The Children of New Labour

August 14th, 2011

This blog hasn’t been a fan of the Metropolitan Police’s public order policing in the past and it seems that David Cameron has finally woken up to the appalling consequences of appeasing an opportunist, baying mob.

It’s no criticism of the individual police officers to note this schizophrenic attitude to policing. Indeed, it must be extremely frustrating for them as individuals to be asked to switch from passive to ultra-aggressive mode. However, this bipolarity must give bizarre signals to those people who are breaking the law – ‘it’s OK to steal, smash things up and burn them until, er, it isn’t’ (maybe when the 24 hour news helicopters sniff out the trouble).

On this point maybe it’s worth reconsidering the famous bear/tree aphorism in a modern context – ‘If something is stolen from a shop and no-one films it then has it happened?’ Certainly if I was an excitable, marginally-criminally inclined idiot and saw the helicopters arriving and then saw the breathless coverage on TV about where it was ‘kicking off’ next then I guess I’d be out to see what was going on.

The 24 hour news channels seem to have emerged from the post-mortems scandalously intact. Some of their reporting was irresponsible in the extreme – motivated more for the ratings and the syndication rights than for any concern about what their glamourising of arson might do.

Woman Jumping From Burning Building In Croydon -- From Telegraph Website

For example, the aerial images of the fire became almost iconic. It was a sick, pathetic glorification of criminality that may arguably, by its propagation around the rest of the world, damage this country far more in the long term than the actions of a small number of looters.

You can almost imagine these pathetic, holiday relief juvenile BBC news producers going into paroxysms of excitement, thinking they were transmitting images that evoked echoes of the Blitz. OK – report what’s happening but don’t repeat it on a 5 minute cycle to make it look worse than it actually was. IMHO, the people who didn’t show any editorial judgement but became part of the baying mob by proxy are just as bad as the scumbags who actually did the looting.

I’d argue the TV news coverage encouraged the looters to turn into arsonists. Thinking back to recent media coverage of large-scale lootings, such as happened in the breakdown of law and order in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, no-one there set fire to the places they’d stolen from.

In some respects, it’s understandable, if not condonable, that people will help themselves to something in an abandoned shop if they think they can get away with it – but to break into residential property is far worse and to set a fire that may threaten any individual’s property, home or life is utterly beyond contempt.

I can only guess that it was either motivated by some kind of ‘that’s my fire there on the telly’ sick boasts or some disgusting attempts to hide the forensic evidence that might be used for the trainer-stealing Crime of the Century.

Perhaps fortunately for Ed Milliband, the courts have been processing those arrested very quickly – so rather than construct a narrative of the supposedly dispossessed ‘kids’ – the Labour Party have had to acknowledge that a large proportion of those arrested are not the oppressed jobless but university students, teaching assistants, locksmiths, trainee security guards, models and so on.

Apparently by far the largest age group arrested in the riots was the under-24s – so these are the people whose ‘moral compass’ was set in the reign of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The oldest any of them would have been when New Labour was elected was ten. Most were at an even more impressionable age.

Any opprobrium heaped for their appalling behaviour must be heaped on the resentful and avaricious moral-relativism ingrained in the likes of Brown– that Blair only served to obscure. Despite Ed Milliband’s efforts, absurd poison has been spilling out of Harriet Harman’s mouth over this week, although, to be fair, most Labour MPs have not been so equivocal in their condemnation of the lawless behaviour.

While the behaviour of the rioters has been criminally disgraceful and should never be dignified by any excuses – after all, there are plenty of underprivileged people who don’t riot – I have some general sympathy if their anger is motivated by any realisation of the shocking legacy the likes of baby boomers like Blair, Brown and Harman have left them.

On an economic level the baby boomers have looted the wider economy in almost as brutal and amoral way as the rioters on the streets – revelling in the indulgence of full employment or free education in their teens and twenties (and the supposed free love too), then skewing the economy of the planet towards their own reckless, rapacious consumption economy and, after this, retiring early in good health to expect the young to wait on them into their febrile long old age, having not produced a economically viable replacement population themselves – nor actually invested properly in the taxes to pay for an education system that invested in other people’s children either.

This is why it’s so sickening that the victims of the arson and looting tend to have been not the baby boomers or the rich but entrepreneurs who run small shops or people living in low-cost housing over shops that were firebombed. It might be argued that it was only when the total breakdown in law and order allowed by the gutless, spineless, politically-correct senior police chiefs resulted in some random and horrific opportunist burglaries and steaming of restaurants and so on in middle-class areas that the ‘ordinary’ people who have to put up with low-level crime routinely were given a little protection.

Also, it’s an almost inevitable effect of the model of global capitalism that has had hegemony over Western economies for the last 60 year that it exploits and seeks to make idiots of its consumers. With age and experience, consumers become accustomed to the insidious and manipulative ploys of global capital’s marketers – and global capital counters this by trying to force a wedge between generations.

‘Don’t listen to your parents – they know nothing’ – is the message of almost all advertising aimed at the youth market since the 1950s. Thus the aim of global capital is to be a malign pseudo-parent to a generation – urging the worshipping of consumption over all else.

No wonder the abiding image of the riots (except for the gut-wrenching flames) was the materialism – looting of flat-screen TVs, trainers, the latest mobile phones and other items. Apparently no bookshop or library was touched.

Moreover, one of the reasons underlying the credit crunch (as was) and now the stagnation of western economies is the reckless amount of personal debt that the banks have allowed individuals to accumulate. It’s arguable whether there’s a huge amount of difference between walking into Comet during the day and ‘buying’ a TV on a credit agreement that you can’t pay back and breaking in at night and taking the same TV for nothing. One’s legal, one’s not – but in the end there’s going to be someone out of pocket.

As said above, what marked the rioting out as particularly heinous was the violence and arson – the disregard for personal property and, even, life itself.

In the final analysis, it’s amazing that the police didn’t understand that human nature (or how it’s been corrupted by global capital) means that many people will behave in a way that’s determined by a calculation about whether they might get away with something. It’s so elemental and so fundamental to the preservation of order in any society that it’s stunning that the Metropolitan Police bosses seemed to think, like the bankers who ruined the economy, that ‘it’s different this time’. Yes, it definitely was – but not in the way they thought.

Little Matadors

July 19th, 2011

Exploiting the disappearance of a murdered schoolgirl, invading the privacy of terrorism and the grief of relatives of our killed armed forces — all of course, despicable things for so-called private investigators to do, but I find the whole media circus whipped up in the wake of these revelations to be almost equally as distasteful.

Every time I turn on the BBC news I expect the presenters to be high-fiving each other — ‘And now here’s Hugh to gloat more about how we nailed the bastard’.

Of course Rupert Murdoch isn’t the sort of character that has any need of sympathy (although Jonnie Marbles — surely the blundering, knee-jerk epitome of everything that’s nauseating about this news juggernaut — has managed to garner him some). Nor do his Teflon-aspirant executives. But almost any executive from any large company is likely to have stonewalled similarly.

I don’t know whether the likes of the BBC and the Guardian have so little self-knowledge about how transparently their delighted pursuit of their own agenda comes over or whether they’re all so euphoric about the thrill of the chase and — they hope — the kill. It reminds me of the image of bullfighting when the previously mighty bull is fatally wounded and then the cowards come to stick their barbs just to deepen the animal’s agony. Except that, as Murdoch says, the News of World was less than 1% of his company — the most likely destruction is likely to be wreaked on the journalists’ own domestic industry — not Murdoch.

Think of the organisations and groups who have been revelling in the Schadenfreude:

  • The BBC — whose existence has been challenged by Murdoch’s papers and whose dominance over broadcasting in the UK is now being eroded by BSkyB — the takeover of which by Murdoch has now been conveniently abandoned. The semantics the BBC have employed have been outrageous — repeatedly referring to the ‘Murdoch empire’ — a loaded description that recalls ‘evil empires’. (I also have sympathy from a feminist perspective with Rebekah Brooks — the BBC and other media have gone out of their way to picture her as a wild-haired harridan — her appearance has featured much more than a man’s would have done. I’m waiting for Fiona Bruce to have a slip of the tongue and talk about what happened when the wicked witch of the evil empire was put on the ducking stool — I mean before the select committee. That is about the general level of the BBC’s gleeful reporting.)
BBC Website Photo of Rebekah Brooks

BBC Website Photo of Rebekah Brooks

  • MPs — whose excesses (and criminality in some cases) were humiliated to the point of public contempt by leaks to newspapers — although it was the Telegraph rather than News International papers that broke the story. Yet there’s a strong whiff of revenge and score settling against the print media as a whole that seems to be driving the parliamentary outrage.
  • The Labour Party — as evidenced by his incoherent and factually incorrect rant Gordon Brown in particular, and the Labour party in general, appear to be peculiarly resentful about the withdrawal of support of News International papers in the 2010 election. And let’s not forget it was a Sky microphone that caught Brown’s comments about Gillian Duffy. Commentators say Ed Miliband has played his cards well in the current situation — the irony is that if he was even a semi-competent Leader of the Opposition then the Murdoch papers wouldn’t have effectively abandoned him as a joke. He’s only been able to distance himself from the  Murdochs because they wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole. The support of The Sun and the News of the World was courted slavishly by New Labour — and Murdoch delivered Blair three election victories. All the offences that are under discussion at the moment happened under New Labour and their regime of press supervision and police governance. The new evidence that John Yates failed to act upon came to light under the last Labour government.
  • Other newspapers — anyone who thinks it was just News International papers that indulged in phone hacking must be so naive they believe the current media hysteria is all in the public interest rather than advancing vested interests. There is obviously an advantage in accelerating the story so it damages News International as much as possible before the truth about their misdemeanours is revealed — and perhaps they hope the overkill will turn the public off the story by then.

All the above have been been on the receiving end of rough treatment from Murdoch — but in the case of the Labour Party and MPs — they have been the ones who chose to sup with the devil. They have benefited hugely from a company’s patronage that has been brutal with others. Where were Brown and Miliband’s concerns in the mid-2000s when the hacking was going on? The BBC hasn’t benefited from Murdoch’s patronage but it so loves to take the moral high-ground about its supposed impartiality and infallibility that it’s supremely hypocritical to so obviously join in this witch hunt. Also, BBC journalists aren’t averse to feeding themselves from the Murdoch trough when it suits.

The Guardian, traditional enemy of the Murdoch press, might feel it has come out blamelessly and shining with moral rectitude. I do wonder, however, about the timing of the latest revelations. It was well known that the NOTW had hacked celebrities’ voicemail — and, largely, very few people had much sympathy for them. It was interesting, therefore, that the revelations about the hacking of Millie Dowler’s voicemail — much the most serious offence as it both disrupted the murder enquiry and gave false hope to her parents — were publicised when the conviction of Levi Bellfield for her murder was fresh in the public mind. Did the Guardian sit on this news until it might have more resonance with the public? Surely not.

The public already have a low opinion of tabloid journalism — but surely they could have expected better from the police? For anyone’s phone messages to be ‘hacked’ what we’re really talking about is someone getting a private phone number and ringing the voicemail landline number (I wonder if any of these people had a PIN protected inbox — if so then it puts some phone company employee in the frame too). And for the police to sell private phone numbers of victims and relatives is utterly indefensible. It is the aspect of police corruption which is far more damaging than anything to do with the press. But the inhabitants of the media bubble have got so excited with the repercussions in their little circle that this has been scandalously underplayed.

In the wider world, the Euro is in just as much of a fragile condition, if not more so, than when the rioters were on the streets in Greece (another televisual event that grabbed the rolling news agenda). If Italy or Spain get into a similar situation to Greece, Ireland or Portugal — or if a deal can’t be worked out to restructure Greek debts on Thursday — then that’s a story which affects everyone in this country. Trouble is our news media is far happier force-feeding the public with its own agenda. Their insularity and arrogance only serves to underline how easy it is for a populist like Murdoch to have so thoroughly dominated them for more than thirty years.

Has The Evening Standard Been To Forty Green?

June 14th, 2011
Evening Standard 'News'

Tonight's Breaking News

It’s good to see some reporting of what’s really happening in the debate about alcohol pricing, although the Evening Standard can hardly think that tonight’s front page is in any way ‘news’ to most of their readers. (One of the civilising aspects of central London is that so few people drive to work and the pubs are so numerous that an after-work drink hasn’t been eradicated by the health-fascists from commuters’ social lives.)

The headline (and the name of the paper) is quite apposite to my recent experience as I shelled out for my first £4+ pint of British real ale last week. Admittedly it was strong — Old Peculiar — but not strong enough to erase my memory of having had to pay for it. It was at the Royal Standard of England in Forty Green near Beaconsfield (in fact a 20 minute stroll from the station, as we proved). It’s a lovely old pub, claiming to be the oldest free-house in England with some parts dating from the 14th century, but at £12.50 for fish and chips (very good, mind you) and beer (also good) rising from £3.30 to £4.30 (ouch) according to strength, sadly we won’t be returning there too frequently.

But beer and wine are becoming a lot more expensive as almost anyone who buys them will know. Tesco’s are notorious for their ‘half-price’ wine sales where they reduce a bottle of mass-produced plonk from an eye-watering £9 to a more realistic £4.50 and try to suggest that’s it’s a short-term bargain when anyone who paid the higher price has more money than sense (and knowledge of wine). There are very few genuine bargains any more — as the Evening Standard article explains.

I wonder if those clamouring for the deterrent effects of high alcohol pricing will now notice a corresponding decrease in alcohol-related problems now that the weak pound, inflation and a government not above stealth-taxing sin have done their bidding? Even if a relationship was proved then I doubt they’d be happy — probably choosing to switch to the contradictory argument that alcohol is so addictive that its users will consume it whatever the cost.

But back to the story being on the front page of the Standard — I bet the journalists weren’t disappointed when they were given that story to research!

Government Spending Cuts?

June 8th, 2011

Spotted in deepest Westminster, in the seat of government itself, was this a product of The Big Society — give the citizens a can of spray paint and let them create their own zebra crossings?

Impromptu Zebra Crossing in Petty France

Impromptu Zebra Crossing in Petty France

And drivers stopped at it!

Is This Real Ale?

May 31st, 2011

As found in the Parcmarket in Center Parcs Elveden Forest (why not Parcmarcet)?

Is This Real Ale?

Is This Real Ale?

I didn’t check the mini-casks carefully enough to see if there’s a ‘CAMRA Says This Is Real Ale’ logo on them but I very much doubt if this packaging would earn one. The casks themselves seem very similar to the type that breweries like Tring and Hop Back use to package their ales – although normall on an ‘on-demand’ basis, assuming that the beer is going to be consumed relatively quickly.

As these are being stacked on Center Parcs’ supermarket shelves then perhaps they’ve had some special ‘conditioning’ to ensure they don’t spoil.

But isn’t this exactly the sort of product that, in the broader sense, CAMRA should be championing. After all, Adnams are one of the leading ale brewers in the country and they are evangelists for cask conditioning (I’ve been to one of their ‘Meet the Brewer’ sessions with the transparent-ended cask used to demonstrate secondary fermentation).

If a bunch of people on a weekend away pick up one of these barrels rather than a platter of Kronenbourg 1664 or Fosters then that’s surely better? And while the bars in the place itself seem something of a real-ale desert then perhaps that’s better than massacring some local brew by not turning it over fast-enough in their bars — and it’s an inevitably sad fact of demographics that the real ale lovers will be the ones in these situations that are dispersed in the evening to their responsibilities in their holiday villas (don’t say ‘chalets’ or you’re frogmarched out of the perimeter fence) rather than hitting the Sub-Tropical night-time paradise.

Clegg Clogged Over Tuition Fees

May 6th, 2011

After the 2010 election I took a very keen interest in the negotiations that led to the coalition and thought the eventual outcome was by far the least-worst option — had the Liberal Democrats propped up the Brown administration it would have been an insult to democracy. The likes of Polly Toynbee, who seemed to think all Lib Dem votes were in fact proxy Labour votes also revealed the patronising ‘political elite knows best’ attitude to the electorate that typified New Labour.

In fact Labour were no doubt relieved to be able to dump Brown and put his disastrous reign behind them, albeit scoring a huge own-goal in the same way the Tories did in their wilderness years by electing a candidate far more popular with the activists than with the electorate.

In the same way, the Liberal Democrats have now reaped the rewards of some disastrous misjudgements in their negotiations before joining the coalition. They insisted on keeping policies that were sacred cows to their activists but ditched those that were important to the electorate.

So yesterday we had a referendum on AV which, while not full proportional representation, is something that has been a Liberal objective for decades — and is an object of faith for their die-hard activists. This report from the 4th May last year from the Telegraph describes the Lib Dem demands as being mainly about voting reform and the number of ministers they got in the cabinet. None of these things are of much interest except to MPs and political activists.

What did matter to tens of millions of people was student tuition fees. With numbers entering further education approaching the ridiculous 50% target set by Labour, the proportion of the electorate who were directly affected (students themselves or parents) or knew people who would be affected (friends, relatives, etc.) was huge — this is also a portion of the electorate that can be bothered to vote, especially if radicalised to do so. And, crucially, it’s not an issue of principle or posturing but a huge financial penalty — and very emotive on many levels.

There’s the principle of saddling students with debt at the outset of their adult lives and then there’s also a very justifiable demographic anger against the baby-boomers who were able to get their university education with not only free tuition but also be given grants. The inconsistencies that result from devolving education budgets to Scotland and Wales also create outrageous geographical inequalities.

And now the Lib Dems have been annihilated in council elections in big northern cities, with big students populations, like Manchester and Sheffield.

I really can’t see why the Tories decided to allow such an absurdly high level of tuition fees to be charged — let alone the Lib Dems. There might be an argument for high fees for expensive to deliver courses at the likes of Oxbridge or the Russell Group universities but £8,000 a year for courses at, for example, St. Mary’s University College in Twickenham, which runs a lot of education courses, means many teachers would start off £24,000 in debt.

The popularity of arguing against tuition fees was exploited in the election, of course, by the Lib Dems themselves — even using tactics from the political version of Room 101 like their absurd ‘pledge’. (Is there going to be a new dictionary definition of the word pledge that means ‘a piece of political posturing and showmanship that implies no integrity or sincerity whatsoever’ — that probably wouldn’t cover it?)

Therefore, whoever negotiated the coalition deal from the Lib Dem side must have been crazy to trade tuition fees for some meaningless bauble like an AV referendum or, more importantly to them, perhaps, some ministerial cars. I’d suggest the Tories were shrewd enough to realise that they would receive far less flack for implementing unpopular policies if they were those that the Lib Dems had campaigned hardest against i.e. Cameron wouldn’t be blamed for tuition fees but instead Nick Clegg would be more excoriated for his hypocrisy than George Osborne (or whoever it was) would be for having wanted to introduce the fees in the first place. So it goes in politics.

It hasn’t helped their cause that, rather than stand on principle, the likes of Vince Cable have sulked and whined over what they’ve been ‘forced’ to do — even though it’s his ministry that has introduced the fees. It seems inevitable that he will eventually throw a wobbly and finally tango away from the cabinet but it would have had far more impact had he done so earlier.

Clegg must now regret his pally, public-schoolboys at the village fête press conference with Cameron, who probably saw Clegg as an even more vacuous shiny-faced spouter of media blandishments than he is himself — it takes one to know one.

As some of the Lib Dems are daring to say, history probably will be kinder to Clegg than his party will be now, as he did the honourable thing in both supporting the party with most votes and also in recognising the electorate voted for change but he and his negotiators have allowed themselves to be royally stitched up over tuition fees.

Not Drinking

April 23rd, 2011

Today, being Easter Saturday, is the last day of my Lenten abstinence from alcohol — a full 46 days without a single drop of the stuff passing my lips (the closest I’ve come is an M&S Tiramisu, which I calculated had about 1% alcohol in it). I’ve not followed this for religious reasons, more that, on the face of it, it seems to be as good a time as any to do it — not coinciding with any holidays, not a totally depressing time of year (like January when you need a drink) or (I thought back 6 weeks ago) any good weather. Apparently, I’ve been over-strict in my observance by the religious yardstick as Sundays don’t count as Lent (this is a method I tried a couple of years ago) and Lent’s considered to end after Good Friday (46 days minus the 6 Sundays is how it’s calculated I believe).

M&S-Apple-Soft

M&S Hop Flavoured Apple Juice Drink -- Better Than Low Alcohol Beers

Why did I do it, if not for religious reasons? Probably the main reason is just to see if I could do it. Normally I like a drink as much, if not more, than most people and lots of my social life involves pubs and drinking. But I’ve never really had an problem not drinking if necessary — for example if I needed to drive anywhere. It might seem surprising but I’ve not been seriously tempted to have a drink during Lent, even though I’ve been in situations where most other people have been drinking — in pubs many times and bottles of beer and wine have been easily available at home. I’ve also had a few situations, such as returning from job interviews and the recent gloriously sunny weather, when my normal reaction would have been to open a bottle or sit in the beer garden for as long as possible.

At the time of writing memories of what it’s like being pissed are strangely abstract and I’m actually a bit nervous about the effect my first few days of drinking will have on me. The booze will definitely act more quickly if last year’s almost complete Lenten abstinence (exactly 6 weeks) was any guide. I’m sure the feeling of trepidation won’t last.

In an almost perverse way I’m pleased that I can stay off drink for that long because I can then feel happier when I resume drinking. There’s an almost constant stream of health advice and warnings about alcohol that I’ve blogged about in the past (my theory is that the Treasury gets the Department of Health to soften taxpayers up for sin taxes by this dripfeed of scare stories). By abstaining for so long I hope to prove to myself and anyone reasonably minded that I’m not an alcoholic (of course, many in the anti-alcohol lobby are so unreasonably minded that they believe the only way one can prove one’s not an alcoholic is to never drink, ever).

However, I knew anyway that I could easily give a drink a miss if I needed. In fact I think a large proportion of CAMRA members and others who are discerning over what they drink are, almost by definition, not alcoholics. No matter how foul a pint of bad real ale or tasteless and acidic a glass of wine, they contain as much alcohol as their more palatable equivalents — maybe the reason why so many pubs serve bad beer without improvement is that they have a core of non-discerning customers who just drink for the alcohol alone? These people, unlike most CAMRA types, would never risk the hassle or embarrassment of taking a bad pint back to the bar or walk past many pubs that served OK beer to reach one that served an excellent pint (or endure complex public transport journeys to get to one). Yes, drinking is something CAMRA types enjoy but it’s not the sole end in itself — and I have enough of a Puritan conscience sometimes to think it’s the people whose small basket of shopping at Tesco’s includes a litre bottle of own brand gin or vodka who are those who have the real problem.

On the health aspect, I’m also relieved in a contrary sort of way, that I haven’t continued to notice any dramatic change in physical well-being. For the last few years I’ve tried to do a perfunctory bit of exercise and drag myself comparatively slowly around the roads and footpaths and do the occasional race (I’ve managed to complete the Wycombe Half Marathon in a time that’s not been completely embarrassing for the last couple of years). I’ve definitely noticed the effects of a few pints the night before — both in feelings of fitness and in increased readings on my heart-rate monitor. However, after about three days without drinking I’ve found there’s no further tangible feeling of improvement — certainly I don’t feel any different six weeks on compared with a week in.

One aspect that I did have to adjust to was sleeping — drinking has a soporific effect on me after a certain threshold and it was a bit difficult to get used to nodding off naturally for the first few days. But I didn’t experience any energy boost. In fact, with the prospect of not having another drink to stay in the pub for or staying up for then sleeping becomes a more attractive option in the evening — perhaps making me paradoxically less productive overall.

Sadly, seeing as alcohol is meant to contain lots of  ’empty’ calories, I’ve not seen the pounds drop off, despite doing fairly regular exercise. This is probably due to a desire to have a drink being substituted by other forms of gratification — edible ones, particularly hot cross buns. But I do wonder if there is anything in the arguments that are sometimes advanced about alcohol not necessarily being as readily converted to fat at the rate its pure calorific content might suggest.

One undoubtedly positive effect has been financial. I’ve still been going to the pub and the drinks I’ve been ordering haven’t been cheap — in fact the White Hart’s J2O’s at £1.90 are more expensive than a pint of real ale with a CAMRA/Wetherspoon discount voucher. Unlike beer, though, I’ve not felt much need to drink several of these so rather than spend going on for £20 on a fairly average night out, it’s been more like £5 — and I’ve been able to drive everywhere I’ve wanted to go. But I have decided not to go on some potentially enjoyable social occasions — the CAMRA members weekend in Sheffield was one and the Good Friday pub crawl in High Wycombe was another.

It’s these events that would probably be the biggest loss were I to decide (however unlikely) that I’d abstain permanently — the ceremonial purpose of alcohol for social bonding and cementing friendships is probably more difficult to manage without than the substance itself.

J2O-Frenzy

My Tipple of Choice in Wetherspoons This Week

I’m not sure it would have been quite so straightforward to sip orange juice and lemonade had I not had an end-date to look forward to. I’ve been counting the days as I’ve been going but that’s partly down to thinking how I might best mark the end of the abstinence rather than any intrinsic desire to consume booze for its own sake — I’m hoping to have a pint of real ale on the stroke of midnight.

On Monday, just under six weeks in, I sat in the White Hart in Aylesbury with a J2O and several CAMRA friends who were all sampling some fascinating beer and I was almost shocked when I realised the thought of drinking beer myself hadn’t entered my head and that I was actually quite happy with my soft drink.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever thought that before — perhaps it’s a good job I’ll be getting back to ‘normal’ imminently?

A Comedy of Assessors

April 13th, 2011

In true investigative reporter mode I disguised myself as a candidate looking to be recruited by the dot.com division of one of the country’s hugest retailers.

I’d passed, apparently with flying colours, a telephone interview and two tests that they’d set me at Supermarket Towers, their ultra-secret, high-tech head office in the Home Counties. One of these tests was utterly baffling – professing to gauge management aptitude by the ability to spot whether a square with a pattern of asterisks in it was somehow more similar to a square with a solid black triangle or one with a squiggle. There seemed no logic to some of the 115 patterns that had to be matched in 30 minutes and one might be forgiven for thinking the whole test was so mind boggling dreamed up by someone who’d broken into their wine club warehouse and was steadily doing a ‘quality check’ on a few cases.

However, I passed it, somehow, and, in keeping with the general philosophy of the company’s recruitment, it didn’t seem to worry people how bizarre, pointless or ludicrous the selection tests or exercises were while they worked in the candidate’s favour.

In fact, I passed the tests so well that the interview I was scheduled to have was actually not going to happen and I was told to just pitch up at the ‘assessment centre’ later that week – or maybe this was because they’d kept me waiting in the lobby nearly half an hour before the tests so that they’d screwed up their timings? Would a huge company be so inefficient? In any case the HR person even started talking to me about dates I could start working with them – little did she know I was just a mole.

So on to the ‘assessment centre’, which sounded something out of The Apprentice – a whole day of tests and interviews to decide about one’s individual ‘fit’ with the company. I guess that maybe should have made a few Orwellian doubts set in – maybe they offered new brain ‘fitting’ sessions for those whose didn’t quite fit quite perfectly – so much for diversity of personality or character as opposed to the box-ticking, institutionally monitored sort.

Illusions of The Apprentice were soon shattered when I turned up mega-early at the appointed off-site venue. This wasn’t among the glitzy towers of Canary Wharf or some plush Mayfair executive suite – no it was the ‘Travel Plaza Hotel’ in a glamorous new-town. The location could have given Wernham Hogg’s Slough offices in The Office a run for their money in seediness. Strolling around the deserted concrete 60s brutalistic shopping centre I noticed not one, but two, sex shops almost opposite each other amongst the Poundlands and Cash Converters that seemed to provide the bulk of the mall’s tenants.

After a coffee and a stroll through a piss-stinking subway I was more than ready for my executive mettle to be tested. I met the other candidates who were, in turned out in retrospect, a lethally friendly bunch. We were the sort of people who remembered to eat breakfast in the morning and also seemed to be receptive to the sort of healthy-eating messages that our putative employer bombards us with in its stores — so when a few plates of bacon and sausages sandwiches the size of Olympian Frisbees arrived with lashings of ketchup and brown sauce they weren’t immediately seized upon. No fear, our small army of assessors made sure none of these artery-clogging delights went to waste – a selfless act perhaps to put less of a drain on their pension fund in the medium term.

We assembled for the serious business of being assessed in a conference room – candidates around a table and the corporate types assessing us arranged around the periphery like line-judges at Wimbledon but without their charisma – or maybe it was like a circular firing squad?  A trembly-voiced manager with the personality of wet cardboard delivered an uplifting message about what a crazy, inspirational place it was to work at and then we were pitched into the dreaded group discussion.

In the beginning there were six of us and we discussed, amongst other things, the fate of a fictional employee who had been potentially sullying the company’s good reputation by selling dodgy slimming pills in a pyramid scheme in-store both to staff and customers.  One of our number, an Italian chap, suggested what to me seemed fairly stern treatment – move the offending woman to another store.

I pointed out that as the case study said she was doing nothing illegal and hadn’t broken the terms of her contract then that might be a bit heavy handed. Unfortunately that may have revealed that I had an understanding of industrial relations law which likely branded me as a raving communist troublemaker. Even so, I was told by the recruitment agent later than I’d ‘scored’ 17 out of 25 on this exercise – though how one’s contribution to a discussion can be measured in such a way seems to represent a breakthrough in scientific research methodology that perhaps a few Nobel laureates might be interested in adopting. It would certainly do away with those time-consuming things called experiments.

There were a couple of individual tests and interviews before we went for lunch. One of my fellow candidates noticed that our Italian friend who advocated the more robust management methods was missing. She was told, chillingly: ‘He will not be continuing with the process.’

I originally thought that maybe this was because he’d put his foot in it somewhere along the line but, on reflection, I think he may well have been fast-tracked through the recruitment process for his tough-love towards the walking cost-centres that consume resources in store, I mean, employees. Of course the model answer for how to deal with the slimming pills employee was likely to have involved several days of torture of being forced to use the company’s self-service checkouts – ‘unexpected item in bagging area’ being repeated until she went insane – then being filleted by the spotty 16-year-old trainee on the fish counter, followed by being minced up and put into their tasty budget-brand meat pie range – with their 0.5% meat content her carcase would probably go a long way – a helpful employee to the end.

Then another group exercise – a remarkable feat of civil engineering to be undertaken in half-an-hour. Two seven feet free-standing towers had to be constructed from, of course, flipchart paper. We couldn’t have got to the afternoon session without flipcharts making an appearance. Naturally, the objective wasn’t really to see if we could make this ridiculous piece of architecture – in practice when we just ‘had a go’ and taped a few sheets together with masking tape we found the task was pretty simple.

No, this was our opportunity to act out our Apprentice fantasies. So, as in the TV show, a straightforward task is made vastly more entertaining by some self-deluding, self-sabotaging idiot trying to take control while a few teammates have hissy fits with each other, our corporate monitors sat back to enjoy the entertainment as might Caligula throwing a few slaves to the lions. But there wasn’t any – we all mucked in, co-operatively and built the bloody thing – and it stood up. Big mistake.

We had to improvise a presentation about how we’d executed this complex and critical task. A bloated woman who had previously said nothing all day piped up in an attempt to provide sport for her superiors. ‘Who was the leader? A group must have a leader. Who was the leader? I want to know. Who was the leader?’

Our group of five shuffled on our feet a bit and made the indisputable comment that there hadn’t really been a leader – we’d sort of self-organised quite effectively.

‘OK. If you won’t tell me was the leader then…then…then who was the worst performer?’ she spat out like a family-pack Anne Robinson. ‘Who would you lose out of the team?’

Much shoe-gazing followed from the candidates. We were all no doubt reeling from the crassness of the question which was as pointlessly destructive as it was tactless and insensitive. This was a company that had the nerve to emblazon the careers portal on its website with the ‘Golden Rule’ – ‘We treat others as we like to be treated ourselves’. Oh, so you like to be paraded like contestants on a back-stabbing version of the X-Factor and like to be publicly told by your peers that you don’t deserve a job based on some monumentally trivial exercise with paper and masking tape?

If I’d been nominated by someone in that situation and had still been recruited and then encountered my career saboteur in the corridor on the first day I would have had to restrain myself severely from threatening more than their job prospects. So much for harmony and teamwork.

I was most proud that none of us rose to the bait and despite the longest of awkward silences none of us did the dirty on each other. We were the candidates who would have failed the Milgram electrocution test – something that appeared not to impress our battery of assessors.

I discovered that the group exercise hadn’t painted us in a flattering light when I had my final session – an interview with Mr Cardboard. I thought I’d done reasonably well in the tests and I knew that the hiring manager and the HR person had said I could do the job. It was perhaps telling throughout the whole process that I wasn’t interviewed ever by a specialist HR person – no doubt they might slip in subversive values to the process like ethics, dignity or, most radically, ability to do the job.

Instead I had an interview that veered into the surreal world of David Brent. One typical exchange went like something this:

‘You said you had a good job. If you’ve got a good job then why do you want this one?’

‘Er, well, this is meant to be a good job that I’m applying for, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah, but people who we shortlist for our vacancies are so good they’re like gold dust. And if you’re like gold dust then your current employer wouldn’t let you go…’

‘What do you mean?’

‘They’d offer you what you wanted to get you to stay,’ Cardboard would say.

‘Well, were you to offer me this job I’d resign because I want to work here, that’s why I applied to you.’

‘Ah, so you’re applying for this job because you have problems with your employer then? And if there’s a problem with your relationship with your employer that means you’re not as good as you say you are – that you’re not actually genuine gold dust…more like real dust…filth, so to speak, no offence.’

‘Are you saying that anyone who wants to apply to you is by definition not someone who’s good enough to work for you?’

‘Mmm.’ Cardboard would muse a while.

‘Why are you bloody interviewing me then?’

‘Good question. Next.’

I was told I got 13 out of 20 for that interview.

But my failure to follow the logic of the argument may have blown my cover. I was told by my handler (otherwise known as a recruitment agent) that my failure on the group task, possibly for not plunging the dagger into the other candidates’ backs, had marked me out as not having the requisite ‘leadership’ qualities for the role – leadership it seems that is not so much paper towers as Fawlty Towers.

My Body is a Temple (or Gallery)

April 2nd, 2011

I was in W.H.Smiths in Aylesbury glancing through the rows of magazines, half interested in whether there were any new interesting running magazines out. Running is one of those basic skills that seems so intrinsic, that if you’ve just started casually jogging,  you wonder how on earth one magazine can find enough angles for articles let alone half a dozen or so — er, you put one foot in front of the other and then put the other one in front of that and…

…but there’s a surprising amount to learn about running, especially if you get into more serious racing — nutrition, clothing, shoes, injuries, health and so on. I’ve done quite a few races at the behest of my much fitter CAMRA friend Simon but I’m still generally far too fat to do a good time. I managed the Winslow 10k a few weeks ago and will be pounding the streets and lanes of Prestwood and Marlow in May and hoping to drag myself around the Wycombe Half Marathon course in July.

I looked in the sports section for the running magazines — but they weren’t among the football or rugby or cricket or whatever titles. I found them opposite, right next to the burgeoning tattoo and body art section (see photo below).

Lifestyle Magazines in Smiths

Lifestyle Magazines in W.H. Smiths

The retailers probably do some research about where to locate the magazines on their shelves — there’s a whole science to placing products optimally — so I wondered what the link between running and tattooing was. I guess it’s probably pretty obvious — it’s about a pro-active attitude to body image to a large extent.

Whereas the football magazines (and certainly the back pages of the tabloids) are often read by lazy lard buckets, it’s fairly doubtful whether there are any passive readers of running magazines — they’re all trying to get fit and improve (or maintain) the way they look. The same must go for fans of tattooing and piercing — that’s all about enhancing their appearance in a different way. And there’s probably a fair amount of overlap between the two — the people in the body-art magazines generally look after themselves. I suppose there’s not much point in spending a lot of money having a tattoo over your stomach, buttocks or other body parts that get bigger if you don’t look after yourself if it expands the artwork in random directions.

I was a bit intrigued about the type of magazines placed under the tattooing titles. I know there’s a lot of metalwork involved in body piercing but woodworker?

Neanderthal Man Spotted At Hotel Near Watford

March 23rd, 2011

Tweeted by Twop Tips yesterday a thoughtful and intelligent comment on the England captaincy farce: ‘JOHN TERRY. Don’t be so modest. You don’t divide opinion – everyone thinks you’re a c*nt. /via @EatMyStoke

As has been said by various commentators with apparently far more upstairs than the man himself, if the England captaincy means so much to someone then, almost by definition, that person is psychologically unsuitable for the job. Captain of a football team is a fairly ceremonial and symbolic function in any case — it’s not like cricket or even rugby. The captain gets to toss up and, sometimes, gets an extra word from the referee and, er, that’s about it in terms of the game.
Outside the actual game it’s all about ego — leading the team out of the tunnel and lifting any trophy first. This seems to be what Terry wants and, despite his denials in the press conference yesterday, the image rights associated with photos of lifting a big trophy must not be sneezed at. Even so, Rio Ferdinand probably has more chance of lifting silverware this season than Terry — despite his long-term injury.
It’s a classic case of putting the cart before the horse — fantasising about holding up the World Cup like an eight-year-old might while not appreciating the talent and work required to achieve that goal. It’s extremely debatable whether Terry will continue to be an effective selection for England up to the next European championship. He’s ageing and slow and needs a mobile partner at club level (fortunately for him Chelsea have found Luiz) to compensate for his inadequacies. Like previous ego-merchant, Beckham, before him Terry’s best chance of keeping his place in the squad is holding the captaincy — not that he appears to have the humility to realise this.
His comments at the press conference yesterday seem to have been exaggerated a little on the back pages but they still reek of bone-headed, arrogant bullying  – something which seems to complement Capello’s management style. According to Henry Winter in today’s Daily Telegraph:

Having gathered his players far from the TV cameras, Capello announced: “John will be permanentnt captain again. He’s done well on and off the field over the last year. Anyone got any questions or things to say?” Silence. Terry said. “Anyone… who [has] something to say, I’d feel they should have the confidence to say what they feel. I would respect people if they came to me and we dealt with it one on one.”’

So Terry expects players to come up to him one-on-one and tell him he shouldn’t be captain? What is that going to achieve for anyone? This pathetic example of ‘open’ management is typical of weak-minded, cowardly inadequate middle-managers in all kinds of jobs — make a decision without any consultation, present it as a fait-accompli and then challenge anyone to complain about it, knowing full well that since the decision won’t be changed then all that will be achieved is isolating any dissenters. Why not consult in the process of making a decision?

José Mourinho, with typical mischief, has apparently suggested England are blessed with many potential captains — Rio Ferdinand and, er, others. Look at some of the other potential candidates — Rooney (who has just as much commitment and courage as Terry and an infinitesimally better player but who’d be slaughtered by the media), Cashley Cole (the most hated man in the tabloid press), Glen ‘Toilet Seat’ Johnson, Wickle Feo Walcott?

I didn’t see the point in removing the captaincy from Terry in the first place unless there was something more to the story of him shagging a player’s ex-girlfriend than was commonly reported — as far as I’m aware she (who can remember the woman’s name now?) had finished her relationship with Wayne Bridge before taking up with Terry. Of course Terry was exposed as an adulterer, which would seem to undermine all his claim to the supposed heroic qualities of an England captain even though his wife ‘forgave him’ but it was the connection with the team-mate which seemed to cause the furore that led to his loss of the armband.

At least Rio Ferdinand, a prolific Tweeter, has had the dignity not to whinge about Capello’s disrespectful behaviour in public, although he can hardly be surprised that someone else is going to get the captaincy in the interim due to his appalling injury record. He may well get the last laugh anyway as Terry has to become the face of the players sitting in press conferences like a nodding dog to justify more of this joke of a manager’s terrible decisions in the future.

Let’s Get Quizzical for Lent

March 14th, 2011

Apologies for the blog being quiet — this is mainly due to a few deadlines coming up in the past few weeks, particularly the submission of my MSc dissertation last Monday.

This gave me just the rest of Monday and Shrove Tuesday to celebrate in the traditional way before I tried to continue my own personal tradition of the last couple of years and attempted to give up alcohol for Lent. It’s now nearing the end of day 6 and I’m going strong — the only problem is that I keep eating all the time.

On Monday, to mark finishing the MSc, I was quizmaster at my local pub’s quiz night. I did 20 picture questions, 20 normal questions and 20 music ones. If anyone who wasn’t at the pub is interested I’ll post them below and then post up the answers in a few days.

First the picture rounds.

Name the painter (click on image to expand):

Name the Painter

Name the Painter

Name the famous British tall building (unless otherwise stated):

Name the Building

Name the Building

Now the 20 general knowledge questions:

  1. Professor Brian Cox presents the science programme ‘Wonders of the Universe’ but what was the name of the pop group he played keyboards for?
  2. Who was the referee of Tuesday’s Chelsea v Man Utd game – criticism of whom has earned Sir Alex Ferguson an FA charge?
  3. The world’s most expensive painting will shortly go on show at the Tate Modern. Who painted it?
  4. Who was runner-up in last year’s ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’?
  5. What was the name of the female referee’s assistant who Andy Gray and Richard Keys were sacked for criticising?
  6. Next week CAMRA celebrates its birthday. How old is it?
  7. Which fashion house recently sacked the notorious designer John Galliano?
  8. The rock group Beady Eye released their first album recently. They were created after which famous other rock group’s break up?
  9. Which nation of cricketing minnows beat England on Saturday in the world cup last week?
  10. Who won best actor in this year’s Oscars?
  11. The M25 is London’s orbital motorway but what is the name of Manchester’s equivalent?
  12. What is the web browser developed by Google called?
  13. Which prime-minister lived at Hughenden Manor?
  14. Which brewery produces Tinner’s and Proper Job ales?
  15. A cottage pie is traditionally made out of which meat?
  16. What was the route number of the London bus that was bombed in the 7th July 2005 terrorist attacks?
  17. How old is the Queen?
  18. In which country is the wine growing region the Maipo Valley?
  19. What were the names of the two female dolls on BBC’s Play School?
  20. Who wrote the Angel series of novels, the titles of which include Angel, (2006), Crystal (2007), Angel Uncovered (2008), Sapphire (2009) and Paradise (2010)

The music round — this should play in Windows media player (if not other devices). Name the artist: Quiz Mar 11 3

A Modern Caravaggio?

February 16th, 2011

I found this amazing photo on the MSNBC photoblog site (the image is a link through to the site) of last night’s brawl in the San Siro started by AC Milan’s Rino Gattuso. It looks like a modern day Caravaggio painting that you could imagine hanging in the National Gallery.

Gattuso vs Joe Jordan

Gattuso vs Joe Jordan -- via MSNBC

There was something quite remarkable about the incident, mainly because it involved Joe Jordan. Ironically Jordan played himself for AC Milan for two years in the early 80s after he’d left Man Utd. Before which he’d been a member of the notorious Leeds United side of the 1970s and, as expected for that team, was the sort of Scottish centre-forward who looked as if he’d been carved out of granite. But the most notorious thing about Joe Jordan — that anyone who followed football in the seventies would remember was his missing front teeth (knocked out in an early Leeds United match) which made him look like the most intimidating player ever seen on a football pitch — looking less like a human in the photo below than some sort of werewolf from hell.

Joe Jordan minus teeth

Joe Jordan minus teeth (via Telegraph website)

This is the sort of collective memory from an era well over 30 years ago that seems (to paraphrase Laurie Lee) to be almost from another country — the sort of childhood recollection that makes a TV series like ‘Life on Mars’  so popular. Joe Jordan, or at least his image, is forever a peculiar sort of icon for a huge portion of the population — an icon of looking hard — and now he’s sixty and wears glasses (although he took them off ready at the end) we all feel outraged that a mouthy, theatrical primadonna like Gattuso dares to assault that memory.

Ray Wilkins, who will have played with Jordan at Man Utd, was outraged during the commentary and in the post-match discussion Graeme Souness, a player himself with a reputation for being one of the ‘hardest’ midfield players and a Scotland contemporary of Jordan, looked as if he wanted to get into the Milan dressing room to sort Gatusso out himself, although he speculated that Jordan would have been able to so that on his own in five minutes.

The whole Sky end-of-match summary had something of generational respect to it as Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, surely the least cosmopolitan of Premiership managers, turned up on the panel with his son Jamie and they looked at the replays of the shocking Flamini (given almost surreal spice due to his Arsenal past) tackle as well as Gattuso’s raging bull act — it was almost like being in their living room as they bridled against a family insult. (Click here quickly to read a less-than-flattering Wikipedia summary of Flamini’s career before it is changed.)

Even eighteen hours after the game, Gattuso and Jordan are still trending on Twitter in the UK, such is the amazing interest in the incident, which perhaps shows underlying codes of human behaviour that are still almost primeval. Looking at some of the tweets randomly after the game there were probably more women than men who wanted Jordan to have nutted Gattuso back. Hayley McQueen (who, despite looking very much her part as a Sky Sports News female presenter is a good source of sports news on Twitter) mentioned about how her dad (Gordon McQueen — also ex-Leeds, Man Utd and Scotland) and her ‘Uncle Joe’ used to scare the living daylights out of her prospective boyfriends and posted this amazing retro photograph of the two ‘out on the pull’. That wallpaper alone should have been enough to floor Gattuso.

Old Etonians Don’t Get Middle-Management

February 8th, 2011

We just endured 14 years of a government whose members were overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of career politicians who’d done nothing but pursue their ambition straight out of university (almost always Oxford or Cambridge or their Scots equivalents) — and who consequently couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag in the real world.

Now it seems with Cameron and Osborne we’re getting the same — and these two bring the street-smartness of a couple of top-hatted and tailed Eton oiks.

Cameron becomes more like Blair every day — as with Blair he’s going to find that there’s a point where the public realise they’ve heard all these contradictory platitudes before and he’ll need to be judged on what he does rather than what he says. But at least he gives an impression of caring.

Osborne, on the other hand, is more of a problem in himself than, perhaps, the policies he’s pursuing. Like his doppleganger, Lord Snot, on The Young Ones, Osborne looks as if he’s enjoying doling out the bad news to the great unwashed. And as we are perpetually told by businessmen who like to consider themselves as leaders and agents of change in all other respects what the economy requires is to be given confidence and stability (why these crashing egos can’t look at the indicators and assert their own confidence is something of a paradox). But by continually emphasising the forthcoming pain Osborne risks creating a self-fulfilling feedback loop that exaggerates the effects of public spending cuts and tax rises.

It’s also stupid politics to hear predictions of belt-tightening and other euphemisms being trotted out by a wealthy patrician — fair enough to lay the rightful blame with Brown and Balls pre and post-election but they’re now history.

Cameron and Osborne are also being badly let down by those underneath them who they’ve trusted to carry out the hatchet work. I remember when studying finance on my MBA course and the tutor, who was an accountant, used to say how she held her hands up in horror when the middle-managers she worked with responded to imperatives to cut costs by immediately thinking about the stationery cupboard. They really did think that the inefficiency of their company was due to people not re-using envelopes or stealing paper clips — and their solutions, which usually involved some immensely bureaucratic system of locking it away and rationing, were far more expensive in labour costs than the trivial cost of envelopes. These idiot managers could only relate to items of discretionary expenditure and had no concept of the cost of carrying out the business processes they were responsible for delivering.

The proposed cuts in libraries, swimming pools and the selling off of forests are the Cameron-Osborne equivalent of locking the stationery cupboard — trivial, petty, mean-spirited ‘savings’ that don’t even represent peanuts in comparison to Brown’s inflated public spending budget. These sort of services are cheap and usually run on a shoe-string anyway and yield irreplaceable and intangible benefits to those who use them. There’s a very active campaign being organised to save libraries in the book, publishing and media world but this government seems to have a purely mercantile view of the arts (as opposed to Labour’s bandwagon-jumping love for all things Cool Britannia).  Even the Economist has run an article praising in glowing terms the leisure opportunities created by the Forestry Commission in Wendover Woods.

While many cuts may be selected by cynical Labour local authorities to cause maximum embarassment, the coalition should be very concerned that this lazy selection of easy targets for cost cutting is often hitting the only sort of services that some Tory voters actually consciously realise they’re using (e.g. dog walking in the forests).

It’s been my experience in big bureaucratic companies that cost-cutting initiatives are usually an absolute disaster. Firstly, the need to cut costs identifies that the incumbent management hasn’t been doing a very good job in the first place if it has squandered money — so why is it almost always that same management that’s entrusted to remedy the problem.

Secondly, as evidenced by the number of management courses in creativity or job adverts looking for ‘innovators’ or ‘entrepensuers’ most managers are deeply unimaginative and risk averse people — they are far happier looking at a budget and trimming 20% here and 30% there  than they are growing a business. So cost-cutting comes quite easily to them, despite almost always not thinking through the consequences of arbitrary cuts or wondering what underlies the cost figures.

The coalition appears to be taking a similarly bone-headed attitude to spending cuts.

What should be done — and done properly rather than just mouth platitudes about it — is to examine some sacred cows and challenge some of self-interest groups who lobby very effectively to retain their privileged existence at the public expense.

When someone says with blind certainty that the NHS should be managed by doctors then they are either cynical politicians looking for an easy target or idiots or (usually) both. Why is it that doctors should be thought of as good managers? They’re not trained for it — they want to treat patients not compile spreadsheets or draw up staff rotas — and if they do want to do management then we should question why the country has paid so much to train them in medicine. Perhaps the NHS does have too many managers — but, if it does, then those managers must be ineffective (maybe because of their much lower status in the NHS) rather than being an automatically bad thing. If GPs managed to double their pay in a year under Labour for less work then the last thing that should be done is to try to turn them into managers.

Another successful lobby group is the police. As the medical profession benefits from people’s worries about their own health then the police wheel out the argument that anything that makes life less easy for them automatically benefits criminals and raises risks for the public. This argument only makes sense if one thinks that the police do a good job — and it’s very difficult to judge because the police don’t seem to do constructive criticism.

Labour seemed to do some very odd things with the police. Their obsession with targets has distorted the behaviour they were meant to measure — so there are many reported instances of police chasing the easy, safe targets rather than the complicated, problematic ones.

Also Labour’s authoritarian streak was happily embraced by the police — arguing it was vital to hold suspects for 56 days without charge when now the period has been reduced to much less.

Undercover Benefits

Undercover Benefits

And in some examples of following blatant self-interest, senior police officers realised the best way to advance their career was to at least pretend that they believed in some of the more ludicrous shibboleths of the soft-left agenda — Ian Blair was an extreme example, even playing to the multiculturalism gallery by making glib comments about murdered children.

With the public spending cuts being introduced, it’s worth considering on whose behalf who the police now think they are working for – today’s story on the BBC website that suggests that the Met Police have been discrediting defence witnesses in shaken baby cases suggests that the answer might be simple — for themselves. (It’s interesting that there have been many stories recently that haven’t shown the police in a particularly positive light: the undercover green adulterer who went native; the News of the World phone tapping enquiry; and the Jo Yeates case where the poor girl’s tragic death was overtaken by ghoulish whodunnit media circus — with the police rounding up the local weirdo and apparently failing to question another neighbour for weeks.)

It’s long been a contention in management theory that companies fail when the management puts its own interests

Jo Yeates Case Media Interest

Jo Yeates Case Media Interest

above shareholders, customers and other parties — and it’s a criticism of the sort of passive shareholder activism that the City of London encourages that so many companies get away with it. This is the root of the sort of behaviour that will create the real inefficiencies in the public sector — not that a library is open for an hour too long.

Tory Housing Minister Speaks The Truth That New Labour Never Dared Utter

January 3rd, 2011

The housing minister, Grant Shapps, has uttered the heresy in an interview with the Observer (according to the BBC website) that spiralling house prices are not necessarily A Good Thing.

It’s incredible that it’s taken a Tory minister to finally utter this blindingly obvious economic truth rather than a minister of the supposed party of the left which had been in power for the previous 13 years.

‘He described the rise in prices between 1997 and 2007 as a “crazy period”, which had left many younger people struggling to buy a home. “I think it is horrendous that a first-time buyer would need to be 36 on average if they do not have the support of mum and dad,” he told the paper. “The main thing everyone requires for their subsistence is a roof over their head and when that basic human need becomes too expensive for average citizens to afford, something is out of kilter.’

The supposed prevailing notion that we should all celebrate when house prices accelerate is a tripartite conspiracy between lazy journalists trading in clichés, parasitic businesses like solicitors and estate agents who take a bigger cut of higher prices for doing the same work and lastly, the group who should have some moral scruples, idiotic politicians who like to pimp the popularity of a ‘feelgood’ hysteria created as a product of their own negligence that in any other sector of the economy would be regarded as dangerous hyperinflation.

The pernicious, irresponsible lionising of rising house prices is directly connected to demographics — the beneficiaries of the inflation being the risible baby-boomer generation. Now coming up to retirement, they’ve seen the houses they bought 20 or 30 years ago for very little turn into theoretically huge assets while they can flog off the properties inherited from their parents’ generation. The uncool, unthanked older generation is now bankrolling the conspicuous consumption of the boomers — skiing trips; cruises to see the polar bears in the Arctic before their habitat disappears due to the boomers’ trashing of the environment; the Harley Davidson every anal-retentive, male middle-manager aspires to;  endless botox and nips and tucks to satisfy their vanity — and then there’s the cosmetic surgery for the women.

Meanwhile they’re happy to load tuition fees and other debt on to the younger generations which will reduce the income they can use for shelter — as Shapps says, that  most basic of needs — to the point where huge numbers may never have a realistic prospect of climbing the bottom rung of the housing ladder.

Any responsible government, particularly one on the left, ought to be appalled by how its economic mismanagement has failed to deliver a most basic provision to its electorate — and to have presided over such a skewed distribution of wealth and capital between the generations. Saying something is ‘out of kilter’ is putting it way to mildly.

Yet demographics means that it will be a brave government that tries to prize the nation’s assets away from the wasteful and destructive grasp of the most selfish generation of all time — because they’ve shown that they’re effective at using their strength of numbers to appropriate an unequal share of resources for themselves from the self-mythologising, narcissistic cult of their own youth to near full-employment in the 70s, the consumerist orgies of the 80s and 90s and now the looming demands they will put on the healthcare sector as they age.

Falling house prices aren’t good either as they trap people in negative equity — which is another appropriation of capital from the buyer to the seller — but house prices that rise at rates far higher than earnings are absolutely ludicrous. Finally someone in the government has had the guts to say so. Let’s see if he’ll be made to withdraw or otherwise ‘explain’ the comment.

Humping in Bishopstone

December 31st, 2010

Bishopstone is a long, sleepy village to the west of Aylesbury and has been blighted to some extent by being a rat-run as the road through the middle of the place from Stoke Mandeville to Stone is the only north-south route that avoids going right into the middle of Aylesbury. There’s plenty of money to build a monstrously large HS2 rail link right through the area it seems but none for a proper ring round to relieve the through traffic in the area.

The residents of Bishopstone banded together to fund some traffic calming measures to stop these speeding rat-runners a couple of years ago and now the entrances to the village have chicanes with a speed hump. (btw I’m not a rat as I live close enough to justify it being the most sensible route if I go up towards Hartwell House direction.)

Bishopstone Hump

Bishopstone Hump

Some new signs appear to have been erected to warn of these obstructions — it’s quite a common symbol in the warning triangle but I’ve never seen it had to be explained with the word ‘hump’ underneath. Maybe I’m mistaken that it refers to the traffic at all but is some warning about the possible fecund activities to be possibly found in this part of Buckinghamshire.

It might be even more alarming if the symbol was in a red-bordered circle as anyone who knows the Highway Code knows that means the injunction is compulsory — often on the penalty of a fixed fine if caught — ‘YOU MUST HUMP AHEAD’.

Seems like Bishopstone might give Cerne Abbas a cheeky run for its money.