...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 3588: If Hard Labour DO Expel Red Ken, Could they Adopt Bojo as their Candidate?


As Mr Potato Ed's gang continues to splinter in the aftermath of their election defeat, some of them have been calling for mayoral candidate Mr Ken LivingstoneIpresume to be kicked out over allegations that he urged people to vote for ANOTHER Hard Labour exile who ran for mayor after being expelled, Mr Lutfur* Rahman, our new mayor here in Tower Hamlets.

But never fear!

Should the newt-loving one find himself on extended gardening leave courtesy of the Party regulations, here comes Mayor Bojo the Clown, taking up the Red Flag and accusing the Coalition of urban cleansing "Kosovo style".

Look I condemned this sort of language when commentators from the Left (Mr Chris Byrite and Ms Polly Toytown) used it, so I'm not going to shy away from condemning it when populist latinophile and free-market buccaneer Bojo pops up with the same nauseating nonsense from the Right.

On the one fluffy foot, the government is proposing to cut housing benefit which will result in several thousand families, most of them in London, facing straightened circumstances or even having to move home with all of the stress and worry and extended commuting that goes with that. And on the other fluffy foot, Serbian nationalists were MURDERING PEOPLE for having slightly the wrong sort of DNA.

It's easy to forget, what with us OPPOSING the illegal Iraq invasion, that Liberal Democrats were right up front in CALLING for ACTION to intervene in Kosovo because the situation was TOTALLY DIFFERENT, because it was a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY; and it's easy to forget that Liberal Democrat MPs like Mr Ed Dvaey – getting properly ANGRY about this on Questionable Time last night – have a long history of standing up for the rights of oppressed minorities like the exiled Kosovans living in his constituency.

The truth is, of course, that Bojo's "man of the people" act is just another pose cooked up by our wily old bird of a mayor, whose "village idiot" pantomime appears to fool most of the people most of the time. He was playing up for his audience, as he always does, and so OF COURSE he used populist language. In short, he said it because he's a BERK.

He's apologised now, and said that he was quoted "out of context".

Mayor Bojo is quoted as saying:
"the last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs".

"I'll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together," he said.

"On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots."
Obviously this is "out of context" because it omits the START of his sentence.

What the Mayor ACTUALLY said was:
"Only a TRAITOROUS NUMBSKULL who was TRYING to STIR UP TROUBLE for Dave, er Mr Balloon would say that the last thing we want to have in our city is…"
He concluded with the remarks as quoted before adding:
"Crush the revolting peasants! I myself will drive the first bulldozer! I say, is, is this thing still on? Oh corks!"
I'm sure that context makes things MUCH clearer.

Housing and housing benefits DO need reforming.

There are several things to consider:

In order to function, our cities need people working at ALL levels from senior executive through to cleaning lady and all points IN BETWEEN and all of these people have to have somewhere to live.

There's a kind of IRONY that we've created a system that allows only the VERY RICH and the VERY POOR to live in our city centres. Who was it who was going to look out for the SQUEEZED MIDDLE? No, I've forgotten.

Those houses have to be within a reasonable (by which I mean AFFORDABLE) travelling distance.

There really is an upper limit to how much time people can spend travelling and still have any kind of LIFE for themselves, and besides as travel distance goes UP so does the cost of that travel, especially as we know fares are going to go up above inflation, cancelling out the benefit of living in a cheaper area.

The problem in London is exacerbated by the sheer absolute VASTNESS of the city, which pushes commuting distances further and further out, costing more and more in money AND time! But equally, London has an exceptional (if creaking) transport infrastructure which other cities simply lack, so it's certainly not as simple as saying London is the only "special case".

The MAIN PROBLEM is not the BENEFIT at all but the shortage of HOUSING.

Too few homes for too many people is too much demand and not enough supply which the laws of economics tells us will drive up prices. And guess what, that's EXACTLY what has happened. Add to that too many contractors building highly profitable but wholly inadequate "rabbit hutch" flats (and penthouses) and not enough three or four bedroom family homes AND councils under the Labour government failing to replenish their social housing stock AND a national mindset, encouraged by all previous governments but not least Mr Frown, that your house going up in price is a good thing that makes you richer (as opposed to a really BAD thing that prices you out of the "next rung" of the housing ladder, assuming you can get on the ladder in the first place, making it harder for you to move when you need to, and contributing to the reduction in social mobility), and you can see why we have a PROBLEM. House prices skyrocket, rents follow and so does the Housing Benefit bill.

Not that BUSINESSES haven't got a share of the blame, with too many companies squeezing the last drops of PROFIT out of their employees by paying minimum wage rather than a living wage that reflects cost of living and cost of commuting.

It really should NOT be for government to make it possible for business to make super-profits because they can underpay their workforce. What we end up with is a disguised subsidy whereby big business and landlords cream off the profit paid for from the taxes of workers who are too exhausted to complain because they spend all hours commuting.

It's like something out of Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS!

What is truly EXTRAORDINARY is that it is Hard Labour that is DEFENDING this system and the supposedly right-wing Coalition that is trying to reform it!

What we need is a threefold PLAN:

1. Build MORE SOCIAL HOUSING, more than that build more than the housing that is taken out of the system through right to buy or obsolescence so that there is a NET increase. Hard Labour failed to do this for thirteen years; the Coalition are promising to try.

2. Strengthen FAIR RENT procedures and put systems in place to ensure that the landlord and not just the claimant who shoulders a fair share of the reduction in Housing Benefit.

3. Get some binging agreements with businesses that they will "share the proceeds of growth" and agree to pay LIVING WAGES.

I can't promise that NO ONE will get turfed out of their home, but it's actually VERY DIFFICULT for a private landlord to just throw someone out; there are a LOT of protections in the law for tenants, even lodgers living in your own home. (Daddy Richard is starting to have the shakes just remembering this, and he took advice from lawyers and obeyed the law every step of the way.)

But it's not fluffing GENOCIDE, all right?

So cut the demagoguery from Left AND Right and let's instead try and bring some PROPOSALS to the table so you can help us to modify the proposals so that they are, in that overworked phrase, fairer for all.

*and in a RARE example of self-censorship I AVOID using the obvious FUNNY NAME because even I can see that it might be a little inappropriate in context to use the word: "Luftwaffe".

Mr Rahman's policies may be METAPHORICALLY destructive but he's not REALLY going to blow up the East End and in spite of comical intention, even the implication of comparing a person I disagree with to the German war machine might be an eensy-weensy bit hypocritical when complaining that people are comparing the government's housing policy to the Serbian war machine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 3586: Gross Domestic Products


Good news!

Growth in GDP is 0.8%, or TWICE what the economists expected.

This has of course been greeted from the Left with loud cheers of: "well it's lower than it was last quarter" and "it's just momentum from the Labour government" and "the cuts haven't started yet"!

Yes, see how this goes.

Mr David Outlaws says he's proud of the pupil premium… and the left say "if they weren't spending more it would be a cut!"

Mr Vince announces a fair and generous pension for all… and the left say "it's unaffordable" and "too good to be true"!

Honestly, I think that the Coalition could offer you gold bricks and chocolate and the left would still say we were really in league with the NAZIS.

Meanwhile, Ms Polly Toytown has called the government's housing policy a "final solution" and Mr Chris Bryant has referred to it as "ethnic cleansing".

[elephant holds head in fluffy feet; checks Godwin's Law]

IF you want to have a proper debate about HOUSING, you need to understand how just paying loads of housing benefit to landlords, and not building new social housing to replace the ones you were flogging off, helped to fuel that enormous house price bubble that Mr Frown conspicuously did nothing about and allowed to explode the economy.

CLEARLY, the Government believes in a (Conservatory) Market-led approach, where cutting the amount of housing benefit will reduce demand and cause rents to fall.

I am CONCERNED that that is too BRUTAL an approach: I fear that people will be more likely to lose their homes than successfully negotiate a lower rent.

What this needs is alternative proposals: a method to CONTROL rents DOWN that will encourage a dialogue between landlord and tenant and will achieve a FAIR and AFFORDABLE rent.

Instead we get "final solution" and "ethnic cleansing".


Dear "the Left",

Please tell us when you want to come in from playing in the mud and we will have a proper conversation then, thanks.


This is my TWELVE-HUNDREDTH Diary, brought to you by the miracle of a Happy Anniversary for my Daddy Alex and coincidentally also my Daddy Richard!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 3578: THE SCARY JANE ADVENTURES: The (Unspeakable) Vault of Secrets


Before we get Scary Jane Smith (yes, I know that's how I started last week) Daddy Richard would like me to big up the most recent-est release from the BIG FISH audio people: "A Death in the Family", which, says Daddy, is Big Fish's "Curse of Fenric".

That's HIGH PRAISE indeed, 'cos "The Curse of Fenric" is Daddy's favourite story: a story that ties together threads that have been developing for ages, turns the timey-wimey up to eleven, features shocking revelations about his companion's mum, and in which the Doctor takes down a GOD. Yes, it's just like that.

Recommended that you listen to, (at a bare minimum): "Project: Twilight", "Project: Lazarus", "Arrangements for War", "The Harvest", "45", "The Angel of Scutari", and "Project: Destiny", first!

Fortunately you don't need nearly such a huge back catalogue to understand this week's Scary Jane adventure. Just "Prisoner of the Judoon" and "Dreamland". Simples!
You might think that this is the throwaway story, between the emotionally heavy "The Nightmare Man" and the season big-hitter "Death of the Doctor", but there's something quietly profound going on underneath the surface of this story: a sense of sadness and nostalgia about lives wasted and the serious question of a genocidal manic seeking redemption posed for a tea-time audience.

Ocean Waters (Cheryll Campbell) personifies the spirot of nostalgia. Superficially she's a comic creation; her organisation is called "B.U.R.P.S.S." for goodness sakes; even her name is a pun on "River Song" and "Amy Pond". And yet there are a couple of moments, just a couple and I wonder if it's Liz Lis* Sladen adding them herself, where Sarah Jane steps back and notices Ocean's real situation. In part one, where they find Mr Dread's press clippings and discover that Ocean is a genuine abductee, Sarah Jane wonders to herself, "if only she'd thought of a better name [for B.U.R.P.S.S] perhaps someone would have taken her seriously". In part two, they all pretend to have had the same attack of the mind-rubbers that Gita has, but just watch Sarah as she sees how hurt Ocean is that they've all forgotten. She winces to herself, knowing that – however necessary to protect Rani's mum – this is cruel and hurtful for Ocean.

And think also of the genuine terror that she experiences when her personal "nightmare man", Mr Dread, comes literally bursting back into her life.

Ocean's life, tragically wasted since her abduction in 1974 1972*, curiously mirrors that of the android Mr Dread too, whose life was literally put on hold in that same year by his masters in the Alliance of Shades (and an alliance of "shades" would be a Spectrum; one wonders if they include a "Scarlet").

The Men in Black androids from "Dreamland" are evolved into much better characters here. They are closer to the Agents from the Matrix, of course, than Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones: I particularly loved that their reaction to the sonic lipstick was to all do the "Agent Smith neck-crick" thing. The ridiculously oversized guns are jolly funny as are the detachable hands, and also a nice Auton pastiche, although a bit more Addams Family "Thing", than scary Auton arm from Rose.

Mr Dread in particular is a rather lovely creation, even if his "prepare to be incinerated" catchphrase is a bit rubbish. Played by Angus Wright, he's got a very dry sense of humour and a slightly world-weary attitude, like he knows that his job is now rather pointless and that anyway Sarah Jane has much more right to defend the Earth, and is just plain better at it. He is, essentially, (as referenced several times by Clyde) a Terminator, but one that knows just how ridiculous he is.

It's a real shame that he's used up all his battery juice. (Oh, but he has – he says he has a five-hundred-year battery, and uses up four-hundred and fifty years in activating the transmat, so fifty years left… but he's been operating on Earth since the Nineteen-Fifties… fifty years ago.) It would have been rather nice to employ him as a kind of recurring guest robot, as K-9 was in the first couple of series.

And was anyone else expecting Sarah to open up his freezer with the line: "Mr Dread… I need you!"

Of course, he's wrong about one thing: he tells us that, without the second activator disc, the vault is sealed forever and his purpose is now over. To which both Alex and I replied: transmat! In just the last few minutes, Mr Dread himself has used the transmit equipment to get Androvax's Veil ship out of the vault (and, incidentally, one presumes the second disc too); what's to stop anyone else doing the same?

Anyway, also returning this week: Adrovax, Destroyer of Worlds, Last of the Viel.

How many times has Doctor Who done a "last of the… [insert species here] in desperate gamble to save their people" story? Particularly when the "last of the…" in question turns out to be a bit of a baddie?

Well about twice, actually: there's Eldrad, last of the Kastrians, ("The Hand of Fear") and obviously Scaroth, last of the Jaggeroth ("City of Death"). At a pinch you might count Broton of the Zygons, but he's not "last" of his race. Not least because he's expecting a terraforming (Zygo-forming?) ship to arrive with survivors. Possibly Monarch of the Urbankans (whose plan to resurrect his dead race in digital format is the very same plan that killed them all in the first place). Oh, and Rassilon's whole get-out-of-Time-War free gambit.

What is a twist is that Androvax, the not-actually-any-more-last of the Veil, manages to get away with it. You're far, far more likely to have this plot fail and the Doctor moralise on about "everything having it's time and everything dying" (and if it's Davy Ten, get that faraway look in his eye). And yet here, as Ocean tells us, hanging a light on it, we get a definite "win" for the aliens.

Now, arguably that's a "win" for the Universe and Sarah Jane too: a victory over entropy from just one more species spared from extinction. And it's worth remembering that – aside from the almost casual attitude towards exploding Slitheen – almost no one ever dies in the Sarah Jane adventures; even Androvax himself is still struggling manfully on despite the lethal swamp-viper venom allegedly about to kill him at any moment.

But even so, this is still, quite unusually, a rare example of the "score draw" in the Doctor Who universe.

And actually that's a better moral than the traditional: "if you're evil, you can never achieve anything good and your race are all better off dead".

Interestingly we never do really address the question of whether Androvax is "good" for saving his people or "evil" for all the other worlds he has destroyed. Obviously, destroying twelve planets is evil, and he's played throughout as duplicitous and self-interested. And yet he is without doubt expending his life to save his people. So as I say, interesting as it's left to the viewer to think about.

In a way there's almost too much plot. All the body swapping is certainly larks for the regular cast, all of whom get a go at the snarling lizard-in-a-human's-body shtick (though Liz Lis* Sladen remains far and away the best and most sinister at doing it: like "aged Sarah" in Clyde's nightmare last week, she's really good as a wacked out alt-Sarah; after all these years, people are starting to notice she can do this kind of thing). And the jokes come thick and fast, if pitched at a somewhat juvenile level.

But all the light-hearted froth seems to, ironically, pin down the more serious meanings underneath. And the incidental music will insist on tossing in comic stings, particularly over Ocean's disappointments, where something a little more downbeat would have underlined the genuine sadness of her situation, rather than mocked it.

And there's Mina Anwar's acting as Gita which swings wildly between hilarious and "hilarious"! It is a real shame that they mind-rubbered her at the end. There's a much richer vein of comedy to be found in having mum "in the know" (and trying to keep dad Haresh the headmaster in the dark) than in just returning to the mum and dad mustn't find out status quo. It would have been a nice flip of the season two arc where Maria's dad knows but mum Chrissis is, as far as we know, clueless. Plus, for a while there it genuinely strengthened Gita's character as she coped pretty admirably under the circumstances. A shame to undermine it again with more silliness.

But I loved the Pyramid of Mars.

Next time: Warm up the ol' android duplicate and get ready to infiltrate and kill 'cos it's "The Death of Doctor Who"… oh, no sorry, that's "The Chase"; this time it's muppet vultures and someone's painted the Graske blue for "The Death of the Doctor"
Don't forget to tune in to CBBC later for the next adventure!

*corrections per Mr Tat, thanks

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Day 3580: It Could Have Been Worse… if the Liberal Democrats had NOT been in the Government


The Khasi of Kalabar: They will die the death of a thousand cuts!
Princess Jelhi: Oh! But that's horrible!
The Khasi: Not at all my little desert flower; the British are used to cuts!

So, Master Gideon's been playing with the scissors.

Look, of COURSE this isn't the Comprehensive Spending Review we'd have WANTED. If the Liberal Democrats had WON the election we could have got rid of Trident AND Tuition Fees. But don't imagine that this is a CONSERVATORY spending plan either.

Can you believe that the Conservatories would have put two-and-a-half billion pounds into the pupil premium? Put two billion pounds into social care? Put a billion pounds into the Green Investment Bank? Maintained science spending? Continued with Cross-Rail? Built more affordable houses?

Would the Conservatories have learned the lessons of the 'Eighties, and even while cutting the budgets have made sure that we continue to maintain enough capital spending to keep our hospitals and schools and roads and rail from falling apart? Would they have kept on those jobs and essential skills through the difficult years until the economy picks up?

Do you think that the Conservatories ALONE would have made the Bankers pay MORE than they did under the Hard Labour Party? Two and a half BILLION more? Would they have pressed to make the better off shoulder more of the burden? Would they have cut the Child Benefit of the better off?

The Liberal Democrats in the coalition have made sure that even though this is TERRIBLE for everyone, a little has been put aside to try to make it a bit less terrible for the least well off. That is why we actually AGREE with the Conservatories that Health and International Development should be protected; that's why THEY agree with US to protect the education budget.

Ask yourself this: wouldn't a MAJORITY Conservatory government have chosen to ring fence the DEFENCE budget? It wasn't. Do the maths.

You've GOT to count getting a deferral of the Trident atomic rockets a big WIN for common sense. Hard Labour had actually DECIDED to go ahead and by the enormous useless fireworks, and we managed to get it bartered down to UN-DECIDED. Putting it off until the next election when, who knows, maybe more than ONE Party will see it as a titanic exercise in willy-waving waste of money.

So everything's LOVELY is it?

No, of COURSE not.

We're a TRILLION pounds over our heads in debt and the water just keeps getting deeper. It's going to take ALL our efforts, ALL this PAIN, for the WHOLE of this Parliament JUST to turn the fluffing TAP off!

And to get out of this MASSIVE WATERY METAPHOR we're SLASHING benefits for the sick and the disabled; benefits for those in work and those not in work; benefits for those with children, just not the least well off with children; benefits for bus and train fares, so even if you want to work you can't get there; benefits for the young and homeless – sure housing benefit is a rip-off poured down the necks of middle-class landlords, but you need to reform the RENTS not just the benefit!

If you work in the public sector, you'll have to pay more to get your own pension and you'll get no more pay, even when prices go up to pay the extra VAT, for doing the work you do now and the extra work you have to do because the department is downsizing.

But so long as your union doesn't go berserk (yeah, right) you might just, just keep your job.

Tonight Mr Danny "champion of the spending round" Alexander is e-mailing Liberal Democrats to say we've done the right thing. Well we haven't. We've merely done the LEAST WRONG thing we could.

This is hard, possibly the hardest thing we'll ever do. And it's cruel. And it may even be terribly horribly wrong.

But I'll tell you what it's NOT.

It's not "ideological".

It's not a "reckless gamble".

It's not "an attack on women/children/the elderly/the poorest/any other unnamed straw-man victim".

At the end of this Parliament, the Coalition will be spending 41% of GDP on public services. That's more than Lord Blairimort and Mr Frown spent for half the time they were in power.

All Parties, ALL of them, agree that getting the deficit down is COMPLETELY NECESSARY. The differences are a question of speed, not of policy. Hard Labour say they believe in getting the deficit down just as much as we do. So they are being JUST as ideological as we are.

Ah, they say they would raise tax rather than cut spending. No, not really. The Coalition intend to cut spending by about 5% a year. Under Alistair Dalek, Hard Labour planned to cut spending by 4% a year. No, it's not ideological, is it.

And this tax they would raise. From whom? Not on "ordinary" people, says Mr Johnson and Johnson, newly minted Economics for Dummies reader. But as Lady GoreGore points out: they'd only tax the EXTRA-ordinary people, the best and brightest, the ones who found the companies and make the inventions, create the music and win the prizes. Great strategy for growth, you've got there Mr Johnson and Johnson.

Is Coalition policy a risk? Yes. Yes, of course it is. There's ALWAYS risk. There's a RISK in doing it Hard Labour's way too. We want to cut the deficit in one Parliament; they want to cut it in two. Our way there is a risk that we cut too soon and send us back into the recession that we've just got out of; their way, we won't have finished getting out of the last hole before the economic cycle means we run straight into the NEXT one with no time to prepare. And their way there's ALSO the risk of the markets losing confidence in us, the way they lost confidence in Greece. Weigh up the risks. Look at the facts. Make your best judgement. It's ALWAYS going to be a gamble; Hard Labour policy (when they HAD one) would have been a gamble. But this isn't reckless.

Ah, say Hard Labour, not Greece but Ireland! They went for austerity and things still got worse for them. Yes, they did. But they got worse IN SPITE of Government action, not because of it. They got worse because Anglo-Irish bank was STILL bankrupt because of all the over-priced empty houses that they built. They got worse because all the businesses that had flocked to the Celtic Tiger flocked away again. No, I'm afraid it's "Nul points" for Hard Labour's Eurovision entry: "Economic Comparison".

And for the record, an "attack" is when you deliberately and illegally invade a Middle Eastern country with the intention of KILLING people. I realise that Hard Labour have some difficulty recognising this. And no, I'm REALLY not ever letting that go.

People are going to get HURT by this, people we don't WANT to get hurt – we don't want to hurt ANYONE, but people we PARTICULARLY don't want to get hurt will still get hurt. But they are going to get hurt because the economy is in TATTERS and this is the FALL-OUT.

Hard Labour left us with the WORST legacy. I know, you EXPECT me to say that, and they refute it, but EVERYTHING, EVERY SINGLE THING that they say amounts to excuses and denials and oh no it isn'ts.

We have the WORST debt/GDP ratio of the G20, that's all the proper grown-up economies and a few basket cases thrown in. And we're worst. Even if you somehow claim that the borrowing through the recession somehow DOESN'T COUNT (which is what Hard Labour are doing) then they had proudly managed to get us back to the same level of MESS as the disastrous Mr Major Minor left the country in back in 1997. As though this is something to be PROUD of, rather than a record of WASTING an entire DECADE of boom. As though this was "okay" rather than a totally DISASTROUS place from which to start the worst recession in post-War HISTORY.

We have to cut benefits and fire soldiers and cancel schools, but we also have to spend five billion quid to build two aircraft carriers which we don't need and which won't have aeroplanes on them, one of the ever, because Mr Frown went ahead and signed a contract that makes it more expensive to cancel them than to build them.

There WAS a choice to hurt those people. It just wasn't ours.

Honestly, if he'd been a COUNCILLOR we could have SURCHARGED him personally for the whole five billion!

Still, at least we can flog one of them. I hear Kim Jung-Un is looking for a new fishing boat. (Just kidding, folks!)

So this ISN'T the Spending Round we wanted. The time is wrong. The company is wrong. The economy is more wrong than you can spend a month of Sundays explaining.

But remember this: when Great Britain needed us, we stepped up to the plate.

If it fails, for sure, blame us. It won't be so much as we blame ourselves. Believe me, we ALREADY blame ourselves enough. We're crying BUCKETS.

But if it succeeds, just you remember who it was who did this and did it RIGHT.

It was the Liberal Democrats.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Day 3579: Attack of the Cybermen


So, the robotic and frankly emotionless Mr Vague announces that the biggest threat facing Great Britain today is CYBER-ATTACK!

Meanwhile, deep inside Thames House…

Ruth nervously enters Sir Harry's office. Hand trembling, she offers him a piece of paper, which he reads at a glance. Instantly a finger stabs the intercom.

"Activate Section D," he barks, "we've received an e-mail from Mrs Ngumba of Nigeria saying her husband has $40,000,000 and he needs to get it out of the country…"

PERSONALLY, though, I'd rather have the BBC than an aircraft carrier (even one WITHOUT any aircraft to, er, carry).

Of course, I blame Mr Frown. After all, it was HIS Hard Labour Government that in their dying days signed contracts that made it more expensive for us to build NO aircraft carriers than to build two aircraft carriers. Leaving the Coalition with the frankly impossible task of paying for the things while still trying to extricate ourselves from Lord Blairimort's Afghan Adventure.

Some decisions appear eminently sensible. I can't imagine why we still have twenty thousand troops occupying Germany. It's about time we stopped flushing money down the money-toilet that is the Nimrod replacement project 'cos it's literally never going to fly. And, half-a-halleluiah, we've succeeded in at least delaying the insanely-expensive atomic rocket program that is the so-called Trident nuclear deterrent. I guess so named for the huge DENT it puts in the budget. Apparently this deters people by convincing them that if we'll burn up billions of pounds buying a weapon system we not only will probably never use but actually cannot use because Uncle Sam won’t give us our own keys then it's no good attacking us because we must be DANGEROUSLY INSANE!

On the other fluffy foot: aircraft carrier without any aircraft.

I suppose keeping the Conservatories pledge to avoid unilateral nuclear disarmament by skipping straight to unilateral TOTAL disarmament has at least the advantage of novelty!

Meanwhile, the BBC is to have the licences fee frozen and more costs heaped upon them, specifically the propaganda arm of the government is to be wholly under BBC control.

This isn't COMPLETELY brilliant, but at least it is better than making the BBC pay for free licences for households where there is at least one older person (an effective 25% cut in income!). Under the agreed scheme the licence fee income stays the same but there are no more costs covered by the Foreign Office, so that IS less money coming in. Having said that, it's not just less of a cut, but there is the possibility to do some greater cost sharing between World Service and domestic TV and Radio (although admittedly that means more English-language broadcasts on the World Services), whereas lose the licence fee income and the money is just gone.

Anyway, I'm sure Mr Marty at Mayorwatch will tell you how they can make up the gap by just firing an executive or two every year.

Seriously, though, even though it's clear that there is plenty of room to prune and trip the great rambling bureaucracy of the organisation, at its heart the BBC is one of the few remaining things that makes Great Britain Great.

The vibrancy and variety of our cultural inheritance on television and radio and even theatre is in large part down to the presence of a BBC that shows what can be done, and means that other channels have to try and match the best. "Upstairs Downton" is just the latest example of quality ITV driven by the need to compete with a quality BBC. Do you believe that Sky would produce ANY home-grown drama if they didn't have to try and look like an alternative to the free BBC?

And I reckon "Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation" is worth a darn sight more as a national defence that the ability to "project power" (subject to the French not wanting to borrow the boat that day).

So I'm with Mr Mitch Benn on this. You'll have already seen the video, but it's always worth another watch. Cue the Now Show's resident Wookie…

Monday, October 18, 2010

Day 3571: THE SCARY JANE ADVENTURES: The Nightmare Man


Before we get Scary Jane Smith (thank you, Mr Will), let's give a little hearty congratulation to ITV for their new Posh Soap "Uptown Girls" "Downton Abbey" turning out to be a surprise Sunday-night hit.

The BBC must be grinding their teeth in delight at this rip-off of their "Upstairs Downstairs" revival being so popular.

After all, with "Sherlock" storming the summer ratings, who could've EXPECTED a quality drama for Sunday evenings with turn-of-the-19th/20th-Century-leanings to be a success?

But well done ITV. You put the money in so you deserved the rewards.

Now just don't go learning all the wrong lessons.

This is popular because it is QUALITY and because it is DIFFERENT. Let's not go all "Heart in the Title" or "Inspector Morse" and spawn a hundred inferior clones. Hiring Oscar-winning Dame Julian Fellowes to write the bitchfest dialogue and Oscar-winning Dame Maggie Smith to deliver the bitchfest dialogue ONCE is GENIUS; hiring someone else to make a dozen inferior models is… frankly, where you've been going wrong all these years. Do something ELSE different and you might have TWO hits on your fluffy feet!

And now back to Scary Jane for Daddy Richard's review. One look at the Fluffy Index will tell you how this is going to go: Daddy will review the first episode or two of the new series of Sarah Jane Adventures and will then get all busy with "work" and leave the rest dangling!

Don't forget to tune in to CBBC later today for the next adventure!
Is Julian Bleach the first to do the triple? Or at least first "actor who isn't Paul Kasey in a rubber suit", anyway? (Yes, ironic given that Mr Kasey is here playing a guest-Slitheen in the "one year ago" flashback.) After his ghostmaker for Torchwood ("From Out of the Rain") and of course Davros for Doctor Who ("The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End") he now plays the eponymous "Nightmare Man" for Sarah Jane.

And this is probably his best role for any series so far – yes, Davros is iconic and got the rather wonderful reveal of just what he'd done to himself to create the new Daleks, but he was in a very silly story and his screaming gypsy-curse ending served to undermine him further. Here the Nightmare Man is built up as a threat by his gradual approach over the first episode, making his appearance into the real world a genuine threat at the cliffhanger. Once here in our realist, he is almost charming in his childishness and selfishness, partly shy partly petulant, and a devilishly physical performance all exaggerated tiptoes and unnatural twists. The Pierot-esque white-face and the flower give him an aspect of sinister clown and of course, we've done psychic vampires before, not least in "Day of the Clown" a couple of years ago which this story resembles in a very much "done better" sort of way. And his ending – lifted from Sapphire and Steel's adventure six (if you're going to steal, steal from the best) – is suitably apposite and horrible, hoist as he is with his own petard.

He is a very Buffy-esque enemy, not merely his appearance, which is reminiscent of the grinning Gentlemen in "Hush", but also his fairly blatant subtext as an avatar of Luke's personal anxiety about laving home. He is bother literally and metaphorically Luke's nightmare.

If there is one duff note, it is know-it-all computer Mr Smith's naming the Nightmare Man. Calling him a Vishklar from the Seretti Dimension is making him "just another alien", rather than an almost metaphysical threat. Doctor Who has a long history of dealing with fallen gods and angels, from the Celestial Toymaker to Fenric and has always been comfortable with not pinning them down. If you have to identify the Nightmare Man, I should have preferred him named as one of the Pantheon of Chaos, a rival of the Trickster, perhaps.

Joe Lidster, this week's writer, hasn't done the triple, but it can surely only be a matter of time, as his writing just keeps on getting better. The dream-like quality that he achieves here is surely only more in keeping with Steven Moffat's new "fairy tale" house style for the parent series. And psychic concrete that was pretending to be a flyover in Guildford has to be one of the funniest throw-away lines in all of Doctor Who.

Rather wonderfully, the story is very much a game of two halves, with the first episode concentrating on the complication of changing relationships between the series "family" precipitated by Luke's decision to go away to university, what you might call the "soap-opera" aspects of the ongoing narrative if it weren't for the way that the term has become one of abuse on certain fan fora. To be dismissive of this would be largely to miss the point: the grounding in real world emotional drama is necessary both to emphasis the heightened reality of the Nightmare Man and the world he represents and inhabits, and to underline the connection between the everyday world (the world of the viewer) and the fantastical world (the world of the story). Luke's anxiety dream where he sneaks downstairs to overhear Sarah and K-9 mockingly laughing at the scene earlier where they said they'd miss him is horribly, horribly real, and the sort of thing many watching may even have experienced.

In contrast, the second episode is positively trippy, with each of the protagonists locked into their own private Nightmare – even Sarah Jane, whose waking nightmare is to be locked out.

It's actually a rather clever nightmare for Rani, giving her essentially all she dreamed of, but showing her a dark side to a career that she's clearly romanticized in her head. And in an episode that's actually very short of guest cast (and successfully making a virtue of it), it's a joy to see Doon Mackichan as the "evil" newsreader in Rani's nightmare news studio – named as Louise Marlowe but impossible not to think of her as Collatallie Sisters from the Day Today. But is she really "evil"? She is clearly an ice-cold unfeeling bitch, but she's also everything Rani aspires to be: smart, successful and up to a point doing the right thing – sure people do have a right to know about the aliens that Sarah Jane is actually covering up. It would be interesting to see this developed as a strand in the series, Rani's journalistic instincts taking her down a route of full-disclosure that Sarah herself has clearly abandoned.

Clyde's nightmare, a world where he ends up flipping burgers, is more obvious; it's the flip-side to Luke's nightmare of going away, the fear that Clyde may not get away. But to give it an extra stir of horror, Clyde's nightmare is inhabited not by another guest-star but by a decrepit wreck of Sarah Jane, repeating back to him all the secret fears and doubts he has – he's not as good as Luke, he's not important, his art doesn't make him special, he's not the one who is loved. These would be almost humdrum if it weren't for the person delivering them (a real chance for Liz Sladen to get out of Sarah Jane's normally straight-laced character and really show her acting chops). It shows a deeper side to Clyde that he has the special nightmare of the next generation of seeing someone you love and admire losing their marbles. It's possible that one's a bit near the knuckle for me.

Luke appropriately enough is trapped in the corridor between everyone else's nightmares (by implication the world of the Nightmare Man himself) here represented as a school corridor, all very "Wood Between the Worlds" (if you're going to steal, steal from the best). The triumphant "together we're unbeatable" speech may have been a little overdone (and the Murray-Gold-turned-up-to-eleven a little overwrought) but it was the appropriate "magical" or "fairy-tale" way to deal with this monster of private lonely horrors.

It's a great shame to lose Tommy Knight from the show. He gave Luke an innocent intelligence that was a perfect counterweight to Clyde's knowing streetwise attitude, and his character gave Sarah Jane a connection to the world that she had almost lot. To look for a silver lining, perhaps this going will give a little more breathing room for the often-underused character of Rani.

One rather lovely touch to leave on: Sarah's "old car" that she gives to Luke appears to be her car from the Big Finish Sarah Jane audio series.

Next Time: I say, is that Mr Dread the robot agent of the Alliance of Shades from Mr Phil Ford's Doctor Who cartoon "Dreamland"? And is that Androvax the Destroyer from Mr Phil Ford's Sarah Jane adventure Prisoner of the Judoon? It must be the Phil Ford episode. Here Come the Men in Black. "The Vault of Secrets"


Check out also Auntie Jennie for her (approving) take on the talents of Mr Lidster.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 3574: Miners and Tuition Fees. When you're in a hole…


The news that all the miners (AND their rescuers!) have been gotten out of the hole in the ground where they were trapped for the last two and a half months is very good and very welcome.

Though to correct Mr Paxo on the Newsnight Show last night, it's NOT a "rare good news story" it is actually a rare good story that you and your ilk decide to be news.

And, sorry to have to say it 'cos it sounds grudging, it wasn't a "miracle" either.

This rescue was a triumph of human endurance and ingenuity and engineering.

The laws of physics were in no way violated in getting the people out. Our Lady in the Blue Frock conspicuously did not appear from nowhere to gather up the miners and float them all back up through the solid rock to the surface. You achieve more with prayer and a highly trained team of specialist miners than you do with the intercession of his holiness alone.

In fact, if any inexplicable violations of physics were involved it was the unexpected total collapse of the mine in the first place. But not many people put THAT down to the intervention of le bon dieu, do they.

Right, sorry about that.

Well done to everyone involved. It is a joy and a relief that they all got out.

I have to admit, I was rather nervous at all the celebrating at getting the FIRST miner out, joyful as that was, and wanted to wait until we were sure that ALL of them would reach safety.

And frankly, THAT'S a form of SUPERSTITION too, so who am I to talk, eh?


Mr Paxo managed to SEGUE from the disaster of the collapsed mine to the disaster of the collapsed funding of our universities by referring to the fifty-seven trapped souls waiting for rescue on the Liberal Democrat benches, and if it's good enough for the ol' Rooster Booster, it's good enough for me.

Tuition fees have left us in a HOLE and no mistake, and it's no good saying that doubling them is in ANY WAY similar to abolishing them. Digging a second hole in no way fills in the first one.

It was good to see Newsnight's report where Sir Mr the Merciless made a firm commitment to keep to the pledge that he signed, even if it was then followed by Mr Hugs firmly nailing his jelly to the fence.

Anyway, we've just received the latest survey from Mr Former Deputy Lady Mayor Stephen at Lib Dem Voice and I thought it would be worthwhile sharing Daddy Richard's answers:
How should higher education be funded?

It should be funded from general taxation

We should be sending many fewer people to elite academic institutions, and instead be providing a broader range of alternative opportunities. And it should be paid for from general taxation.

In the party’s general election manifesto this year, the party stated: “The Liberal Democrats will phase out tuition fees over the course of six years, so that, after school, everyone who gets the grades has the opportunity to go to university without fear of debt, no matter what their background.” Almost all elected Liberal Democrat MPs signed the NUS pledge to “to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”. Which of the following statements comes closest to your view:

Lib Dem MPs must continue to stand by these pledges and oppose any increase in tuition fees. This is the only honourable position

We are supposed to be the Party that is different, that keeps promises. Just because the others are shit doesn't mean we have to be too.

If you were an MP how would you personally vote?

Vote against

Are there any changes to the plans announced to date which would make you more likely to support recommendation based on the Browne Report?

(1) absolutely no market in university places (2) no commercial interest charged (3) substantially lower repayment rate (perhaps 1% or 2% of income not 9%), possibly stepped - with a higher rate for higher rate tax payers (3) substantially shorter period before write off

Under Browne's scheme, a person earning £21,000 pays 9% which is £1,890 a year, and would repay £21,000 (i.e. the "recommended" fee level) in eleven years, subject to having to cover the interest on top.

By my back-of-an-envelope estimate, a person earning £44,000 paying just 2% would have repayments of £880 per annum. If we write off the outstanding debt after 11 years, then they would repay a total of £9,680, broadly similar to the current level of borrowing to fund a three year course, meaning that no one paying basic rate tax – 85% of people – would pay more than at present, and in fact most would pay substantially less.

You might say that those graduates who do go one to benefit substantially from their further education might not achieve their higher earnings until later, and an eleven year cut off might let them off a lot of repayment, so perhaps a similar effect could be achieved from 1% over 20 years, which might seem more reasonable.

In this way the Liberal Democrats could be seen not to break their pledge and to make the Browne proposals substantially more progressive. The key questions are how much less in revenue it would this return and what level of cost to the Government of writing off the outstanding debts after eleven or twenty years is likely to be?

Thinking of the broadly supportive position Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have adopted in response to the Browne Report – and irrespective of your own opinion on fees – which of these statements comes closest to your view of why they’ve changed their positions:

Nick and Vince’s over-riding concerns are cutting the deficit and making sure the Coalition is seen to work in the national interest, and that is why they are broadly endorsing Browne

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and not answer:

Nick and Vince were never comfortable with the party’s position of opposing tuition fees, and see Browne as a convenient way of moving to a position they supported anyway.

We've been here before, remember, when the proposal that we might have to drop some of our policies came up and the abolition of tuition fees was the one that was floated widely in the press. THAT was seen as Nick flying a kite then, too. But I prefer to take him at his word when he said that he was totally committed to abolition, even if we were not able to do it all at once.

The problem is that we had a plan to bring tuition fees down from three grand a year; I'm not sure we have a plan to bring them down from SEVEN grand a year (let alone TWELVE).

What has been the impact, if any, of Vince Cable’s support for the Browne Report on your view of Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition?

I supported Lib Dem involvement in the Coalition in May, and continue to support it

But am considerably less happier about doing so

And what is the impact, if any, on your support for the Lib Dems:

I remain an enthusiastic party member

A tricky question to answer because I DO remain enthusiastic about the Party and indeed it's policy (which this flatly contradicts) so I reject the other alternative answer:

I remain an enthusiastic party member, but am angry with the party leadership

I'm not "angry" with the Party leadership. I think that they are wrong on this issue, but I see why in an impossible position they've made the choice that they have. I hope that with further negotiations a better solution will be found.

What is your own experience of higher education:

I attended a higher education institution.

Specifically Cambridge. And I went to Cambridge because I was very good at mathematics and Cambridge was the best place for maths. I would hate the idea that anyone would have to choose their University based on any criteria other than what was best for their chosen subject.

What is your own experience of higher education funding

I funded myself (or was funded by my family) and so incurred no debt

My fees were paid by the country. Thank you all! My maintenance was paid by my family. Thank you, dad!

Do you work in higher education now?


Though I *should* have Doctored in mathematics. I should have been a don.


Are you a parent of children who may be affected by the proposed changes?


Not unless Millennium can go to Cambridge. Do they take stuffed toys, these days?


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 3572: Browne'd Orff


It's been a BAD day, really.

First the Browne Report is published saying: "tuition fees are unfair… let's double/triple/quadruple them!"

Then Mr Dr Vince comes to the despatch box putting a brave face on it, saying we're making the best of a bad job.

The Coalition Agreement, chapter 31, says:
"If the response of the Government to Lord Browne's report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote."
But really ANY response short of an enormous RASPBERRY deserves a fluffy sight more than just abstaining.

We didn't pledge to "make the best of a bad job", did we?

We didn't pledge to "put a brave face on it".

No, we said saddling young people with tens of thousands of pounds of debt at the start of their career was FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG.

So now we're signing up to saddling them with twenties and thirties of thousands of pounds of debt?

Look, I'm not really sure how it CAN cost twelve grand a year to teach a student. Let me run a little maths past you.

Say you give a weekly tutorial for about an hour for three maybe four students. Maybe an hour's prep time, and another hour for marking. Throw in a couple of lectures, and an hour each to prep those and that's a day's work. So you've made what, thirty-six or forty-eight grand a year for one day a week of work.

Even at just three grand a head in fees you can pull in the same sort of money by having sixteen students and you STILL get Fridays off.

Yes I REALISE that your academics want to spend their time doing their own research rather than education their replacements, but it does SEEM like this teaching lark covers itself.

And yes, I REALISE that there are support staff to pay, librarians and lab techs, cleaners and caretakers, and that there are libraries full of books and papers and laboratories full of chemicals and cadavers to stock, but even so…

There are two million students in Great Britain, that's SIX BILLION quid in top up fees – even at the current capped rate! – or forty million pounds each for each of our Universities. You really SHOULD be able to pay for a staff of a thousand on that sort of money, and that's a student to staff ratio of 13:1 which is rather better than most schools manage.

Yes, I realise it costs ten thousand pounds a term to go to ETON, but you do get your bed and board and an unlimited supply of crumpets thrown in.

What AM I missing?

Some people say "why shouldn't the next generation pay for the cost of their own education – after all they'll benefit from it". But who paid the cost for the CURRENT generation? And by what right does the current generation pass off its responsibilities to the next. One of the reasons we say we MUST pay down the deficit – and I agree with this – is that it is WRONG to saddle our kids with enormous debts. And yet what is it that we are doing here?

And the very WORST of this is putting a "market price" on excellence, with no limit to the fees so that the "best" Universities can trade on their reputation to increase their income in a self-perpetuating spiral of exclusion.

Academia isn't for everyone, and we should do MORE to create alternative opportunities for other people, but if you are bright enough to go to University then you should go, and your background, low high OR middle, should NOT be a bar.

A university education ought to be a GOOD THING in and of itself, taking you away from home, meeting new people from all different backgrounds, broadening your horizons, teaching you new ways to THINK.

WE need to find new ways to think too if we are to solve the problem of funding our future. Hard Labour only saw Universities for the money people got out of going there. We have to abandon that line of thought and start again. We need a better answer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 3569: A Change of Tack – Chris Huhne has it right on the Economy


I've said this before and I'll say it again: the British economy skates across the thin ice between TWO great dangers.

On the one fluffy foot: DEflationary recession caused by insufficient demand (i.e. the economy losing oomph because there's not enough money being spent).

On the other fluffy foot: collapse in market confidence leading to spiralling interest rates leading to INflationary recession (i.e. the economy losing oomph because the money is spent on higher costs and interest instead of growth).

ONE solution needs MORE Government SPENDING funded by borrowing; the OTHER needs LESS Government BORROWING achieved by less spending.

Obviously, I mean really OBVIOUSLY, these are the OPPOSITE of each other so you can't do BOTH.

But if you are SERIOUS about doing the best for the economy, as I hope most politicians are, then you DON'T just pick ONE and stick to it regardless. You make a judgement call about which risk seems to you to be greater and you watch the outcome LIKE A HAWK, so that if the risks change YOU CAN SWITCH to the other policy.

THIS is what we mean when we say we are being PRAGMATIC.

THIS is what Mr Huhney-Monster is saying in his interview in the Tell-lie-o-graph.

As of the start of May, when the world markets turned on Greece and looked like they might turn on other European countries soon after, we have made the judgement that the risk of market panic was the greater.

That is why we supported Master Gideon's budget saying he was going to borrow less, even though that meant harsher spending cuts.

And it appears to be working. The markets have calmed a little, the IMF has given its approval and we have retained our Triple-A credit rating.

That does NOT mean we go "tick, V.G. Economy sorted". It means we CONTINUE to watch the OUTCOMES and try to adjust our plans accordingly.

The signs are that our economy is RECOVERING but that growth remains FRAGILE, with Great Britain, Europe and Americaland all looking at expected growth figures of around 1.7% for the year. But while that is BETTER news than Europe was expecting, it is WORSE than Americaland thought they were doing, and with American unemployment remaining high and their dollar continuing to weaken there is the underlying WORRY that Americaland is falling back into another recession. And if America goes down, the rest of us could well be carried with her.

All summer long, Mr Bully Balls was rather over-fond of quoting famous economist Mr Milton Keynes.

"If the circumstances change, I change my mind."

Well that's pretty much EXACTLY MR Huhney-Monster's line.

If anything, people ought to be MASSIVELY REASSURED that the Government aren't just flinging themselves at cuts, but are taking an informed decision AND that they are OPEN to CHANGING THEIR MINDS.

But no.

Hard Labour's Angela Eagle aka Angela Engels, newly appointed to Shadow Mr Danny Alexander, described this as "letting the cat-monster out of the bag", claiming the risk lay in coalition policy (which shows she's either politicking or she's startlingly lacking in economic understanding – maybe she could borrow Mr Johnson and Johnson's "Economics For Dummies" once he's finished reading it).

Meanwhile, her new boss, Mr Potato Ed, was on the tellybox simultaneously condemning the rise in VAT while promising no increases in personal taxation. Well, HELLO Mr Ed, but WHERE IS THE MONEY COMING FROM? Or is he saying the deficit should be brought down with 100% spending cuts? No, because he was then on to defending benefit payments to millionaires. And he has the temerity to call Coalition policy "shambolic"!


If we stick to Coalition policy we're being "ideological"; if we say we're open to the evidence, we're "letting the cat-monster out of the bag". I'm sorry but it's VERY difficult to have a rational discussion for the benefit of the nation with people who reply to anything you say with: "heads we win, tails you smell".

Personally, I'm just GLAD that there's SOMEONE on the Coalition side standing up and SAYING this is EVIDENCE-BASED policy. Three cheers for Mr Huhney-Monster.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Day 3568: It's No Good Looking Clever NOW


I said to Daddy this morning: basically, Mr Potato Ed has NO CHOICE. If he gives Mr Bully Balls the Shadow Chancer job, then he's as good as signing Hard Labour up to five years of Balls-o-nomics, the living in denial argument that there's no need to cut the deficit, and he can kiss goodbye to the next General Election today. Nor can he give the job to Ms Cooper because, unlike Mr Ed himself, SHE won't stab a family member in the front.

So he's just GOT to give the pair of them the OTHER two "Great Orifices of State", and I bet it's going to be the bully in the Home Office and the fragrant one in the Foreign Office.

And I'd have taken a side bet on Mr Johnson-and-Johnson being the one to come though the middle to be Shadow Chancer, what with him being the "safe pair of hands" (i.e. reliable old reptile with no eye on Mr Potato Ed's OWN job).

If I'd actually written that this morning I'd have looked REALLY CLEVER now, wouldn't I!

Ho hum.

Of course, in this means that the state of the economy will be argued out between a retired postman and the tuck shop monitor.

But in a way this is actually rather ENCOURAGING, as it shows that there is at least a CHANCE that a Mr Ed economic policy from Hard Labour may be something with which we can do business. Unlike a Bully Balls economic policy which would have been no more than another two-by-four with which to bash Master Gideon about the head.

So long as we are remaining PRAGMATIC about tackling the deficit, the speed, depth and detail of the cuts are all NEGOTIABLE to a certain extent, so long as, in return, the other side is willing to say what they would do instead, or why waiting is warranted.

(The PROBLEM arises when Hard Labour gets stuck in the groove of "we agree something must be done, but not THIS" about each and every proposal, just as former Safety-Elephant Mr Charlie Clarke did on BBC Questionable Time. That quickly ceases to be constructive opposition and becomes having OUR cake and eating it. And wanting YOUR OWN cake too.)

The twin policy announcements this week and subsequent debacle as well-off well-connected media types colluded with well-off well-connected members of the soon-to-be-Shadow Cabinet to kick up a huge fuss are a case in point.

The important thing to remember is that BOTH policy announcements (withdrawal of Child Benefit AND capping the amount of benefits you can receive) were target at the better off. Yes, BOTH of them. While it is OBVIOUS that taking benefit from Higher Rate taxpayers is aimed at the better off, what EVERYONE seems to have overlooked is that limiting benefits to median household income can only possibly have an effect on those who are by MATHEMATICAL NECESSITY in the top half of household income.

(I realise that that's BETTER OFF which is not the same as WELL OFF let alone RICH, but it IS still true that you have to be doing BETTER than 50% of the country to lose out. In fact, as it's median WORKING household income, it's actually at an income level higher than that of MORE than half the nation.)

Both cases also suffer the same problems: they are both CRUDE CUT-OFFS, which leads to ridiculous so-called "edge effects" where people lose substantially more than they gain when they tip over the edge point. In fact, this is the whole POVERTY TRAP that Mr Iain Drunken Swerve is trying to get us all OUT OF by reforming the rest of the benefits system. SO a bit of not-very-joined-up-thinking from Master Gideon there, making NEW poverty traps for old.

Another problem is that they are ARBITRARY limits, not taking into account any special circumstances (e.g. a person needing round the clock medical care, a veteran of Afghanistan perhaps, could be receiving many thousands in benefits to pay for their essential care, and I think we'd all think rightly so).

But just because there are problems, that doesn't mean that these ideas are NECESSARILY bad starting points; and this is where opposition should be about proposing MODIFICATIONS rather than outright REJECTION.

Remember, everyone saying "you can't cut THIS" is perilously close to saying "do it to someone LESS WELL OFF instead ".

Here's a proposal for Mr Johnson-and-Johnson for free: a penny on the Higher Rate (upping it from 40% to 41%) would hit largely the same people and apparently raises nearly as much as the Child Benefit cut. But without any of the unfortunate cut off problems.

So SERIOUSLY: propose that instead.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Day 3564: Is this the End for Baby Elephant Benefit?


I'm afraid that my CYNICAL response to the news that Master Gideon is cutting Universal Child Benefit from Higher Rate taxpayers was to anticipate that Hard Labour would issue a press release about half an hour later decrying it as "an attack on the very poorest in society".

I was WRONG.

It took them a bit more than half an hour.

Yes, apparently it's "an attack on already hard pressed families" and yes apparently it's "an attack on women".


What happened to the OPTIMISM, Mr Potato Ed?

Is there ANY measure that you wouldn't attack as "an attack"?

How can we HOPE to balance the Budget without cutting anything for anyone ever?

Look, this is BAD. Really it is. I can think of HALF-A-DOZEN good reasons off the top of my fluffy head for having Universal Benefits.

1. Incentive. If people think that the reward for working hard and being thrifty is to LOSE out, then you don't give 'em any reason to work hard. It's the problem Mr Iain Drunken Swerve is wrestling with in the Benefit Reforms.

2. Involvement. The FLIP-SIDE of that is that the people who DO work hard are the ones you are asking to pay out for other people. We're a RICH country, and we all like to feel we do our bit to help each other. But the less that the people doing the paying feel that there is anything that they get back, the more they're going to think "what's in it for me?" You need an incentive for people to pay in too, or you get resentment, and eventually they won't pay, and then you have a problem.

3. Reach. We all know that means tested benefits do not reach all the people who need them, whether it's because people are too proud to ask, or intimidated by a system that they are not equipped (or educated) to cope with, or through simple ignorance or through error by the state. Universal benefits are easy to operate and much more likely to bypass all these hurdles and actually HELP the people who need help.

4. Protection. Lastly there is the TERRIBLE TRUTH that even in the better off families (oooh, paging Downton Abbey!) sometimes mummies can find themselves in POVERTY because their partner keeps tight control of the purse strings. Child Benefit bypasses THAT too by going straight to mummies, and can often be a LIFELINE. The way this works (the benefit is ONLY withdrawn from mummies who THEMSELVES earn more than forty-four "k") ought to mitigate against that being affected here.

5. Simplicity. Anything other than giving a simple payment to everyone is COMPLICATED and needs a BUREAUCRACY to operate it. THAT is clearly why Master Gideon has opted for this cack-handed method of picking only Higher Rate earners to lose the benefit which results in the seemingly PERVERSE outcome that better off HOUSEHOLDS might keep the benefit if two earners separately earn less than the Higher Rate threshold but together earn more.

6. Divisiveness. Treating RICH and POOR differently is only going to EXACERBATE the friction in our society. It helps LABOUR of course, in their DEEP DENIAL that THEY did anything wrong, to keep adding fuel to the fires of mutual resentment, pouring more blame on "the bankers" or "the top 10%".

(I am, incidentally, getting really BORED by the mendacious argument increasingly coming from left-of-centre commentators: "such-and-such an article/minister/newspaper spoke of something affecting the middle class; well, median income is actually twenty thousand pounds and they're talking about people earning forty or fifty grand – that's the top ten percentile". The MIDDLE CLASS is NOT measured by MEDIAN INCOME. These are two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT things. Traditionally, there have been VASTLY more working class people than either middle OR upper class. So OBVIOUSLY the median income would be bound to lie somewhere in the middle of the WORKING CLASS. Even today, with a LOT more people doing "white collar" work it would be REALLY SURPRISING it the ENTIRE upper half of the income distribution were "middle class", don't you think? "Class" is not a simple measure of how much you earn; it is INCREDIBLY complicated to define, depending on heritage, family, ownership and the relationship to land and income generating activates. You are NOT "upper class" if you earn in the top ten percent. You're not EVEN upper class if you earn in the top ONE percent. It just doesn't work that way, and it's simply WRONG to have a go at people for addressing "middle-class concerns" by saying they are focusing on "the rich".

And while I'm ON the subject of idiotic comparisons… saying the Mr Potato Ed won "more votes than either Captain Clegg or Mr Balloon" is as STUPID as saying "well Mr Jensen Button won his World Championship race by travelling a LOT further than Mr Sir Chris Hoy did in the Olympics."

Sorry, where was I. Oh yes…)

The ADMITTED PROBLEM with all Universal Benefits is that they are, by any measure, a bit WASTEFUL. If you hose money over the country to make sure that you cover all eventualities, you're bound to wash quite a lot of it over people who don't technically NEED it.

Not EVERY pensioner needs a winter fuel allowance to avoid fuel poverty, nor a bus pass to get out and about.

Targeted benefits are technically better because they can FOCUS the money onto the people who need it more. If the system works. If they apply for it.

So you have to work it out: does the COST of the bit that you are wasting by making a benefit Universal OUTWEIGH the BENEFIT of reaching people who really need it?

This is where I come down on the side of KEEPING the Universal Child Care. I think it's worth the money.

But then, I'D restore the personal tax allowance to people earning over a hundred thousand pounds too because taking that away is saying that rich people should be treated as different.

Well, actually, I'd go further than that and have a Citizen's Income and do away with benefits altogether, if only the numbers could be made to add up, because that way EVERYONE would get something and I can trust them to get on with their lives their own way without having to make them jump through hoops to satisfy ME that they are DESERVING.

You see, that's because LIBERALS are the REAL OPTIMISTS; not Hard Labour or Mr Potato Ed. Hard Labour are PESSIMISTIC about PEOPLE – they believe that people are BAD at making decisions, that people will get things WRONG if they are not TOLD what to do. I am an OPTIMIST. I trust people to get it RIGHT.

But here's the KICKER.

The numbers DON'T add up. Hard Labour – yes we have to keep saying it – spent all the money. In fact, they spent all THEIR money and rather a lot of OURS too, what with the hundred and twenty MILLION pounds a day we're spending on THEIR interest payments.

So it would cost a BILLION pounds (each year) to keep the Universal Child Benefit UNIVERSAL. And that would mean cutting a BILLION pounds from somewhere else. Housing benefit? Unemployment benefit? Invalidity benefit? The pension? Do YOU want to choose?

This is the real WICKEDNESS of Hard Labour's "attack" attacks.

Every cut that they say we mustn't do, they're ACTUALLY saying: "do it to someone else".

So it's not right. But everything else is worse. And if when we put this right we CAN do better.


My Daddies do not get Child Benefit because for some reason the Government does not pay out for boys with soft toys. I'm sure Hard Labour could spin this as an attack on something too.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Day 3563: Are Quotas Hurting Women's Chances?


While we were out in Tower Hamlets yesterday, we met up with Helen Duffett. Of course we did. She's everywhere in London, these days, from Romford in the General Election to Westminster and Kentish Town by-elections, to Pizza and Politics in Islington to caseworking in Hornsey and Wood Green, everyone knows Helen and knows she is a popular and tireless campaigner.

So why's she not standing for the London Assembly list, we ask?

Well, if the first two places on the list are DEAD CERTS to be women then the RULES mean that a MAN has to come THIRD.

And the first two places on the list ARE dead certs to be women: there's Ms Caroline Pigeon who is already ON the Assembly, so she's bound to get FIRST place on the list, and then there's Ms Bridget Fox who was terribly, terribly good in Islington and will probably be SECOND on the list…

In fact, if I understand these rules right, it could be even worse because if the highest placed man is NOT Black or Asian or other Minority, then the new rules mean that a Black or Asian or other Minority person has to get the FOURTH place.

In other words even if everyone is telling you you are the at least THIRD best candidate for London (who just happens to be a woman) then the best you can hope to be is FIFTH on the list and we AIN'T going to get FIVE GLA members, are we.

As outcomes go, this to me appears WILFULLY PERVERSE.

We seem to be actively putting off one of our best campaigners from standing by making it impossible for her to win.

And anyway aren't we the party that from Ms Jo Winsome on down says "I'm as good as any white/straight/middle-aged/middle-class man so you can take your patronising affirmative action and stuff it up your quota!"

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Day 3562: Delivering a Mayor


There's an election on in our local borough for a MAYOR for TOWER HAMLETS.

Hard Labour have fired their candidate and are in total disarray; the No Respect Party aren't fielding a candidate of their own, but tried to stitch up a deal with the fired Labour candidate.

There is EVERYTHING to PLAY FOR and that's why it's VITAL that Liberal Democrat John Griffiths stand up for the actual PEOPLE of Tower Hamlets!

So, thanks to London's Finest, Helen Duffett, my Daddies got off their fluffy bottoms and went out to do some delivering for the Liberal Democrats campaign.

Daddy Richard Delivering For John Griffiths
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It was a big day, with visits from Presidential Candidate (and former MP for Richmond and former Mayor of London campaigner) Ms Susan Kramer-vs-Kramer and MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford.

(Though we got there later in the afternoon so we didn't get to see them. We did get to see Lady Helen, though, and her, er, campaign assistant and financial advisor Gabriel.)

If you can drop in to offer some help, please do. The local HQ is to be found at 1a Peel Grove, London E2 9LR.

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Best advice for getting there: just walk up Cambridge Heath Road from Bethnal Green Tube and take the first right which is Old Ford Road and then it is first on the left. And bring a brolly!