In a word: Omnishambles

“a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations”.

Oxford University Press have updated their online dictionary with the latest set of new words to hit the digital generation, including the gem above that neatly and accurately describes every recent government in my view.

Omnishambles among new words added to Oxford Dictionaries online

I do miss Ambrose Bierce, however. If he were alive today, what fun he would have. I would offer these three terms for his Devil’s Dictionary, confident he could improve on my definitions:

Peace Dividend
The excuse used by politicians to slash defence spending after the Berlin Wall finally came down and a new era of peace was ushered in.

Arab Spring
The excuse used by politicians to slash defence spending after Libya and Egypt deposed their dictators and a new era of peace was ushered in.

Armed Forces Covenant
The empty promises made by politicians to honour the sacrifices of the armed forces in on-going conflicts even though the politicians keep promising us a new era of peace will be ushered in.

Careless Talk Saves Lives

Like all good patriotic citizens, I hate my government. Every day they remind me why by a constant diet of incompetence and ineptitude. Bungled policy after failed initiative in badly managed agencies and departments throughout government. And on top of that they wrap me up in red tape and tax me into penury. But as much as I hate my government, and believe me it is a lot, I know that they are not actively trying to kill me. That’s what Islamist terrorists are trying to do. At their training camps, in their radical mosques and right here amongst us, they plot to kill us. Day in and day out, it’s all they talk about.

All that’s stopping the terrorists is my government. Yes, the one I hate. I know that is beyond comprehension and knowing how dysfunctional they are makes it more worrying. It brings the prospect of not being killed down to a matter of sheer luck, and as the IRA used to say, they only have to get lucky once, we have to be lucky every time. So I am totally in favour of my government spying on me and everyone else, intercepting emails, telephone calls and whatever else they want in order to track down and capture the terrorists before they get lucky. I don’t care that the government will find out what I say in private to my friends and colleagues. I don’t care what they find out about me. It’s what they find out about the terrorists that I care about. Any careless talk on their part might give our people the breakthrough they need to foil anther outrage and save innocent lives. Mine, perhaps. Or yours, perhaps.

It is a wonderment to me to see the left-wing chattering classes complaining bitterly about that surveillance. They seem blind to the threat from terrorists who are interested only in killing as many of us as they can. Incredibly, they regard the government as a bigger threat. Given the choice between having their emails read and innocent people being blown up on a plane, they’d sacrifice the innocent people. So I’m not happy about all this agitation over Snowden blowing the lid on government surveillance. What he did was wrong and is a setback in the war on terror. It will assuredly lead to innocent people losing their lives because tracking down and stopping terrorists will be that much harder now they have learned they have to be even more careful.

In short, I resent that Snowden and people like him have appointed themselves the guardians of my civil liberties, especially as the trade-off they have accepted on my behalf is greater risk to my life and safety.

This is not dissimilar to airport security: having our passports and tickets checked, being frisked and searched, having our baggage and shoes x-rayed. What is the left-wing chattering class take on that? Is that an invasion of civil liberties? Yes, of course it is, and I resent it too. But if we campaign against airport security, and like another self-appointed Snowden we disrupt their efforts, the result will be a free pass for terrorists to plant bombs aboard our flights. So a government agent wants to look inside your hand luggage? So what? So a government agent wants to read your emails? So what?

I have great confidence in the technical skills of those working in the intelligence community. I trust them to be able to sift through billions of messages and find actionable information about the terrorists. I am glad the government gave them the funding and the cover to go ahead and I am hopeful the government will act decisively when presented with opportunities. That may seem a forlorn hope given my opinion of government competence, but fortunately any action that needs to be taken will be taken by the security services and I have the highest respect for their professionalism too.

So, Snowden, shut up, you’re making things worse.

WW1: Reasons to Celebrate

Germany is asking us not to “celebrate” the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. That’s understandable; they started it and they lost. But to see our celebrations in a Jingoistic context is to is misunderstand who we are. Britain was not under threat from Germany, we did not have to go to war but we chose to over a matter of principle and that is what is worth celebrating. Doubly so because it was a popular cause. Millions of young men of every social standing, encouraged by wives and mothers, signed-up and went to war. We could have just turned our back, but we didn’t. And we went to war again in 1939. Another war we didn’t have to fight but which we chose to, again over a principle.

What we should celebrate is being willing as a nation to stand up for what we believe is right, even when our own narrow national interests are not at stake. That’s something many countries whose freedom we fought for might appreciate. Above all, this was to be the war to end all wars and the fact it didn’t makes it something of a tragic anniversary, especially given the human cost. Our celebrations should therefore also remember that cost which is something we do on Armistice Day every year but which will have a special poignancy this year. The millions of Germans who died should also be remembered, they unlike us didn’t have any choice, they were thrust into that war by their leaders.

Our other European friends however wish to celebrate the anniversary as a paean to the European Union. How facile. “The European Union meant that no European nation would go to war with another,” they say. No it didn’t, NATO did that and it was as a by-product of ensuring the Russians wouldn’t invade us. Now the Russian threat has gone Europe’s true colours are emerging. The possibility of armed confrontation between EU member states is no longer unthinkable because they put their own interests first. The fact that the EU enables them to do that makes it part of the problem, not part of the solution as the Europhiles would have us believe. The EU promotes selfishness and self-interest, the very opposite of the attitude of a century ago.

In the First World War and in every war since, Britain fought unstintingly for liberty. The 100th anniversary therefore could be a celebration of the spirit of liberty; a beacon for the rest of the world. Those who fought the Great War hoped it would not only be the war to end all wars, but when it ended they really believed they had brought about a lasting peace. That prospect could be brought closer if there was a call for all countries to do what is right and not just what is in their own narrow national interests. Then there would be much to celebrate.

Read: Germany intervenes in WW1 commemoration debate in the Telegraph.

Nostradamus and Thatcher

In the future, there will be calamities and misfortunes we cannot as yet imagine that will be blamed on the “Thatcher Legacy”. An army of revisionists is labouring away, examining the life and work of Margaret of Grantham in a bizarre reversal of the way commentators twist the writings of Michel de Nostredame to make them fit great events in history. Instead of twisting the narrative to fit history they twist history to fit their narrative. Thus they falsely prove with unerring accuracy and unshakable certainty that she is the cause all our present and future woes.

In the Thatcherdamus version of reality, she was the one who saddled all our hospitals with crippling debt. She was the one who appointed ATOS to process disability benefit claims. She was the one who appointed G4S to provide security for the London Olympics. She was the one who appointed Fred the Shred to run the Royal Bank of Scotland. She was the one who had John Prescott bulldoze thousands of council houses. She was the one who appointed Gordon Brown Chancellor of the Exchequer. That’s what they would have us believe, and much more besides.

The reality is, stuff happens. Some is good, some is bad. But the anti-Thatcher revisionists don’t acknowledge that bad things happened before Thatcher and that they were not her fault, or that good things happened after Thatcher and that she should get credit for them. They contort what actually happened to prove how for decades after she left office she could cause a Labour government with a huge majority in the House of Commons to pass legislation and make government appointments that perpetuated her legacy. Three elections in a row.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Nostradamus:

Most academic sources maintain that the associations made between world events and Nostradamus’s quatrains are largely the result of misinterpretations or mistranslations (sometimes deliberate) or else are so tenuous as to render them useless as evidence of any genuine predictive power. Nevertheless, occasional commentators have successfully used a process of free interpretation and determined ‘twisting’ of his words to predict an apparently imminent event.

Here’s how I would define Thatcherdamus:

Most rational observers maintain that the associations made between world events and Thatcher’s Legacy are largely the result of misinterpretations or misrepresentations (sometimes deliberate) or else are so tenuous as to render them useless as evidence of any genuine connection. Nevertheless, occasional commentators have successfully used a process of free interpretation and determined ‘twisting’ of her record to attach blame to any apparently undesired outcome.

So if you’re a left-winger who’s unhappy with the mess the country is in today, and it certainly is in a mess, don’t try and distort history to fit your agenda. Look to yourself and ask yourself what you did while Labour held power under Blair and then Brown, that’s where you’ll find the blame. It isn’t the “Legacy” of someone who left office more than two decades ago, it’s Labour’s own ineptitude. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Nostradamus had predicted it.

Thatcherism Explained: With Music

The violence and bile unleashed by anti-Thatcher demonstrators following her death is astonishing. And pitiful. You have to be an especially inadequate kind of person to bottle up that amount of hatred for 23 years, never mind those who weren’t even born at the time. So I would like to deal with that hatred by trivialising it. I would like to explain Margaret Thatcher’s record and what Thatcherism stands for by referencing a few hit pop songs.

In the first two decades since Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister, three other prime ministers came and went and wreaked real, not imagined, damage on Britain. And Britain is in a dreadful mess, let’s not pretend otherwise, but let’s put the blame where it properly belongs. John Major, a Conservative, was hamstrung by an unworkably tiny majority in the House of Commons while his government was torn apart by divisions over Europe. Tony Blair openly clothed himself in the Thatcher legacy to offer a “third way” for British politics. That turned out to be handing the keys to the Treasury to Gordon Brown while spinning whichever way the political wind took him. Then he resigned and allowed Gordon Brown to take over at Number 10. Brown, first as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then in his turn as Prime Minister, created the conditions for the economic mess we are in today. They were a disastrous double act. While Blair was slavishly following everything successive American presidents were doing, such as invading Iraq and lying about the justifications for it, Brown was slavishly following everything Wall Street was doing, such as unleashing the banks and removing every means of regulation.

And those hateful individuals who rejoice at Thatcher’s death acknowledge none of this. It’s as if every woe, and there are plenty today, is her fault and hers alone.


What they also choose to forget is what Britain was like before Thatcher. Or maybe, just maybe, they know all too well what Britain was like before Thatcher and it is the fact she swept it away that is the root of their ire.

So let’s remember some of it, shall we?

The unions, remember them? Remember how the norm was beer and sandwiches at Number 10 while the union bosses told whoever was the prime minister what he had to do? Remember the sheer arrogance of their power, how it was wielded openly and contemptuously? Scargill sending pickets to close down a coking plant and forcing Edward Heath to concede a 27% pay rise for the miners? Remember how Red Robbo was caught on camera lying about a vote to strike? He’d called a mass meeting at British Leyland where a show of hands was overwhelming against strike action. A forest of hands had shot up. He called for those in favour of strike action and far fewer hands went up. Without missing a beat he declared the vote in favour and car production was halted yet again. This was caught by a television camera filming through a gap in the fence.

In the run-up to the 1979 general election, which was Thatcher’s first win, here’s what we had. We had gravediggers going on strike leaving bodies unburied and piling up in dis-used factories in temporary storage. Refuse collectors went on strike too, leading to mountains of rubbish piling up on city streets. Lorry drivers went on strike causing petrol shortages and rationing. Ambulance drivers and hospital ancillary workers went on strike meaning 999 emergency calls went unanswered and patients, even cancer patients, couldn’t get essential treatment. Train drivers went on a series of 24 hour strikes. Those were just the headline grabbers, the background was strikes, lightning-strikes, walk-outs, work-to-rules and go-slows everywhere and this all happened before Thatcher and under a labour government. Union power was unassailable as this Strawb’s hit, “You Don’t Get Me I’m Part Of The Union” from 1973 so well encapsulates with its mock triumphalism.

I was in the Royal Air Force and based in Germany in the mid-70’s. We were acutely aware of the real and ever-present threat from the Soviet Union, the same USSR that our trade union leaders were all in thrall to. We were well briefed on the danger they posed to us and we carried out regular military exercises. One evening I was watching German TV news and there was a report from Berlin about how young East Germans were flocking to the beaches that summer and tuning into banned Western radio stations. It was an eye-opener for me. There were these young people, my age, happy and openly disobeying the communist authorities. It was clear they were also aware of the lifestyle they were missing and I knew it could only be a matter of time before the dam burst. This was one of the hits they were listening to, and it still brings to my mind those images of young East Germans on the beach.

Those young East Germans could well have identified with this next song if they’d known about it. As a young boy living in Aden in the 1960s, I remember it very well. It’s not glamorous by any stretch, but what it says to me is how much freedom matters more than material possessions. The drifter is happier being on the road, independent, and selling his labour to get the few things he needs, when he wants them, on his terms. He doesn’t need the government to find him a job or a trade union to negotiate his pay and conditions.

And then came Thatcher.

Thatcher took on the unions in sometimes long and often bitter confrontations, but she was not to be intimidated as James Callaghan had been before her. There were fundamental problems with the UK and they needed radical solutions. These were not days for the faint-hearted. Union reforms include abolishing closed shops, and a requirement for secret ballots before strike action. The first was needed because it gave unions the power to have any worker dismissed if he or she did not toe the union line. All they had to do was expel him from the union and because it was a closed shop and he was required to be in the union the employer would be compelled to sack him. The second reform was to end the obvious abuse of unions calling strikes that had no support from their members. Other measures included banning flying pickets and secondary picketing, by which means unions could mobilise mobs to lay siege to an employer who was standing out against them and physically shut them down by bringing in workers that had nothing to do with the dispute.

Thatcher was about giving people their rights back. Millions lived in council houses, “projects” in American terms, and were as much at the mercy of their councils as they were at the mercy of the unions at work. Giving people the right to buy their council homes was a core policy of Thatcherism, so let’s have a short interlude from appropriately named Madness.

It’s hard to appreciate how all-pervasive the state was back then. The state owned much of the nation’s housing stock, it ran schools and hospitals, owned and ran train and bus services, it even built the trains and buses, as well as cars, aircraft, and ships and supplied the steel to do all that with. The state mined for coal, supplied gas, electricity and water, funded the monopoly radio and television services, and ran the telephone service. Back then it would take months to get a phone installed in your home. I had some friends who were expecting their first child and they were told they could use that as an excuse to get bumped-up the priority list. It was a wonderment to them that they had a phone installed in a matter of weeks. As well as relying on the state to fix their phone if there was a problem, the state also repaired gas and electric cookers. Remember the gas board showrooms where you could go to pick one out? Or the electricity board showrooms? Think about that for a moment, competition in those dark days was a choice between a state-run gas showroom and a state-run electricity showroom. What right did the state have to have a monopoly on selling, installing and maintaining a gas cooker?

There’s an old communist joke about a guy who goes into a showroom in Moscow and after much negotiation does a deal on the car he wants. He asks about delivery. The salesman gets out his diary, flips through many pages to a date five years hence. He scours the pages and eventually announces a date, Thursday 23rd February. “Ah,” says the Muscovite, “morning or afternoon?” The salesman is incredulous, “What do you mean, morning or afternoon, it’s five years away, what difference will it make?” “Well,” replies the Muscovite, “the gas man is coming in the morning to fix the cooker.” Not so funny when you’re living it as we were.

Privatization was the solution. Every state-owned enterprise was put up for sale. It wasn’t universally popular with some of the old Tories, “Selling the family silver” they called it and that was part of the mind-set that Thatcher had to change. But it was hugely successful with the people which was what really mattered. Millions of people bought shares at each successive privatization. It was popular and it was populist. Here’s an ad promoting the sale of British Gas. Okay, so one that’s not music then.

“Tell Sid” British Gas advert

The left fought long and hard. It’s where the hatred they still feel today emanates. I used to enjoy watching Labour Party conferences on tv, so much more fun than the boring old stage-managed affairs the Conservatives used to put on. There was real debate, and real emotion and at the height of Thatcher’s power, the Labour Party was bitterly divided over how to respond. One side saw the writing on the wall and wanted to modernise, particularly regarding Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution which essentially mandated nationalisation. They wanted to drop it. The hard-left would have none of that, it was at the heart of their credo. Eric Heffer, who was Old Labour and very much hard left, was outspoken on the topic. I remember watching him being booed by conference as he tried to defend Clause 4, and as he walked away from the microphone and out of the hall he was jeered. He was terminally ill at the time and the catcalls were to tell him to go to his beloved Russia for treatment, although rather coarsely expressed. I admired Eric, although he was a Marxist he was genuine in his beliefs and he sincerely wanted the best for the ordinary working man. I can always respect that. That’s not something you can say about everyone on the left. So this next “tune” is that old stalwart of Labour Party conferences that is still sung today, “We’ll Keep The Red Flag Flying Here.” What I like about this version is how badly it is sung.

A more tuneful rejection of Thatcher’s policies came from Pink Floyd who had a hit with, “Another Brick in the Wall,” an irony-free tirade against the benefits of a decent education and a school choir singing “We don’t need no education.” In many ways this might be the perfect metaphor for the left: they don’t want the next generation to understand the facts, they just want left-wing myths propagated and the truth suppressed. The last thing they want is an educated electorate. The left was vocal throughout Thatcher’s time in office, and wrong on every issue including education. When Labour was in power, Grammar Schools were a particular target, the left hated the idea that some people were getting a better education. Instead of bringing standards up in the public sector, their approach was to bring standards down in the private. It was another aspect of the politics of envy that drove them.

The pressure was telling though, it was utterly relentless and as well as the left, Thatcher had her hands full dealing with the “Wets” in her own government who also resisted everything she tried to do. It required as much strength of purpose on her part as anything else she had to contend with. The problem issue was one that dogs us to this day – Europe. The Conservative Party has long been split into pro-Europe and anti-Europe camps. That’s not to say the anti’s don’t like the French or the Germans or whatever, far from it, it’s just that they haven’t signed up to the project to create a united Europe. Take me for example, no-one can say I’m not pro-German having lived there very happily for so many years, but I’m certainly anti-EU. The more the project morphed from a common trading area into a European superstate, the more bitter and deeper those divisions became. Thatcher defended Britain’s interests and resisted as much as she could of the tide of European legislation that we as members of the EU were obligated to adopt. She negotiated opt-outs where she could and a sizeable rebate on the amount we were paying into EU coffers each year.

In 1815, The Duke of Wellington met Napoleon on the field of battle. It was a crucial battle because the future of Europe depended on it. Lose, and Napoleon would be free to sweep across the continent and bring it all under his domain. Win, and Europe is saved. The site of the battle, of course, was Waterloo which I think is a fitting metaphor for Thatcher’s campaign to save Britain and Europe from this slow-motion disaster that is the European project. It is an on-going struggle.

Another struggle was dealing with the institutionalised lethargy of the civil service. Their attitude couldn’t be changed overnight and they were wedded to the doctrine of managed decline. British influence in the world had been seriously harmed by Labour’s misrule, particularly when they had to go to the International Monetary Fund in 1976 and ask for a bail-out because our economy had hit rock bottom. The Foreign Office was defeatist and accepted decline as an inevitability, it sought to resolve problems by adopting a strategy of conceding everything. It was less a policy of, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…” it was more a policy of “Don’t even try in the first place.”

In particular, the Foreign Office had bent over backwards to appease Argentina which had it’s eye on the Falkland Islands. The fact that their claim to the Islands was entirely without merit mattered not, the mandarins at the FO made every kind of proposal to try and fob the Islanders off and hand them to Argentina. Incredibly, Argentina rejected everything. Argentina was ruled by a military Junta that had been waging what was euphemistically called a Dirty War against its own people. Thousands of dissidents and those just plain unlucky disappeared, mostly tortured and murdered. Deeply unpopular, the Junta sought a diversion. On the 2nd April 1982 they invaded the Falkland Islands and at a stroke they were instantly popular. Britain, however, was plunged into crisis. Almost everyone, in her government and not, advised Thatcher that Britain could do nothing about it. Save one lone voice, the Chief of the Defence staff, Admiral Lord Lewin. He wasn’t even supported by everyone at the Ministry of Defence when he told the Prime Minister that he could put a fleet together, sail to the south Atlantic and liberate the Islands.

Thatcher showed her true mettle. She was steadfast in her belief that the Falkland Islands must be recovered and the Falkland Islanders liberated. We don’t need to go into the details of the short war, or the outrageous falsehoods the left concocted to tarnish her reputation, we just need to note that the armed forces showed extraordinary skill and bravery, in the full glare of the world’s media, the USSR getting an especially close look with spy trawlers that shadowed the fleet. This hit number from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita was eagerly adopted by the troops.

The great skill shown by our forces, overcoming incredible odds to defeat a larger, well prepared army that was equipped with modern Western weapons and trained in Western tactics was a revelation to the Russians. And deeply worrying to them. Thatcher increased the pressure on Russia by welcoming American cruise missiles to bases in England, again in the teeth of bitter and violent opposition from the friends of Russia. She also encouraged Reagan to develop his Star Wars programme. But the sheer scale of the West’s technological superiority was not driven home until the first Gulf War which happened after Thatcher had left office. Michael Gorbachev, however, already knew the score and on a visit to Britain before he became president of the Soviet Union, he and Thatcher unexpectedly hit it off. She told president Ronald Reagan, her political soul mate, that Gorbachev was someone she could do business with, and she encouraged him to do likewise. This was a pivotal moment in the ending of the Cold War. The working relationship that she, Gorbachev and Reagan established would lead ultimately to nuclear disarmament talks and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. And thus I am reminded of those young East Germans sunning themselves on the beach while listening to Western pop songs. It took a long time to come about, but they got their freedom in the end.

But are the left happy? I don’t care. Thatcherism was never about making them happy, it was always about giving the people of Britain the freedom to choose what they wanted, which was her first, last and only concern. I can confidently state that is not how the left see it. They will decide what is good for the people and the people don’t get a say in the matter. Just like it used to be in the old Soviet Union, just like the left wish it was again today.

So I’d like to conclude with Nimrod, from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. This will be played at the conclusion of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral which, given the presence of Falkland’s War related military personnel, makes this YouTube composition highly appropriate.

In conclusion, Margaret Thatcher accomplished a great deal in her time, becoming a Member of Parliament when women were very much second-class citizens in the world of politics. Going on to lead her Party and then to win three general elections is unparalleled. But in addition to all that, she was a wife and mother; she graduated in chemistry specialising in x-ray crystallography; she studied further and qualified as a barrister specialising in taxation. She clearly had the aptitude to study and understand difficult subjects so she was very well equipped to cut through the waffle and get to the heart of any matter. The facts and the evidence mattered a great deal to her and to us.

Thank you and God bless, Margaret Thatcher.

It Didn’t Work For The Soviets, It Won’t Work For Us

The way to get ourselves out of our present economic difficulties is not to emulate the Soviet Union. That bloated, inefficient command economy rightly collapsed and died more than two decades ago and is only missed by the likes of Vladimir Putin and hard-line Stalinists. Oh, and Keynesians apparently. They want us to adopt the very same policies of state intervention.

The problem with Keynsians and communists alike is they don’t trust the people. We can’t be trusted to spend our own money on things we regard as a priority. No, they have to take our money from us in higher taxation and spend it on what they think are higher priorities. That way the economy will generate more revenue and they’ll be able to tax that too and spend still more money on things they think are important. On our behalf. In our name. Without our consent.

We were pretty much a command economy not so long ago. The government owned companies that made cars, trucks and ships, that ran the telephone service, ran the trains, ran the buses, ran the economy into the ground. Talking of ground, the government even dug for coal. The government built the roads, built the railway lines, built airports. The government owned the houses that ordinary working people lived in. The government ran the hospitals when they were ill, ran the schools their children went to. The government even ran radio and television stations. The list goes on.

Thank God for Thatcher.

Some things should be run by the government for and on behalf of all the people. But generating the country’s wealth is best left to us. The government simply has to get out of the way and Margaret Thatcher did us an enormous service by privatizing whatever was not the government’s business.

“Austerity” is a misnomer. It should be called “Liberation”. It is the process of the government getting out of our way and liberating us from state control. However it is under threat at the moment from those who believe it is not working and cannot work. They want to increase taxes, to take more out of our pockets and reduce the amount of money we have to spend, which means, of course, we will spend less. Only they’re not so daft as to announce they want to increase taxes, no, they simply say they want to increase government spending. As if we don’t know where the money is coming from. Increasing taxes and taking money away from us will increase austerity, not reduce it.

How can we possibly be better off with less money coming in?

If you want us to be better off, reduce the taxes we have to pay. Cut VAT or increase the tax threshold. Leave more money in our pockets.

It won’t feel so austere then.

“What happens in Vegas” gets splashed all over the papers

The Sun says it published the photos of a naked Prince Harry because it was in the public interest.

“How do you know it’s in the public interest?” you ask them.

“Cos sales went up, dinnit”

That’s a convincing argument to the Sun. It’s the same one used by the News of the World to justify hacking peoples’ phones. It’s obviously something in the Murdoch corporate culture that they can do whatever they like if it results in extra sales. It’s a completely twisted argument because ‘what the public is interested in’ isn’t the same as ‘what is in the public interest’. For example hacking Milly Dowler’s phone (the teenage girl who was abducted and murdered) amongst the thousands who had their phones hacked in the search for salacious stories was not in the public interest, but finding out who authorised the hacking and how it came to happen most certainly is.

Sensationalism and scandal sells newspapers. We know that. The fact is, there are many genuinely sensational stories out there and many great scandals that should be reported, enough of them in fact to fill a newspaper every day without the need to ‘sex them up’. One such story might indeed be that the third-in-line to the throne had a naked romp in a hotel room in Las Vegas. Okay, let’s talk about that and let’s talk about how his security detail handled the situation, but do we need to see the photos?

“Yeah, we got to see the photos cos it shows the sort of thing sleazy newspapers will print if they get the chance, and therefore that’s why he shudna done it.”

“So you had to publish the photos to show how wrong it would be to publish them?”

“Yeah, summink like that.”


The day before the Sun decided to go ahead and publish the real photos it mocked-up the pose of Prince Harry and a naked woman by getting a journalist to stand in as a royal body double and having a naked woman posing behind. The only problem is the naked woman they used was a 21 year-old fashion intern there for work experience. Some experience; “highly unethical” is one quote, and I think “used” is the right term to use here. “Sordid” is another one. Mind you, Sun management issued a statement saying the pair were perfectly happy to strip off, so that’s all right then.

Reports from the Guardian:

The Sun using an intern to strip for ‘nude Prince Harry’ pictures is shameful
Sun denies it pressured intern to strip for Prince Harry front page

Postscript follow-up

It gets more interesting. After the storm of criticism of the Sun for getting an intern to strip naked, it looks to me like she was not naked after all. The photo below is a crop of the Sun’s front page where the picture appeared. You can just make out that she was wearing knickers which have been pixelated-out using Photoshop. You can tell this by the different size of the coloured spots where the knickers are compared with other parts of the body.

Serious question: Is this country worth fighting for any more?

Is a country that mistreats its armed forces so badly worthy of their continued service and sacrifice?

Consider the government’s recent record in its treatment of the armed forces: Troops on active service have been given redundancy notices at a time when they’re still putting life and limb on the line in Afghanistan, what a kick in the teeth that is. Many have been sacked within a year of qualifying for an immediate pension after 22 years service, forcing them to wait years to qualify for a pension again but saving the government millions. Others are being roped in to cover security blunders for the Olympics when they’ve just come back from the ‘Stan and ought to be enjoying some time with their families.

But it gets worse.

Now we learn of a new policy that means veterans from Commonwealth countries who have completed their service in the British armed forces are being deported, even if they have families here, in stark and unacceptable contrast to how convicted criminals are treated. Murderers, paedophiles and robbers can stay in this country once they have served their time in jail, while soldiers are deported once they have served their time in the armed forces.

The world has been turned upside down, the concepts of right and wrong have been inverted.

“Lance-Corporal Bale Baleiwai, a Fijian, served for 13 years in the Army, including operational tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, winning four medals, exemplary reports from his commanding officers and even being used in recruitment adverts.”

He and others like him are being deported.

“In 2011, at least one terrorist – and possibly up to four – was allowed to stay, as well as up to eight killers and rapists. Also among the total were 20 robbers and up to eight paedophiles, plus as many as four people convicted of firearms offences.”

They are not being deported.

Let’s put this in context. The very people L/Cpl Baleiwai was risking his life to fight on our behalf are amongst those allowed to remain in this country while he must be deported.

If that is how we treat our warriors, why do we think this is a country worth fighting for?

Here are the relevant Telegraph reports:

Commonwealth soldiers face deportation
The foreign criminals we don’t try to deport

Stuck in the Keynesian cycle lane

Consider the newspaper industry. An essential source of in-depth news and reportage. Essential because a well-informed populace is the prerequisite for a healthy democracy. In their day, newspapers would sell in vast numbers, most homes would have a daily paper delivered, sometimes two, and many cities had evening newspapers. But now newspapers are struggling to survive and there is much anguish over new business models such as charging for online access, or using celebrity bloggers to pull in the readers while at the same time slashing costs and sacking trained, experienced journalists. The industry is in turmoil and sales of printed papers are a fraction of what they used to be.

How would Keynesians deal with this problem?

Well, first of all, I’m not a Keynesian, and secondly, it’s not a problem. It is simply progress and the natural effect of supply and demand in a free market economy. People aren’t buying newspapers in such great numbers any more because they don’t want to; they have found other sources of news and information. As someone who believes in democracy I am worried about where they are getting that news and information from now, but that’s a different problem. Instead, I want to explore the Keynesian approach because a market fluctuation of this magnitude is something they consider to be a problem and I’d like to examine their solutions because there is a pattern to them.

Keynesians would want to see newspaper production raised to its previous high, to safeguard jobs and to preserve a part of the economy intact in what is, to them, a cyclical event. We would once more see vendors on every street corner shouting “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”, we would once more have newspapers delivered to every home. They just wouldn’t be bought at the same volumes as before because the consumer has already made his choice. However, since they’re being printed at excessively high volumes there is an unsustainable shortfall in revenue, to pay for which the Keynesians would give the newspaper barons huge subsidies until the market stabilises again.

Is that the problem solved then? Not really. We need to ask, “Where does the money come from?” It’s not free money. It’s not even the government’s money. It’s taxpayers’ money and in the past that fact was obscured by sleight-of-hand, by pretending the government had ‘reserves’ or could reallocated expenditure from one area to another. Taxpayers are getting wise to those old tricks and they are increasingly asking the same question. They know that extra government spending means higher taxes and that means less money in their own pockets. So what do they do to compensate? They cut back on spending, not buying things they would have preferred to spend money on.

Let’s imagine for the sake of argument that everyone cuts back their spending on the same thing. Let’s imagine that up and down the country people stop going to football matches. Every Saturday teams run out onto the pitch and play their games in front of empty stadia, while at home millions of former football fans spurn the subscription fees on television and watch soap operas on freeview instead. The government of the day becomes very unhappy because now instead of talking about football with their friends, everyone is talking about how useless the government is. The government are reminded of bread and circuses, something Roman emperors would only forget at their peril.

So they turn to their Keynesian advisors again, the ones who fixed the newspaper problem, and ask them to fix this problem too. Well, as they say, if all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. So the Keynesians look at this problem and see another business cycle that needs to be hammered flat. So they pummel it with taxpayer subsidies to keep the star players and their WAGS in champagne and tasteless mansions and all is well with the world again. Except for the taxpayer. He now has this subsidy to pay for as well and his taxes go up again and the cycle repeats itself: The taxpayer must make economies in some other area of expenditure. Perhaps bread?

Of course it doesn’t work like that in the real world. In the real world people make individual choices and cut out expenditure that is less important to them. This aggregates across all market sectors and results in a general decline in economic activity proportionate to the money being squandered. It also results in a loss of crowd wisdom in ferreting out obsolete goods or inefficient services because the free market is now being manipulated and distorted for political purposes. We can be sure that whatever part of the economy is impacted by consumers making free market choices, Keynesians will step in with taxpayers’ money to smooth out that particular business cycle.

You can read all about it in the newspapers.

The Folly of Withdrawing Police from the Front Line

Imagine how nice it must be to live in a quiet town where there is so little crime there’s nothing for the police to do, where you can walk about town safe from the threat of mugging, and feel secure at home safe from the danger of burglary. Imagine then the powers-that-be use that as a pretext to get rid of the local bobby and as a direct result, crime surges because criminals realise they can get away with anything now. There’s no-one to deter crime, and those who must respond are too far away.

That’s the nightmare scenario being presented to us by a policy of closing local police stations across England. Something like a third of them have already closed or are scheduled to close despite the concerns of residents’ groups because they are being “under utilised.” And in an attempt to further justify the policy, Paul Scarrott, Assistant Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police has said, “We recognise that people now prefer to use other ways to contact the police rather than turning up at a station.”

What an ingenuous piece of claptrap that is. The only reason people ever would have ‘preferred’ turning up at a police station to report a crime was before the age of the telephone when there was no alternative. The point of having a local police station never was to make it easy to report crime, but to make it easy to respond to crime. If reporting crime alone is the prime concern, we must expect to have that function outsourced next to India or some other continent, not just a different town or city.

My concern is that this is all an exercise in reducing front-line police to balance budgets. Budgets that are out of balance not because of cut-backs although they are happening too, but because of inept leadership at the top. The leadership will continue to cull front-line police to the extent where one day we will have a chief constable, a few senior hangers-on and that’s it. They will be consuming so much money in salaries and overheads there won’t be any budget left for actual policemen and women.

As you might surmise from my Didcotman ‘handle’, I do indeed live in Didcot and it’s worth making the point that I’m very happy with policing here. We have a good well-manned police station and a magistrates court that are not under threat, and the result of that is a low crime rate. In my ideal world I would like to see the police have nothing better to do than to wander the streets looking for crime and not finding any. How you report crime, Mr Scarrott, is then a non-issue if there is nothing to report.

Read “End of the Bobby on the Beat” in the Telegraph.