only mislead in this way because 97 MoD teams were surveyed and less than 30 commercial organisations. Any reader looking only at the press release would come away thinking that the public sector was performing acceptably compared to the private sector. In fact their performance is abysmal. In some key metrics the MoD is using key tools half as much as their private sector counterparts. Forecast to completion, and critical path analysis are only used on about 50% of MoD projects!

One has to wonder about the competence and/or independence of Sir John Bourne and his people when such a blatant attempt to dress up incompetence in the public sector can be published on his watch.

So there you have it. The deceitful stating the obvious to the incompetent. Your government in action.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Spending priorities 4

I posted here about the NHS spending scarce resources on trivia like an oral history project. I couldn't help thinking of this when I read this .
A six-year-old Wiltshire girl is due to undergo surgery to remove a disfiguring birthmark from her face.

Ellie Brown, from Calne, has a huge dark mole across her right cheek and side of her nose

Her parents have raised £10,000 towards their daughter's treatment.

The fact that her parents have had to raise money for the treatment is strongly suggestive that the NHS have refused to pay. This impression is confirmed by this posting by someone fund raising for the family.

The Adam Smith Institute today notes that the Government is spending £78 billion per year or £3196 per household per year on the NHS. As they note
You could buy a pretty good medical insurance plan for that. And you wouldn't have to queue up to see a doctor, either.

A country sinking under paperwork

A couple of posts from ordinary people sinking under the weight of government imposed bureaucracy:

An academic:
staff now have to fill in page after page of documentation on every module and every programme and are asked questions which are impossible to answer honestly; thus 'what are the aims and objectives of a module in geometry, or the function of the kidney?' In the past it was accepted that experts in a field would be trusted to behave responsibly, now they need to write it down so that others, less well qualified, can judge it.
and a charity worker:
the problem that a lot of charitable organisations have when applying for funding is the enourmous levels of beaucacy that accompanies any application e.g. setting targets, review procedures, equal opps, inspection and auditing etc. In other words, introducing the same levels of inefficieny and inflexibility that the state insists on for itself!
I'm reminded of a post a read a couple of days back in which it was suggested that the Conservatives may well become the party of the working classes. Certainly if these two posts are anything to go by, even public sector workers are realising that the government's approach of aggressively enforced targets is a hindrance to progress in the public sector.

From the American blogs

Couple of things well worth a look:

Via Instapundit, is Barcepundit's series of posts which suggest that there was more to the Madrid train bombings than met the eye. If true, this will be earth-shattering.

Via Buzzmachine, is this site which posts Chicago crimes to an online map in real time. Very cool indeed.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

BBC integrity failure (again)

Jenny Hjul in the Scotsman reports on BBC Scotland's coverage of George Galloway's trip to America. The correspondent sent was a Bob Wylie:

[W]hy did it have to be Wylie, whose friendship with Galloway goes back years and who, as the Diary pointed out yesterday, received an acknowledgement in Galloway’s autobiography?

Wylie is not an expert on Iraq or on American politics. And in this case, he was clearly not impartial, and neither was BBC Scotland. Shame on them.

BBC you know. Most trusted news organisation in the world.

ID card pledge

If you haven't yet signed up for the ID card pledge please do so here.


From This is North Scotland
Almost every ward in the main hospitals in the north-east has been affected by the MRSA superbug.

Unprecedented figures showing the true picture of the infection in the area have been obtained by the Press and Journal under the Freedom of Information Act.
Via FOIA blog

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

ID cards

Here is a site where you can pledge not to sign up for an ID card - sign up NOW!!!

(Via Non-trivial solutions)

Gorgeous George

Has anyone else noticed that George Galloway always claims loudly that he has never owned a barrel of oil (or seen a barrel of oil and so on). But he is being accused of receiving a credit permitting the purchase of oil, which is not the same thing at all.

A subtle distinction but perhaps an important one?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Do the Tories need a Clause Four moment?

The Conservative Leadership news blog has a strange piece in which it is suggested that the proposed changes to the method of electing the conservative leader is Michael Howard's Clause Four moment. It seems obvious that a change to the electoral procedures for the Conservative Leader cannot be compared to Labour's dumping of Clause Four, which fundamentally changed the stated purpose of the party. It was this momentous resolution that enabled Labour to change the public's perception of the party sufficiently to become electable again. Looking back, this was perhaps a relatively easy step for the Labour party to take, as it was clear to anyone except the most dogmatic leftwing idealogues that the party could never again be elected on a platform of mass nationalisation. The change was important chiefly for its symbolism.

With the pendulum now having swung back, and with the Conservatives having lost a third election, it is reasonable to ask if the Tories now need their own Clause Four moment, and if so what should it be.

To my mind there are two reasons the Conservatives have performed so badly at recent elections. Firstly they are seen as intolerant - they are the Nasty Party. Secondly, the party fears what might happen to the NHS under the Tories.

The first of these, offers a chance for a Clause Four moment. The Tories now have a several MPs and a prospective leader who describe themselves as libertarian. A resolution at the party conference in favour of libertarianism would enable the party to show the public that it now considered itself extremist on matters of personal liberty, and so it would be able to rid itself of much of the Nasty party image it has had since the nineties. It would be difficult to persuade the blue rinse brigade of the need or the rightness of such a resolution, and it would be a big risk for a new leader to chance a rebuff from the membership. But this is the risk that Labour took for the electoral advantage of persuading the public that they had changed, and it was a risk which payed big dividends. Like the Clause Four change, a resolution for liberty would, for the Tories, be only an acceptance of the realities of twenty-first century Britain, in which a moralising party is unelectable.

Tories feel strongly that morality underpins the fabric of society, and they are right, but wrong in how to mould society to be the moral place they desire. As James Bartholemew shows in his book on the welfare state, and the related blog, the moral, self-reliant society they long for and look back upon has been destroyed by the welfare state. To get it back again, the party needs to reform the welfare system and not to demonise those who are in reality the victims of Labour's welfare policies.

A resolution for liberty. It has a nice ring to it.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Blueberry Hill Tories should support Davis

Tim Hames has a piece in the Times in which he suggests that the Blueberry Hill Tories ( David Willetts, Damian Green, Andrew Lansley, Theresa May, Alan Duncan and Caroline Spellman) could end up throwing their lot in with David Davis.

Following on from Matt D'Ancona's Telegraph piece in which he suggests the Notting Hill Tories should also stand with DD, one starts to wonder if we aren't heading for the best of all possible scenarios with DD standing unopposed. This would be a powerful message to the electorate.

Spending priorities 3

£5 billion to spend?

Choose schools or hospitals?

Nurses or teachers?

I know, let's pour it down the drain.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

More spending priorities

When you're a politician it's easy to organise a free booze-up. Think of a ridiculous anniversary and order the beers:

The First Minister Jack McConnell today joined the councils of Orkney, Shetland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in celebrations to mark their 30th anniversary.


The celebrations include a Gala Dinner, a parade, a service of Thanksgiving in St Magnus Cathedral, and a symposium of lectures on the current and future state of local government.

The Thanksgiving Service at St Magnus Cathedral on Sunday afternoon is open to the public and will be proceeded by a procession of representatives from the three councils and the First Minister, led by Lord Lieutenants of the three island areas.

The representatives will be met at the Cathedral by a guard of honour provided by Orkney Sea Cadets. The Kirkwall City Pipe Band and the Stromness Royal British Legion Pipe Band will be in attendance.

Your taxes funding a jolly for the politicians. Still, look on the bright side, it's mostly paid for by the English.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Bruce Anderson in the Spectator

Via the Bunny

I found it a useful canvassing aid to point out to a family of four that the government was spending £40,000 a year on their behalf and to ask whether they were receiving value for money. The answer was predictable.


Pandora's box

The Scotsman complains about Norman Tebbit's recent comments on the Tory leadership. The former Conservative chairman said that he didn't think Malcolm Rifkind should be Tory leader because he is a Scot.

The Scotsman's leader writer says (it's not online, so no link) :
But Lord Tebbit's distasteful intervention trivialises the problem. The Tories are a national party and must seek the most able leader, regardless of their origins. As for the West Lothian question, that requires some constitutional reform, probably involving MPs from English constituencies - including Sir Malcolm - sitting as an English Grand Committee.
I don't think the writer of this piece is grasping the issue. Why would the English want a Grand Committee? A Grand Committee would presumably have no power to initiate legislation, and could be overruled by the House of Commons. The English are paying for vast numbers of unproductive Scots and Welsh. Scots and Welsh MPs will be imposing on England Labour policies for which the English did not vote. That constitutional injustice can only be remedied by an English parliament.

And it will not end there. The English Parliament will surely seek to end the Barnett formula, and force the Celts to start to fund their own bloated public sectors. This may actually be cause for optimism. Like a bum addicted to welfare, the Celtic fringe has lived off English subsidy for too long. Industry and risk taking are frowned upon. Success is sneered at and, incredibly, there is still a widespread belief in socialism. If the English take their money back, the Celts will be forced to live off their own earnings. While the existing motley collection of Scottish politicians might try to tax their way out of taking difficult decisions, this would be unsupportable in even the short term. A new, business-friendly approach would surely follow, and who knows even a second flowering of Scottish industry and culture.

Norman Tebbit is right. The English will want balance restored to the constitution and they will want their money back. It would be amazing if they thought a Scottish lawyer would deliver that for them. The Conservative party has to recognise that in its choice of a leader - national party or not, the votes may well be in delivering for the English. It's not trivial. It's serious. For better or for worse Pandora's box is open.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

BBC has nowhere to hide

Marc at USS Neverdock finds no less than three BBC articles which falsely claim that Kofi Annan has been cleared by the Volcker commission.

David Davis for leader blog

Wat Tyler has set up a David Davis for leader site here

Some people think the NHS is rubbish

Dr B F Walker in Hong Kong

If I had a serious illness and needed specialist care, I would use the HA in Hong Kong, but run a mile from the UK NHS.

Julie at Amkeli's World

Actually, this time I'll be having surgery in a private hospital, as opposed to my last surgery, done on the NHS. That was very, very scary. (Just as a little preview, immmediately prior to my surgery the anesthesiologist went to start my IV {to give me the good drugs}; instead of reaching for a penrose drain as a tourniquet, or if all else fails, getting a BP cuff, she asked the rather large black assistant to, "give her arm a little squeeze". What?!?!)

I did NOT make that up.

Message to Blair: Radical reform is needed. Tinkering around the edges will no longer do.

BBC fears P2PTV

Further to my earlier post about P2P television here, the BBC now seems to be a bit worried. They are terrified that streaming of TV content is going to lead to a wholesale loss of licence revenue.

Being in a bit of a pessimistic frame of mind at the moment, it appears that the upshot of this is that a licence will either be required for a PC or for a broadband connection. There is a monopoly to protect here after all.

On the Abolish the TV licence forum, is a thread where one of the writers is proposing a form of direct action against Capita, who collect the money on behalf of the BBC. It appears that Capita have been accusing people of breaking the law without evidence and that this will form the basis of the action.

No idea if it has any chance of success but it is cheering me up no end just thinking about it.

A win for EU Referendum

EU Referendum has scored another victory for the blogosphere. Richard's investigations into the Barroso affair have been picked up by UKIP's Nigel Farrage and a debate into the conduct of Mr Barroso will take place later in the month.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Secrecy in the NHS

Computer Business Review Online reports that the veil of secrecy over NHS IT contracts has started to lift. The Freedom of Information Act, even in its emasculated state, has elicited a certain amount of information, and this despite the government's demand that NHS officials refuse FoIA requests while they consider publishing some details of the projects. As well as this, companies involved in the contracts have been hit by losses due to government delays and have been forced to issue profits warnings, allowing further details to leak out.

What is clear from the report is that the contracts are suffering the array of cockups that always accompany government IT projects. Fujitsu, Tata and Accenture have all been hit. CSC and BT have yet to report their results.

I sense a shambles coming on.

Lower down the list of spending priorities...

...comes medical services

A PREGNANT mum who needed emergency surgery to save her and her unborn baby was shunted from hospital to hospital in a nightmare ambulance dash.


She was told she would have to be moved to the Southern General in Glasgow as Paisley did not have the facilities to look after a very early baby.

via Politicalog

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Spending priorities

From the Department of Health:

A major new project from the Department of Health will celebrate the contribution made by people from the Caribbean Commonwealth in the early years of the NHS. The project will document the experiences and commitment of those from the Caribbean who helped set the foundations for today’s NHS, during its formative years between 1948 and 1969.

Someone wake me up, I'm having a nightmare.

Kyoto is junk

This should be interesting:
Climate Experts Speak Out in New Video - Science underlying Kyoto Protocol seriously flawed.
See the video here

Monday, May 09, 2005


The Globalisation Institute says:
Water companies are privately-owned in the UK like many countries. Before water privatization, there was massive underinvestment and Britain's water was failing meet the stringent European Union requirements. Now, water quality is significantly higher and the water industry is much more accountable than it was under state-ownership.
Wrong. In Scotland water is still state owned. And there is still massive underinvestment. And no doubt it still fails on quality too. Scottish Water's own website points out that they perform worse than the private sector equivalents in England.
The water industry in Scotland has suffered from decades of under-investment and neglect and is significantly less efficient than the private sector in England and Wales.
I don't know about anyone else, but this sounds like a plea to be privatised.

School ownership

Stephen Pollard:
I'm struggling to think of a single reason why "the provision of universal schooling" should be in the hands of the state.
So why the hell did you vote Labour?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

My Tory leadership candidate..

would be

1. electable
This means that he needs, among other things: gravitas (sorry Boris), the common touch, and hair. Toffs need not apply (sorry Boris). Extra hair is not a substitute for any of the other requirements Boris.

2. economic liberal
Never mind what the party needs for a minute; the country needs someone who is going to grasp the nettle of welfare reform. Labour will not do it because they are a party of the welfare state and their narrow interests are best served by keeping as many people as possible on welfare. It will need cojones of steel to acheive meaningful change (Sorry Sir Malcolm) but if the country is to avoid becoming a basket case like France or Germany then action is required.

3. social liberal
Part of electable really. Interesting to see if any of the alleged libertarians in the party are willing to stand up and state that they don't care where someone puts their wing-wang.

4. eurosceptic
Bye Ken.

5. not a minister under Margaret Thatcher
While the media back Blair, it is too easy for them to describe the Conservatives as unreconstructed if a familiar face from the Nineties is in place.

I can't see past David Davis at the moment, although I would like to know more about his alleged libertarianism.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Quote of the day

And from Simon Jenkins no less:

Where Lady Thatcher was a serious radical with much to be radical about, to wit socialism, Mr Blair is a conservative with something to conserve, Thatcherism.

Good blog

Here's a good blog I haven't seen before. It's the blog of James Bartholemew's book "The Welfare State we're in" which I'm currently enjoying - very readable and quite an eye opener.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Five more years of acheivement

Honourable Fiend analyses all Zanulab's acheivements to date

Where do lefties discuss policy?

When you look at libertarian blogs, there are lots of ideas for how to change things for the better. But I'm can't think that I have ever seen a left wing site that discusses policy ideas. Have I been looking in the wrong place?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Peer to peer TV

This is potentially a way of doing away with the BBC:

Peer to peer TV

Government efficiency

Here's a question for any Labour canvassers who might come your way:

"Name an efficient government department"

Anyone got any suggestions?