Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bloggers for flat tax

There's lots of interest in flat tax around the UK blogosphere at the moment. Strikingly, interest seems to be growing among left-wingers as well as the usual suspects. Neil Harding of Brighton Labour has indicated in a comment on this site that he's in favour if it comes with a citizen's income. Bloggers4Labour is asking whether this is an area that the government should take a close look at.

Oddly I haven't found any LibDems in favour.

Bloggers in favour include:

Devils Kitchen
Tim Worstall
Neil Harding
Strange stuff
Stumbling & mumbling
Gary Munro
James Bartholemew
Arthur's Seat
EU Serf
Stephen Pollard

And thinking about it:

Updated 5/9/2005
Liberty Cadre

Blithering Bunny 8/9/2005
Matthew Elliot 8/9/2005
Jarndyce 8/9/2005
GavPolitics 10/9/05
Tom Morris 11/9/05
InnerWestCentral 13/9/05 (First Lib Dem!)
Not at all PC
The Uncommon Man 15/9/05
The People's thinker 19/9/05

And a couple of more official ones
The Adam Smith Institute

Is David Davis a libertarian?

Via the Apollo Project, I learn that David Davis has been hanging out with arch-libertarian Randy Barnett.

My immediate reaction to this was that it could be quite confusing for those on the left who will try to label DD as being hard right. After all it would be hard to accuse someone of being a closet fascist if they are friends with people who advocate tolerance of drugs.

DD's big danger is that opponents of the Conservatives will try to portray him as being even more conservative than Margaret Thatcher. Whether deliberate or otherwise, this emphasis of his liberal inclinations may help to diffuse that risk before it gets any prominence.

Monday, August 29, 2005


I have upset a couple of people with a brief posting below in which I asked if relaxation of gun laws was a suitable response to the guinea pig farm story.

Neil Harding accused me of being a "gun nut",while Peter at the Apollo Project likewise assumed that I was in effect a card-carrying member of the NRA.

It's not that simple.

Firstly my background with firearms. This is essentially non-existent. I have never discharged any sort of weapon, be it pistol, rifle or air gun. About ten years ago a Chinese policeman gave me his (unloaded) pistol to hold - God knows why. I live in a rural area and therefore know a few people who have shotgun licences. But I can state with absolute conviction that I am not a gun nut. Quite the opposite, in fact. I have always had a fear and dislike of guns and would rather they didn't exist. But my mind is open.

I have libertarian convictions and have therefore heard all the arguments put forward for the right to bear arms. They are, I think, pretty good arguments and are all the more interesting for having been largely supressed in this country. But I have not been willing to step over the line into open support for this position.

Two recent stories pushed me a little closer to stepping over that line. First Simon Titley at the Liberal Dissenter posted a story about a Japanese acquaintance who was attacked on the tube. The woman was shocked at how nobody lifted a finger to help. Titley felt that in a civic-minded society witnesses would come forward to provide evidence or that the passengers might have banded together to overcome the attackers.

While I share his hopes, this clearly isn't happening in reality. Titley's feeling is, I infer, that this failure to act is due to a lack of a sense of civic duty among ordinary people. I think he's wrong.

I know that if I were in a situation where someone was being attacked in front of me I would not be able to intervene, being neither young nor large enough to do so with any hope of success. Even the youngest and strongest would have to ask themselves if the attacker was armed.

Could people team up to thwart the attackers? Who is to say that the first person to suggest such a move wouldn't get a knife in the guts for their trouble? Who wants to take that risk? What if there is no-one else?

The people on that tube train were making a rational decision in the circumstances. The reward for a successful intervention is a slightly better society, perhaps a small financial reward, perhaps a sense of heroism. The risk is death. Looked at this way, it is clear that few would accept the trade off. It appears to me that if you are attacked, you can only hope for mercy or the chance arrival of the police, because your fellow citizens cannot and will not help you.

The second shift if my thinking was brought about by the story of the Guinea Pig farm and its capitulation in the face of a concerted campaign of terrorism. But apart from outrage and hand wringing there have been no suggestions as to how to prevent this kind of thing in future. The terrorists concerned can attack and threated apparently unconcerned by significant risk of apprehension or meaningful punishment. The police cannot be everywhere. What else can we do except defend ourselves?

These then are the questions for anyone reading this post. Policing has failed consistently to prevent these kind of attacks. Does anyone believe that in a free country (ie without a policeman on every corner, every tube and bus, and in every isolated farm house) it is possible to stop this? How? Or do you believe that a certain level of murder and terrorism is inevitable? What should we do when the police aren't there?

From a coldly rational point of view we have to change the incentives faced by criminals, terrorists and the law-abiding citizen. I can't see how we can do that without the ability to defend ourselves, and for anyone who is not a strapping young man that means firearms.

But I'm open to persuasion.

Who doesn't support flat taxes?

Mr Seat asks if Gordon Brown and GWB are the last two people who don't support the idea of a flat tax. Having had a Labour blogger offering qualified support for flat tax on one of my own posts this is perhaps not as far from the truth as it might seem.

Martin Stabe reckons the reason for the Treasury's censorship of the FOI disclosure on flat taxes might be that it related to formulation of government policy. If he's correct then that only leaves Bush in opposition.

Bring it on.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Michael Yon's is embedded with US forces in Mosul, and his blog is a must-read. His latest posting is dramatic stuff. I can only wonder at the courage of the troops out there.

If you haven't read it before, go now.

Thought for the day

If a police operation costing £2-3m cannot protect a handful of villagers from animal rights animals, is it time to rearm the populace?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Clarke tries to steal some of Davis' thunder

The BBC says that the Sun is reporting that Ken Clarke has broken his nose. This transparent attempt to steal some of David Davis' macho appeal is rendered useless by the revelation that his conk was bent when he slipped on a gangplank while birdwatching in Germany.

Some people have got it and some haven't! Get well soon!

The BBC on Lord Watson

The Scotsman reports today the start of the trial of Labour peer Lord Watson on charges of fire-raising.

The BBC doesn't

Does anyone believe for a minute that if Lord Watson was a conservative this wouldn't be at the top of the news every day?

Now they have.
That should disappear fairly quickly.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Flat taxes & freedom of information

Freelance journalist and blogger Martin Stabe has given some valuable insight into the denial by the Treasury of ministerial involvement in the decision to censor the Freedom of Information disclosures on flat taxes.
If the redactions were justified with any of the 22 exemptions that don’t require the opinion of a minister, the Telegraph got the story wrong by assuming the Chancellor had some involvement.
Stabe aims to clear this up with a follow-up FOI request. This will request a copy of the response to the original request which should explain the exemption used. While there are indeed 22 exemptions as possible candidates, many can be discounted immediately - for example the national security exemption or disclosures which might affect foreign relations.
Of the remaining exemptions, the most likely candidates look like s34 Parliamentary privilege and s35 Formulation of government policy.

Whichever clause turns out to have been invoked, we will need to understand why some parts of the papers were considered to require censorship while others, often from the same paper, were not. My suspicion would be that Parliamentary privilege is the culprit. We know that some of the papers were put together as briefing papers for Lord MacKenzie's part in the Lords debate on flat tax. It may be that the parts censored relate to the parts of the briefing he left out of his speech in the debate - that is to say the parts which didn't support his case. This might explain why the excisions seem to have been almost entirely those parts supporting the concept of flat taxes.

It would however create a very odd situation. An honest minister might be expected to talk openly of the advice he had received from his civil servants and to explain in debate why he was discounting some of it. So to use the FOI exemption to supress inconvenient parts of the advice would be to use the law to support dishonesty and secrecy.

Which of course is what many people argued was the point all along.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

More on Order 39

During my recent internet travels I came across some interesting background on Michael Meacher's article about Order 39, the law put in place by the US administration in Iraq to encourage foreign direct investment. I posted about how Meacher was playing fast and loose with the facts here.

It now appears that Meacher's claims are in fact far from original, being derived almost verbatim from an earlier piece by Naomi Klein. This was published in several different journals and was widely disseminated on the internet. The similarities between the key claims are striking.

Naomi Klein

Michael Meacher

On September 19, Bremer enacted the now infamous Order 39. It announced that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatised; decreed that foreign firms can retain 100% ownership of Iraqi banks, mines and factories; and allowed these firms to move 100% of their profits out of Iraq.

Perhaps the most infamous was Order 39 which decreed that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatised, that foreign companies could have complete control of Iraqi banks, factories and mines, and that these companies could transfer all of their profits out of Iraq.

Klein's piece seems to have been thoroughly debunked at the time - see for instance this piece from Australia's National Forum. While it is perhaps not surprising to find Michael Meacher spewing nonsense, one could at least expect that he might have the self-respect to spew original nonsense.

It is sad though that the Times has fallen so far that it allows the publication of this sort of thing.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Pollard on David Davis

In the same CPS paper, Pollard comes out in favour of David Davis for Conservative leader.
David Davis is far from the ideal candidate but he has seen off two Home Office ministers and been the main focus of opposition within his Party to ID cards (to which I turn below) – an issue which ought to be pivotal in separating Conservative liberals from Labour authoritarians, and thus in commending the Party to its natural supporters once more.
He's right here too - Davis is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. He interviews poorly for a start. He is said to be unpopular with the parliamentary party - but no party leader is ever perfect. Either they grow into the role or they don't. And Davis may be the only candidate who can take on the role without destroying the party completely. Cameron would not have the support of the membership, Clarke would split it completely.

Pollard on the Conservative party

If you haven't read Stephen Pollard's CPS paper - do so right now. It's good stuff - liberty, education vouchers, flat taxes and a poke in the eye to blue labour.

Without stating it in bald terms Pollard, one of the architects of New Labour, is saying that Blair's project has run its course. It has failed, ground to a halt by the neanderthal beliefs of the Labour party membership.

It is worth questioning Pollard's wisdom in believing that even an outstanding Prime Minister would be able to overcome the ingrained beliefs of the party membership. This would appear to require either a complete ignorance of the workings of our Parliamentary system of government or an irrational confidence in the persuasive abilities of Mr Blair.

And we can also wonder at how this change of heart has been brought about just three months after the election at which Pollard once more supported Labour.

But despite this, the paper is important. It explains why New Labour has failed. It explains why the Liberal Democrats are not an option - they are restrained by their membership in the same way as Labour. And it explains the barriers which the Conservatives need to overcome before they can win power.

It feels like a turning point to me.

Flat tax fallout

The implications of the censorship acted upon the Treasury analysis of flat taxes continues to bounce around the UK blogosphere. Samizdata has a post here, and there is a very interesting post here by Martin Stabe.

Stabe's seems to have a deeper understanding of the nitty gritty of the FOI legislation than your average blogger. This was particularly interesting:
Treasury officials insisted last night that the Government has no plans to introduce flat taxes.

They said Treasury lawyers decided to black out sections of the report to ensure that officials were not prejudiced in the provision of ‘free and frank advice’ to ministers by the prospect of ‘unchecked disclosure’.

Stabe explains that the disclosure exemption on which the lawyers seek to rely is contained in section 36 of the Act. He points out however that ministerial authorisation is required for a S36 exemption certificate to be issued, so the government's denials of involvement in the censorship are demonstrably false.

What struck me about the claims made by the Treasury is that they will have to construct a fairly convoluted argument to explain why only those parts of the advice which weighed against flat taxes were deemed to be prejudicial to the provision of free and frank advice, while those which were in favour were not. Particularly as flat tax is not the stated policy of any of the main parties.

With a bit of luck this should run for a while longer.

This from the Telegraph Letters Page

Sir - You are wrong to suggest that information released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Treasury relating to flat tax proposals was edited by the Chancellor.

The decision to excise arguments both for and against a flat tax was taken by Treasury officials on the advice of government lawyers to comply fully with the statutory obligations of the Freedom of Information Act, as laid down by Parliament.

The Chancellor had never seen any version of the released documents and no minister had any involvement in the decisions regarding their release. To suggest otherwise is completely false.

Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary, HM Treasury, London SW1

This of course does nothing to negate Martin Stabe's point about Section 36 exemptions. The claim that arguments both for and against were excised needs a good fact checking too.

Friday, August 19, 2005

An idea too dangerous for the public to hear of

Via The Englishman I learn that the story of the Treasury's flat tax briefing papers still has legs. I had picked up the original story from the FOIA blog which is a great source for this kind of thing. Out of idle curiosity I downloaded the full FOI disclosure from the Treasury and was surprised that so much had been censored out. Flat tax is, after all, a non-controversial issue - it doesn't represent the stated policy of any of any of the main parties. At the time, I posted a comment on this on the ASI blog to see if anyone could suggest why censorship might be necessary.

This research has now been overtaken by events, the Telegraph having got hold of the uncensored paper, which includes all the arguments in favour of flat tax. It would be nice to think that the Telegraph had used my ASI comment as the cue to dig a bit further, but I suppose this is unlikely.

Anyway, a few questions now need answering:

1. Who took the decision to censor the FOI release and if they haven't been fired, why not?
2. The Treasury's briefing on flat tax was used by the Labour peer, Lord MacKenzie of Luton in a subsequent debate in the House of Lords. In this debate he used all the arguments against flat tax with which the Treasury had briefed him, but did not even acknowledge the positive ones. Does he feel that this was dishonest of him? (Incidentally, it's amazing how the phraseology used by the Treasury turns up almost unaltered in Lord MacKenzie's speech - can't he think for himself?)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

If Galloway were American would he face a treason charge?

Eugene Volokh discusses the what might be the correct test for treason under the US constitution and whether Gorgeous George would fall foul of it.

Our saviours

The presiding officer of Scotland's pretendy parliament has announced a super think-tank which is going to turn the Scottish economy round. And what a team he has lined up, bristling with people who understand the needs of, well, themselves mainly.

John Elvidge, senior civil servant

Entire career within public sector

Professor Tim O'Shea, the principal of Edinburgh University

Entire career within public sector

Susan Rice, the chief executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland

Private sector. No entrepreneurial experience.

Campbell Christie, the former leader of the Scottish Trades Union Congress

Professional job destroyer

Margaret Ford, a Scottish-based management consultant who now heads English Partnerships

Most of career in public sector but some entrepreneurial experience.

Sarah Boyack

Entire career within public sector

Alex Neil

Started career as marketing manager.

Hat tip: Freedom & Whisky.

Anarchy in the LDs

The Apollo Project has a good post up on some of the LibDems radical predecessors, including Cobden. I liked the quote at the end:
[W]e need to draw upon Cobden's utopian, quasi-anarchist vision that contacts between peoples rather than governments are the greater guarantee of peace.
Anarcho-capitalism from the Liberal Democrats? Whatever next.


From the Scottish Executive:
Consultation on future for town centres

New policy says town centres should be the most appropriate location for new retail and leisure developments.

From Bishop Hill:

People say towns should be the most appropriate location for planning decisions.

Chain of command

A thought on the Jean Charles de Menezes shooting.

When a man has been shot by police officers on suspicion of being a suicide bomber I would expect the chief constable to have spoken to the operation commander at the very least. Likewise, I would have expected the operational commander to have spoken to all of the officers involved.

If, as seems likely, Sir Ian Blair ended up giving a false representation of events to the public there are four possibilities.

1. The officers at the scene colluded to lie to the operational commander.
2. The operational commander lied to Sir Ian
3. Sir Ian lied to the public.
4. They were all involved

It should be extremely simple to get to the bottom of this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sean Gabb on licencing hours

The always-interesting Sean Gabb has his latest "Free Life Commentary" up, this time on the subject of the proposed changes to licencing hours.

He also mentions that he is going to be in a TV debate on the 22nd, although there are no details given. Dr Gabb's media performances are not to be missed in part because of his sublime ability to be offensive to left-wingers and clients of big government. I'm not quite sure how many converts he wins to the cause of libertarianism with this approach but it certainly brings a smile to the face.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Bravehearts turned welfare bums

From the Scotsman:

SCOTLAND has a hidden public-sector workforce of 110,000 who go unacknowledged in the official government headcount because their work is subcontracted.

Doctors, university staff and contract cleaners and caterers were omitted from last month's Scottish Executive's national staff roll because they technically work in the private sector, although their sole client is the government.

When such people are included, 681,000 Scots now work for the public sector - rather than the 572,000 claimed by the Executive. That equates to 20 per cent of men and 38 per cent of women and is the highest ratio of any non-socialist country.

First Minister Jack McConnell once more tried to head off criticism by intoning (through a spokesman) his mantra:

"... we need to change the balance between private and public sector. But the best way of doing that is by growing the private sector"

Unfortunately Mr McConnell's approach to growing the private sector consists of appointing more bureaucrats....

Funding to improve educational business links
Roadshow scotches renewable energy myths
Increasing business competitiveness

and subsidising Wind Farms (who then rather conveniently pass the money back to the Labour party by means of donations).

Roadshow scotches renewable energy myths
Renewable energy companies help power fossil fuel reduction
Future of renewable energy mapped out
Windfarm extension approved

Could the English please hurry up and cut off the subsidies? This country can't afford this imbecile for much longer.

Teaching foreign languages

Sir Digby Jones of corporate welfare pressure group the CBI wants more students to study foreign languages.
We must change our cultural attitude. We are an island race but must embrace the world and speak its languages if we want to be in the pole position for business.
This is of course complete rubbish and is indicative of his rather antediluvian approach to business. Why on earth must the people employed by British businesses be British? If you run a business and want someone to speak to your French customers get a Frenchman.

You couldn't make it up

A snippet from an article in the Times:
Oxford dons have been given new guidelines for interviews that are designed to prevent the “intimidation” of state school pupils and increase their chances of winning a place at the university.


The university’s dons have also been told to avoid giving religious offence, for instance by shaking hands with a Muslim girl who has not offered her hand first.
I do wonder if there are any recorded instances of Muslims being offended by an outstretched hand. There may well be cases of Muslims women taking offence as being referred to as girls. Anyway, shouldn't the university be rejecting someone so rude as to refuse the hand of friendship?

A levels

By now, in Labour's eighth year in power, it is no surprise to see a government minister managing the news rather than their departments. Over the weekend the Sunday Times announced that A levels were to be made harder. This, as the article makes clear is a blatant attempt to preempt the criticism that is likely to descend upon Ruth Kelly when the results are made public later this week. It is extraordinary that so little criticism is made of this tactic of "policy announcement as news management" . If one looks back across the whole sorry saga of A levels over recent years, it becomes clear that there has been an absolute failure of government partially obscured by some masterful spin.

Back in 2002, the government attempted to head off that year's furore over grade inflation by having some papers crudely remarked. The minister involved, David Miliband, of course denied involvement and it goes without saying that the subsequent inquiry by Mike Tomlinson exonerated him entirely. (As an unrelated aside, congratulations are due to Tomlinson for his recent knighthood). By October of that year, Miliband felt confident enough to assure everyone that standards of teaching and learning were rising.

In 2003, Mr Miliband took the route of least risk by defending the integrity of the A Level.
Every A-level subject meets rigorous standards and several international panels have shown this to be true.
Last year, and again just before the announcement of the results, Mr Miliband went out on the attack:
The rising pass rate at A-level shows an education revolution is under way, with more young people getting the chance to get on in life, the school standards minister has said. David Miliband hit back at claims that exams are being down-graded, saying the August debate on education resembled "a pantomime, not a discussion". He said a threefold increase in students getting two passes or more over the past 30 years was a sign of "meritocracy".
Rather than have to face having to think up another story as to why nobody actually fails A Levels, Mr Miliband has moved to pastures new, leaving Ruth Kelly to explain to us why any change is needed to a system which is so "meritocratic" and has such "rigorous standards".

Sunday, August 14, 2005

What shall we do with the Scottish Parliament?

There seems to be a growing recognition that MSPs are overpaid and underutilised.

James Gray, the one-time Shadow Scottish Secretary, was sacked for suggesting that MSPs should be replaced by their Westminster counterparts.

Andrew Arbuckle, LibDem MSP, thinks they should go part-time, and has suffered nothing worse than an invitation to join the Conservative party.

To me this shows how wrong Michael Howard was in his treatment of Mr Gray, who merely voiced what was an eminently reasonable response to a real problem.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Infamous Order 39

Michael Meacher has a piece in the Times today called "My sadness at the privatisation of Iraq". Here's an extract.
Before the US proconsul Paul Bremer left Baghdad, he enacted 100 orders as chief of the occupation authority in Iraq. Perhaps the most infamous was Order 39 which decreed that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatised, that foreign companies could have complete control of Iraqi banks, factories and mines, and that these companies could transfer all of their profits out of Iraq. The “reconstruction” of the country amounts in effect to wholesale privatisation of the economy and is little short of economic colonisation.
Well obviously I think that sounds like a wonderful thing to do for the Iraqi people, but I must say I was rather surprised that any government would make such an economically sound decision. So I took a look at Order 39. You can read it here.

It's only six pages long and is concerned with foreign direct investment. It covers all the areas you might expect - who can invest and in what and so on. Unfortunately for me and Mr Meacher, you will look in vain for any mention of state assets at all, let alone privatisation. Perhaps that's not really surprising in a paper on FDI. Quite how Mr Meacher reached the conclusion that the Order "decreed that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatised" is beyond me. He seems to have been mistaken.

Now, also according to Mr Meacher, foreign companies can have complete control of Iraqi banks. Unfortunately for him, if you refer to Order 39 you find in Section 6, paragraph 1 the following: "... this Order does not apply to banks and insurance companies." So Mr Meacher appears to have got that wrong too.

What about mines? No, they're not included either. Again from Section 6 paragraph 1: "Foreign investment may take place with respect to all economic sectors in Iraq, except ownership of the natural resources sector involving primary extraction and initial processing remains prohibited".

In fairness to Mr Meacher, it should be pointed out that factories are covered by the order and so this paragraph is only nearly total bollocks.

Certainly his conclusions that the order is "little short of economic colonisation" is complete bollocks unless he thinks that Britain, as the biggest foreign investor in the America, has colonised that country again.

Quite why the Times gives space to someone whose views are so economically illiterate is beyond me. The silly season is meant to be on the news pages - not the opinion columns.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hard to credit

It's hard to credit but despite the debacle of the Aslam affair the Grauniad has gone and given space to another Moslem with dodgy credentials. And like the Aslam affair they have failed to explain those writer's credentials to their readers.

With a large tip of the hat to Harry's Place for providing us with what promises to be a great deal of fun in the next few days.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Reforming the Lords

Apparently lots of UK bloggers are posting on the subject of reforming the House of Cronies (ahem, Lords) today, in fulfilment of an online pledge. Tim here, Chicken Yoghurt here.

Reading some of the posts, I was struck by the thought that the biggest problem with both houses of parliament is the fact that they are in London. This the cause of so many of the things that are wrong with the system - the high cost, the whipping system, the cliques, the plotting, the representing of party ahead of constituents.

We could think about moving the Lords away from London but, whereever it meets, the party whips, the lobbyists and the corruption will follow. You might get a bad system for less money, but that's about it.

So here is another idea: the House of Lords will not actually meet at all. Members will remain in their constituencies. Debates will be held on a blog to which any member could contribute. You could soup the software up a bit so that constituents could post comments and feedback to their representatives, as well as contributing to the debate themselves in the way that the They Work For You site does. Because the real debate would be moving at blog speed, the representatives could actually act on some of points raised by their constituents, and feed it into the main debate.

Day to day, our representatives would meet only the people who should be most important to them - their constituents. The party managers would be a voice at the end of a telephone - much easier to ignore. Members would therefore be much freer to act in their constituents' expressed interests rather than following sheep-like the instructions of the whips.

Committee hearings could also take place online, although I wonder if representatives would prefer to see the whites of the eyes of the people they are grilling. If so, we could let them attend Westminster once a month or so.

As well as freeing our representatives from the tyranny of party managers these changes would open up the profession of political representative to a whole host of people to whom that role is currently denied - namely people who hate living in large cities. Our representatives would suddenly be so much more, er, representative. Particularly as they would all suddenly become members of one of the fastest growing sectors of society - teleworkers.

I think you would also get a better class of person involved - more normal; less grasping. You could imagine people of all sorts of backgrounds suddenly standing for election. People with a family (but no nanny). Poor people. People who can think for themselves. Businessmen. Bloggers. I am drawn particularly to the idea of Lord Worstall striking down repressive legislation from his Quinta, a glass of Dao at his side. The world would be a better, a more civilised place.

Elect the Lords by all means. But then burn their Lordships' house to the ground and send them all home.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

James Fisher Rumic

Amid all the celebrations over the rescue of the Russian submariners by our boys in blue, one small detail has escaped nearly everyone's notice: the rescue was in fact not performed by the boys in blue at all, but by employees of a private company called James Fisher Rumic. The BBC has the information, but only in the murky depths (so to speak) of their website - here.

JFR operate the submarine rescue service on contract to the MoD. The operation was staffed entirely by JFR employees except that it was under the command of a Royal Navy Officer. As JFR had their own manager on the team, one has to wonder if this officer's job was to take all the credit for JFR's work. You can read virtually any one of the other stories about the rescue and come away with the idea that this was purely a Royal Navy operation.

But the truth will out - well done James Fisher Rumic.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Am I turning into a Liberal Democrat?

Or are the Liberal Democrats turning into me? I'm inclined to think that there is a subsection of LD membership who share many of my beliefs, but probably they are a minority in the party at the moment.

To explain: last week I posted about the arrival of a new Lib Dem blog called the Apollo Project which got off to an excellent start by advocating choice in education. There are a few Lib Dem bloggers thinking about widening choice to encompass multiple providers, and there appears to be the beginnings of a debate about adopting education vouchers as policy. A few links are collected here.

Now, to add to my confusion, the Apollo Project is advocating the scrapping of the BBC licence fee! It's a good idea and a bold one. However the author Stephen Tall (a LibDem councillor) wants to replace it with a public service broadcasting fund which can be dipped into by any broadcaster. I can't help thinking that taxpayer funded television is just not a requirement these days. It's easy to imagine the kinds of programmes that will win this kind of funding.
  • Bad programmes and programmes no-one wants to watch
  • Programmes about politics
  • Programmes made by politicians' friends and family and donors
  • Programmes made by party political donors
  • and so on
In other words the public service fund will end up as the UK Film council for the small screen. And it is old-fashioned paternalism to have a committee of well-heeled do-gooders telling us what is good for us to watch.

Scrapping the licence fee is an idea whose time is coming and the Lib Dems would be right to adopt it as policy. But you can keep your quango.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


There seems to be a lot of handwaving from the Prime Minister at the moment. First, last week's speech in which he announced (with solemn head-knodding so that we could be certain of his sincerity) that the rules of the game are changing, and that the government were going to change the rules for deportation and if necessary amend the Human Rights Act. Only now Lord Falconer says they aren't.

How then to react to today's announcement that the government is considering treason charges against some of the Islamist nutters? The heart says he gets it. The head says he's spinning.
Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Video of failed IED attack on British forces in Mosul

Via LGF.

(Requires Windows Media Player).

Also from India

Again via India Uncut, this little gem from the BBC.
Village council candidates in India should be allowed to stand for election only if they have a toilet at home, the rural development minister says.

In a letter to all chief ministers, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said the toilet rule should be set out in law.

He said too many elected members "do not have toilet facilities in their own houses and defecate in the open".
Defecating in the open eh? Well, they won't want the punters thinking they're full of it.

Knowledge and the state

From the Telegraph of India:
Knowledge has advanced not because of the state but despite its presence. The state has a natural propensity to regulate, to monitor and to control. The pursuit of knowledge strives to free itself from shackles of any kind. These are irreconcilable positions.
Via India Uncut

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


As the man says, way too funny!

Liberal LibDem blog

The Apollo Project is a blog which appears to be from the Liberal wing of the Lib Dems, and is proving to be an interesting read so far.

Today's post picks up on the recent calls for the reintroduction of grammar schools. In discussing the purpose of education the author notes:
The difficulty is that British society and culture has long had an anti-intellectual streak which is particularly prevalent amongst young males today. Consequently many children are unable to develop their potential as they are forced to conform to the playground norms that deride learning.
and goes on to argue that there is a prima facie argument for grammars on the basis that they can shelter academically inclined kids from the disruptive elements. He worries about those condemned to study at secondary moderns, and about the practicality in rural areas.

It seems to me that Lib Dem thought on education has something of a poverty of imagination combined with an excess of ambition. The ideas on LibDem blogs on how the education system should be structured hark back to the 1950s - grammars, secondary moderns, college based learning for the practically minded. Who says it has to be this way? If the Lib Dems are not socialists why is there no discussion of vouchers or competing providers? Splitting children into streams is one idea, but at the end of the day this would be a political decision imposed on the whole country by the government. The education system would remain the centrally planned monstrosity it has been since the second world war - the Liberal Democrats need to wake up and realise that central planning doesn't work. Politicians need to have the humility to understand that they do not have the answers and neither do their civil servants, their special advisers, the unions, the City of London, the Guardian or anyone else. Someone out there has the answers, but until we free the market find them, we will never know who.

One of the principal objections to competing providers, whether state or private, is the idea that in rural areas there could not be adequate competition. There are many reasons why this doesn't have to be so. One can imagine a national education marketplace dominated by a few big brand-name providers. While one company might have a monopoly in a rural area it could not allow standards to slip even here because of the detrimental effect this would have on its reputation. The nursery provider Nord Anglia is a prime example of this - its share price dived spectacularly when poor standards were publicised at just one of its sites.

It is also worth remembering that before the state became involved in education, schools were much smaller and more local, particularly in rural areas where it is still possible to see abandoned school houses in tiny hamlets. A single state school now would quickly face competition from small private schools responding to a need for local provision. Why? Because that is what parents want.

At the fringes, the Lib Dems are starting to think like liberals rather than socialists. There is a long road still to travel though.

Monday, August 01, 2005

So what checks do they do?

In the news today is the startling revelation that the alleged bomber arrested in Rome had lied about his nationality.
[...] Hussain left Italy in 1996 and arrived in the UK, where he told authorities he was Somali [he was in fact Ethiopian] in order to be naturalised as a British citizen.
Now my innocent assumption had always been that when someone applied for asylum, a comprehensive range of checks were made to ensure that they were indeed suffering persecution. What appears clear from this is that there are no checks whatsoever. If you've got the person's nationality wrong, you just can't have checked their identity or background story.

More priorities for the NHS

Some time ago I posted on how Tony Blair's priority for the NHS appeared to be a proper understanding of its history, by means of spending its scarce resources on an oral history project.

Today's Times unveils a new and exciting priority, which will solve all of the NHS's problems.

A HOSPITAL’S decision to hire an art curator days after it was criticised for cancelled operations and a poor MRSA record has been condemned by nurses and patients.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge has placed an advertisement for the £37,000 a year post in today’s edition of The Guardian, and it also appeared in the Public Agenda section of The Times. But patient groups believe that the money could be better spent on nursing staff and cleaners.

I must say it's hard to disagree with the patient groups. In defence of the NHS, it should be said that if you are going to die through lack of treatment it's probably good to have some nice pictures to look at.