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.