August 11, 2016

Scorpion notebook

When is a resignation not a resignation? When it's in UKIP, apparently.

Nigel Farage notoriously unresigned as UKIP leader, and now Michael Crick Tweets that
Ukip Chman Paul Oakden tells me of 3 NEC members who "resigned", Victoria Ayling has withdrawn resignation; Mick McGough thinking about it
When you've resigned from a body, you're no longer a member of it. This just looks like playground antics.

Before you make a public gesture, think. Otherwise, why should anyone ever take you seriously again?

A grown up organisation should tell these two: Sorry, that's it. Goodbye.

******

Obviously the RMT strike action on Southern isn't about safety. What are guards for? They may check tickets, but even on long distance services that's ineffective after the first intermediate stop: the guard then wanders down the train asking plaintively if any passengers have just joined the train. Any freeloader will just stare at their phone or magazine. So there's no point in the guard doing the whole journey. They become ticket inspectors doing spot checks, which can be effective even on suburban services, where they go right through the train once and then change trains.

The Elizabeth Line is expected to have half a million passengers a day. With those numbers, revenue protection must rely on technology. And if that is cost effective on the Underground, why not elsewhere?

Trains will increasingly be driverless. But technology is unlikely to be able to decide when it's safe to shut train doors. For years, trains on the Victoria Line have been driverless, but a person who happens to sit in the front of the train presses the buttons to open and close the doors. So we may ditch drivers, but retain 'guards'.

******

A judge decided that Labour members who joined after January should be able to vote for a new leader, as that's what they were told when they joined.

It seems to be mainly political commentators who clamour that the law should not interfere with political parties' arrangements.

But the judge didn't make his decision on the basis of what seemed fair; he said it was a breach of contract. Quite right. If a personal finance company changed its terms retrospectively like this, they would be guilty of mis-selling. So was the Labour party.

Political parties set themselves up as worthy to make laws for other people. Any party must therefore act legally. It's not up to them whether they obey the law or not, and if they don't, the courts must hold them to account.

This mess is entirely of Labour's own making, whether it was caused by arrogance or by stupidity.

August 01, 2016

Theresa should veto Cameron's honours list

Theresa May, it's said, won't 'interfere' with David Cameron's resignation honours list.

This decision is based on establishment custom and practice. And it's wrong.

The list is morally repugnant. It honours nobodies. Worse, it honours people who took part in a campaign of lies to persuade voters to Remain in the EU.

Theresa May has made Patrick Somebody chairman of the Tory party. His claim to fame is that he was a miner before he went into politics and became unmemorable. Being a miner a long time ago is felt to offer authenticity to the voters whom Mrs May hopes to reach. Now he will be 'Sir' Patrick Somebody, remembered after all, but only for taking an undeserved knighthood in Dave's sleazy honours list, destroying his own 'authenticity' in one blow and leaving ... nothing.

Michael Fallon and Philip Hammond are to be similarly 'honoured' for conniving in Remain's lies. Caroline Spelman, so useless as a minister that Dave sacked her even though she is a woman, is set to become a Dame because she too campaigned for the liars - not that anyone noticed.

Will Straw led Dave's liars whom the voters rejected. Obviously he must be worth an honour too. He shares the list with Snooty Samantha's Girl Friday; a Special Adviser who was so incompetent that he put industrialists' names to a letter they hadn't signed; someone who changed George Osborne's hairstyle; and people who drove Dave around, presumably awarded for keeping the car out of sight while he showed his green credentials by doing some biking.

For the people who spearheaded the campaign wrongly credited with persuading voters to leave the EU - the choice of the majority of voters - there are of course no honours at all.

And then there's George. The unlovely, spectacularly incompetent Chancellor who deliberately lied and lied again to the British people to persuade us to vote Remain is laughably to be made a Companion of Honour, as if to hole the honours system below the waterline.

Commentators criticise the list because it discredits the honours system - as if it wasn't already close to sinking. But it's more serious than that. This list has the power to disfigure the image of the Tories that Theresa May says she wants to create. A slightly competent Opposition would already be ridiculing it. But where is Corbyn? Probably enjoying some Labour plotting or addressing another tiny meeting about the joys of life in Cuba or Venezuela. Farage, for all his faults, could have got a speech on to YouTube tearing this list to shreds.

Not that Snooty Dave cares about any consequences for the party he despises.

No, the poison in the list isn't that it undermines the honours system, or pollutes the Tory party. It's that it puts two fingers up to ordinary voters. Look at these special people, it says, these gilded dollies you've never heard of who helped us manipulate you. Look at these politicians, it says, they may be losers, you may have rejected what they stood for, but they are still so much better than you lot. You don't matter.

The poison of the Cameron list is that it puts two fingers up to democracy.

July 29, 2016

Who will rid us of these pestilent wastrels?

We all know state bodies are frustrating to deal with. We are relieved when we can shake off the latest annoying organisation and get back to rational life.

We've learned that NHS England spends £87m on paracetamol... at 20 times the high street cost: Doctors wrote 22.9m prescriptions last year at an average cost of £3.83 each.

Yes, that's right. Practitioners complain that the NHS is starved of funds yet it still spends £87m a year on prescribing paracetamol. Doctors - qualified medical doctors - wrote nearly 23 million prescriptions for paracetamol in one year. They must know they are dumping unnecessary costs on the NHS. They just don't seem to care.

In some parts of the country there are moves to cut this waste:
In North Norfolk, GPs have been told not to prescribe painkillers for short-term illnesses like colds and flu.

The East Riding of Yorkshire has followed suit with a 'buy your own' policy for painkillers after a survey showed patient support for cost-cutting.
Now, you'd think Norfolk doctors might be alive to this issue, but apparently they have to be told. And East Yorkshire has also taken a top down initiative - though they seem to have felt the need for a survey of patients first. Not a sign of a tight ship.

Outside the gigantic NHS, today we've been able to read of a smaller but still evidently cumbersome state organisation, the Leader programme. It's
a rural funding initiative funded by the European Union, controlled by Defra, monitored by the Rural Payments Agency and staffed by Wiltshire council.
This doesn't promise well for a streamlined set-up, and indeed the writer reports that they had to fill in "reams of paper forms" in applying for a grant of just £7,500. Process seems to be all.

Let me now take you back to Norfolk, to the fine city of Norwich, which among its tourist attractions can offer the second busiest speed camera in the country.

This is one of 19 fixed speed cameras across the county which are overseen by the "Norfolk and Suffolk Safety Camera Team". (They are not safety cameras, a typical state sector euphemism which fools precisely no one. They are speed cameras.) Over three years the camera was activated 34,775 times. But not all drivers who triggered the camera were considered to have committed an offence. Oh no. For two of the three years the figures were 2,217 and 2,544.

"The number of activations are not identical to the number of offences from any of the cameras we oversee", say the Safety Camera Team. Why not?
Once the camera is activated the images of the vehicle are sent to our film readers who go through the footage to see if it is right to take further action against the driver.

They have to see whether it was a car, lorry, or van speeding and check that against what the speed limit for that vehicle may be in any particular area.
We can tell you. The speed limit there is 30mph. It applies to cars, and to lorries, and to vans.
Depending on the outcome, drivers can be handed a fine, points on their licence, a speed awareness course, go straight to court or have the offence cancelled.
Clear? They apparently lumber through this procedure with every driver. Yes, every driver. They seem to have time on their hands.
If an emergency vehicle activates the camera the driver goes through the same process as if you activated it with your car. There is an investigation into why the camera is activated and it may be that the offence is cancelled or if not they will be treated like any other driver.
The great majority of the drivers, then, are considered not to have committed an offence. Presumably these procedures were handed down with the Ten Commandments. It does not even seem to occur to the "Safety Camera Team" that they might be condemning themselves.

In these state organisations, complacency rules in the way they spend our money. Not their money, ours. No one seems to have the power to stamp on them. Certainly not the will.

Who will rid us of these pestilent wastrels?

July 21, 2016

The Vote Leave campaign didn't win the referendum

Thursday's Daily Politics showed an absurd film made by Matthew Elliott about the brilliance of the Vote Leave campaign. A film praised on air by Steve Richards as 'brilliant', and on twitter by Douglas Carswell, who calls Matthew Elliott a 'genius'. Carswell should know better, as he was part of the Vote Leave campaign. It was a shambles.

Elliott rightly says that Remain was expected to win. Unsurprisingly, he forgot to mention the disastrous appearances that Dominic Cummings and he made before the Treasury Select Committee, dragged before it like two naughty little boys and utterly unable to defend their claim that £350m a week would be available to the NHS. Why? Because it was an outright lie.

It wasn't pleasant to be delivering leaflets peddling a big lie. But the organisation was also shambolic. The structure of the website changed in mid-campaign for not obvious reason. Campaign materials were hard to obtain, and at one point the organisation seemed to have run out of money.

The lie in Matthew's film was that the UK voted for Brexit because of Vote Leave's campaign. The central campaign did make two contributions: they produced better teams for TV debates than the Remain side; and the slogan "Vote Leave, Take Control". That was all.

With the media, the so called experts, and the political establishment favouring Remain, the campaign on the ground served to reassure Leave voters that they were not alone. The centre just produced campaign materials fitfully, and make us cringe every time Leave politicians tried and failed to defend the £350m lie in the media. They seemed wholly unable to understand that this lie gave Remain repeated opportunities to attack our truthfulness.

So why didn't Remain win? There were three reasons.

Unexpectedly, prominent mainstream politicians came out for Leave. Cameron and Osborne had probably expected to be opposed by Nigel Farage and Peter Bone, but Michael Gove was followed on board by Boris Johnson. Vote Leave was designated as the official campaign, pushing UKIP to the sidelines. Thus the notion of Brexit felt less marginal, less extreme.

Second, the Remain campaign was even worse than Vote Leave. We never heard any positive arguments for staying in the EU, except that we could avoid all the economic punishments promised by Project Fear. Astonishingly, the Remain campaign managed to tell more lies than Vote Leave; and as each threat failed to move the polls, a bigger threat would be produced. This was exactly the wrong way to do it, as it suggested desperation rather than calm prediction; indeed, a time came when the threats became risible and were being openly scoffed at.

Responsible for this this strategy was political genius Osborne, now deservedly banished from government after cynically trying to bludgen us into Remaining by using lies. His ignominy is wholly deserved.

But  maybe Remain were never going to win once Cameron came back from the EU with no visible concessions and Gove and Johnson decided to oppose him. The polls had got the general election wrong, and in the referendum the public polling at least failed to pick up the heavy preference for Brexit among many Labour voters. John Harris of The Guardian and Labour MP John Mann knew. One Labour MP was said to have been shocked by the postal votes in a Labour heartland, and was quoted as saying "It's over". But this comment quickly vanished, because it was illegal.

An exhaustive analysis of why Remain lost would take this post into deep TLDR (Too Long, Didn't Read) territory. Perhaps the die had been cast right at the start of the campaign, and by then it was too late for Remain. In Lynton Crosby's famous phrase, you can't fatten a pig on market day. The Westminster commentariat may applaud the Leave campaign. But they are wrong.

June 27, 2016

So we won

We hadn't expected to win. That feeling intensified when we attended our local count and found the Remain campaign  had arranged four times as many scrutineers as us. That night they were the professionals, we were the underdogs.

We watched the count take place. After several hours, someone passed the word that Farage seemed to have conceded. And then unconceded. We were not the professionals.

Then a mobile phone brought news of the Newcastle on Tyne result - a tiny lead in a university city. It was when we heard the Sunderland result that we dared to start hoping. Gradually the Remain scrutineers left off their industrious scrutinising and clustered in a corner round someone's laptop.

After a professional and good natured count our own university city's result was announced - a remain lead, but a lot less than expected. Surely we weren't going to win? We went home to watch David and Laura on the BBC, who were having an excellent night, and changed channels only when Jeremy Vine appeared with his tedious graphics complicating simple situations.

Unbelievable. We had won.

****

When Cameron made his referendum commitment to woo UKIP voters, he expected to achieve at best a coalition with the Lib Dems - who would be bound to veto a vote. That he squeaked a majority was thanks to Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, but it meant he had to honour another commitment made in haste.

There had been many miscalculations and close calls along the way. Cameron must have told Angela Merkel that the feeble "renegotiation" would be enough to win him the referendum. And so it would have been against UKIP and various Tory oddballs. But Boris and Gove took the lead in a separate Leave campaign, supported by middle ranking Tory ministers and sane and clear Labour dissenters. To add to Cameron's problems, the Electoral Commission designated them (by a narrow margin, it was said), as the official Leave campaign. And they decided to have nothing to do with Nigel Farage.

Now Dave had a fight on his hands, and he fought as dirty a fight as he could get away with. The government purdah period was to be short; before then the resources of the Treasury were at the disposal of the Remain side, and Cameron spent £9m of state money to send leaflets to everyone promoting his Remain campaign.

When the firepower of "experts" didn't work, Cameron and Osborne resorted to "Project Fear". They staged it ridiculously, because as each economic threat failed to hit its target a new, more dire threat was issued. "Oh, here's another, bigger threat that we somehow didn't mention before."

When an MP was murdered just as the Leave campaign was gaining momentum, Cameron paused the Remain campaign for as long as he could. Leave meekly followed, and when campaigning restarted sombrely, that mood and momentum had gone. Osborne sank his political future with his ludicrous "punishment budget".

But Leave persisted with its clealy false claim that £350m a week would be available to spend on the NHS, which daily looked as if it might prove fatal to leave's credibility, as every interviewer quite reasonably attacked it.

****

If polling after the referendum is to be believed, the scale if immigration played a large part in people's decisions to Vote Leave, but the biggest issue was sovereignty - on which the Remain side had no answer. Vote Leave Take Control indeed.

****

Campaigns can show politicians' true nature, as they begin to tire and their guard drops. Apart from the nastiness of Cameron and Osborne, what else did we learn about some of our politicians?

Amber Rudd is nasty and patronising, Angela Eagle is old Labour, Boris is wily and sharp and willing to learn (Peter Oborne, not easily impressed, has described him as a political genius). Gisela Stuart is clear and direct, Dianne Abbott is hectoring and dim, Anna Soubry is hectoring. IDS and Liam Fox have energy, know what they think, and can say so clearly, Ruth Davidson should stay in Scotland, Priti Patel didn't shine as expected, John Mann and Andrea Leadsom are leadership material.

Cameron has compounded his disgraceful conduct of the referendum by abdicating leadership this weekend, but he has a chance to stop sulking when he reports to the Commons (though it seems the government had done no Brexit planning at all). The Tories are in turmoil, Labour are in turmoil, the EU is in turmoil.

****

Against all the odds the underdogs won thanks to a series of unlikely events. But we won.

The Labour priesthood

Labour has given up being a mass political party and become a religious cult. It has abandoned any pretence of fashioning policies which might be popular. Mrs Thatcher said she would sell council houses cheaply to aspirational voters, and they turned out to vote for her. That is how political parties who want power behave.

That is not how Labour are behaving. They lost Scotland through absent-mindedness, but in England it seems almost wilful. The thought of Diane Abbott - now shadow Secretary for the NHS, the country's biggest employer - soon responding to the government's obesity strategy is just rib-tickling (if you can find any ribs). Cat Smith has been appointed shadow Minister for Voter Engagement, after Guido Fawkes claimed she had doctored her election expenses.

Clive Lewis, the new shadow Defence Secretary, did serve in the armed forces. But he, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the new shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry all favour unilateral nuclear disarmament. How will that play in marginal constituencies, or in the north of England?

During the referendum campaign, it seemed that every time a Labour Remain politician was asked about immigration they began by paying tribute to the contribution of immigrants, and usually went on deplore the tone of the debate. There was no attempt to understand or reflect the concerns of traditional Labour voters about immigrant numbers - though those voters were just the ones they had to bring to the ballot box to vote Remain.

No wonder a Labour politician expressed shock at the postal votes in the North. (Commenting on postal votes before the count is illegal, so we heard no more of this, but it was some hope to cling to.)

Then Remain (quite narrowly) lost and Labour blamed the medium, not the message, in this case their leader. They claimed JC's low key campaigning had lost them the vote, because Labour voters were unsure what Labour's position was. As if Labour's core vote were awaiting instructions. 

This is how religions work. Labour has its holy book of commandments. The doctrine is fixed. It is not to be adapted to currents of opinion. The writ is the writ. The priesthood proclaims it and looks to its adherents to follow.

But there are rival religions, false gods in Labour's terms, telling the masses what they might actually want to hear. In Scotland, the SNP, In the North, Vote Leave. 

Will they troop back to the Labour tent, tempted by unlimited immigration, unilateral nuclear disarmament, and a PLP in a shambles?

As JC leads the priests in their frenzied ceremonies of self-immolation, who is looking out of the windows of the temple to see if anyone is going to join them?

Is anybody there?

June 20, 2016

In a small BBC EU audience

We were in the audience for this morning's Vicky Ford Show BBC Radio Norfolk discussion programme about the the EU referendum. First thing we learned: the listeners at home don't know the audience is only some 30 strong, and an audience that size is quite enough for the programme staff to manage.

Second lesson: the format of panel plus audience isn't useful in the EU debate any more. For the most part, the panel made familiar points. It's not enough for the chairman to manage the broadcast; if the programme is to add value he has to challenge the panel quite brutally on some of their assertions. This didn't happen.

Permitted audience interventions are simply that if they are not put specifically to the panel. They weren't.

Third lesson: a politician will keep talking until they are stopped. The longer they talk, the less they say.

Fourth lesson: don't place the chairman out of sight of the most loquacious panel member, so that he can't control her when she thinks it's her turn. Which is pretty much always.

Fifth lesson: if you are a professor at the University of East Anglia, and a Pro Vice Chancellor, don't talk in public about politics and expose your ignorance. It will lose you respect and it's not a sign of a fine mind.

For instance, scientists seem to think the EU is essential to their scientific co-operation (why?) and their funding. Just where do these unworldly boffins think the EU gets its money from?

His warning that a vote to Leave could lead to the "break-up of the union" (i.e. Scottish independence) brought loud applause from the compact Remain bloc in the audience.

What's the logic of this warning? That if England is inclined to Brexit, it must draw back so as not to upset the Scots. Let the tail wag the dog, say the Remainers.

So that's how they want us to behave in our union. And in the European Union too? 27 countries are an awful lot to placate. Hang on, though, if memory serves, they want Britain to take the lead in the EU. But they don't want England to lead in the UK. All clear?

In any case, the UK won't fragment. With oil around $50 a barrel, Nicola knows Scotland can't afford to be independent. She knows an independent Scotland couldn't join the EU: the euro is now compulsory for new entrants. And Spain would veto Scotland joining, because it doesn't want a precedent for a breakaway Catalonia joining the EU.

Oh, and Nicola has said she would only want a second Scottish referendum if it was clear that the Scots overwhelmingly wanted independence. The polls say they don't, to her relief.

Do you know this, Professor Pro Vice Chancellor and remainers? If you do, you are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. If you don't, keep your ignorance to yourselves.

Overall an interesting experience. But not illuminating.

June 18, 2016

Protecting MPs

Thomas Mair in court has given his name as 'Death to traitors, freedom for Britain'.

As he has now been charged, we should not comment. We will draw our own conclusions.

As a general point, sentences for threatening, harrassing or assaulting an MP should be twice the standard tariff.

Since this would be a measure benefiting MPs (as well as the rest of us), it would be good if the Lords could start this off by passing a motion to this effect.

June 16, 2016

Over-reaction to the killing of Jo Cox

The killing of Jo Cox is a huge personal tragedy.

We don't know yet if it was a political murder or not. The suspect evidently has a history of mental problems. His neighbours say he wasn't political, but he had a gun, and what did he look at on the library computers? Had he been radicalised?

It seems they didn't know him well.

Or - whisper it - was there no political element at all?

He went armed, evidently to do damage. We do not know why he and another man were fighting. Jo Cox came out. As far as we know, he didn't try to burst into her surgery. If she was his target, on the face of it he went about his foul deed very oddly.

Did he shout "Britain First" before walking away? Witnesses differ.

On this (so far flimsy) basis, some left wingers have been voicing hatred for the Brexit campaign.

The BBC has cancelled this evening's broadcasts of Question Time and This Week. It would have no business to react that way even in normal political times, and certainly has no case to do so as we approach an important referendum. Licence payers are entitled to see political discussion programmes if they still want to; it is not for the BBC to deny them this right.

If you think this really was a political assassination, then all the more reason for defiance by continuing with democratic political discussions.

The Remain campaign has suspended campaigning for today and tomorrow.

Would the BBC and the Remain campaign have reacted like this if (say) Ken Clarke, Theresa May or Peter Bone had been killed? I suspect not. Jo Cox was a leftwinger in the prime of life with a young family, and by all accounts a very nice person. But the Establishment is over-reacting.

To be blunt, it suits the Remain side to have campaigning suspended for as long as possible, to take the wind out of Leave's sails. This was doubtless a decision taken coolly by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

The Leave campaigns need to return to normal political discourse first thing on Friday morning. It is for us to choose when we rejoin them.

May 31, 2016

Those postal voting forms

So Bristol is not the only council to have sent out postal voting forms with the pencil hovering over the Remain box.

The Electoral Commission may like to ask these questions of all councils:

  • Do any forms at all show the pencil hovering over the Leave box?
  • In a general election, have any councils produced any postal voting forms showing pencils hovering over particular boxes?

Bristol Council pleads that any bias wasn't deliberate. As well as quizzing councils, the Electoral Commission may care to ask Derren Brown about the power of subliminal suggestion.