Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Skipper off to Lanzarote for a week

Finally given up the unequal struggle against our default weather conditions and, with Mrs Skipper am away in Canaries for a few days. First visit for me to these climes. I'm sure I won't be lounging on any beach but just sitting in mild sunshine will do me for a few days.

Am not holding my breath re political news while I'm away; went to Madeira least year and absolutely nothing happened during absence.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Police Due for a Real Kicking after Plebgate

It's not been a good year for the police. First there was Leveson and the revelations that senior police were on the take for handing out information to the News of the World. That took some licking but the report on Hillsborough, where police we revealed to have physically altered scores of witness statements to help secure t heir untenable position, was way beyond unbelievable for its crass wickedness. And now its Plebgate, with the unlikely Andrew Mitchell suddenly surfacing from the mire of all the accusations smelling gorgeously of roses. I have to confess I was wrong about him too, though we only had what was in the public domain to go by. The then Chief hWip Mitchell rode his bike out of Downing St and exchanged words with a policeman before wheeling his bike through a side-gate and bowling of to lunch at the Carlton Club. Allegedly he had called the policeman a 'fucking pleb' for forcing him to divert from the main gate as he wished. The police log of the event later appeared to have been leaked to the press and the fan got very smeared with the brown stuff.

But the most damning testimony came from an alleged 'passerby' who, 24 hours after the event, wrote to his MP, who just happened to be the Deputy Chief Whip, John Randall, and, as it turned out, no friend of his boss. In this email he wrote an account which oddly seems to echo the official police log. Randall sent the email to Number 10 where Cameron- why wouldn't he?- apparently swallowed its content. Mitchell denied the charges regarding use of the word 'pleb' but agreed he'd sworn at the No 10 police. After a month in which the Police Federation- furious with the government over cuts, not to mention the left, including me- ground its teeth with fury., Mitchell resigned, still insisting on hsi innocence. Clearly Cameron felt he'd had enough disruption and had called in Mitchell to the pavilion.

Last night Michael Crick- it would have to be him, former editor Newsnight who left the Beeb some time ago- uncovered what appears to be the truth about the events leading to the former Chief Whip's loss of his job. CCTV showed Mitchell did not rage at the police nor were their tourist bystanders.But the most serious revelation was that the e-mailer was no idle by stander but himself an off-duty member of the same group of policemen.Crick's phone conversation with him revealed a man sounding evasive and nervous.

It now seems clear that the e-mailer was merely seeking to bolster the story put out by the police at the gate, possibly infuriated by Mitchell's infamously haughty manner.The gate police stand accused now of concocting a story to incriminate a government minister- Cameron is said to be furious; Michell vindicated. And who can blame him? He clearly suffers from a marked lack of love from his colleagues many of whom seemed delighted to see the back of him. But, amazingly, he was framed! The only thing which seems to be true is that he used the 'f' word to a policeman; well, school rules might have been violated and the beak might issue a telling off, but the full works, rustication just do not seem justified. We know the police do this sort of thing but what kind of arrogance, or vindictiveness explains this behaviour, supported to the hilt, as it was, by the Police Federation. The police will get a mega kicking for this.. and they deserve to.     

Monday, December 17, 2012


Surely Even the NRA Must Accept Gun Control Now?

It's often said we don't realise how different we are from the USA and the awful Newtown, Conneticutt School killings illustrate this dramatically. It's true we have outbreaks of mentally unbalanced killers also. I can think of Dunblane, Hungerford and Cumbria; but in the USA similar outbreaks have happened, during this year in Georgia, Ohio, Pittsburg, Oklahoma, Minneapolis, and Texas. Add to that all the others we have empathetically mourned in Columbine, the Virginia Tech and so forth and we caqn see a difference in scale which must be truly worrying to everyone living in the USA, let alone ther incumbent in the White House.

One of Obama's weaknesses it seems to me has been an unwonted timidity in confronting political vested interests. It has long been a founding axiom of US politics that you don't challenge the National Rifle Associatioon (NRA). This corporate lobbyist has been amazingly successful in exterting a baleful
influence over presidential candidates, convincing them that gun ownership is a right written into the constitution- famously madly difficult to amend- as well as wholesomely American as apple pie. In every presidential election I can remember Democratic candidates have run scared of the NRA and either sidestepped the issue or embraced gun ownership in a way the NRA would approve.

And American people are so unbelievably barmy over this issue. I remember after the Virginia Tech Massacre I posted suggesting that surely now strict controls would be introduced. I received a number comments from the US -I never knew my blog was so scrutinised- accusing me of being a 'Nazi' for suggesting such an UnAmerican limitation of freedom. Rational debate on this crucial issue seems not to have been possible. Bill Clinton managed to achieve a ban on semi-automatic weapons- the kind most often used in such killing sprees- but George Bush refused to renew it when he was in power. Such weapons are banned in the UK and restricted to the military in most parts of Europe.         .

There were 200,million privately owned firearms in USA in 2009 and in that year 11,500 firearms related deaths In the same year, in the UK the figure was..er...41. Obama has made a tentative move towards a new attempt at gun control- God knows Americans need to support it- and maybe, given the raw feelings and national mourning, a national consensus will emerge in favour of it. But to the NRA, money is more important than the lives of American children: their response was to criticise the fact that teachers were not allowed to have guns available to shoot back at such crazed killers when they arrive in the classroom. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012


On Plutocracy and Democracy

[Lord] Andrew Adonis, in the current issue of Prospect magazine, cites the new book by Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats. It details the philanthropic activities of Bill Gates, pointing out that his foundation's contributions to international charity, make it equal to the world's 10th largest aid donor, employing 1000 people on an 8 acre site in Seattle.  However, she also paints in the less attractive features of the US 'plutocracy', so far removed from the 'general equality of conditions' which 'struck'  De Tocqueville so 'forcibly' when he visited in the mid 19th century.

There are 84,700 people each worth no less than $50m in the world, half of them living in North America. Adonis notes how the 'political status' of  this new class of 'super rich'  enables it to 'shape law and society in its own image'.  Freeland shows how the super rich do not bother themselves worrying about the poor: they are obsessed with those richer than they are, to the extent they, in their 'self pity', believe they are being persecuted for their success.

It is not that they pay somewhat less tax proportionately than the middle class. They avoid and evade tax wholesale, courtesy of tax havens, tax loopholes and gaining different tax treatments for different classes and locations of income and assets. This is organised by what Freeland calls the 'income defence industry' with its internatiional armoury of lawyers, accountants and consultants, who are paid multiples more than the public officials they confront and routinely outwit'

Freeland writes that 'within the top 1 per cent, the richer you are, the lower your effective tax rate.'

Adonis' solution? A simple reform: 'they should pay tax on their overall income, however derived, at no less than the average for middle income earners.'

Adonis concludes that he sees this as 'the critical test for reconciling plutocracy and democracy in the next generation.'

Bravo, say I. 


Thursday, December 06, 2012


Osborne wins Political Contest, Having Lost Economic Argument

Listening to the PM programme yesterday as I drove home on the motorway, I heard junior minister Michael Fallon and Baroness Cramer for the Coalition discussing the Autumn statement.The ultra-loyal Fallon, Minister of State in Business Department, you might expect to support Osborne's best efforts but his enthusiasm and complacency defied belief.

His initial predictions of growth when he first was assigned to Number 11, was 5.7% by the summer of this year. Actual growth? 0.9% with minimal extra  predicted by the OBR over the next two years. In 2010 he forecast debt of £60bn - actual figure when one-off figures are removed? £112bn. According to Larry Elliott, Osborne:

".... insisted that Britain was on the right track. What he didn't tell us was that it's a slow moving train, with expensive tickets and uncomfortable conditions for those travelling third class."

Yet, one has to allow, George did very well. Just like Fallon he managed to appear uber bullish and super confident. He played his rubbish hand as if he was holding three aces close to his chest and the trick worked, especially as Ed Balls blustered his potentially powerful position away. 

But if those three aces were Britain's triple A credit rating, then Fitch, the rating agency,  which prefers fact to rhetoric, warned that lack of growth placed this hugely valued accolade to our credit-worthiness, is now in deepest jeopardy. I fear that Alistair Darling's preferred strategy of cutting half as deep and fast as the Coalition is coming about by default in any case. The difference is, by not obliterating demand, Darling's approach would have produced the growth to actually reduce debt, not increase it..       

Monday, December 03, 2012


Cameron Confounds Earlier Pledges on Leveson

David Cameron is taking a risk with his line on Leveson. He told Andrew Marr he would accept the report, providing it was not 'bonkers' and that it had to pass the 'Milly Dowler' test: it would have to be acceptable to those grievously injured by recent press excesses. Quite a couple of hostages to fortune when one is being urged by one's Fleet St friends and supporters not to tolerate the expected statutory basis for reform of press regulation. Now we see ranged against him: Ed Miliband and Labour, his deputy Nick Clegg, a number of his own MPs, the whole gamut of wounded 'Dowlers' and some 60% of voters..

Theoretically these forces could bring the Coalition down but I doubt it will come to that, merely to bring g forward the date at which the two parties, with two huge sighs of relief, break free of each other with the next election in mind. Cameron will have damaged his own reputation as well- most people think his action is because he wants to keep the press onside, rather than any adherence to principle. Fat chance of that.

My own view is that the ststus quo is untenable, the PCC is a joke and, if at all possible, a self regulating body for the press should be set up without any need for new laws. However, Leveson says you can't have one without the other and he's a Lord Justice of the courts. Clegg agrees with him regarding the need for statutory underpinning and so does Miliband. Personally I don't see why a new body should not be set up, independent of press and government, with an independent head, and membership, able to mediate, arbitrate and levy fines. Why not? Well, I'm no lawyer and  the fear is that slowly the press, in pursuit of those fast diminishing sales, will erode those principles, as they have so flagrantly in the wake of seven past attempts of reform. Lets see what kind of draft legislation both sides come up with before judgement is finaqlly passed.    .  

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