02 December 2007

POCA - I may have been too hasty

In my analysis of POCA 2002 (see below) and a money laundering offence having been committed by Abrahams and the Labour Party in their breach of PPERA, I forgot that there is now a de minimis level of offence before POCA kicks in - I think (and I need to check, and will update this when I have) that the original offence needs to carry a penalty of more than one year's (maybe two) imprisonment. The breaches of the PPERA would only carry a penalty of 1 year, so in that case POCA would not be engaged.

29 November 2007

Mendelsohn should go - says Dianne Abbott

Dianne Abbott was on Channel 4 News this evening calling for Jon Mendelsohn to be fired or resign, and used the phrase "beggars belief" in response to the suggestion that Watt did not know that the arrangements with Abrahams were illegal.

Abbott also made the very sensible point (which had occurred to me earlier) that no new laws are needed, political parties just need to abide by the ones already in force. Indeed, how could politicians be expected to abide by new laws if they cannot manage the ones already in place. Some people will use this episode to argue for state funding. It would be like the Dangerous Dogs Act - tough cases make bad law.

28 November 2007

Jon Mendelsohn - beggars belief

At PMQs today, Gordon Brown stated that Jon Mendelsohn has put out a statement (which I have not been able to confirm or get sight of) stating that on his appointment on 3rd September this year he was told by Peter Watts of the "arrangements" under which David Abrahams donated money to the Labour Party, but that, whilst irregular, these arrangements had been approved by the Electoral Commission. Mendelsohn, although apparently accepting the statement in respect of the Electoral Commission, decided he need to "regularise" the position and took steps to contact Abrahams (which he did by way of a letter delivered to Abrahams, just as the story was breaking).

This account raises the following questions:

  1. Did Watts give the same explanation to anyone else re Electoral Commission approval?
  2. Did Mendelsohn really believe this explanation - unlikely since (a) it flies in the face of the whole basis of transparency in political funding and (b) he sought to undo the arrangements.
  3. Why did Mendelsohn not seek to verify Watt's explanation or mention it to anyone else? Or did he?

The whole thing stinks to high heaven.

UPDATE: Mendelsohn's statement is now on the BBC website and he said in respect of the explanation offered to him by Watts: "He told me these donations fully complied with the law and I had no reason to doubt that information" - except you think as a senior fundraiser, he might know what the laws says and might have dug a bit deeper.

I have a feeling that the Watts/Abrahams defence to all this is going to be that the money was really given to Kidd and Ruddick (although it would be harder to say this with a straight face in the case of the other lady who signed a blank cheque) and they freely made the choice to donate to the Labour Party - except it wasn't and they didn't. As I commented on Iain Dale's Diary earlier this week, it was either a taxable gift or they were given the money as agents. I suspect that Mendelsohn knew that the reason Watts said it was all OK was that it was originally a "gift" from Abrahams to Kidd/Ruddick, but if he says that, he will look even more daft as on any proper legal analysis, they were clearly Abraham's agents.

David Abrahams, the Labour Party and the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

It has widely been accepted (including by Gordon Brown) that it is illegal to disguise the source of donations made to a political party. Various people have raised the spectre of money laundering, so I thought it might be helpful to set out how a money laundering offence might have taken place, given the facts we know about David Abraham's donations to the Labour Party.

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 ("POCA") it is an offence for a person to "become concerned in an arrangement which he knows or suspects facilitates (by whatever means) the acqusition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person" (section 328) and under section 329 "A person commits an offence if he: (a) acquires criminal property; (b) uses criminal property; (c) has possession of criminal property".

It seems to me that the donations became criminal property when they passed from Mr Abrahams to Mrs Kidd and Mr Ruddick with the intention that they be passed to the Labour Party as donations with the purpose of disguising their source, because under section 340 of POCA, criminal property is defined as any property that you "know or suspect" is or represents the benefit of "criminal conduct".

The penalty - up to 14 years in prison and an unlimited fine.

UPDATE (29-11-07): In response to this post, Head of Legal has responded in the comments of his own blog as follows: "I think talk of POCA is wild, too, Danvers. In what sense was the money the proceeds of crime? How did it represent the benefit of criminal conduct? If Janet Kidd told Labour the money came from Abrahams - and Peter Watt did know that - then she acted lawfully, and so did Abrahams. And so did Peter Watt in accepting it. Nobody gets the money by doing anything unlawful. What was unlawful was wrongly reporting the agent as the donor."

My response was: "I am not sure it is as simple as that. If Kidd/Abrahams donated the money to Labour and told Labour (i.e. Watt) that it was Abraham's money but that it should be reported as Kidd's money, they (all three of them) are setting out to breach the PPERA. My understanding of POCA is that just about any transfer of cash in furtherance of a crime constitutes an ML offence. It could be argued that the cash became tainted with criminality the moment it was transferred to Kidd for the purpose of disguising its true origins for the purposes of a declaration under the PPERA.It would be the same if an employer and employee were deliberately cheating on Income Tax and giving the difference to a political party - and the political party knew about the scheme. To be fair, I think to prosecute under POCA would be unfair, but the police love using it to stitch up the nearest and dearest of the real offenders, once they have touched the tainted cash."

16 November 2007

Comment moderation

Until I figure out how to delete or overwrite offensive or downright weird posts, comment moderation will be on.

Sorry for that, but if you look at the comments on the post two below, you might understand why.

If anyone can help, please leave a comment....

UPDATE: That was quick. Now have figured it out, so comment moderation is back off. I will also experiment with removing the word recognition stuff as well.

07 October 2007

Behaving like the next Prime Minister

I watched the entire interview given yesterday afternoon by David Cameron, presumably outside his home in Witney. According to Iain Dale, he was "statesmanlike". I disagree. I have no complaint with the substance of what he had to say, but I did not feel that Cameron looked like a Prime Minister in waiting as a result of the way the interview was given. Here are my tips to DC on making statements/giving interviews on television:

1. Be sparing. Stick to the important stuff. Let your team/spokesmen deal with the nitty gritty issues and low politics and show that you are above the crap.

2. Be even more sparing on exclusives. if you do them, make the broadcaster work hard. Only speak to a "name" and preferably someone who will be a least a little sympathetic. Gordon Brown got Andrew Marr in Downing Street. Who did Cameron have yesterday? Some unknown journo with an Irish accent who showed little respect (asked Cameron "what your Tories are going to do next" in the same way as hemight have asked Lord Sutch (RIP) about "his" Monster Raving Loony Party). If you have something to say, it must be worth getting a crowd along and having an impromptu press conference.

3. Choose your ground. The Oxfordshire garden is not a good look. If you can't easily get to a TV studio get somewhere set up near your constituency base where you can give a press conference in dignified and professional surroundings - this might just involve upgrading the local village hall. Menzies Campbell gave his interview yesterday via video link from Edinburgh direct to the presenter in London and this just looked more dignified.

4. Deep breath. There was no need for Cameron to react so quickly yesterday - lots of people were piling in and if Cameron had to comment personally (see 1, above) it could have waited at least until this morning - and Cameron's interview with Andrew Marr this morning, ticks all the above boxes.

Mercer leaves Gordon's Big Top

The news on Iain Dale's Diary that Patrick Mercer has ceased to be a government advisor came as scant surprise as he had been in the news earlier last week criticising Brown's trip to Iraq. Like many Conservatives, I had speculated to myself about a suitable punishment for the disloyal Tory MPs who have taken Brown's 30 pieces of silver but I wonder if I was, in the words of David Cameron, applying the old politics.

The "0ld" theory of the political big tent is that it is better to have your enemies pissing out of the tent than standing outside, pissing in. But what happens when your latest circus pony decides to lift its tail and crap on the floor of your big top?

Perhaps I am crediting Cameron and Mercer with too much tactical nouse, but perhaps the reason Cameron was so relaxed about Mercer going over to "assist" Labour was that (a) it helps further "detoxify" the Tory brand (how can Labour make their favourite ad hominen attacks on MPs such as Mercer - as they did when he resigned from the front bench, if they are taking his advice) and (b) it gives the Conservatives a more potent weapon - an opposition back bench MP carries no weight when he attacks the Prime Minister - a government advisor does.

So maybe it will emerge that the gallant Member of Parliament for Newark - Lieutenant Colonel Mercer - was on a mission behind enemy lines. Bercow has said that rumours of his defection to Labour are entirely false, so we just need him to lift his tail and come running back to the Tory tent.

02 October 2007

Death duties - another idea

The raising of the threshold for the payment of inheritance tax is very welcome but I would advocate a further reform which would make the system fairer and, in my view, cleverer.

At the moment, if a person's estate is above the inheritance tax threshold, gifts given during that person's lifetime can be counted as part of his estate and taxed accordingly if he dies within 7 years.

A 7 year window concentrates the mind - even a fit 70 year old can see the benefit of starting to plan to reduce inheritance tax. If this window was reduced to 5, 3 or even 1 year, there would be less of an incentive for people to plan to mitigate the inheritance tax payable by their estates. Furthermore, if the window were reduced to one year, this would be a financial bonus for many of those who have terminal illnesses - which often strike before old age, frequently at a time when a person's heirs are still financially dependant on that person - although admittedly the exemption for gifts to a spouse are consistent with this goal, not everyone has a spouse. In fact, I would extend the spousal exemption to children under 18.

However, by reducing the window in which gifts are at risk would be a popular and fair move and would allow money which is passed on to be spent rather than saved (to avoid the risk of a large tax bill) which is also positive for the economy.

It is time to get creative about tax, to make it simpler and fairer.

01 October 2007

Osborne does well

When I finally made it out of bed just after 8am this morning, I was just in time to hear George Osborne on the Today programme announce the most original and intelligent new policy of any political party in decades. A flat levy of £25,000 on non-domiciled tax payers is a creative way of raising money from a completely new source without the tax payers seriously resenting (or in many cases even being effected by) the new tax. Anyone earning more than about £70,000 per year offshore will be paying a lower effective rate of tax on this income than if they brought the money onshore and in many cases (e.g. US citizens) will be able to off-set the £25,000 from their other tax bills under double tax treaties.

It is very unlikely that there are many non-domiciled tax payers who are low earners - a nurse from overseas is hardly likely to have a private income arising in her home country which makes it worth claiming non-dom status, or whether she would have registered as such - she would pay tax on her UK income via PAYE and that would be that. This means that very few of the non-dom tax payers included in the statistics will not contribute more under this proposal.

The criticism that it would not raise "enough" money is a red herring - it will raise new money - that's the point.

On the other hand IHT will be abolished for the majority of people. The criticism that this is a re-distribution from the very rich to the quite rich and therefore irrelevant to the majority of people is again misplaced. The idea that policies should only be developed that help the poorest - or the majority - is foolish. For one thing, a government needs to look at all aspects of the tax system. Secondly, in an aspirational society, people look at the taxes which will effect them if they get rich. Historically, tax cuts for the rich have stimulated growth and lead to an increase in tax revenues. The Conservatives have always prospered when they have pandered to the aspirational nature of the British people. The policies announced today are creative and sensible and are, I hope, the first of several good ideas which will mean that the Conservative Party forms the next government.

29 September 2007

A Worthy Cause

A friend of mine has just contacted me on Facebook with the following message:

"A good friend of mine is helping a good friend of his, Ian Purchase, raise £1m for Kidney research. Ian is about to have his third kidney transplant and is in quarantine. With time on his hands, he has set himself the challenge of raising £1m for Kidney Research. The plan goes like this... give £2 and ask 10 good friends to give £2 too... in five steps Ian should hit his target.You can donate here: http://www.justgiving.com/amillionthanks. To hear more about Ian and his treatment, visit his blog at: http://beforeyouaskiamfine.blogspot.com. I've deliberately tried to send this to 10 friends who don't know each other to spread the net as wide as possible.Thanks for your time in reading this message. I hope you choose to participate."

Normally I tend to ignore what look like dodgy chain email type things, but this is certainly not one of them and is surely the future of fund raising in a Web 2.0 world. I have given £2 and will forward the email to 10 friends as well - I have also have a good friend who suddenly developed kidney failure (in his mid-30s) and had a transplant about 18 months ago. I am pleased to report in that case, we are looking forward to his wedding in a couple of months which is being combined with the christening of his son. It just goes to show that this is a cause which can be effected by generosity.

and here is the widget from Ian's Justgiving page so I (and any readers out there) can keep track of his progress - but as at today, he has only raised just over £700 so has a long way to go before he reaches £1m!! - (there is a problem with the widget which will sort itself out, I hope, but if you want to see how Ian is doing, then just go to his blog - and here is a link to his latest post)

25 September 2007

Andrew Pelling - Result

Either this blog is a lot more influential than I had previously thought (and given I have not made it into a single one of Iain Dale's lists, this is unlikely) or someone over at Conservative Central Office has finally grown a backbone.

Not that I would like to be accused of kicking a man when he is down, but at least that is better than assaulting your pregnant wife....

In the meantime, I am keeping my fingers crossed that Iain is preparing a list of top blogs not mentioned in other lists of blogs, as I might just stand a chance.

22 September 2007

Craig Murray's blog taken down

It seems I have stirred up a few commentators over on Iain Dale's Diary.

Shock and horror expressed at the discovery that free speech does not equate to a carte blanche to say whatever you like about whomever you like. But at least in the UK you can't get locked up for defamation, unlike in Russia.

Still, if Usamov takes this further (which he would be mad to do - he has made his point) and sues Murray, it should make for quite a spectacle.

21 September 2007

Royal Prerogative part 2

Now I read that Brown is considering calling an election in the middle of the Conservative Party conference. Clearly he is not at all worried about using the powers he does not think he should have, when it suits him.

Andrew Pelling

If there was ever a case for an MP to be de-selected on grounds of his conduct, this is it.

Time for Cameron to show some mettle.

09 September 2007

Royal Prerogative

I have been meaning to ask for a while, what has happened to Gordon Brown's promise to bring in constitution reforms - in particular, curbing the royal prerogative in a number of areas. Over the last few weeks the rumours of an early election have prompted the Conservative Party to spend some of its war chest on advertising. The Labour Party, however, being led by the man who exercises the royal prerogative does not have to guess when the election will be called.

So rather than saying that he is going to bring forward this reform and give up the in built advantage which comes with deciding when an election and he is not attempting to benefit from it in the meantime, Gordon Brown, when asked if he will call an election, smiles like the Cheshire Cat.

Something tells me as we get to know Il Gordo, more of his low politicking will come out and will not be confused the high principles he wishes people thought he had...

05 September 2007

In case I forget

I have been invited on to Donal Blaney's show on 18 Doughty Street on Friday night - 7pm sharp. Don't forget to tune in - or whatever one does to get internet telly.

I don't want a referendum

Whilst the tube strike seems like the obvious subject for blogging tonight, there is nothing I can say which hasn't been muttered under the breath of millions of commuters tonight - such as why the hell does it take all day to get the District line working properly? Or why hasn't the RMT been banned? Thus, in a reactionary mood, I should be ripe for recruitment by anyone of the burgeoning number of campaigns to hold a referendum on the latest EU treaty, which everyone, except Gordon Brown, Mrs Brown and all the little Brownies, accepts is a lazy rehash of the old defunct constitution.

However, getting back to first principles I am quite a fan of the current British electoral system of first past the post, winner takes all, ner ner ner ner etc etc. It makes for strong government and allows the country to take a clear direction, albeit, occassionally the wrong one. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it is the best of a bad lot and is a whole lot better than constantly having the Libdems in government.

I do not believe that referendums (or -a, if you are being correct) play any part in this process as they undermine the supremacy of Parliament and therefore the will of the people as expressed in a general election.

Added to this overarching point are the smaller but important issues, such as the home advantage given to the question setter on the basis that people prefer to be pro rather than anti something - viz pro-choice and pro-life in the US abortion debate - the difficulty of encapsulating a difficult issue in one question - which results in a blanket "yes" or "no" - particularly unsuitable for a massive document rather than a clear expression of principle.

I am also irritated by the lack of sincerity amongst those calling for a referendum on the EU treaty - they don't want a vote so it can be approved, they want it, so that the treaty can be scuppered. I do not understand why that is not the policy of the Eurosceptics. It is a bit like Labour giving its MP a "free vote" on hunting as they were too cowardly to come out and say they wanted to ban it, they just did everything possible to get a vote passed and allowed 6 billion hours of Parliamentary time.

It is for this reason I despised Goldsmith's Referendum Party (great political antennae in that family for sure) and I laugh at the idea of UKIP being behind a referendum now.

It is time to stand up and be counted on the issue itself -- not a ridiculous diversion. It would be widely popular for the Conservatives to declare that if elected they would withdraw from the treaty and start reviewing all damaging legislation emanating from the EU. Sure, we need to do business with Europe and we need to meet European standards, but the reverse is also true for them, and we manage perfectly well to trade with the US and the rest of the world without being part of a trade block. I do not advocate complete withdrawal but Britain needs to make up its own mind how far it goes.

So forget a referendum, let's just work on getting a government which will protect British interests in Europe.

01 September 2007

Home Information Packs

Just in case I am not giving enough of my hard earned money away to the government the process of moving house has just got more expensive - and I am not referring to the £50 parking fine I picked up this morning in Wandsworth, having assumed that whole borough has no parking restrictions on a Saturday. No, I am referring to the £550 I have had to shell out to pay for a Home Information Pack, or HIP as they are jauntily referred to.

Since HIPs are currently only mandatory if you are selling a 4 bedroom house (soon to include 3 bedrooms) it has been suggested that a lot of people will be describing their 4th bedroom as a study or storeroom, which is a bit daft. On the basis that most people looking for new houses these days go online and search using criteria, one of the most important being number of bedrooms, why would you want to market your house as having one less? In our case, we have ensured that the 4th bedroom is actually presented as a bedroom and not as the junk room that it was a few weeks ago...

So yesterday, we had the energy efficiency inspector over to do his work - which includes measuring all the rooms - something which will be done next week again by the people who draw up the little plans that go on the estate agent's particulars. No doubt the energy efficiency report will note that we have no double glazing, no cavity wall insulation and that our windows release a lot of heat. I will be very surprised if it notes that it is far more energy efficient to live in a house which has been standing since around 1880 rather than to live in a new one, that is centrally located meaning a shorter commute (by public transport) and less of a need to use the car for simple errands (some weeks our car barely moves).

Of course, no one buying our house will give a monkey's about the energy efficiency rating since the cost of heating etc is relatively very low in comparison to the value of the house. Double glazing would also be almost impossible given planning restrictions. If anyone says they do care, then tough, they are not getting a price reduction - in fact I might just charge them extra for being a tosser.

31 August 2007

Spectator Double Standards

Having spent about 10 minutes trying to find where my wife had hidden the post in her drive to tidy up the house now that we are putting it on the market, I was relieved to find that my copy of the Spectator had indeed arrived safely, especially since delivery has been a bit erratic of late. Turning, as I usually do, to the lighter and shorter articles (saving the heavier and longer articles for bedtime, when I am lucky to make it half way before dropping off - not a great way of staying informed), I read David Tang's tribute to Mark Birley.

Tang makes no bones about Birley being "spoilt" - "If he had been at the feeding of the 5,000 he would have complained that there was no lemon for the fish" and goes on to record "his distain for the hoi polloi" and recounts an incident when Birley lit up his cigar in his room at the Brompton Hospital. What a character...

However, the lead feature in this week's edition is all about the state of Britain's youth and how it has come to pass that an 11 year old was shot dead a week or so ago in Liverpool. Our politicians talk of a "respect" agenda - themselves using the very word - respect - which forms such a crucial part of the gang culture now terrorising our cities. Gang members want respect and are likely to assualt those who "dis" them - short for disrespect.

Of course, "dis" could also be short for distain, as in Birley's attitude to the hoi polloi - which presumably in his eyes included 98% of the population, or at least those who could not afford to patronise one of his establishments.

It cannot be right that we celebrate the rule breakers and the non-conformists who happen to have money and status whilst simultaneously preach about the breakdown of morals and decent society. It has been ever thus, and the standards of the upper classes in Britain have only been acceptable insofar as they cannot be mimiced by the poor and dispossessed. The same goes for the celebrity drug takers who get handled with kid gloves by the authorities. I accept that those with more money than sense are going to behave badly, perhaps as badly as those with no money and no sense, but can't we just ignore them?

19 July 2007

Cash for honours -- told you so.

Nearly six months ago, when Ruth Turner was arrested, I predicted that the police had nothing hard to go on in their cash for honours enquiry - and tonight, listening to the World Tonight, I gather an announcement is being made tomorrow that no one will be prosecuted in relation to this affair. The report says that "friends of" Tony Blair (=Tony Blair/Alistair Campbell) think Blair's authority was seriously undermined by the police conducting the investigation.

Not being the most sympathetic to Blair, I can fairly say that for once he has a valid complaint, although had the same investigation been ongoing in 1995/1996, I am sure Blair would have attempted to score every available political point as he did over the arms to Iraq affair (itself now rather ironic).

Sadly, a government on the receiving end of such police incompetence sees no issue in allowing police to lock people up for three months without charge....

18 July 2007

I'm backing Boris because...

...he is undoubtedly one of the more intelligent people in politics today. I believe that he has the courage of his convictions. More importantly, I believe he is capable of cutting through the turgid political consensus that has grown up around a number of issues, especially in local government. When Boris says that he can do without the 50 or so press officers employed by Livingstone, I believe he can, and he will - and do away with the endless self promotion at the taxpayer's expense. I have no doubt that Boris will terrify the vested interests who depend on City Hall to fund their jobs and pet projects. London is ripe for a pragmatic right wing mayor who will implement rational and simple policies to improve core services and basic functions without putting an ever increasing burden on the London council tax payer. I hope that Boris will be to London what Rudi was to New York.

The fact that Boris is Boris and cultivates an image makes him stand out amongst modern politicians. However, if he can translate his image into political success, he will prove that blandness and cowardliness are not necessary prequisites for politician.

Extradiction hypocracy

In response to the refusal of the Russian government to extradict Andrey Lugovoy, the chief suspect in the Litvinenko murder, the British government has expelled four Russian diplomats.

It seems that as far as Russia is concerned, it is one rule for them and one for everyone else. How long ago was it that the USA refused to extradict Irish terrorists who had bombed and murdered their way around the UK mainland? This did not prompt Britain to expel American diplomats, even when the people their government were protecting were far more a danger to the British state. In a bizarre reversal, the position continues today with the British government not extradiciting (although this may change) Roisin Mcalisky - accused of bombing the British army base in Osnabruck, Germany. A campaign to prevent her extradicition is currently in full swing.

The British government is also refusing to extradict Boris Beresovsky, who is currently facing trial in absentia in Moscow on charges of ripping off the Russian state. How would the British have felt if, instead of falling off his yacht, Robert Maxwell had fled to Moscow and then the Russians refused to send him back?

Hardly a one-sided affair warranting the escalation in diplomatic measures currently being taken.

Added to this, although Russia is publicly stating that this row will not effect British investment in Russia, I know for a fact that the Russian embassy in London is being difficult about issuing visas right now, so to imagine it will not have an adverse effect on Anglo-Russian business is incredibly naive.

Perhaps this is Gordon Brown's secret plan for cooling down the London property market? Who knows?

27 June 2007

End of Blair

The day Blair became Prime Minister the weather was beautiful and sunny. Brown steps up and it is dull and grey. Perhaps there is a higher power after all and he is trying to tell us something.

30 May 2007


Ok, I admit it. I am a slave to fashion and have jumped on the passing bandwagon that is Facebook, and consequently have been ignoring my blog. I guess I have been seduced by its easy interactivity neat design, not like the do-it-yourself chaos of blogger. But I doubt my facebook pals (some of whom are real friends) are terribly interested in my various ramblings so here is my composite entry on the current political scene.

Gordon Brown - it is all very weird. Why is he not yet PM? He can command a majority of the House of Commons - and he is de facto leader of the Labour Party. This slow handover is yet another constitutional outrage and pure indulgence. For what? So 6 non-entities can indulge in a deputy leadership contest. Surely a strange and pointless Labour Party quirk if there ever was one. In most political systems, a potential leader and deputy present a united ticket and stand together - e.g. President and Vice-Pres in the USA. What is the point in foisting a deputy on Brown who he might not even have in his cabinet - a deputy party leader on the backbenches would be the equivalent to the Tory chairman of the 1922 committee - influential, maybe, but hardly worth the national attention it is being given.

And like many others, I live in constant wonder every time Hazel Blears comes on television: how on earth did she make it past security - surely she is masquerading as an MP, otherwise standards are even lower than I feared.

On the opposition benches, and in the letters pages of the Daily Telegraph, there is much excitement about the "abandonment" of Grammar Schools. I recall that Maggie closed more of these in the 1970s than anyone else, but clearly this is a conveniently forgotten fact. Is anyone seriously considering turning the clock back to the old two tier state education system? Apparently so. There I was thinking that Cameron would have difficulty finding a policy on which he could make a stand in favour of progress and thereby add some substance to his image. Speaking of which, I have been told about half a dozen times recently that I look like him (wrong colour hair, of course, and I didn't go to Eton, oh no, actually I did), including by a wedding singer in Torquay. I guess I will have to keep out of trouble in case it hits his poll ratings.

15 May 2007

Second Life

I have never explored Second Life, and don't have any particular desire to do so, my first life is keeping me more than busy, thank you. However, two stories about this cyberworld recently caught my eye. The first was the law firm, Field Fisher Waterhouse, has opened "an office" in Second Life. The second was that the authorities are concerned that Second Life, and other such communities, are being used to launder money - i.e. "virtual credits" are bought and then transferred back into another currency, disguising their original source or moving the money around outside the traditional banking system.

I am not sure if the concern is that serious, given that in order to buy credits, the dirty money needs to be in a bank account in the first place, and therefore (in theory at least) the bank would have completed money laundering checks on it. However, law firms cannot rely on the fact that their fees are paid out of a bank account, they have to undertake their own "know your customer" procedures and other anti-money laundering checks. Quite how FFW is proposing to take on virtual clients is therefore beyond me - the KYC procedures practically insist that you meet your customers face to face - and not in a virtual reality world. I guess it is a nice marketing gimmick for FFW to show that they are down wid da kidz, but may be they should make it clear that they will not take on any "virtual clients" in the near future?

12 May 2007

22 hours in San Juan

Another trip to the Virgin Islands has resulted in a long journey home. Unable to catch any direct flights back to England from Antigua last night, we have routed via San Juan where we have spent the night before journeying onwards to New York this afternoon and then home on the red eye. It could certainly be a lot worse, but it is nonetheless a surreal experience to come from the simplicity of BVI - only 30 minutes away on a small turboprop - and then be confronted by a massive hotel/casino. The beach this morning, was however, very pleasant.

Seemed to have missed most of the outpouring of Blair specials in the papers, so another plus side, I suppose.

I will be back again in a few weeks... and so it continues.

07 May 2007

The SNP Question

Last week the SNP became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament by "the narrowest of margins". Apparently, this means the other parties which got the smallest number of seats must now decide whether or not to work with the SNP to form a coalition government. As I have made clear from my earlier post on the subject, I am not overly bothered by Scottish politics insofar as it has no effect on me or my life, but being a soft hearted Southerner, I would offer the following advice to the other parties, should they care to consult me:

The Liberal Democrats: You are clearly in a quandry. You realise that nobody who voted for you wants independence for Scotland as otherwise they would have voted SNP so you do not want to be seen to be allowing the SNP to get their way. However, you can hardly go back into coalition with Labour as they are clearly a busted flush and you would be blamed for putting them back into power, when only a minority of Scots wants them there. The solution is simple. Go into coalition with the SNP but demand that the promised referendum on independence be called immediately - get it out of the way early in the parliament. The voters will reject the proposition (assuming the ballot papers are pretty straightforward to fill in - even a drunken Glaswegian should be able to decide to tick "yes" or "no"), then you can spend the next three and a half years in power with the issue resolved.

Conservatives: OK, I realise that the SNP would probably prefer to be photographed en masse coming out of a swingers' club than to be dependent on Tory support to form a government, and vice versa, the feeling is no doubt mutual (although, after the Tommy Sheridan libel trial, I trust the analogy still carries weight in Scottish political circles). BUT.... Conservatives could form common cause with the Nats on one important question, and that is the inadequacy of the current Scottish constitutional settlement. On the basis that there is a Scottish Parliament and there is no going back, the Conservatives could work with the SNP to press for greater powers for it. This could be combined with a pincer movement by a Cameron led government in three years time, to enshrine these powers in law (via the Westminster parliament) and strip Scottish MPs in Westminster of the ability to vote in London on matters pertaining to England where those matters are reserved in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament. Probably too radical and the Tories and SNP would disagree on just about everything else so it would not be workable as the basis for a complete coalition, but it's just a thought.

Greens: Power! You know you want it. Now's your chance. Don't screw it up!

Labour: do everything possible to scupper the vote of a first minister, and force a new election. If you can't do better next time with Gordon Brown as your leader, then you really are in trouble.

I'm an uncle, again!

Over on Francesca and Georgina's blog, there is news of the newest arrival in the family - a second daughter for my brother and sister-in-law - and the sixth granddaughter for my father. Congratualtions to all...

02 May 2007

Hazel Blears - a worthy successor to Prescott

Newsnight last night contained a very funny interview by Paxman of Hazel Blears, Labour Party chairman (chairperson?), and wannabe Labour deputy leader.

Paxman asked Blears if she could remember when Labour were last more unpopular than they are now. "Probably in 1983" came the answer.

So there you have it, Labour are more unpopular now than they were in 1987 or 1992 - according to their Chairman, sorry, person.

I guess we'll find out on Friday morning. Fingers crossed.

01 May 2007

How to speed up terror trials

From today's Times, which reports that the recently completed terrorist trials cost over £50m:

"The trial was supposed to last six months, but began six months late and lasted for more than a year. During that year the court sat for only 35 weeks, with 7 weeks of timetabled breaks and 10 weeks lost to sickness and logistical problems. Barristers tried to have one juror discharged because he took so much time off sick. During Ramadan, the court sat for only 3½ hours each day because of concerns that the defendants would not be able to concentrate while fasting. The judge wanted to sit earlier, to make up for lost time, but one juror could not be in before 10.30am because of childcare commitments."

How about giving the court the power to allot funds to jurors to meet any reasonable expenses caused by longer sittings? How much time and money would that have saved? Only in the public sector - utter madness!

19 April 2007

Yes, M&S should fire Ferry

Bryan Ferry has recently got himself into hot water by praising the style of Nazi architect Albert Speer (whose brilliant biography by Gitta Sereny, I heartily recommend) and film maker Leni Riefenstahl. He apologised or clarified his remarks by saying: "I apologize unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective. I, like every right-minded individual, find the Nazi regime, and all it stood for, evil and abhorrent" (from Wired News).

As far as I am concerned, these comments just compound his crime. The Nazi machine systematically crushed modern art. The book burning is well known, but more obscure now is the exhibition launched in Munich in 1937 entitled "Entartete Kunst" or "Degenerate Art", which was held to lambast the art of the Weimar years and included works by Chagall, Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Kandinsky to name but a few. This was contrasted with an exhibition of approved Nazi art which mainly contained sterile neo-classical works of muscular figures doing heroic things. Amusingly, the crowds flocked to the degenerate exhibition whereas the approved one was empty.

Entartete Kunst was mirrored by a ban on left wing and Jewish playwrites, such as Brecht and a complete ban on jazz on account of its "unpure" black roots.

Of the few things I am quite proud of, for my history A-level project, I wrote an essay on why the Nazis reacted the way they did to Weimar culture. I managed to find one of the few surviving artists from the 1937 exhibition, Hans Feibusch, who was in his 90s but was still working and living in St John's Wood. He gave a couple of hours of his time to a pretentious 17 year old to talk about his experiences in the 1930s and how he had got the hell out of Germany once Hitler came to power. He also reflected on modern art and on how even he had his limits - I don't think he was a Tracy Emin fan.

I guess there will always be people who say "at least he made the trains run on time" or think black leather has a certain something, but to praise the Nazis for style when they did so much to destroy the defining art and style of the 20th century is sadly ignorant. No, M&S should not fire Ferry for his crass remarks but M&S should fire him for his lack of artistic knowledge revealed by those remarks.

17 April 2007

Poll Tax Rubbish

If the success of the Thatcher years were fairly measured by the protests against her then the fact that the single biggest incident of civil protest in ten years was over a reform to local government finance must surely indicate that in 1990, things were pretty good for the average Brit. As I have always understood it, the objection to the Poll Tax was that it was unfairly regressive in that within each local authority everyone over 18 paid the same amount of tax regardless of income or other wealth. The Council Tax, which replaced it, is charged in relation to the value of the house against which it is levied, with discounts for people living alone and consequently is regarded as being completely fair, or at least not worth rioting over.

In the current climate of climate angst, green taxes are the sine qua non of contemporary politics. Local authorities have risen to the challenge by suggesting they should tax more heavily those households which produce more than a certain amount of waste each year. It is said that such a system would encourage people to use less packaging and recycle and compost more. Whether it is also designed to ensure that we finish what’s on our plate has not been revealed, nor, if it is, how this would gel with the government’s drive against obesity. But I digress.

With the exception of a few good people who grow all their own food and then compost what their own, or their dog’s, digestive system simply cannot accommodate, most of us generate a certain amount of rubbish mainly in the form of plastic, paper and glass packaging as well as the remains of last night’s takeaway. But there’s the rub: which households are producing the most sacks of rubbish? Is it (a) the single person living off takeaways and M&S meals for one; (b) the young couple who are never at home; or is it (c) the family with small children who never go out.

Speaking from personal experience, it is (c) by a rubbish strewn country mile. Yes, my family recycles, we would love to compost (but without a garden we have no intention of opening a branch of Dickens World in our own kitchen) and we have food delivered in environmentally friendly cardboard boxes. But we still generate an absolute ton of rubbish each week for the good bin persons of K&C to collect.

There are five of us living under one roof: three adults (including the au pair) and two babies. We would be heavily penalised by a rubbish tax, I am sure. The first irony and unfairness is that such a tax would effectively be per person - not even per adult, and would be no less regressive than the Poll Tax - even less so if there were no exemptions for students or the unemployed. Where are the rioters when you need them? Secondly, the demand for new houses - driven in no small part by desire of a large number of people to live alone - is a massive source of carbon emissions and pollution so much so that sole occupancy should really be penalised rather than rewarded. Unless, of course, you think the answer to global warming is for us all to stop breeding, in which maybe we should all live alone slowly going sterile whilst eating pizza and watching Vicar of Dibley repeats on UK Gold +1.

16 April 2007

Scotland be brave?

The last time I clearly remember an April as glorious as the one we are currently having was precisely 10 years ago and I spent almost all of it desperately trying to help the Tories cling, if not to power, then at least to the Bristol West constituency. Of course, they did neither. Like the devil, back then Labour had all the good tunes. Our charge that one of the "New Dangers" of New Labour was constitutional damage to the UK as Scotland would get a vote on whether or not to have its own parliament was greeted with the unanswerable - "its only a vote - why shouldn't they vote on it". Ok, not unanswerable - we had the answers, but it was obvious that nobody cared even what the question was as they started humming D-ream's "Things can only get better" at you - "so that's an undecided then, sir?".

It's deja vu all over again, as Labour, having let the Nationalist genie out of the bottle is forced to argue why the Scottish people shouldn't be granted their second wish. Right now, on the front of Labour's campaign website is their slogan "Not breaking up Britain". Aside from the use of "Not" at the start of any slogan being disastrous ("Not doing much" etc), is the smug and arrogant assumption that their third way namby pamby hotch potch of a parliament is a perfect constitutional creature and not some evolutionary blip on the road to something altogether more natural - perhaps something that stands on its own two feet and possibly with opposable thumbs to boot.

At this point I have to declare my interest: none whatsoever. Like most southern conservatives, I pretty much regard Scotland as a foreign country. I have spent more of my lifetime in Belgium, Sweden, Germany - even Bermuda, than I have in Scotland, and I cannot see that changing for a while. I have nothing against the Scottish people - I even married into a Scottish family, but all this indifference makes me highly sympathetic to the idea that if the Scots want to vote themselves into economic and political oblivion by choosing independence and in one fell swoop inflict a deadly blow against the Labour parliamentary party by casting out (or perhaps reclaiming?) 39 MPs including Brown and Browne, then who am I to quibble?

In any case, independence for the Scots makes more sense today than it ever did. Traditionally, hard working and enterprising Scots got the hell out of there and came down to London. In these times, what chance do they have, when for the price of a one bedroom flat in the Royal Borough of K&C you can purchase several hundred acres of blasted heath and a property with a moat, turrets and probably a coven of witches if you drive a particularly hard bargain.

Go back to a land down under...

...where the women blow and the men chunder... as the song might have said.

Australia - land of my fathers, or grandfathers at least, Baillieu HQ so to speak. Last week her government announced a doubling of its troop commitment to Afghanistan and in a recent Spectator article, Australian volunteers were praised by the Territorial army's City of London branch for their enthusiastic contribution to our forces.

How does the UK repay this friendship? By reverting to a policy from 200 years ago - shipping young folk (back) to Australia for the crime of wanting to stay, work and pay taxes in the UK for more than one year. A few years ago the tight two year visa offered to young Australians was altered so that out of the two years, only one year could be spent working. I don't know about you, but I would be hard pressed to find a year's worth of travelling to be done inside England, Scotland and Wales - so what is the other year for, other than working illegally?

This is the plight of the very nice boyfriend of our German au pair. He has been working for my sister's payroll business (www.paycheck.co.uk) for the last six or so months, and by all accounts has been an exemplary and valued employee, to such an extent that my sister's company went to the trouble of making a visa application so that he could extend his stay. However, his lack of formal higher qualifications meant that the Home Office turned him down, so he has to leave.

No doubt, there will be those who say this is fair as the Australians apply similar restrictions to our (lightly qualified) young people. Two points: first, two wrongs don't make a right and if we relaxed, may be they would as well. Second, we have a booming economy crying out for hard working young people with a variety of skills and qualifications - we don't just want Polish builders, Slovakian waiters and Latvian (whatever Latvians do)... Young Aussies come with no (serious) language barrier, are all properly educated to GCSE or more likely, A Level or degree standard.

Not the most sexy campaign at the moment, I know: more immigration! But it is a serious issue: my wife successfully sponsored her architectural assistant to stay in the UK recently (at some financial cost), whereas in my office, we lost two excellent Australian secretaries when their visas ran out meaning that time and money had to be spent recruiting and training new people (who are also excellent) and I hate to think of the number of brilliant nurses who must leave the NHS to go home when their visas run out - hopefully they're exempt, but I doubt it.

10 April 2007

Celebrity neighbours

I know that we live very close to Tara Palmer-Tomkinson as I have been told this by neighbours and I have seen her with my own eyes coming out of the local coffee shop. I was quite pleased that in a recent interview, her flat was described as being in the middle of South Kensington, as this sounds a lot better than Earls Court and should help the re-sale value no end (not that we need it given the craziness of the current housing boom in West London). I have also spotted Jonathan Aitken walking rather slowly along the Earls Court Road a few times, but that was not half as exciting as once passing Roger Moore on the Old Brompton Road. The celeb I see on a regular basis though, is fellow blogger Evan Davis, who is often heading to the tube in the morning at about the same time as me. As a fan of his blog as well as his TV and radio work, I sometimes mull over an opening gambit with a view to striking up a conversation with him - however, not wanting to be a creepy stalker type, I don't. Tonight, I saw him on the way home from the tube and we sort of criss-crossed eachother as I took the initiative by crossing the busy road in a daring manouevre but then he overtook me as we approached the bus stop near the turning to my road - he is surprising lanky and walks very fast, which is perhaps another reason I never strike up a conversation with him. But up ahead of me he did get stopped by someone else wanting to speak to him. About the BBC's view of the current housing boom in West London? What the Dragons are really like outside of the Den? No, just for directions to the tube station. Oh, the fickleness of fame....

Keith Ingram

I have noticed a fair number of visitors to this blog coming via a search for Keith Ingram. If you are one of those and are looking for information about his memorial service, here are the details:
Thanksgiving Service for Keith Ingram, ‘Inky’

Sunday 3rd June 2007
A Service of Thanksgiving for Keith Ingram, ‘Inky’, will be held at the School on Sunday 3rd June 2007 at 11 am. We anticipate that a great many of Inky’s friends, former colleagues, and pupils will wish to attend and, whilst we plan to accommodate as many people as possible, as it is during term we will have to manage numbers very carefully. Therefore this will be a ticket-only event and applications will be processed in the order of receipt. Whether you are able to attend the Service or not, we would welcome your recollections of this remarkable man. Please email ods@dragonschool.org or return the enclosed form to the OD Office as soon as possible.

15 March 2007

Inspiring stuff

I recently wrote about my friend Jo who is recording her battle with lymphoma on her blog, and alluded to another friend who has been diagnosed recently with cancer. The other friend is Shara, who married Olly almost exactly a year ago, who has breast cancer. The prognosis is good, I hear, in a recent email, Olly wrote: "we are both feeling upbeat and confident that she will get over this. If she deals with it like everything else in her life there will be no problem at all." Olly is a brave man, as he has decided to run the London Marathon to raise money for the charity, Breakthrough Breast Cancer. If you want to support him, you can do so here:

Normal service to be resumed shortly

I have not given up blogging it is just that I have been incredibly busy at work and rarely getting home much before 8.30/9pm so have had no time to post any of my profound thoughts.
However, I thought I should also put out a plea for anyone who knows of some office space in the Earl's Court/SW5, SW7 area which Sarah could move into as she is now spilling out of our sitting room having taken on a second architectural assistant and needs some proper space for her practice. If you do, please email me.

27 February 2007

Auntie nicked my blog

OK - not my whole blog, but I think they nicked my idea about Rory Bremner committing a breach of the Fraud Act in his spoof call to Margaret Becket.

In a bid to drum up interest in my latest post, yesterday I commented on Nick Robinson's blog, which mentioned the issue. I said: "I am concerned that if you make money out by tricking people into doing something or revealing information which they would not have otherwise done, you are committing fraud, under the Fraud Act 2006, or previously, the Theft Act. Has anyone looked into this?"

So imagine my surprise when I saw an article on the BBC News Magazine section today, entitled: "Is it legal to impersonate a minister?". The article concludes that it isn't a crime and quotes various criminal solicitors. I wonder if they have given the subject much thought. Clearly a crime could be committed by phoning up one government minister, pretending to be another. What if there were a breach of the Official Secrets Act? What if price sensitive market information were revealed and then used?

Anyway, I commented on the article and asked if they nicked my idea, but of course, no answer from Auntie.

25 February 2007

Rory Bremner and Margaret Becket

The papers have been full this weekend of the "sting" on Margaret Becket by Rory Bremner who duped her into thinking he was Gordon Brown before she went on to say a number of mildly degrogatory things about some of her cabinet colleagues.

The stories I have seen have focussed on Ofcom's refusal to allow this to be broadcast, as it breaches its guidelines. Guidelines, indeed. What about the Fraud Act 2006 (which has, in this respect, replaced the Theft Act). Section 2 reads:

"2 Fraud by false representation
(1) A person is in breach of this section if he-
(a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and
(b) intends, by making the representation-
(i) to make a gain for himself or another, or
(ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2) A representation is false if-
(a) it is untrue or misleading, and
(b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

(3) "Representation" means any representation as to fact or law, including a representation as to the state of mind of-
(a) the person making the representation, or
(b) any other person.

(4) A representation may be express or implied.

(5) For the purposes of this section a representation may be regarded as made if it (or anything implying it) is submitted in any form to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention).

As much as I like Rory Bremner and would hate to see him prosecuted over this, I would have thought he is bang to rights if anyone thinks of making a complaint to the boys in blue. Presumably he gets paid for his work, so he was (potentially) intending "to make a gain for himself" - and if the statements made were more juicy, he could be found to have "caused a loss to another". The false representation bit is beyond doubt.... Maybe Rory might be a bit more careful in future - and if I am right, it could be the end of Sasha Baron Cohen's career as well.

22 February 2007

Jo's blog

2007 got off to a bad start when I heard that an old, but far too young, friend had been diagnosed with B-cell Hodgkins Lymphoma. Jo went to Australia in 2002 on an extended holiday and ended up staying and marrying an Australian guy, so I have only seen her a few times in the last few years.

Here she is, a couple years ago at Ham polo club.

Today, we got the fantastic news that her chemotherapy is doing its work and the tumour on her chest has shrunk to half its original size.

But despite everything, Jo is clearly remaining amazingly cheerful and has started a blog. I asked her if I could link to it as I think it is a great blog, although deeply personal; as she said "it is only really about me and my family and of course Bree the labrador features large!!"

Lymphoma is a terrible cancer and Jo is the third person I know in recent times to have it. The first was Gregor Mackay (famous for being William Hague's press secretary) who succumbed far too quickly at the end of 2005, and the other is still fighting. If there is anything I can identify which connects these people is their popularity and vibrant personalities - I am not sure what this signifies.

UPDATE: For the life of me, I do not know why the link will not take the full address of Jo's blog, so I have taken it off. If you want to take a look at it, paste this link into your browser and it will work:



18 February 2007

The best form of welfare is work

In my final year of university I took a course which covered the welfare state from 1943 to about 1954. Bit of a narrow subject for a history degree, but was quite fascinating. My main problem with it was that the reading lists were dominated by lefties who started from the position that the welfare state was the best thing since sliced bread - or possibly before sliced bread - I was never much good with dates.

I recall being more than a little confused by the assertion that one the biggest providers of welfare was "private business" -- meaning that people had jobs which provided them with money and sometimes fringe benefits such as health insurance. From one point of view, I can understand the argument, but I had to disagree with the concept of putting state support on a par with earned income.

New Labour's flagship "Welfare to Work" scheme has been missing in action, presumed dead for many years now, but it did recognise the simple truth that it is better for the economy to have people working than claiming benefit. The problem with the New Deal and "Welfare to Work" scheme in general is that they are always overly bureaucratic and costly for the employers to administer.

One defining feature of the British economy is the success of small business. A culture of enterprise and entrepreneurs has allowed Britain to generate jobs in new industries as old industries decline and fall. The boom in house prices has allowed the middle classes to unlock the wealth contained in the bricks and mortar of their properties and use that money to start endless small ventures. Those without the funds can turn to an increasingly efficient (if often ruthless) banking sector or turn up on Dragons' Den to beg for the cash from those with an eye for a good opportunity.

For many businesses, the biggest single cost is paying wages. Under the current government, the cost of paying wages has gone up as National Insurance contributions have been increased and income tax bands and relief have risen slower than wages.
A simple scheme to boost employment and small businesses would be to give exemptions from NI to all businesses for their first one, two or three employees (starting with the lowest paid). The cost of this tax break might be substantial, so could be met with a slight increase in employers' NI contributions. The beauty of this tax break, unlike everything done by Gordon Brown, is that it would be no-questions-asked available to all. No forms to fill, no accredidation process, nothing more than a head count of employees: one, two, three - ok now pay...

Of course, I am not expecting an immediate annoucement of this proposal from David Cameron, but if the Conservatives are to win the next election, they need some eye-catching policies which are easy to explain and, more importantly, easy to understand. Either that, or just phase out NI altogether and add the difference onto income tax, which would probably be much fairer as it would hit unearned income as well.

Blog Wars - when will the madness end?

How many more casualties of this pointless conflict will there be before the parties finally come to their senses?

As a gesture of goodwill, and to prevent further harm being wreaked on the Great British Blogosphere, the Great Blue Heron (courtesy of Birdwatchersdigest.com) is making its first, and possibly last, appearance on this blog.

It is not a moment for soundbites, but y'know, at moments like this you really feel the hand of history on your shoulder. Or possibly the thong of history.
PS Unconfirmed reports are coming in of an impostor making offensive posts on other websites under my name. Action will be taken and perpetrators brought to justice (i.e. a stern talking to from the headmaster - Iain Dale) - updates will be provided in due course, but rest assured I am not giving up my name for nobody.

15 February 2007

Downing Street Petitions

I hadn't previously had a close look at the No. 10 petition website, although I did sign the Road Toll one the other day. There are loads and loads of great petitions up there. In particular, I was impressed by one asking for a halt to celebs getting honours over real heroes - but it only had 13 signatures, so I signed. If you want to join me, you can also sign here.

Blogging for Cash

There is nothing more irritating on the internet than pages so packed with adverts that you can't find what you are looking for. I have placed a few carefully selected adverts on here from those internet giants, Google and Amazon. In particular, I am really impressed with the Amazon service which allows you to select a category of books (or other merchandise) and it serves up a random selection. I have gone for "politics" so I hope the selection produces titles that are genuinely of interest to my few readers. I have also put up a banner for Amazon DVD rental - I can heartily recommend it as an excellent service, which I have been using for over six months very happily.

As for my readership, only one post ("too posh to push") has sparked real interest so far, and that was as a direct result of being mentioned on the NHS Blog Doc's site producing over 250 referrals. No other blog has referred more than about 15 hits to me.

In terms of outgoing traffic, the most popular link by far is my profile, followed by my twins' blog and FireHouse - suggesting that a high percentage of my readers know me (even my wife has admitted to taking a peak), and that's without sending a mass email to my friends (want to keep them as friends).

Whilst I am keen to spark lively debate (I am thinking of starting a blog war with Chip Dale - bloody nihilist!!), I am trying not to fall into the trap of commenting on every single item of current affairs and only speak when I have something sensible to say. Admittedly, this is not always possible.

One more thing, I am currently bewitched by the music of Regina Spektor, who I had never heard of until she was on Loose Ends last Saturday - it's amazing what you get on Radio 4 these days.


I have only recently learnt of the passing on 5th January of my old prep school headmaster, Keith Ingram - or Inky as he was more commonly known. He got a nice obituary in the Times this week. It is true - he was immensely popular with pupils. A great teacher.

12 February 2007

Cameron and drugs

Like fellow OE, Sam Leith in today's Telegraph, I was far more shocked at the suggestion that David Cameron was caught smoking dope at Eton and was not expelled, than by the offence itself. If anyone was caught with drugs at Eton, his feet didn't touch the floor. The boy in question would be summoned to the headmaster, Eric Anderson, who would explain that the boy's parents were already on their way to collect him. He might be escorted to his room to pack but it would certainly be stripped bare before word of his expulsion got out, even to his close friends - this was AUTOMATIC - one strike and you're out. In fact, smoking dope was the favoured route for boys who really hated the school and wanted to get out fast - the ones who were in it for the dope itself were far too careful to get caught and word rarely got out to other boys that they had some -- well no one ever offered me any (unlike at uni where you could hardly move for the stuff).

That Cameron was allowed to stay on with a relatively minor punishment and then in due course became Head of House (an important role at Eton with real perks and responsibilities) suggests that his disciplinary record cannot have been terrible, certainly not so bad as to include a drug-taking offence. So what really happened? Reports at the weekend say that Cameron was questioned about his involvement but refused to implicate any of his friends. His punishment reflects the crime of "failing to sing like a canary" far more than that imposed on someone caught in the act, so to speak. My Eton-educated guess is that he was never caught with the evil weed.

Of course, if he were to come out with this explanation - "well, yes, my friends had the dope, and I hung out with them under the arches, but I never smoked any myself because I was too afraid of the consequences/didn't know how/couldn't afford it etc etc" would destroy his credibility and make him seem like a bit of a, well, weed.

11 February 2007

Hain: "surrender your bonus - or else"

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Peter Hain believes companies should donate two thirds of their bonus pools to the poor and needy. In fact, if they don't come to a consensus, he said (i.e. give in to his demands), or "people would look for other solutions". Hmmm... given that all big City bonuses are paid to people who are already higher rate tax payers, HM Treasury already collects 40%. If the remaining 60% is spent on property, a further 4% of Stamp Duty Land Tax is payable. If it is spent on most consumer items or services, 17.5% goes on VAT, not to mention the tax paid by the suppliers of those goods and services. Funnily enough, he didn't mention anything about football clubs paying two thirds of their players' salaries to charity.

We've obviously taken a few steps back since Peter Mandelson announced in 1998 that New Labour was "intensely relaxed" about people getting "filthy rich". Or is Peter Hain just not New Labour any more?

It probably doesn't matter since they are all yesterday's men, but really worrying was this paragraph in the ST report: "It is understood that the Tories were also risking an intervention, with plans for David Cameron to make a speech exhorting bosses to clamp down on bonuses, although stopping short of threatening legislation."

Calls for pay restraint from Cameron? Whilst I can tolerate his hug-a-hoodie-and-let's-all-get-a-wind-turbine mantra as being the right medicine for the Conservative Party, I hope he remains firm on basic economics. The people collecting these bonuses are an international lot. Most of the work could be done in another country without restrictions, be they legal or moral, and either introducing limits or punitive rates of windfall tax on bonuses would just push this work, or the compensation structures, offshore.

But in a related ST op ed piece, Patience Wheatcroft sides with the wets, saying:

"Armed with this excess of cash, these jackpot winners have been pushing up the prices of London houses and palatial country homes, encouraging restaurants to believe that there is no limit to what they might charge, and helping to push art prices through the roof. They have created conditions in which the green-eyed monster was almost bound to put in an appearance. For while they enjoy boundless riches, the rest of the country is feeling the pinch. A survey from Legal & General this weekend shows the proportion of people saying that they have nothing left to spend at the end of the month, after paying household bills and debts, is now higher than at any time in the last three years. Rising tax and utility bills take an increasing slice of incomes, and higher interest charges add to the pain."

Well, yes, these bonuses probably mean I cannot afford to spend the rest of my life living in a house in K&C but if I were to sell up I could have a lot of fun/school fees out of the proceeds. But how a few thousand people getting bonuses affect gas prices is beyond me. If anything big bonuses mean a higher tax take for HMT which should mean a lower tax burden in due course for the rest of us (fat chance, I know), and a stable economy which can produce these bonuses should result in lower interest rates, although Gordon Brown seems to be cocking that one up as well....

08 February 2007

The course of justice

I feel almost vindicated by Fraser Nelson's article in the latest edition of the Spectator, which says that the police are never going to be able to prosecute anyone for contravening the Honours (Prevention of Abuse) Act 1925.

Nelson writes: "This is why Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s chief of staff (and one of those who have been interviewed by the police) is so incensed at the media coverage. He tells friends emphatically that there is no chance of any conviction. It remains my understanding that he is right. There are hard questions about Labour’s accounting practice, and whether a loan granted to a near-bankrupt organisation can in any way be regarded as ‘commercial’ (and therefore non-declarable). But in six months of investigations, email-reading and interviews, police have found no conclusive evidence of corruption with which to press charges against any of Mr Blair’s close advisers."

So as I recently wrote, the police are going to go hard for convictions for perverting the course of justice. This begs the question, what is the course of justice?

If no crime has been committed, the course of justice is, surely, that everyone can go about their business without any further interference from the state. Where evidence has been destroyed, which might show otherwise, I agree, people must be accountable. But where misleading answers or obfuscation of some other type has been cleared up, and there is still no evidence of a crime being committed, I must question the motives of the police.

There is currently no crime of failing to indulge the cops in their grandiose schemes or refusing to bend over and take it like a man without blubbing. Most sensible people, when confronted by the police do not assume that just because they are law abiding respectable citizen, that the police will be on their side. Take the recent case of Nicolas Tyers who was dragged through the courts (until the judge threw out the case) for having "kidnapped" a 12 year old who had earlier smashed the windows of his chip shop, when in fact he was trying to make a citizen's arrest. No wonder, no one trusts the police's judgment these days.

01 February 2007

Al-Yamamah: All Clear

I have to admit to a sneaking sympathy with the government, the SFO and particularly BAE over the dropping of an investigation into allegations of bribery. As I understand it, BAE are supposed to have bribed senior Saudi officials (and possibly senior members of the Saudi royal family) in order to secure the highly lucrative Al-Yamamah contract in the 1980s. The SFO dropped its investigation after the Saudis leant on the British government, threatening to cancel future contracts and withdraw co-operation in the war on terror (or: the so-called "war on terror" - as the BBC now calls it).

Are we supposed to believe that France, Germany or any other European country would put its national interest at risk in order to conduct a bribery investigation into one of its key strategic and flagship companies? Admittedly, the US generally have a puritanical attitude towards this sort of thing (their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act being one of the most severe deterrents in the world against bribery), but on the other hand they secure contracts the traditional way - by invading.

So what were the SFO going to uncover? That BAE, probably abely assisted by HMG (Minister for Defence Procurement: J. Aitken), sweetened the deal by treating and maybe even bribing individual Saudi officials so that they bought UK technology? Big deal. They got the jets, we/BAE got the dosh. It is not as if Saudi Arabia is a poverty stricken country who were sold a dud product. If there are allegations of corrupt activity, the people who might have lost out (although it is far from clear that they have) are the Saudis themselves and if they want to investigate the people who have feathered their own nest at the expense of the Saudi state, they can do so.

The OECD are now criticising the UK for dropping the inquiry (despite the SFO declaring that they would find it hard to secure a conviction -- what's new?), in full knowledge that in most other countries, no investigation would have ever got off the ground in the first place. Yet again the UK is the goody two shoes of the international community and then gets hammered for it.

31 January 2007

Blackpool and Greenwich - lessons in gambling

It struck me as rather odd that the council leaders in Blackpool and Greenwich should be griping about their failure to attract the single super-casino licence on offer (see, for example, this article in the Telegraph "Gloom at the Dome and Golden Mile"). They have been quoted saying such things as "This confirms our worst fears and leaves a hole in plans to regenerate north Greenwich" and "We are absolutely gutted. Seven years of work has gone into this bid. We will fight this decision by lobbying and try to change it and we will continue with the process and try to get an early release of new licenses if that's possible." (Blackpool rep on the BBC News report).

I suppose if their respective cities had won the bid and built the casino, if I had lost a packet on the slots or roulette wheel, I could complain thus: "This confirms my worst fears and leaves a hole in plans to regenerate my bank account" or "I am absolutely gutted at number 24 not coming up. Seven years of work went into saving that £50,000. I will fight this decision by lobbying and try to change it and I will continue to pursue my get rich quick schemes regardless of the damage they might do to anyone else".
Yes, I am positive they would be very sympathetic.

FireHouse in the Evening Standard

Everyone has to buy the Evening Standard tonight which has given FireHouse a fantastic review. For those who are too late or in the wrong city, it is also online here. It's always very nice to get such positive publicity, especially for my brother's food, which he has worked so hard to get right.

28 January 2007

Icing on the cake

It is nearly midnight on Sunday. I have briefly logged onto the BBC news website to see what has been happening over the last few days in the big wide world. I haven't looked at a newspaper since Thursday. I took Friday off work and, except for a couple of calls and emails, spent the day with the three most important girls in my life. We went to Aqua Babies at the Kensington Sports Centre near Ladbroke Grove. Yesterday - Saturday - we took a long walk down to the Kings Road and the new farmers' market at the Duke of York's barracks development, where we ended bumping into two different lots of friends quite randomly and making new friends with a lady who, pregnant with twins, who stopped me outside Patisserie Valerie and wanted to know all about our Jane (Spanish - pronounced Yanee) double buggy. Sarah gave her a card and invited her to get in touch by email if she wanted the details of where to get one. Later on my brother came over for tea with his wife and daughter and we finally got around to exchanging Christmas presents. I got some snazzy Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones which will be handy on my travels. I got him a slingbox - I hope he manages to get it to work. We gave our niece a Barbie doll with a battery operated spinning skirt, which has to be seen to be believed. A glimpse of what I am for in the next few years.

This morning we managed to heave ourselves out of bed in time to make it to our church, St Mary the Boltons, for the first time since the girls were christened at the start of December. It seemed fitting to go there today, their six month birthday. When the girls were in Special Care Baby Unit at the Chelsea and Westminster, I could see St Mary's spire from the window by their cot and looked forward to taking them there when they were big enough to come out of hospital.

Just after we arrived, some more friends whom we haven't seen in quite a while came in with their little girl - who I hadn't yet met although she must be about 15 months old - and came and sat down next to us and we discovered that they are expecting another one. Georgina spent the whole service on my lap or on my shoulder, falling asleep during the sermon and waking just in time for communion, but without a sad whimper throughout the whole service, just a few happy squeeks. Francesca was just as good with Sarah and incredibly neither of us ended up in the "fish tank" at the back of the church, where the parents of noisy children retreat to listen to the service through a relay speaker.

At the end of the service a couple who are friends of a very good friend of mine spotted us and came over to say hello and to meet the twins. They're expecting twins as well and were full of questions. Then they told us that they are renovating their house and thought they might need an architect to produce some drawings, so Sarah is seeing them next week.

After church, we trundled off to South Kensington to check out the Aquilla health club as a possible alternative to Aqua Babies and discovered that they run Saturday morning "father and baby" sessions, so decided that we would sign up for those, since I can't exactly take every Friday off.
Then to complete our weekend of pregnant people, after a quick lunch (with the twins trying out their high chairs for the first time, each propped up with a cushion) we went off to Marlow to have tea with an old school friend of Sarah who is expecting in May.

Back to London for a slightly late supper (in those high chairs again) and a bath for the girls. We heated up a jar of goose cassoulet bought from a Frenchman at the farmers' market yesterday and settled down for episodes 3 and 4 of the new series of 24 (which is compelling, if a little silly).

Earlier today, as we were walking back from South Kensington, Sarah told me how happy she was and how the twins were the icing on the cake. Surely, I replied, they're part of the cake - they're the strawberry jam. What does that make me then, Sarah asked, the Victoria Sponge?

Days like this help me put things into perspective. Tomorrow I will go to work and no doubt will get exercised by what is going on there and by things I read in the papers. And maybe I'll be moved to write about political issues, or one day, maybe even do something about them. But however incompetent or corrupt or boneheaded the government of this country is and continues to be, nothing has prevented me from having a perfect long weekend with my girls. Goodnight.

24 January 2007

Ruth Kelly

With apologies to MIKA

(actual lyrics are here)

Do I attract you?
Do I repulse you with my queasy smile?
I guess I’m too Scottish?
I’m an ex-Marxist?
Do I like what you like?

I could be wholesome
I could be loathsome
I guess I’m the Home Secretary
I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me but I ain't going to cry

I try to be like Ruth Kelly
But all her looks were too sad
So I apply to Opus Dei
But they've gone Catholic mad!

I could be Brown
I could be Straw
I could be Hilary Benn
I could be Jowell
I could be Powell
I could be anyone you like
Gotta go Green
Gotta be mean
Gotta be everything more
I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me
Why don't you walk out the door!

How can I help it
How can I help it
How can I help what you think?
Hello my voter
Hello my voter
Putting my job on the brink

I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me
I don't even like myself
Should I bend over?
Should I look older just to be put on the shelf?

I try to be like Ruth Kelly
But all her looks were too sad
So I apply to Opus Dei
But they've gone Catholic mad!

I could be Brown
I could be Straw
I could be Hilary Benn
I could be Jowell
I could be Powell
I could be anyone you like
Gotta go Green
Gotta be mean
Gotta be everything more
I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me
Why don't you walk out the door!

Say what you want to satisfy yourself
But you're not even fit for purpose

I could be Brown
I could be Straw
I could be Hilary Benn
I could be Jowell
I could be Powell
I could be anyone you like
Gotta go Green
Gotta be mean
Gotta be everything more
I know you don't you like me
I know you don't you like me
Why don't you walk out the door!

22 January 2007

The problem with trains

If you happen to live in Berkshire or South Oxfordshire and, like many hard working people, commute into London on a daily basis you will be aware of the change in train timetables and the almighty local row which is accompanying this. Luckily, I live in London and knew nothing about it until I went back to my in-law's at the weekend and read about it in a copy of that fine local paper, the Henley Standard.

Rather unusually, this morning I caught the 0756 train from Shiplake (direct to Paddington) as my wife had a meeting in Henley and so we'd spent Sunday night out of town.

The station at Shiplake is tiny. It consists of a small carpark and a small platform. Being rather gauche, I arrived, ooh at least four minutes before the train, whereas the regulars time it perfectly to step onto the platform as the train pulls in. I piled dutifully onto the train and took my seat. There being no ticket office at Shiplake, I expected to be able to buy a ticket on the train. Admittedly, by the time we got to Paddington, it would be have been virtually impossible for anyone to move through the train checking tickets, but it would have been nice to have seen someone try, particularly before the train got too busy. I assumed there would be a ticket barrier at the other end, but nothing of the sort.

I am a law abiding citizen and I would have been quite happy to tender my fare to any employee of First Great Western - and I remain so - but not having the opportunity, I have not. No wonder FGW are cutting services if they are unable to collect fares from people who would happily pay them.

The payback came when I got on the tube - having left my Oyster card at home in London I bought a return ticket for Zone 1 - £8. Welcome to London.

21 January 2007

Ruth Turner Arrest

I sense that opinion is divided over whether the police were right to turn up at Ruth Turner's home at 6.30am on Friday morning to arrest her and take her in for questioning. For the record, I am sure the police were grandstanding. They could have easily have rung her up, or rung her solicitors (if she has instructed any) and asked her to come in for an appointment, to be arrested and be questioned. In the highly unlikely event that she had done a runner, this could have been taken as a clear indication of her guilt.

I have been told that when IT forensics people are called into companies to perform internal investigations into fraud or corruption, they give the suspect a two hour warning that his/her PC is to be examined. This way, if the suspect is guilty, he/she will delete the incriminating files there and then and it is a relatively simple task to search the hard drive for files "deleted" in the previous two hours. I digress.

I am more appalled by the whining from the police about "political interference". Friends and colleague of a suspect rallying round can hardly be criticised if they are genuinely concerned. The fact that they are all politicians is neither here nor there. In fact, it might just encourage them to speak up, if their doing so upsets the officers in charge (who clearly need to grow a backbone if they are going to conduct these sort of inquiries).

The fact that the police are going after Turner for "perverting the course of justice" makes me think that they have not got anything on anyone for the main event. It rather reminds me of the investigation of Martha Stewart in the US who was investigated for insider trading. She was not prosecuted for that, but since she had misled the police during their investigation, she could done for that. In both cases the authorites were/are desperate to get "a result" and don't really care what for.

I would be thrilled to see the Labour government exposed as the bunch of corrupt hypocrites that they are, but I am with those who say the police need to put up or shut up before they do anymore unwarranted damage to our entire political system