Monday, 26 January 2015

Defence: tough questions and harsh realities

HMS Ocean

Policy is one of those things that seems easy in principle until you have a crack at it yourself. Knowing where to start is half the battle won, but that requires an intimate knowledge of the subject and the complications therein. The Green Party have now crashed into this wall in an absolute cavalcade of comedy. Notably on defence it's clear that the Greens just have no instinct for it. But it's also an area Ukip doesn't really dare wade into. Ukip have made no clear indication what their defence policy is on their "Policies for People" material.

No area of policy can be approached with a clean slate, and that especially applies to defence where decisions made ten years ago are pretty much what we're stuck with. For instance, the costs of scrapping F35 and the QE carriers at this stage in the game would have massive ramifications on inward investment and the national credit rating, not to mention pissing off just about every other customer of the F35. Were there no complications, I would not hesitate in scrapping both carriers and F35 and instead lease a couple of carriers from America. But that is wishful thinking. The damage is already done and the money is already spent.

We are now lumbered with what we have and even though I would happily cancel the Airbus A400M, there are massive ramifications in doing so for industry and foreign relations and so that isn't a realistic proposition either. Therefore, our defence policy needs to make best use of the remaining budget and deliver maximum value and capability.

In terms of what constitutes useful spending, we could very well say that Trident is not value for money, but it's the price we must pay for a seat at the top table, and if we want to be a leading voice in the world, punching above our weight and maintaining the global balance of power, then that is the entry fee. Whether or not we desire this as a nation comes down to a more basic matter of foreign policy. You can't really equip your forces if you don't have a well defined foreign policy.

Some would have it that we disarm and look to the EU for defence resource pooling, others take a more internationalist approach, in which Trident is part of the deal. I take the latter position. So with much of the defence budget already committed to vanity projects that doesn't leave us much to play with.

Where almost all parties are concerned, most are agreed that we must retain a high mobility response force for international interventions, some humanitarian, others under UN peacekeeping pretenses. As much as we hear a great deal of hyperventilation about defence cuts, mainly from special interest groups and lobbyists, things are not nearly as bad as they seem. We have HMS Ocean and a strong fleet of auxiliary ships which would be central to any expeditionary operation, where the helicopter is central to the operation. We have a fleet of Lynx helicopters which could be better but are adequate and British built, along with the EH101 Merlin and a hugely capable force of Royal Marines.

We still have the capability to mount sophisticated operations which will be augmented by the carriers The missed opportunity was to have a carrier capable of multiple aircraft types such as the Super Tucano for close air support, but now that isn't going to happen, the focus must go onto a cost effective programme for carrier launched Close Air Support UAVs. The F35 will provide adequate strike capability eventually) but there is still a capability gap for supporting ground troops which we have never really had an adequate aircraft for since before the Falklands War. Also, the lack of carrier launched airborne early warning lead to the loss of seven ships in the Falklands which ought to be considered an embarrassing loss.

We also suffer from a major capability gap in Maritime Reconnaissance in the absence of Nimrod. Clearly the answer is to procure a shared platform on a commercial airframe such as the P8 Poseidon.

Meanwhile we're stuck with another legacy decision in that the MoD has chosen not to use the Super Tucano as a close air support aircraft, instead opting for the Texan 2, when we already have a fleet of Tucanos as advanced trainers which, built in the UK, should be replaced with more of the same - since we already posses the technical expertise and infrastructural support. This most basic value for money lesson has been missed entirely by the MoD - and that's the kind of thinking that needs to come first. It should never be about jobs and trade. It should be about having the right kit for the right job and prices we can afford, with costs we can maintain.

Instead we are locked into big ticket items because politicians are more concerned with which jobs will be lost where and foreign relations. The result is a mishmash of expensive toys that the military didn't ask or and can't make good use of. The worst offenders being the Royal Air Force.

If you'll excuse the pun, we need some blue sky thinking on the RAF. Does it still serve a purpose? If we are re-equipping for rapid expeditionary forces, does it still add value? I would argue not. There is no reason why a logistics and reconnaissance command (expanding on ISTAR capability) could not be broken off and given to the army while the Royal Navy operates F35 and UAVs. Insomuch as we need interceptors, and  air superiority fighters, the RAF, if it is to remain ought to be concerned only with domestic defence. We should by rights be using F16s since they are cheap, with readily available components and about as capable as Eurofighter at a third of the cost. But again, we're lumbered with that. So again we must swallow a bitter pill.

As to the army, the Greens once again right for the wrong reasons. The notion of a home defence force is not one out of keeping with modern ideas. Ironically, this is quite close to Tory policy of shrinking the army and augmenting with the Territorial Army. A standing army is an expensive thing. It's better to maintain a central military core that knows how to teach warfare than to have men standing idle. The result being modern soldiers with all the right civvy street skills to effectively administrate an occupation or peacekeeping force. A skill the modern army lacks.

So long as you have full time special forces and a highly mobile rapid reaction force like the Royal Marines, there's not much need for a standing army. After all, by the time D-Day came, most army regulars had been killed. D-Day, in the main was an army of civilians in uniform, trained to bayonet sandbags.

As to equipping our soldiers, we have finally settled on some procurements that are not entirely unsensible, but only after we tried everything else. At the forefront of any vehicle procurement must be troop safety. Because not losing soldiers needlessly is central to maintaining public support for military adventures. Not only that, troops are expensive things to replace.

It seems to me that the most cost effective solution is more often than not also the correct solution in terms of strategic need. In approaching any defence policy one would have to find ways to break the stranglehold of politics and lobbyists and the relationships between the arms industry and senior commanders. We must move beyond our obsession with high tech expensive toys and apply our procurement to the realities we face rather than the war that exists only in the imaginations of fantasists. Industrial policy must come second. Buying British is important, but not if it comes at three times the cost. Every job the industry creates is another killed elsewhere since the pound out of our pockets stops us creating jobs ourselves by way of spending it.

It's all very well for Ukip to come out with the usual motherhood and apple pie stuff about looking after veterans, but nothing thus far addresses the deep shortcomings of the MoD, nor the folly of our procurements not the spending we are already locked into. Any party that causally claims they would scrap F35 and A400M without mentioning the obvious repercussions is simply not one to be taken seriously. As to the Green Party, I would be surprised if the could tell a Spitfire from a B52 and should not in any circumstance be taken seriously. There is a huge gap in the market for an intelligent and well costed, pragmatic defence policy, but I suspect that gap in the market will stay vacant for a long time to come.

That said, there are first choices to be made about which direction the nation is going in. We have more existential questions to ask first before we can really address what our foreign policy is, and only then can we make informed decisions about which toys to buy. Any defence policy which does not speak to that is merely a shopping list - and should be ignored.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Ukip's sour grapes


Amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth, Ukipists are in full apoplexy over the defection of Amjad Bashir, in a hurry to denounce the apostate. I'm minded to reserve judgement on the man's apparently dodgy dealings. But it's interesting that Ukip are now in a rush to dish all the dirt, which means they have been aware of his colourful history for some time - and it suited them to ignore it while the going was good.

It remains to be seen if any of it stands, but one does not imagine the Tories would be in any rush to accept a Ukip cast off without thorough checks first, but you never know. Ukip does not have the monopoly on bone-headedness. But it doesn't actually matter. What does matter is that, whether he's dodgy or not, Bashir is certainly not what you'd call a heavyweight, nor indeed is he particularly bright. The Tories ought to have rejected him on that basis alone - and embracing him so readily may just come back to haunt them. But it's Ukip who might well worry. Should he turn out to be a wrong 'un then Farage has knowingly shielded him and allowed him to remain, apparently amid urgent warnings to get rid of him. Make of that what you will.

But yet again we will have seen another talentless, sub-par Farage appointee producing negative, but avoidable, headlines for Ukip. A point somewhat lost on Ukipists who still think Farage knows what he's doing. Indeed Raheem Kassam, Farage's strategy spiv, was so convinced that Bashir "represents everything Ukip stands for" he was pressing for Bashir to be the candidate for Newark. In his estimation, a Bradford curry house owner would do well in a middle class rural shire. What on earth was he smoking?

But here above we really see what Ukip is really about. Buck passing. Suzanne Evans is now seeking to deflect from her own incompetence along with that of Aker for failing to produce Ukip policy. The simple fact of the matter is that policy should have been done and dusted long before Christmas ready for a manifesto publication. Now we learn Ukip hadn't even checked if the groundwork was done.

If Bashir had not been producing the goods, disciplinary measures should have been taken months ago. And one has to ask why the election campaign document has been such an after thought for a party which should be keen to capitalise on its media presence. Now it looks like the Ukip manifesto will be recycled passages from Suzanne Evans's book "Why vote Ukip?", which has already been widely lampooned, and it would not be unfair to say it will follow in the Ukip tradition of scatter-gun church tombola suggestions - when we were promised professionalism.

This is a matter of professionalism, management, integrity, strategic acumen and leadership. And once again we see Ukip showing nothing of the kind, with all roads leading back to Farage once more. But as ever, to the cultists, nobody but Bashir is to blame. It's always someone else's fault. And that pretty much sums up the character of Ukip losers and their politics. The first reaction is always to look outward for somebody else to blame, be it Muslims, immigrants or the "LibLabCon". That's what it takes to make it in Ukip. They are losers in every conceivable way.

The Ukip swansong


At this point in the game, I wonder if there is a party that has a grown up NHS policy, a credible Brexit agenda, and a programme of democratic reforms. The answer is no. That party should be Ukip. But it isn't, and it's not going to be.

And now that Ukip has been routed from any debate on any of the above, and will suffer nothing but mockery, they have retreated into their comfort zone - banging n about Muslims, paedophiles and lampooning the Greens. The latter tells you a great deal. The Green party manifesto is so completely out there, it simply isn't debated in serious political circles. Its an amusing distraction akin with the Natural Law Party, which is worth a kick around for entertainment, but nobody, apart from Green Party loyalists takes it remotely seriously.

We've heard talk of a Green Surge, but what we're seeing is the left wing Ukip effect, where people will support it as a protest regardless of what it thinks or says. So for Ukip to attack it, is like a dog barking at its own shadow. It wouldn't even surprise me tint he wake of recent Ukip embarrassments (of which there are many) some of the more causal Ukip sympathisers might even defect to the Greens. Since some 15% of Ukipists don't actually want to leave the EU, it shows that support for it is as much based upon what it isn't rather than what it is. But now those wishing to cast a protest vote have a choice. And if aligning yourself with Ukip leads to relentless mockery, abuse and social exclusion, it's a fair bet that support will peel away. Nobody wants to be associated with losers.

Ukipists will inevitably wonder why the Greens have had such an easy ride of it, once again pulling the victim card when Ukip publishes a manifesto, but the bottom line is this: nobody expects or demands a serious or credible manifesto from the Greens. And The Greens had no obligation or pressure to deliver the goods. Ukip does. And it will fail to deliver in spite of many warnings.

Whether or not the defection of Amjad Bashir makes any difference to Ukip in the polls is anybody's guess but as a market signal, this is a blow for Ukip whether they admit it or not. His accusations that Ukip is racist, amateurish and disorganised will certainly reinforce what just about everybody has now said about them. It can't do them any favours and they are more certain than ever not to break through the glass ceiling.

This prompts Nigel Farage to run interference by announcing he would back a Tory-lead coalition if we can have a referendum this year. Put simply, this is not going to happen. Just from a logistical perspective a referendum is impossible this year - and more to the point, it is looking more and more likely that not only will Ukip fail to make any gains, I'm leaning toward putting money on Reckless losing his seat, leaving only Carswell is such a coalition - which in more ways than one makes his defection look all the sillier.

One can only assume Farage isn't actually this thick so it's obviously a game, hoping that some of the coprophagiacs in the media will briefly refocus on this. Which indeed the Telegraph has. But like everything else from Ukip, it is not a serious proposition, nor is it credible. It looks very much like Ukip is in denial and instead must simply tread water in order to hold the line. At this point, the less Ukip says, the better. But that can't happen. They have a manifesto to release. And when they do, the vultures will swoop in for the final peckings. It won't be pretty.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Told you so. Again

Here's what I wrote last May. "The thing about protest parties, in full view of the media, is that they provide a platform for non-entities and excommunicated local politicians with galactic egos.  They need Ukip, and if they represent an ethnic minority, Ukip needs them. But this is a Faustian pact.  The problem with craven narcissists seeking a platform is they tend to be a liability."

Now we get this. Predicable and predicted. Though I notice Ukipists don't comment here anymore. Can't say I'm surprised. After the malicious "sour grapes" accusations and their bovine posturing, I wouldn't show my face around here either.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Irreconcilable differences


Readers of this blog know I'm not the biggest fan of Paul Nuttall as a politician. He has a thuggish demeanor and his yobbish conduct in public debate is not really befitting his position and he lacks the expertise to win an EU debate. But here above is his opinion on the matter of the NHS. It is not too far removed from my own. If you have a service that is both financed and provided by the state then it will only ever serve the interests of the state. That is what Nuttall thinks, that is what Farage thinks and that is what I think (and probably Carswell too). So why then does he and Farage tolerate Ukip's Health spokescreature, Louse Bores, who is to the left of a European dictator on this issue?

As I said almost a year ago, sacrificing sustained growth by selling out principles would only lead to division and conflict further down the line. As predicted, now the party is unable to get its story straight on the NHS, nobody believes what they say and Twitter is alight with individuals pointing this out.

The moral cowardice here is that more than a sizable constituency in Ukip, and the broader public, share his view and yet Ukip has done exactly what all the other parties have done and given way to cowardly populism - in the cynical belief that the public are too stupid to notice. That is the precise attitude that caused so many to leave Cameron's Tory-lite party and join Ukip. Now we discover Ukip is little different. A hollow party with readily dispensable principles.

I was vociferously attacked for pointing this out but now, when the NHS will be the deciding issue of the election, Ukip cannot reconcile its differences. Ukip needs cretins like Louise Bours to keep hold of the old Labour crowd, but sooner or later something will have to give. I was expecting a Ukip civil war would wait until after the election but it looks like it may happen sooner, not least with Tim Aker "stepping aside" as policy chief. There is more to that than they are letting on.

If you're following poll trends, at best you can say Ukip is stagnating, but ratings of 14% are becoming far too frequent and we've seen the odd 13% which I expect to become the new norm in due course. It's impossible to say for certain what shape a Ukip civil war will take, but if Ukip is to revive its soul, it must prepare for heavy losses.

Those who thought chasing the BNP/old Labour vote (ie all of the Ukipist loyalists) was a tactical master stroke must now reckon with their folly, because it looks more and more likely they will pay the price before the election. British voters are dumb, but you can't take them for idiots. It's true that most parties wait until later in the day to release a manifesto, but knowing Ukip's propensity for absurdity, and its vulnerability to media attacks, entering a general election campaign with little more than a shoddy collection of bullet-points and populist memes was foolish in the extreme.

There is plenty of blame to go around in the Ukip ranks, but all of this comes down to piss-poor strategy, short-term thinking, a shortsighted and arrogant attitude to policy, cronyism and outright corruption -  and whichever path you follow, they all end up at the door of one Nigel Farage. He has single handedly made Ukip a laughing stock, left it wide open to every attack and shows no sign of guilt or remorse. He is entirely self-serving and he doesn't care a jot what happens to Ukip. This was the man, we were told, could do no wrong.

Zero-growth economy - Not so batshit crazy


Today the media is rightly panning the Green manifesto as completely crazy. But it has two qualities that are missing from all the other parties. Ambition and radicalism. I shudder to imagine what a green utopia would look like, but we'd all die of starvation before we ever reached it. But with such blue-sky thinking, one should always pause to examine if there isn't some freakish genius in their ideas. What caught my eye is the notion of a zero-growth economy.

At first it seems like an absurd notion that we should seek to stop progressing. But pause for a moment to consider what the word growth actually means. It's just a notional figure of GDP. We are in a perpetual rat race to make one years growth bigger than the last. By making busy work and non-jobbery both public and corporate we add to the numbers on the screens, but does it actually make us more productive for it?

Sitting in a traffic jam for two hours getting into London, buying petrol and stopping for a pasty goes onto that growth figure. And so does the number of journeys made on the tube. Also on that figure goes megawatts of energy produced, new power stations, generators, new cars and new houses built. But does that actually suggest our economy has grown in any meaningful sense that improves our lives?

Arguably not at all. It's innovation that drives life enhancing technology - and not all innovation necessarily means making more things. It could be that there are creative ways of making fewer things. Which indeed there are.

One of the most unnecessarily controversial regulatory mechanisms in the energy industry is the practice of peak-shaving. This is the means by which large users of energy can be paid to shut down. This only happens maybe two weeks out of the year, but in tandem with other regulatory measures which demand more energy efficient kettles etc, this removes the need to build a new power station.  It means cheaper bills for industry and for a select few big energy users, a chance to be paid for doing nothing.

Left to their own devices, kettle companies would continue to sell us the same product they always have, which has not changed in any significant way for decades. But if forced to conform to standards which increased their lifespan and efficiency, the price of the kettle may go up, but the longer term reduction in energy consumption, with all the externalities associated with producing more energy (ie land use, transmission lines, pylons, pollution, health) can only be beneficial - along with whatever genius innovation the kettle company comes up with more more efficient heating filaments.

The same can be said of insulation. In a year more heat energy escapes from the chimneys of power stations than is used to heat all of our homes. This makes no sense. So then a regulatory intervention that requires new housing developments to use Combined Heat and Power (CHP) not only reduces the need for transmission lines, it also reduces the need for high capacity power stations.

Then look at our working practices. How many of the millions of journeys made each day are really necessary? With broadband internet now capable of quite amazing speeds, we could conceivably bribe business with tax cuts to encourage every member of staff to work one day a week at home (where feasible). The result is up to a 20% reduction in journeys, which could mean a similar reduction in office sizes, which brings down overheads for businesses, and infrastructure upkeep costs.

Congestion is also one of the most damaging and destructive problems London faces. I also can't imagine a less productive or enjoyable way to spend time. Even with the best will in the world, London can't keep pace with the traffic demands placed on it. So why not whack up the congestion charge? It is taxi prices which have ultimately seen the growth of Uber. A congestion charge hike might be just the ticket to spur on two important developments - car hire systems in the shade of Boris Bikes (reducing the need to buy cars thus leading to more "negative growth"), and more importantly, an exodus from London to the other cities which are more car friendly - an instant boost to regional economies without even lifting a finger - and people might then learn that life is possible outside London, that doing business is cheaper (with less competition) - and you don't have to de-clog soot in your nasal passages.

Of course, there are those with the libertarian streak who consider this all to be anathema. But what liberty is a daily commute stuck in traffic or in a tube train packed in tight like a slaveship, with only marginally better sanitation? What liberty is there in sitting in a tube lit office doing a corporate non-job you could do in your pyjamas? The fact is that markets are not the only way to drive progress, nor are they necessarily drivers of innovation - and nor does a laissez faire approach necessarily improve life quality.

In fact, rather than being batshit crazy, I think it's mega-batshit to cram all of the nation into one large overburdened city, doing a twice daily commute in the pursuit of some fictional measure of wealth. GDP is not wealth, nor is growth. Wealth comprises of tangible things - and while we may notionally be earning more, what use is earning more (driving GDP growth) if the lions share goes on rail fares, rents, and home energy bills. We could already move toward free heating and home working. We could lead greener, leaner, happier lives with greater liberty without forever chasing GDP. It turns out you don't have to be an eco-loon to love innovation - and while you might scoff at Green Party fantasists, it's us hard nosed capitalists who are even bigger Luddites than they are. Sometimes less really is more.

Poor old Ukip

Ukip policy kit

Poor old Ukip's having a hard time of it today with candidates all over the shop on matters of policy. Course it's not any really any surprise since there has been an overall policy vacuum for a long time. The party was arrogant enough to think it wouldn't be an issue and I was told by senior sources they didn't even need a Brexit policy. Now all those chickens are coming home to roost.

In any debate on Twitter, Ukip is outclassed in every conceivable way and is even losing the EU debate quite badly because so many of their key people know so little about it. And with much fanfare we were told that Tim Aker was the man to deliver the goods, and yet, in the middle of a general election campaign, Ukip still has nothing to offer, with the manifesto being rumoured to be little more than a series of bullet points. For sure, most parties leave it until later in the game but when you have Ukipists on your side, you definitely don't want to let them run amok making up their own policies.

But then Ukip can't be expected to produce policy. Not least because it's a cult and not a party, but also because it isn't actually interested in policy or even politics. If I run a piece attacking Ukip, I'll get plenty hits, shares and comments, but when I run a piece on a different subject, this blog is a ghost town. Ukipists are completely obsessed with themselves and their cult and nothing else really matters to them.

If they were interested in policy and politics they would have known some time ago that policy is a difficult thing, and that a manifesto is not something you can cobble together from scratch in a hurry. With most areas of public policy, if you think there's an easy "common sense" answer, chances are, you haven't understood the problem. Moreover, what we find is that so many social and economic problems are intimately intertwined and so a manifesto would require a holistic approach. It's a delicate process. You have to do a thorough system analysis to identify the root causes, examine what the interrelationships are with other issues and examine the roadblocks. Only then can you design a solution.

The Ukipist mindset has it that one can simply leave the EU and simply close the borders. As we have found, there is nothing simple about either. And both are not without their costs and obstacles. Even Flexcit is a policy almost two years in the making and is still not finished, and the more we learn, the less we know. But as we know such complexity doesn't matter to Ukip. They think they know better.

Moreover, as much as it fails on its raison d'etre (leaving the EU), it fails on its culture war ideas too. We hear much of "the establishment" and Ukip being anti-establishment, but very little as to what that really means. To begin with you would have to define "the establishment" which is not just the House of Commons and the Lords. It's the media, it's the councils, it's the NHS, the quangos, the courts, the police and social services. As much as it needs a kick up the arse, it also needs system reboot. A complete redesign of UK governance. Yet all we get from Ukip is more or less the same timid tinkerings we can get from the other parties - little in the realms of radicalism and fairly pedestrian ideas as to what constitutes change.

It turns out that Ukip isn't even anti-establishment. What they mean is "establishment parties". But as Ukip are in the process of discovering, political parties mature and having a free-for-all just makes for an ongoing trainwreck. And yes, there's an elitism aspect to it. There is a political elite. These parties don't need to drag people in off the streets as Ukip does. They can afford to be picky, and as Ukip has discovered, they can't afford not to be.

It's true that the party machines tend to favour their own and politicians tend to originate from their tribal recruitment ponds with a big dose of party nepotism, so if you wanted to dismantle the establishment, you would at least start thinking about the structures of power and the rules by which our democracy functions, and indeed produce one of those "policy" things. But that's not for Ukip either. It is their view that we could ascend to to a new utopian state if only people would throw out the incumbents and instead elect their halfwits to pull randomly at the levers of power.

That's why the Ukip manifesto will be the comedy event of the year. They're completely ignorant of what those levers are even attached to - and they haven't even bothered to look. If Tim Aker thought you can cobble together a workable and convincing document in less than three years then he's a bigger fool than the fool who appointed him - and if it now falls to Suzanne Evans to fill in the blanks, Ukip might as well pack up now and just publish Nigel's fag packets in their original form.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ukip: Not a credible party


For as long as I can remember on this blog I have said Ukip is not a credible party, and that its lack of coherence, its mixed messages, uncosted policies and overall dishonesty would be its undoing. For persistently pointing this out, both Richard North and I have been subjected to hostility, defensiveness and denial, along with some unnecessarily personal invective, often slanderous and malicious, in some cases from individuals we had come to regard as friends over the years - who have since parted company with us because they thought their tribe mattered more.

It turns out that our view is one privately shared among many members of Ukip, not least someone with whom we rarely find cause to agree with; one Nigel Farage, who, according to this leak has been saying the same about his own party for as long as I have.

Which rather makes all you Ukipists bloody fools, particularly those of you who have sought to shout us down. You've been taken for a ride by a charlatan who clearly takes you for an idiot and you've fallen for it hook, line and sinker. And yet you claim Ukip is not a cult?

And let's not forget that all this time, the one person in your own ranks who has known all along that Ukip would face a credibility crunch has done precisely nothing about it. Instead he has milked it for what he can get from it and not lifted a finger. And you wonder why we call you stupid?

Our Ukipist readers have been utterly despicable throughout and even now, as they scrape the egg from their faces, as each day produces more calamity and embarrassment, they will still find a way to defend their pitiful laughing stock of a party. What utterly pathetic specimens.

How they square that circle with themselves is up to them, but here we stand, on the cusp of a general election with Ukip's NHS "policy" in complete disarray, waning interest in immigration, and a eurosceptic party with no Brexit policy. But that's just our "sour grapes", innt? Anyone with any brains would have seen this coming. But Ukipists didn't.

Too good not to share

Reflections on UK politics (domestic edition) by Thomas Andrew Howell.

1. CONSERVATIVE: the only recognisable aspect of "conservatism" that the modern Borys have is the name and rosette colour; little if anything would be different if Gordo the Snot-gobbler had won. CONCLUSION: Soft social and economic interventionism.

2. LABOUR: Bodily, the Blairite slimieness of the past government is now dried and caked on grime surrounding an unwashed, old-labour malcontent, mortally beaten half to death with metal bars. CONCLUSION: Confused hard left economic interventionism marred by a desire to appear to be that mythical unicorn beast known as "the centre ground", which we all call "pleasing no one". Potentially Foot 2.0 without the donkey jacket. 

3. LIBERAL DEMOCRAT: Neither liberal nor democratic, a mere shell of very confused oldguard sandalistas and even more confused liberal-party members who don't have a local liberal party branch. CONCLUSION: Will lose 50-80% of their seats to Labourious and Borys (split by UKIP and Greens). Clegg will become Mandelson 2.0 as new EU Commissionaire.

4. UKIP: one time lovable rogue intellectuals of the liberal and conservative parties, now cantankerous, confused misanthropes incapable of intellectual change or reasoning, ruled by a shifty personality cult of a middling talent politician. CONCLUSION: Will split few votes to Bory or Laborious candidates but unlikely to get any more than its current candidates. Farage will be kicked out of leadership.

5. GREEN PARTY: Confused enviroloons swelled by exiting Lib Dem sandalistas and identity-repressed ex-old-labour. CONCLUSION: Will return one MP, maybe a second in another Brighton ward. Likely will split labour/lib dem vote in Labour's favour.

6. SNP: crapping itself having been hulled below water line on economic plans predicated on expensive oil. Essentially old-labour pandering to quasi-socialist Scottish voters subsidised by Southern money and patriotism. CONCLUSION: May indirectly cause Labour to lose Scotland en masse which could (could) result in a majority Bory government.

OVERALL CONCLUSION: Minority Bory government most likely, unless Scottish hold their nose and rout Labourious hold of parliament in Scotland and refuse coalition with unreformist Labour (who, cynically, won't give them further devolution powers as the call to answer the West Lothian question would become irresistible and leave them out of government for generations at least). None of the parties are, in truth offering anything special or profound, only caretaker modes of varying hues until global events dictate ultimately where we go as a nation - likely the toilet.

Retreating to the middle


Yesterday I outlined what's happening with our councils and the gradual abdication of their essential function while consolidating money and power in the back offices to be distributed among a select few, mostly unelected, who in turn will outsource the things they can't get away with not doing. Councils are not alone. We have already seen the exact same mentality with the police force and now the same can be said of the "voluntary sector".

There are those every keen to lazily blame "Tory cuts", but this is part of an ongoing trend that started in 1997. Charities are complaining that their futures are uncertain in the face of "savage cuts" from local authorities. What escapes them is that that if they are majority dependent on state funding to get by they are de-facto not charities as you or I might define the term. They are quangos, and an extension of state reach into the community. One could even argue that this process was the nationalisation of charities by stealth.

One thing council bureaucracies like is statistics and in exchange for "community monitoring", grants would be forthcoming from social services to appoint salaried back office desk-jockeys, to such an extent that their claim to be part of the "voluntary sector" is wholly spurious.

Furthermore, those charities which did genuinely offer direct free services to the elderly and disabled found that those operations were not "revenue efficient" and gradually closed those down, instead opting to become "carer support" agencies offering advice and guidance to carers and volunteers (all from behind a comfortable desk).

As they ossified over the years, they became little more than fundraising entities under corporate brand names, some of which now command multi-million turnovers, which at one time would have fewer than three salaried staff. General secretaries now called "CEOs" would not be arriving at their offices in company Audi A6s.

And it's interesting that these ossified entities are the most vocal in their opposition to Tory cuts, often crying crocodile tears for the poor, when in reality their main concern is their cosily tenured posteriors. For them to then say that Big Society has failed is because they are the very antithesis of it. Moreover, they are bed blockers, soaking up funds and grants, snatching them away from those who most need them - or could make better use of them.

Not only am I sceptical of their "state of the sector" analysis, I would argue that if these parasitic former charities really are going to the wall then the sooner the better, so that those with genuine ideas for new social enterprises, venturing beyond a desk, can get the funds they need and get out into the community helping the needy - rather than compiling presentation lunches for the council head of "services" while sniffing round for the next slush fund.

I'm unsure if it is a deliberate Tory policy to drive these pseudo-charities into the floor, but in any case it is a welcome development. It's just a shame it will have to get worse before it gets better. But it is in keeping with the times that nobody wants to do anything practical anymore. So long as the turnover is healthy and you get the occasional mention in the Commons, and a footnote in a Guardian comment piece, who actually gives a toss if people are getting the help they need? Not them, evidently.

Another day, another blunder


If they weren't such obnoxious shits, one might be inclined to feel sorry for Ukipists. Having had Louise "bossy knickers" Bours plant the red flag over NHS policy, putting it to the left of Mussolini, the poor darlings had to work overtime to paper over the cracks as the Guardian unearthed a video of Farage categorically saying the NHS would have to in some way go private. Now that the dust has settled, they again have to put in the extra hours to explain away Farage's latest offerings, essentially saying essentially that Ukip is not firmly committed to the NHS after all, but it suits for this election.

This is nothing we didn't know, and sure, it's always up for debate, but it's hardly the most astute move from a leader this close to an election (traditionally when one sets out ones stall on a confirmed set of policies and principles), just when we see a renewed faith in the national religion - as top of the bill in voter concerns.

Even if Ukip could produce a credible manifesto, you would still have Farage bouncing around from pillar to post mouthing whichever platitude floated to the surface. One wonders if he'll even bother to read it. But that's what you get when you put a drunken lazy yob in charge.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Party of failure

Oh here's fun. "Ukip sacks policy chief after he fails to deliver manifesto" says The Times. I remember being told by certain individuals that Ukip most definitely would have intelligent policies because of "rising stars" like Tim Aker and Suzanne Evans. Now we learn they couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery and need it verified by an "independent think thank". I only know of two who would be willing to stomach such a venture, one of which is full of libertarian absolutist dunces and the other so completely out of touch with reality their policy documents actually melt my face. The only certainty here is that the Ukip manifesto, if it ever arrives, will be the comedy event of the year. Very much looking forward to shredding it.


BINGO!

"The British electorate, even the disaffected, don’t like extremist parties, and by courting the far right with wild pronouncements, Farage is in danger of entering Nick Griffin territory" asserts Hugh Muir.  A touch hyperbolic methinks, but not far off the mark. But it's really commenter "Atavism" who gets closer to the mark:
"I wonder if ukip is as far as it's going to get. It already had the ex-bnp vote, and the Daily Express /Mailers. Then it managed to capture the far right but not too bright of the Tory party. Then it got the dim elements of Labour voters who don't know they're voting away their employment rights.
But they've pretty much run out of bigots, thick people and thick bigoted people now. Now they have to come up with actual policies to attract any more voters I think they'll plateau."
This would be that glass ceiling I've been talking about for the last year or so. And on the face of it, Ukip is unlikely to produce anything beyond pseudo-policies. Not only do they not understand what policy is, they're not even interested in policy. The only reason to eagerly anticipate their 2015 manifesto is not for any political reason. I just expect it to be the comedy event of the year. Even if Ukip could conceivably come up with intelligent policies there's nothing much to be salvaged now.

Throughout, I've been ahead of the curve on Ukip and everything is going to script. The media have caught up and are now able to see what readers of this blog have known since the euro elections. It doesn't even need me to push it along now. The cat is out of the bag, Ukip has blown it, and all that's left to do is to sit back and enjoy the show.

I'll still be sticking the boot in mind you. I'm of the view that the outcome of the election doesn't really matter. If the Tories win, we get an EU referendum, if not, it gives us time to build a eurosceptic movement from scratch without the malign influence of Nigel Farage and his demented entourage. Therefore, the only political objective that matters at this election is the destruction of Ukip. If we really do want to leave the EU, that is.

A curious sense of priorities


Hannah Fearn reports that "Citizens will be expected to pick up litter from the street, prune hedges in the local park and grit minor roads in winter, as funding cuts to local government bite. Communities will be forced to start fending for themselves in ways not seen for generations when cuts to front line services leave councils relying on local people to cook for elderly neighbours, start volunteer library services and sort out their own transport for children."

Did someone say "Big Society"? On the face of it I don't have any particular objection citizens taking a more active role in caring for their communities. There are small community based projects in Bristol which really set the example for how larger parks could be run, and doing something as basic as weeding the cracks in the pavements was something you used to be embarrassed not to have done. As big government has gradually taken over the running over everything, citizens have retreated from taking any role in the upkeep of their environment - not least because misanthropic councils have prosecuted on health and safety grounds if any individual has acted in the spirit of community.

But now that money is drying up, councils now have the audacity to suggest that we should do all this work ourselves, but still have to pay the council for the privilege. One might ask if basic functions such as road gritting are to be devolved to the individual, what exactly are councils for? And where does it stop? Will we now be expected to backfill potholes with our own money too? Again this is something I have objection to since it would probably happen faster and cheaper, but we'd need to keep our own money in order to do it.

This is how the rots starts. What we see here is a perversion of mindset in local governance. The whole reason we have local councils is to maintain infrastructure to facilitate everyday life; to manage public spaces, to keep the roads clear, to keep the street lamps on and the street furniture in good order. That is the foundation on which individuals going about their business create prosperity. To abandon the basics to gradually decay creates a negative feedback loop as community pride evaporates and the things that matter most fall into disrepair.

Meanwhile, while councils are prevented from raising council tax and bribed by central government, we all know a council tax rise is inevitable, and if they can find a way to circumvent the referendum lock, they will, be it through extra charges or aggressive use of fines. Last week South Oxfordshire Council was keen to remind residents on Twitter that although their headquarters had been burned to the ground by an arsonist, their council tax payment system remained unaffected. Funny that. The one thing that never fails is revenue collection.

We are are told that councils are making ever more "efficiencies" but what they mean by efficiencies, is the consolidation of bureaucracy into remote and centralised offices, dispensing with any "services" that cannot be run from behind a desk - and while there is no money to keep the roads open in a snowfall, there's enough to pay heads of service £85k and anywhere up to £225k for the "visionary" golden boys in the CEOcracy, while a third of council tax goes into the public sector pensions black hole.

If anything, the system is not being run for "efficiency", but for convenience. Namely their convenience. It's like the health service that gets rid of patients, as a troublesome irritation. Local government would be so much more "efficient" if it did not have to provide any services.

As commenter "Piper7" remarks: "Even through the ubiquitous cuts, everything councils do is still mired in red tape and bureaucracy, which makes every decision much too expensive. The inflation which has happened in local government is ruinous, and there are still too many meetings, too many councillors, and too many highly paid directors and heads of services (when once they would have been section heads and no more than that).

In addition, there are all manner of officers (and their staffs and all the on-costs) dealing with community engagement, diversity, democratic services, and even climate change etc etc. Two tier local government, county and district councils, is unnecessarily complicated and expensive. The problem is that now local government has become fully politicized, none of the parties see any electoral advantage is taking it by the scruff of its neck and giving it the shake down it so desperately needs."

Local government has become a microcosm of the political establishment for the legions of sociology graduates, policy wonks and managers who outnumber road engineers and park wardens by a country mile. Worse still, as it abandons its most fundamental obligations, we routinely see that from Rochdale to Rotherham, those things it prioritises, it manifestly fails at. And the penalty for such failures? Ask Bryn Parry-Jones. Yet Hannah Fearn doesn't see a problem with any of this. I really don't understand this lady.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Morons

"BBC Staff Told to Hide Badges in Public After Broadcasting Mohammed Cartoons" squeals Guido with much outrage and hyperventilation from the groupuscules. "MediaGuido understands staff have been sent an email warning them to hide their BBC badges when out in public for fear they could be targeted in terrorist reprisals" we are told.

Overlooking the comedic pretentiousness, "MediaGuido" evidently doesn't understand that any corporate has an ethical and lawful obligation to inform its staff of any potential threats and liabilities however small and take precautions, in this case for an army of technicians, producers, managers, non-jobbers, accountants and whatever - all over the country. Course the fact they have sent such an email is PROOF that Jihad is on the prowl everywhere.

Lord spare me from these complete dickheads.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Immigration: Rhyl's West side story


Parts of West Rhyl have been compared to a slum

Bored as I am of making the case, this non-entity of a story is absolutely central to the immigration debate. A war of words has broken out between the police, fire service and landlords over claims that parts of Rhyl have been turned into a crime-ridden “ghetto” because of a glut of rented properties.
The spat erupted after an officer said poor management of multiple-occupancy housing (HMOs) was a factor in how many incidents police were being called to in west Rhyl.
The reason there is a perception that we are "swamped" with immigrants is because they tend to be clustered in small town centres and congregate in clusters as Councillor Simon Cooke points out on his blog, and part of this dynamic is Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) which are supposed to be inspected and licensed and managed by councils. They don't do it. Consequently, even if gang labourers were paid minimum wage (yea right), local workers still cannot compete because immigrants can massively undercut on expenses by way of overcrowding HMOs. 

The Landlords Association confirms "Councils are dreadful at prosecuting rogue landlords. The prosecution rate in 2012 was less than 500 out of 1.5m landlords."Councils often won't do anything about it because if they evict they have a statutory obligation to house them, adding to an already acute problem. The overcrowding and consequent crime it brings is what generates a great deal of resentment.

Since we cannot usefully militarise the borders and check everyone coming in and out, what we very much can do is properly enforce minimum wage and housing standards - but only if we remove the regulatory barriers standing in the way, namely Westminster housing diktats and ECHR rulings. It is unlikely we could affect the latter inside the EU, but even IF we leave the EU and the ECHR, we would still have to retain the single market which includes free movement, but not necessary the right to settle. Consequently we need an intelligent immigration management policy, which is not forthcoming from the likes of Ukip.

The resultant effect of managing the basics properly is that native workers can compete, the fiscal reward (the immigration pull factor) is reduced for immigrants, and thus we retain openness, but also slow the flow of people to a manageable level - ensuring that immigrants are not exploited.

Like the grooming issue, the fact it is not managed properly is because it is a nuanced problem requiring a multi-agency approach working from a targeted policy. As much as it is the result of a lack of joined up thinking and coherent policy, it is also a result of local councils being hamstrung by London diktats which are simply unrealisable. This can change through proper devolution of policy to properly localised councils.

It is my view that effective local government is thrice more effective than a quasi-military border force trying to enforce state quotas as Ukip as would have it. Even if we could mitigate just a few of the more visible problems, it helps manage perceptions so that people will come to realise that immigration isn't such a big deal and it doesn't really affect them.