"teh basement cat iz in ur screen, stealin' ur blogz..."

Friday, 27 February 2009

Brown Gobbles his Degook

Over on Iain Dale...

"We set up the Financial Services Authority to, you know before we came into power there was a sort of self regulatory system so you know they more or less regulated themselves. We brought in a statutory regulatory system, supervisory system, but of course we couldn't know exactly what was going on in every individual bank and it's only in the last few days to be honest that what has happened over this pension has come to light."
Gordon Brown on Radio Oxford today.

Seriously, WTF? I mean, aside from the blatant buck-passing deluded lies... Before the FSA, the banks did not 'self-regulate' (and if they did, they did a better job than the FSA), they were regulated by that age-old establishment, the Bank of England. And, newsflash, it did a good job of it too. Brown decided more layers of Government were needed (whee! more taxpayer's money up the spout!), and so split the responsibilites without telling anyone what their responsibilities really were.

Bored now. Go fuck someone else's economy up, you authoritarian, illiberal, lying and devious fool.

Nailed. On. The. Head.

Daily Mash is teh pwnz0r.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Hypocritical, lying, arrogant, devious son-of-a...

Basementcat's February Obsessions

Via the delights of Wordle, here's what's been on my mind the most this month...

Wordle: Basementcat's February Obsessions

Click to see the full size version. If I can figure out how to get a proper screen-grab I will...

No obligation for Fred to shred

Some people seem to think it’s disgraceful, others obscene, but Sir Fred Goodwin has no intention of surrendering any part of his £693,000-a-year pension, despite requests from Brown, Badger-Brows and Lord Myners to do so. Nor should he. The Government has no right to interfere in pensions, and even less in the Rule of Law.

Sir Fred has become something of a focus for the public ire, a figure to vilify who is an exemplar of all that was wrong with the banking industry – it has earned him the unenviable soubriquet of ‘the world’s worst banker’. His purchase of ABN-Amro has been viewed as a reckless business decision, one that left RBS overexposed to the market crash; it was always a high-risk strategy, but it was not reckless. The rewards were potentially high, and had the collapse in the sub-prime market not destroyed confidence in the sector, triggering the crash and freeze on the credit markets, I suspect he would still be viewed as one of the best. After all, he pulled it off beautifully when RBS bought over Natwest. This was not necessarily the wrong purchase, but it was the wrong time.

His aggressive strategy left the company exposed at a critical moment and he must live with the shame of that legacy. He built RBS into a juggernaut, a banking colossus, only to over-extend his reach – but remember the profits the group made under his leadership. That is where he earned his pension. Yes, the salaries of the top brass were ‘obscene’, but so too was the amount of money their companies were making.

Quite aside from the fact that pensions are deferred payment (therefore we must consider his entire career, not simply his error in judgement towards the end), it is wrong for the Government to demand that he surrenders his pension. Legally, it would set a dangerous precedent were they to attempt to force him to. It would be remarkably short-sighted of them to do so, and if Sir Fred must forgo his due, should not also the Government ministers who oversaw this fiasco? The leaders of the FSA who failed to regulate? Where would it stop?

RBS is still a private limited company. The Government is a major shareholder, but it has not been fully nationalised. He is contractually entitled to it, and we now know from Sir Fred’s response that the Government had agreed to this award when it was confirmed in November last year. Their response is a political one, and it reflects poorly on them – the worst kind of Daily Mail politics. Brown, Darling & Co are merely attempting to cover their backsides and hide their incompetence.

Gordon has a damned cheek to talk about pensions, given his raid on the national pension and destruction of the Final Salary pension in the public sector. Glass bloody houses indeed, to accuse Sir Fred now.

Now, I think it would be fair to say that the contract is not a good one. It has allowed for a man who built and destroyed a bank, who presided over a policy of high-risk investments and ultimately failed his shareholders to be rewarded with a very generous pension. It is still a contract, as Tim Worstall puts it so concisely:

“Pensions are deferred compensation. This is part of the contract that he signed all those years ago.

It may not have been a very good contract, it might be that we or you or even they wish it had not been signed in the form it was, but it is indeed a contract.

And tearing up contracts, abandoning the rule of law, is really not an action or activity that is going to help us in the future.”

Someone posted a comment to Iain Dale’s blog entry yesterday containing an exchange between Sir Thomas More and William Roper, an exchange that encapsulates this affair. It explains precisely why the Government should tread carefully here:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”

I think that says it all, don’t you?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

A stone in a glass house

Sir Fred Goodwin is under pressure from Alistair Darling to ‘voluntarily’ reduce some of his pension, from a pot apparently worth in the region of £16m, which he will draw annually to a sum of £650,000.

I’d love some of that, thanks.

Now, aside from the usual socialist idea that they who have more should give to they who have less (laudable while voluntary, illiberal and despicable when enforced), I wonder what the law of unintended consequences would result in should Sir Fred agree to this.

If Fred forgoes a part of his pension, where will that money instead go? Will those funds make a significant impact on the day-to-day operation of RBS? What would Fred do with the money if he received it? Would he spend it or invest it, thus ‘stimulating’ the economy? Would he bury it under his bed? Would he save it in a bank (thus providing them with deposited capital)?

I am reminded of Frédéric Bastiat, the French economist, and his essay ‘What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen’. What is seen is that Sir Fred Goodwin takes a reduced pension; public anger is doused (maybe), and RBS has a few million Sterling more in its pension pot. This will reduce the deficit the pension fund faces, but I suspect not by a significant amount.

What is not seen is that Fred no longer buys that yacht from the manufacturing company down south, that entertainment suite from a specialist retailer, that brand new Jaguar or Aston Martin. He no longer chooses to invest in that promising start-up company, or donate to that charitable organisation. Those parts of the economy which might have seen growth from his spending may not now benefit from his money.

RBS is the broken window; is this not simply paying the glazier?

EDIT: Corrected typo. £16m, not £61m!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

C U L8r, am in jail.


Lord Ahmed is to be thrown in the clanger after being convicted of dangerous driving, texting while travelling at speeds in excess of 60mph shortly before a fatal road crash.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

UPDATE: To my irritation, I note that he has been jailed for a mere 12 weeks, half of the 24 sentance. While he may not have been texting at the time of the crash, it is still manslaughter. Derisory.

With deepest sympathy

Just heard that David Cameron's son Ivan has died. My deepest condolences to him and his family.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Alex Salmond has been off pressing the flesh with Madame Clinton in Washington, and amidst his comments on growing the relationship between the US and Scotland (or North Englandshire), he managed to start rambling on about the economy. The most frightening part of his wittering was when he commented that:

“...and in particular I will make the case for Scotland to have the same ability to borrow as other nations... in order to do our bit to inject demand and confidence into the economy.”

To borrow from the esteemed Stephen Fry: O.M arse-mothering G. You wish to allow a bunch of jumped up local councillors the chance to put Scotland into debt? Good grief, these are the people who turned a £40m project into £400m! After the fiasco building the parliament building, you would expect us to trust you with borrowing... Give me strength...

While Wee Eck is possessed of a quick and witty mind, he is not rational. He believes Scotland can and should be independent – ipso facto he is not rational, because rational thought would lead to the conclusion that we benefit more from the Union than we lose. Fiscally, politically, internationally, socially, we benefit from being part of the United Kingdom.

I enjoyed a primary school education in Scotland and a secondary education in England. I have been brought up to feel a part of Britain. I am neither Scottish, nor English, but both – I am British. The idea of a separate Scotland does not sit well with me, and I don’t want to have to choose between the two.

In this case I can only say that I think it is a good thing that he is incredibly unlikely to get his way. Borrowing to boost demand is a short-term measure that fails to address the root cause of the problem – which (to be overly simplistic) was too much borrowing.

Get your SNP/Lib Dem coalition in Edinburgh Council to sort out the trams on budget and on schedule, then maybe we’ll sit down and have a chat, okay?

Ideological differences

Here’s a question: Can romantic relationships work when the two people are of different politics?

I recall a certain ex-boyfriend who was a dyed-in-the-wool, son on a Union leader, very much a total Labourite. Towards the collapse of that particular relationship, I remember remarking that Boris Johnson would be a welcome change to Red Ken in the upcoming mayoral elections down in London. The force of rebuttal to that suggestion was so fierce that it threw us into a raging argument, with my integrity and judgement being called into question.

Up to that point, we’d got along just fine on the basis that I quite liked Tony because for all his faults, he wasn’t Old Labour, and played enough to the centre ground that it was hard to disagree too much with policy. The Conservatives were in a shambles anyway, and William Hague – the only promising leader they came up with – had ascended the shadow throne far too soon and made a bit of a hash of it.

I suspect in this case it was just another excuse for a fight – we’d been at it from day one, and I should have called time on it before it had got that far, but that’s another story for another day. What was missing in this case was the capability of at least one of us to hold a rational debate and accept the other party’s point of view as valid – whether or not it was agreed with. To me, this seems ridiculous, as I disagree with a number of my friends on a good many things, but that stimulates healthy debate, banter, and general conversational tomfoolery.

The difference is that those conversations are with friends, not lovers. What I want to know is whether it is possible to sustain a relationship when you both disagree on something as fundamental as your political ideals.

Monday, 23 February 2009

A change I can believe in

I had for a while avoided the Facebook meme that had been doing the rounds; 25 things you probably didn’t know about me, or whatever it was being called. Eventually I caved, partly from boredom one afternoon, but chiefly because one or two friends of mine had produced some really entertaining ones. That left me a little bit of a challenge, so I took the bait.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that I’ve been taking a lot of flak from some of my friends who are die-hard NuLabourites , or at least anti-Tory. I make no secret of the fact I’m a bit of a Toryboy. While my ideology is a damn sight more libertarian than the Conservative party will ever be, I have faith that they are the best chance we as a nation have to take us forward.

At last year’s Pride event in Glasgow, I joined the LGBTory contingent to fly the flags – the Tree and the Rainbow. I suppose there’s some irony that the Tory emblem used to be a torch. Now, putting the Tories and the gays together is difficult enough, given the lingering memory of the deplorable Section 28 legislation. Putting the Tories and the gays together in Scotland is setting the cat loose amongst the pigeons, to put it mildly.

This is a horrific and sweeping generalisation, but the Scots by and large hold Thatcher (ergo the Tories) responsible for the Poll Tax debacle and a whole host of policies that they felt victimised them as second-class to England. Rightly or wrongly, the feeling persists. The amount of people walking up to our stall and commenting that we had brass for showing up was unnerving, but equally there were some who showed an interest in what we had to say for ourselves.

I should also point out that the SNP, Lib Dems and even the SSP all managed to muster an appearance at the event. Conspicuous by their absence were Scottish Labour. Insulting by their overtures were some of the SNPs, who suggested that they were really Conservatives, but were supporting the SNPs until they got independence. It appears the notion of One-Nation-Tory appeared to have slipped them by, not least that the SNP tend towards a more socialist agenda, but I digress.

The Tory party of today is a very different beast from the one that left office in 1997. The leadership has come to realise that outmoded social philosophies have no place in today’s political sphere. I will take no part in acting as an apologist for legislation that I believe did massive harm to an entire generation of young boys and girls struggling to come to terms with their sexuality within a system that was skewed against them. It was designed to protect, but it did precisely the reverse. It was ill-thought out and unforgiveable.

So, if it was unforgivable, why should I as a gay man consider voting for them, let alone actively support them at a Pride event? The answer is simple: because I recognise that the party has evolved. You can’t hold them to account for the sins of the father – we held them to account in 1992 when they were reduced to the most tenuous of majorities, and we destroyed them in 1997. We have given them our judgement, and they have spent over ten years in the wilderness as a result. It has given them a lot of time for soul-searching, and a lot of time to learn.

Which brings me back to the Facebook meme. One of my friends works for and was marching with Stonewall at Glasgow Pride last year. He is, and I suspect will forever be, a New Labour supporter, a point he made very clear in his ‘25 things’. It was one of his 25 though that I found incredibly insightful, intentional or not. Whether or not New Labour wins a fourth term, they have revolutionised the social agenda. Just as the Tories taught Tony about the economy (though Brown sadly failed to learn the lesson), Tony taught the Tories that society has evolved, and reminded them that they were once the party of liberty in society as well as in the economy.

As New Labour, no longer new and showing the strain, twists and regresses into a pseudo-authoritarian regime apparently determined to tell us that Big Brother Brown knows best, the Tories appear to have forged a new identity. I just hope that they follow Churchill’s example and restore the freedoms that a Labour government seem determined to deny us.

Back on my paws

A slight bout of fever and an acute case of man-flu left the Basement Cat holed up in bed for most of last week. While still feeling rubbish, boredom prevailed and has dragged me in to the office where I can infect everyone else and share the love. Or spread the misery.

An article in the current (19 February) issue of Supply Management investigates a trend of procurement professionals and buyers moving from the private to the public sector; bucking the trend of job cuts, recruitment in public sector procurement is strong. While in part the purpose of the article seems to be to point out that aside from some legislative and procedural hurdles, the pressure and expectations are not all that different, it is endemic of a larger problem in the UK.

It’s no secret that the UK public sector, and the NHS in particular, is rife with non-jobs and ‘management’ roles that serve little purpose other than to consume resources and prop up job figures; mere sink-holes for the taxpayer’s money. Then there’s that delightful little paradox (and administrative expense) of taxing people whose income comes from the taxes they – and everyone else – are paying.

In fact, Procurement/Supply Chain is an aberration, the exception that proves the rule. As a function its primary purpose is to drive down costs, improve efficiency and thereby save time and money for the organisation in question. It is the one arena in which job cuts only make sense if the organisation has contracted to a point that they are superfluous to requirements. For that to happen in the public sector, a brave government is going to have to make some significant cuts.

Friday, 13 February 2009

...So I'm off to the west coast.

Day off, heading through to Glasvegas for a bit of a pre-birthday debauchery. Blogging is highly unlikely as I shall probably be exceeding the recommended levels of alcohol intake by quite some considerable amount.

But I promise to have fun doing it.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

All quiet on the eastern coast

In a training course today, so not much chance for any blogging. Was greatly tempted to play the snow card this morning - seemed to work very well for the Londoners last week - but unfortunately, and despite being further North, the light dusting was sufficient only to make everything look pretty.

Care to wager that by the time I go home, it'll all be a big slushy mess?

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Just what are you suggesting?

BBC article on the whole 'Ecstasy should be class-B' thing:

Blah blah blah blah... heard it, nothing new here... etc. etc... oh... wait...

"Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said it called into question the government's choice of advisers."

I would dearly like to know if Mr Grayling is suggesting that you only pick advisors who tell you what you want to hear, rather than - oh, I don't know - the truth?

In this (apparently not-so-enlightened) age, you would think that people might be willing to weigh up the empirical evidence and listen to the opinions of those who have studied a subject in depth, rather than dismiss the issue out of hand simply because you don't like what they're saying.

Sadly, it seems Grayling is little different from Jacqui Smith on this matter - letting ill-informed opinion get in the way of a rational debate.

If you wanted sock-puppets, you should have said so.

Pour la France, les emplois

As a comedian and acquaintance of mine once flourished: “...the people who hate the French government most, are the French!”

Given the emotional story he had been telling about his voyage across the English Channel in a Thomas Crapper bathtub, rowing, no less, this punchline was the end to a running theme of obstructions he had faced from the French Coastguard and government, who had even changed the law in order to prevent his brave/insane/ridiculous/British venture.

If anyone doubted the veracity of this statement, I could point you to the French propensity for striking. Rightly or wrongly, they are not afraid of creating merry havoc if they don’t like what is happening. Even if their actions are misinformed or counterproductive. In Tim’s case, the locals had broken in to a French coastal installation to cheer him on as he rowed those painful last strokes to arrive on French soil. Authority? Ça ne fait rien! Hurrah.

Personally, I rather like France. It is a beautiful country, produces some marvellous wines (and Brandy, Cognac, Calvados, Armagnac...), and like anywhere, has some fantastic people. Some less fantastic people too, but you will find that anywhere in the world.

On the other hand, they have a worrying propensity for protectionism, and Nicolas Sarkozy, who should know better, is not helping. As outgoing President of the EU, he should be conversant with the single market, and ought to at least pretend to represent it. In deciding to prop up Renault and Peugeot-Citroen with a €6bn loan, he’s jumping aboard a bandwagon whose engine should never have been started, but in that there’s nothing particularly unique. What is very disappointing is that he has brazenly instructed the companies that they must make no redundancies at their French plants – instead calling for them to close their Czech and Slovenian plants.

Bald, blatant, naked protectionism doesn’t even begin to cut it. The bailout packages for the automotive industry are bad enough, with governments terrified of allowing a proud national institution to fail, but history or not, no industry should become subsidised, and propping these companies up does not solve the underlying problem; demand for cars has fallen, and these companies were trading on a false economic boom.

Mind you, given how the French benefit from the deplorable CAP, should we be surprised?

That kind of growth is not going to come back before the bailouts run dry, and jobs will still be lost. Rather than bail these businesses out with taxpayer money, why not give that money back in the form of lower taxes? That’s the kind of stimulus we need.

Sarkozy, like Brown, is proposing a vote winner, cheating at the expense of the taxpayer. While I was amused by the way the French President savaged Brown over his handling of the economy, I think he was way off the mark. The VAT cut was a ridiculous waste of time and money, but cutting taxes is the answer, not spending more as Sarkozy intends. It is time for lean government and smart thinking. On that count, neither Brown nor Sarkozy show any proclivity for either.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Banks say sorry...

So Sir Fred and Co. have apologised for their part in the financial crash... but we're still waiting for an apology from the politicians (*cough* Gordon *cough*), the Bank of England and the FSA for utterly failing to do anything about a situation they - by the own admission - saw coming.

The banks are an easy target, but since you're all so keen on blethering on about the moral high ground, how about you admit your own culpability while you're at it?

There are times for a dignified silence

You would have thought Jacqui Smith would be a little bit too busy preparing her excuses - sorry, reasons - for her expenses fiddle, but yesterday she still found time to comment on Professor Nutt's comments that ecstasy was no more dangerous than an addiction to equestrianism.

Now, far be it from me to make a scientific comment, but having had the numbers of deaths caused by ecstasy rammed down my throat (what was it, 30 last year?), compared to deaths involving horses (ah, wait, something like 100, yes?), I wonder if he might have a point.

Unity has made this point before over on the Ministry of Truth. The Drugs policy in this country is a shambles, despite all the evidence suggesting that prohibition doesn't work, the government continues to pursue it. I think most people fail to realise is that doctors prescribe drugs daily which have side-effects and can be fatal or damaging if taken in large doses. Paracetamol is available over the counter, for heaven's sake, knock back enough of them and you'll be getting your stomach pumped in no short order.

Would regulation and legalisation allow for the purity of a substance to be defined? Probably, yes. Would that make it safer? Undoubtedly. A big problem for heroin users, for example, is when the quality changes and suddenly they've taken twice as much as they're expecting. Make it legal and you can bloody tax it. Since cigarettes and alcohol are already such an earner, why not diversify?

So, I have to ask, why are drugs like tobacco and alcohol legal, substances such as oxycodone and diazepam available on prescription, yet a drug that literally does as it says on the tin - ecstasy - is illegal? The argument that it is dangerous doesn't hold any water, and when new studies keep suggesting that it is no more dangerous than alcohol (which is proven to cause long-term damage, unlike ecstasy), you start to wonder why the establishment is so keen to ban it. Don't they like people having a good time? When people have died, it's been as a result of dehydration or in some instances over-hydration. Most happy clubbers I've seen are smart enough to have a bottle of water in hand.

In the case of disco biscuits, the same counter-argument as for marajuana applies - we don't know the long-term implication because it hasn't been around for that long. Well, newsflash, we prescribe drugs daily where we *do* know there are long-term risks, some are pretty serious, yet we prescribe them anyway.

Fact is (oh, how I hate myself for saying that), there is a huge culture of drug-taking in Britain. There are kids out at the weekend on coke, speed, ecstasy, ketamine, a good few cooking up GHB (which *is* filthy fucking stuff), and there are a lot of them. I wouldn't even dare to put a finger in the wind guess on the real numbers, but how many of the clubbers at Fire in London do you think aren't on something? Ever been to The Arches in Glasgow on a Saturday night? And how many deaths are we hearing of every week?

Just because it wouldn't be a drugs-prohibition-related-rant without at least a mention of Holland. Hash legal. Are there hundreds of stoned Dutchmen on the streets? Err... no, actually. Plenty of stoned Brits over for the weekend, but it's pretty harmless. Back over this side of the stream, as Unity pointed out in his article, the police actually quite like (relatively speaking) dealing with people on pills, as for the most part they're too loved up with the world to be any hassle. It's the drunk ones that cause the issue.

Trying to crowbar myself back on track here, there was something Freebee Smith spewed in her denunciation of Professor Nutt that just irritated me:

"For me that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs."

Seriously. She erodes her own moral authority and thinks she can take the high ground? The serious problem in her eyes is that people take drugs. The serious problem as I see it is that we spend so much time telling people what not to do that we don't think that maybe, just maybe, the majority of people are smart enough to make their own decisions. It's just like tobacco, or the codeine your doctor is prescribing you. If you know the risks you can make an informed decision.

At the end it all boils down to one question. Why do people take drugs? To enhance the way they feel. But you don't like people feeling good, do you, Jacqui.

Educate and inform, don't command and control. Let us choose for ourselves.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Standing up for free markets, deregulation, choice and liberty

Just a quick link to an excellent Q&A session from the Independent with Ken Clarke.

Very much worth a read, but one quote stood out for me that sums up why he is one of the more trustworthy and respected figures within Parliament. When asked about his affiliation with British American Tobacco and whether that left him in a moral bind, or that he was ashamed of his involvement, he replied:

"I am a strong believer in personal responsibility and freedom of choice. British American Tobacco is a responsible company, and I enjoyed working with them.

We only sold cigarettes to adults who were properly informed of the dangers and smoked cigarettes as part of their chosen lifestyle. I find it difficult to believe that there is any cigarette smoker who is not aware of the risks and has not decided that he is prepared to add those risks to the others that are associated with his chosen way of life."

Simply put, whether you agree with someone or not, you must act in a responsible manner, and above all, respect choice and freedom. Well said.

Bit of an oversight. Or not...

Okay, so I know the splash on Clarkson's hilarious comment was at the tail of last week, but I do feel it is worth saying that I entirely agree with the sentiment.

He is after all: a) one eye'd, b) Scottish and c) an idiot.

Is it used to dig from the ground? Yes, you say? Then it is a spade.

His apology is understandable in the sense that perhaps mentioning the 'one eye'd' part in the same phrase as idiot could offend everyone else with a visual impairment (to be fair, more by association with Jonah than anything else), but he is very definitely Scottish. Jeremy, may I just offer that not all Scots were offended. We're embarrassed by him too.

Lord Foulkes reaction did amuse me greatly:

“Something should be done about Clarkson.

“He has insulted Gordon Brown three times over — accusing him of being a liar, having a go at him for having a physical handicap, and for his nationality.”

Clarkson didn't take the piss out of our premier for his disability or nationality. You would only be offended by those things if you thought that somehow those made you less of a person. Given Foulkes' history, I think he might perhaps want to engage brain before mouth; he who is without sin, and all that...

Added Bonus

It was probably inevitable. Actually, it was inevitable. I've been waiting for it to happen, and I've not been disappointed. Northern Wreck were first in the firing line, and now the other banks are following suit and announcing this year's bonus payments for staff.

Since the collapse of the sub-prime market triggered, or contributed, to the worldwide recession we are now sliding deeper into, Politicians who should know better have taken easy potshots at overpaid bankers and their obscenely generous bonuses. It is this bonus culture that blinded them , in their greed, to the greater and more dangerous risks they were taking.

And maybe they're right, maybe the bonus award schemes that some of these high-flyers were on did encourage reckless behaviour. As such, perhaps the way these bonuses are constructed needs to be reviewed, but I think that perhaps it is a little rich of the Government - who sang the praises of our Financial Services industry - to condemn them so roundly.

The morning press seems to have split its attention between Jacqui Smith (who 'denies all wrongdoing' - journalist speak for 'guilty as sin') and her immoral (if maybe not illegal) expenses fiddle, and Brown taking a tough stance on bankers' bonuses. Yvette Cooper's performance on the Today Programme blunted what would otherwise have been a strong moral argument (not helped by Jacqboot's startlingly brazen abuse of public trust), on which Iain Dale has a few words to say.

In this instance, Cooper called for bankers to exercise their moral judgement and not accept their bonuses, even if contractually their employer was obliged to offer one. Perhaps a fair point, but who are these bankers? The once high-flying investment monkey, the one who 'caused' this mess (rememeber him?) and his massive six-figure-plus bonus, or the teller in the branch, with a much more modest bonus related to customer service and product sales?

Chances are, the tellers, Customer Advisers, Mortgage Advisers and so on and so forth, are on relatively modest wages as well - their bonus makes a big difference to them, and is a reward for good performance. Who is to say that these front-line staff don't deserve their bonus? They've worked hard, fulfilled their contractual obligations, and it's time for them to get their reward. Whether or not my taxes are propping up their business or not - and let me make this clear, the money that pays that bonus has nothing to do with the money from the Treasury, operational budgets will be covering those payments, not the capital liquidity provided to encourage lending.

Much more thorny are the executives who stood by, fingers in ears and eyes tight shut singing "La la la" and hoping that the disaster would never come and the good times would never end. Have they performed well? Have the investment monkeys who took the risks and rewards and drove us to the precipice performed well? Do they deserve their bonuses?

Here's where I agree with Cooper, but not wholly. I'm not sure it's fair to ask anyone to turn down their bonus if contractually, they were only doing what they were encouraged to do. If we look at their performance review and it turns out that whatever the consequences were or have been, they have ticked all the boxes for what they were supposed to do, it is manifestly unfair of us to then move the goalposts and say they shouldn't have it.

Instead, given the noise being created over this, I would suggest that the banks need to review their rewards schemes to ensure that bonus payments can reward high performance but not encourage irresponsible practice. This is one area I think the regulators should have been involved, not just in terms of how the banks operated, but how their pay and reward systems were structured.

It would be dangerous, though to tar everyone with the same brush. Most of the bonuses paid aren't for the fat cats - but they'll certainly see the largest slice. Just don't let that blind you to those who really do deserve it.

UPDATE - entry by Dr. Eamonn Butler on the Adam Smith Institute blog, makes my point but a lot more succinctly.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Quick one off the (Terror) Wrist

So, you crack down on our liberty and give the police new powers to terrorise (sorry, protect) the population, and what do you have to show for it? These figures from ConservativeHome this morning.

"Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police to stop and search people. In 2008:

  • Number of people stopped nationwide by British Transport Police using s 44: 160,000
  • Number of people stopped in London by the Metropolitan Police using s. 44: 200,000
  • Number of people amongst the 360,000 stopped under s. 44 and found to have any terrorist material or links: 0"

Draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Picture this...

If there was any doubt remaining that our civil liberties are under threat from Jacqui/Jacqboot Smith, the BJP has this report:

"Set to become law on 16 February, the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 amends the
Terrorism Act 2000 regarding offences relating to information about members of
armed forces, a member of the intelligence services, or a police officer.

The new set of rules, under section 76 of the 2008 Act and section 58A of the 2000 Act, will target anyone who 'elicits or attempts to elicit information about (members
of armed forces) ... which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'.

A person found guilty of this offence could be liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years, and to a fine.

The law is expected to increase the anti-terrorism powers used today by police
officers to stop photographers, including press photographers, from taking
pictures in public places."

Now, I can sort of understand taking pictures of military installations, but of a policeman, or a civil servant? It's patently ridiculous, and is potentially far reaching law that will be wide open to abuse. Give an inch, and they'll take a mile. I thnk you'll agree that "...a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism..." is pretty woolly language and leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

I bet HMtQ (Her Majesty the Queen, in case you've not seen that one before) will be very pleased that all those louts taking photographs of the guards at Buckingham can now all be arrested and kept at her pleasure for the next ten years. Sound crazy? Not really, she's a pretty good terrorist target. Could be a potential suicide bomber planning his attack and taking photos to figure out a way past the guards. Who knows?

This is the kind of authoritarian law you expect in a banana republic or dictatorship, not in the 'free' world, in the oldest democracy in the world. We should be free to take pictures - and journalists especially - of the police, in action or not, if for no other reason than we must be able to hold them to account.

What is lacking here is any sign of principles. It's like the fuckwits who say: "Oh, I don't mind all the extra checks at the airport, because it's for my own safety." No it fucking isn't; it primes you for further abuses of your liberty. What makes an aircraft so special? You could carry a liquid bomb onto a commuter train to far greater effect, and I don't see security checks at the train station in the morning. What happened to trust? Innocent until proven guilty? This is guilty until proven innocent, and that is incongruous with the spirit of liberty, law and democracy.

We need our leaders to stand up for the principles of liberty and say: "Yes, there is a risk that a photo could be used in a terrorist act, but we cannot and must not erode the freedoms of the people, lest we become what that against which we fight." Okay, so I'm being a bit verbose there, but I think you get the idea. The price of freedom is that sometimes people will abuse that freedom. The law is there to ensure that when people do, they are punished. This law is wrong because it assumes guilt until proven otherwise.

Calling them ZanuLab has never been more appropriate.

Hat tip to DK and Bearwatch.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


The Conservatives certainly have no shortage of ammunition to fire at New Labour - they've manifestly failed to deliver on education (a key pledge way back in 1997), stuck a broken bottle up the backside of the national economy by spending like an old dame in a casino, given even more of our sovereignty away to the EUSSR than I care to think about, increased Government spending beyond sustainable levels and inflated the public sector into a gargantuan mess. To name but a few.

Still, their latest billboard does raise a question - have they got something against Canadians, or do they have a rep for bad maths that I just don't know about?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Propellorheads feat. Dame Shirley Bassey



Labour Government.


It’s all just a little bit of history repeating... *cue Shirley Bassey*

Protecting your own

Barely did his feet settle under the table of the Oval Office than Barack Obama has had the EU hounding at his door. As much as I may despair at the bureaucracy in Brussels, when it comes to making statements about free markets and trade, the EU is usually on the money.

The ‘Buy American’ policy the USA is proposing in their massive recovery package seems to be attracting a lot of fire, and echoes with our current ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ palaver. It’s not just the EU - the Canadians are antsy about it too, along with the best part of the participants at Davos. America In the World have suggested that 70% of Britons will be less favourable to Obama if he implements a protectionist policy; we Brits have good reason for feeling that way. America is a world leader, promoter of capitalism and up ‘til now, a shining example of the free market (at least on the surface). If anything, America needs to be defending those principles and seeking to restore our faith.

The critics are dead right. A protectionist policy would do more to harm the US and slow the global recovery than it would protect American jobs. Sure, in the short term it might sound like a great idea, but free trade works on the principle of swings and roundabouts – you may lose on one thing but you gain on the other. It forces companies and entrepreneurs to be better than their competitors if they want to succeed. Protectionist leads to ‘jobs for the boys’ and suffocates competition, which in turn stifles innovation, so on and so forth.

It’s a crowd pleasing idea that makes it sound like you’re standing up for the masses, when the reality is that in the long-run, you’re going to make things worse for them.

Sourcing from local suppliers isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and you may have ample justification for doing so, but it needs to be on sound economic terms and you need to encourage competition for that business.

I’m pretty sure I heard rumblings about this even before the ballot boxes in the US had closed. Obama is playing a populist card with his stimulus package, and I wonder if he’s getting a bit too caught up in playing to his electorate rather than doing what is best for them in the long run. The global effect is likely to be marked as well, and it sets an awful example for other nations. Tit will inevitably follow tat, and governments would end up subsidising local businesses and products produced nationally. This would be an utter disaster for the global economy.

The US has a massive budget deficit inherited from the previous administration and it has to deal with this. Any incoming government in the UK is going to have the same problem, but the US has an advantage we lack – it is a major exporter. Protectionism isn’t the answer – John Redwood nails it when he says that borrowing less and exporting more is.

Of course, given that about the only thing we export these days is Whisky, I’m not sure how we’re going to solve that particular problem any time soon.

Maybe we can just get the rest of the world drunk?

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sunday Indy Echoes of the Revolution

Just recalled the headline on yesterday's Independent on Sunday - "You can go and work in Europe, Mandelson tells strikers."

Anyone else think that sounds a lot like "Then let them eat cake"?

For the record, I actually agree with him. The whole point of a free market - and indeed the single market - is to ensure that provided you have the skills for the jobs, you can work anywhere there is an opportunity. In this case, the strikers may have a point - it seems very unusual in a project for all the labour to be sourced abroad, at least unskilled elements are usually sourced locally. While I don't think they're right to strike, I do think they deserve an answer. That Total have remained silent on this concerns me.

That aside, you can't say "British jobs for British workers", because that's discriminatory. What would be better said is "British jobs for the best skills". Now if the best skills aren't British, we really need to ask why. Maybe something to do with all those people who were sat on benefits instead of the Government spending the time and effort training them over the last ten years. Not that they're blameless, but the Government has helped to create this welfare culture, and in that they are culpable. For all their 'Education, education, education' spiel, New Labour have utterly failed to deliver.

Relax, there's probably no recession

Devil's Kitchen has found the single most hilarious widget I've seen all day.

Check it out here.

Have a play, see what you can come up with... it's not like we're going to be short of ammunition.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Political Spectrometer Analysis. Sounds like something out of Star Trek...

Saw this little quiz over on Tory Bear, and decided to give it a pop. Looks like I'm a right social libertarian... I can live with that.

My Political Views
I am a right social libertarian
Right: 4.85, Libertarian: 6.46

My Foreign Policy Views
Score: 3.46

My Culture War Stance
Score: -5.16

Didn't expect to be quite such a neo-con, but hey, there you go!

Have a go here if you're a bit bored.