Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Red Ed" Miliband wins the Labour leadership

Just for fun, you understand...

Inspired by Wee Ed's new monicker—endowed upon him because of the unions' support for his candidacy—I threw together this little picture.

Before anyone gets too upset, of course I am not seriously trying to draw an equivalence between Wee Ed Miliband and Josef Stalin—certainly not.

After all, Stalin was more than competent at wiping out his enemies.

Whereas Wee Ed, of course, just barely scraped a win...
He told reporters on Monday: "New Labour was right for its time and there are many aspects of New Labour that we will retain, like the idea that we appeal to all sections of society, that we are for wealth creation as well the distribution of wealth.

"But it came to be associated with a particular style and nature of politics and actually it got stuck in its old certainties itself and I will be saying that in a speech on Tuesday and I will be saying more about my vision of where we go as a party then."

I seriously cannot wait...
"It's about us showing to the country that we understand why we lost the general election and us showing humility to the country. I think the country are more interested in what I have to say to them rather than details of the shadow cabinet."

I wouldn't bet on that, frankly. After all, there are—no doubt—a bunch of people betting on who will be in your Shadow Cabinet, whereas no one gives two craps in a bucket about anything that you have to say. About anything.

Red Ed?—nah. Very Bland Miliband, more like. And my peripatetic yet potless Greek friend appears to agree.
I stand by my view that this guy is IDS with hair, with all the charisma of a plate of curried shoe leather. In as far as he seems to have any "ideas", they seem to have been designed by a computer program to tickle the erogenous zones of the rank-and-file fuckwits otherwise known as the Labour Party faithful (and the born-again, like Sunny), and even then both the MPs and the membership rejected him. Say what you like about David Cameron, but at least he's the most talented politician in his family.

Mind you, someone's getting excited about Red Ed—and it's not under her bed that she wants him...
Still, if I and many others are exultant that Labour appear to have been sold a lemon, it is refreshing to see that some people just don't learn from fucking experience. Here is the pantomime dame of British social democracy casting her lustful eye over the new 'un:
How will he look across that deadly dispatch box on Wednesdays? Younger, brighter, insurgent, hungry to score. [...]

With one bound he has won the generation game, leaving the ghosts of Blair, Brown, Mandelson and their damaging memoirs in a bygone era. All those wretched warnings not to move a millimetre away from the Blair doctrine are gone with the wind. Now he is free to write whatever he wants on the clean page he has created.

Ah, yes, you are hungry to score, aren't you, my Viking warrior? Oh, yes, Gordon Ed, my Norse god...

Can it be that darling Polly is about to get all frisky for Ed? Who knows—but I'm pretty sure that the poor little Greek boy, if not myself, will be there to report on the squalid thrills and filthy spills involved...

Bank protest fail

Nice try, boys...

I saw this in the print edition of The Telegraph, but there doesn't seem to be an online version—as such, I am forced to use The Mail's version of the story.
When Cameron Hope tried to get a loan to help his business grow he felt as if he were talking to a brick wall.

In fact, he became so angry with the banks’ refusal to lend that he decided to give them a taste of their own medicine.

In an action likely to strike a chord with businesses unable to secure loans across the country, Mr Hope and other protesters built an 8ft by 4ft wall of breeze blocks outside the entrance of [a bank branch] in Westbourne, Bournemouth, Dorset.

He was joined by other local business owners who have had trouble getting loans. They plastered the wall with placards proclaiming ‘Robbed by the banks we own’ and ‘Make the banks lend’.

"Robbed by the banks we own"—that's a powerful phrase, eh? A rallying cry for all those ordinary people who have been forced to bail out these greedy bankers and now find that these bastards are failing to lend at anything other than exorbitant rates—if at all.

It's a bit of a pity, therefore, that the bank that Mr Hope bricked up was a branch of Barclays—one of the few banks that the taxpayer did not, in fact, bail out...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Now, everyone be cool

Once again, the redoubtable Christopher Booker once more laid into the stupidity of wind farms, this time concentrating on how uneconomical they are.
In all the publicity given to the opening of "the world's largest wind farm" off the Kent coast last week, by far the most important and shocking aspect of this vast project was completely overlooked. Over the coming years we will be giving the wind farm's Swedish owners a total of £1.2 billion in subsidies. That same sum, invested now in a single nuclear power station, could yield a staggering 13 times more electricity, with much greater reliability.

Indeed. And whilst Chris "most dangerous man in Britain" Huhne plays at being an energy guru, James Delingpole has discovered that those who pull Huhne's strings may have moved on from the carbon issue somewhat.
Bilderberg. Whether you believe it’s part of a sinister conspiracy which will lead inexorably to one world government or whether you think it’s just an innocent high-level talking shop, there’s one thing that can’t be denied: it knows which way the wind is blowing.

And which way is it blowing? Well, as that nice Mr Delingpole points out, the Bilderberg Group held a conference in Spain recently...
At its June meeting in Sitges, Spain (unreported and held in camera, as is Bilderberg’s way), some of the world’s most powerful CEOs rubbed shoulders with notable academics and leading politicians. They included: the chairman of Fiat, the Irish Attorney General Paul Gallagher, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, Dick Perle, the Queen of the Netherlands, the editor of the Economist…. Definitely not Z-list, in other words.

Which is what makes one particular item on the group’s discussion agenda so tremendously significant. See if you can spot the one I mean:
The 58th Bilderberg Meeting will be held in Sitges, Spain 3 – 6 June 2010. The Conference will deal mainly with Financial Reform, Security, Cyber Technology, Energy, Pakistan, Afghanistan, World Food Problem, Global Cooling, Social Networking, Medical Science, EU-US relations.

Did you spot it?
Yep, that’s right. Global Cooling.

Which means one of two things.

Either it was a printing error.

Or the global elite is perfectly well aware that global cooling represents a far more serious and imminent threat to the world than global warming, but is so far unwilling to admit it except behind closed doors.

As James points out, if people realise that their energy bills have gone through the roof, that their rights and freedoms have been curtailed and that the creeping extensions of government control have all been in the name of a total myth, then they are not going to be tremendously happy.
If man-made global warming was really happening and really a problem we might possibly have carried on putting up with all these constraints on our liberty and assaults on our income. But if it turns out to have been a myth…

Well then, all bets are off.

The next few years are going to be very interesting. Watch the global power elite squirming to reposition itself as it slowly distances itself from Anthropogenic Global Warming (”Who? Us? No. We never thought of it as more than a quaint theory…”), and tries to find new ways of justifying green taxation and control. (Ocean acidification; biodiversity; et al). You’ll notice sly shifts in policy spin. In Britain, for example, Chris “Chicken Little” Huhne’s suicidal “dash for wind” will be re-invented as a vital step towards “energy security.” There will be less talk of “combatting climate change” and more talk of “mitigation”. You’ll hear enviro-Nazis like Obama’s Science Czar John Holdren avoid reference to “global warming” like the plague, preferring the more reliably vague phrase “global climate disruption.”

And you know what the worst thing is? If we allow them to, they’re going to get away with it.

Our duty as free citizens over the next few years is to make sure that they don’t.

What might be very amusing (in a rather dark way) is when—in a few years time and the cold has really started to bite—we are all being urged to pump as much CO2 into the atmosphere as possible in order to try to warm the planet up.

Me? Oh, in the meantime, I'm going to invest in ski-wear manufacturers...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fuck your lifestyle

For fuck's sake...

Via Al-Jahom, I have stumbled upon this particularly irritating article—nonetheless, it proves a point. And, unlike Obo, I am not yet utterly tired of pointing out the same shit time and time again.

Apparently the woman pictured—one Hayley O'Neil—above has got tremendously offended because someone at the Dole Office pointed out that no one would hire someone with fuck-loads of tattoos and facial piercings. Fair enough, I'd say.

Apparently Hayley disagrees. [Emphasis mine.]
"The guy said: 'on first impressions do you think anyone would hire you?' He said: 'look at it this way if you were to stand behind a wall—or put a paper bag over your face do you think you would have a better chance?'

"He then backtracked and tried to say that he was sorry and hoped I wasn't offended but I was.

"He talked to me as though I was just going through a phase in my life, but this is my lifestyle choice, and this is who I am."

That's lovely, Hayley. I am happy that you have found yourself. But may I just ask the obvious question—how about you pay for your lifestyle yourself, you selfish fuck?

I work for my money and my lifestyle choices are curtailed to the tune of £600 a month—some of which goes to pay for you. So, could you tell me why the fuck my lifestyle choices should be curtailed to pay for yours?

I don't think that you should put a bag over your head, Hayley: I think that you should put a bag right over yourself, load it with a couple of bricks and get some nice, strong, working men to throw you in the bastard canal.

Or you can pay for your own lifestyle. Your choice.

UPDATE: in the comments, Leg-Iron opines that Hayley is, at least, trying to get a job.
She looks like a Cenobite but she is at least trying to get a job. there are many who aren't.

Hmmmm. Now, as readers will know, I'm a cynical bastard; as such, I would simply point out that, in order to get Job Seeker's Allowance you have to "prove" that you are actively seeking a job. Which is why the dole is doled out at a state outlet known as Job Centre Plus.

Another commenter, Furor Teutonicus, was astute enough to suggest that Hayley remove her facial piercings—that no one would notice they were there after a couple of days.
A big fucking clue arseholes, you can take a piercing out, and in two days you wont even know it had been there.

Unfortunately Hayley herself has shot this idea down.
''I said I could take the piercings out but they look a lot worse when they are out."

"Worse", Hayley? Don't you mean "less good"? Or is it that you understand why the Job Centre Plus chap said his piece?

Commenter fred was outraged at my body fascism...
my god... this is pretty rich stuff, you can't have freedom and then expect people to conform to what YOU personally think is an acceptable standard!

... and totally missed the point—a point that I considered putting in the post but didn't because I thought "it's unnecessary because no one will be stupid enough to think that I personally give a crap about what she looks like." Thank you, fred, for proving me wrong: evidence that such people exist is always a salutory lesson.

For clarity's sake, as well as fred's, I shall now amplify my point: employers usually expect a certain look from their employees, especially those who are in customer-facing roles. This is not always because employers are massively conservative, but because they understand that their patrons are.

As such, young Hayley is considerably reducing the chances of gaining employment because of the way that she looks. Which I wouldn't have any issue with were she not using money extorted from other, hard-working people in order to fund her lifestyle. (Plus, perhaps uncharitably, I also slightly wonder who has paid for her tattoos and her piercings...)

Basically, as with any other personal choice, I don't care what you do or look like as long as other people are not forced to pay for your choices.

You want personal choice? You want to adopt a particular lifestyle? Great: you pay for it.

A touch of the Pollies*

The deeply tedious Labour leadership contest is not the only show in town; UKIP, too, are choosing a leader and the two candidates (as far as I can see) are Nigel Farage and economist Tim Congdon**.

I was reading through the latter's letter essay of intent, and something struck me, rather. This sentence...
If I am elected leader, UKIP will have the best economist in British politics.

... is followed, a little later, by this one...
The financial crisis in late 2008 came as a profound shock to me.

If Tim Congdon is the "best economist in British politics", one can only assume that the bar is set pretty low—there are plenty of people for whom the financial crisis did not come as "a profound shock".

Later on, this amazing economist explains that when the financial crisis hit, he...
... left UKIP in order to have more access to the top brass in the Conservative Party (and to some extent UK officialdom more generally) to argue for 'quantitative easing', among other things. QE was in fact adopted in early March 2009—and, I am happy to say, the economy recovered briskly.

Hmmm. I am not sure that having a leader who advocates inflating away your savings through a massive devaluation of the currency—which has, in any case, had almost no effect on the economy (except the previously mentioned increase in inflation)—is necessarily what sensible people want to see.

So maybe he'll win...

* After Polly Toynbee, who is well known for contradicting herself many times in the same article.

** I have recently done some paid work for Athena PR, which is representing Nigel Farage. But I can assure you that I am not particularly fussed who wins this contest—I was just struck by the inconsistency highlighted above.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Outsourced by god! No, by Suffolk county council actually...

This is going to be fun to watch—and it's going to heartily piss off the unions, which will make it even more of a giggle.
Now Suffolk county council is taking an even more radical approach to public sector reform by proposing a "virtual" authority that outsources all but a handful of its services.

The Tory-controlled county's "new strategic direction", set for approval tomorrow, could see virtually every service outsourced to social enterprises or companies. The aim is to turn the authority from one which provides public services itself, to an "enabling" council, which only commissions them. The council hopes offloading services could shave 30% off its £1.1bn budget, as part of the government's drive to reduce the fiscal deficit.

Although councils have outsourced chunks of their services before, these proposals are regarded by experts as the first time a local authority has considered not directly providing any services at all.

Services would be offloaded in stages. While some "early adopter" services could be outsourced as early as this autumn, the rest would be divested in three phases from April 2011. Libraries, youth clubs, highway services, independent living centres, careers advice, children's centres, registrars, country parks and a records office are among the first services that could be divested.

Ultimately only a few hundred people could remain directly employed by the council, primarily in contract management. At present, the council employs around 27,000 people, 15,000 of whom work in education, which is set to be taken away from local authority control as the government converts schools to academies and free schools. Many of the remaining 12,000 could face either redundancy or be transferred to a social enterprise or the private sector.

As Timmy says, if we can save taxpayers 30% of £1.1 billion and provide services that are as good (or, hopefully, better) then this productivity leap is an excellent thing.
A 30% increase in efficiency, in productivity? Who wouldn’t want that?

Well, OK, maybe the people being made 30% more efficient aren’t going to be all that happy about it but then just as we don’t and shouldn’t run the market side of the economy for the benefit of companies but for consumers so we shouldn’t be running the public services for the providers but for the consumers.

And for the consumers the same or better at 30% off is a wondrous deal.

Naturally, the unions are up in arms—no doubt the leader of the local Unison branch is basically watching her revenue-target bonus melt away into the aether. But I would imagine that not having to deal with the unions—which are not only a pain in the ring but artificially inflate wages—was a definite positive factor in Suffolk county council's calculations.
The move also raises fears about the quality and extent of services in poorer areas. "There are areas in Ipswich and Lowestoft that are among the 10% most deprived areas of the country. In these areas things like libraries and children's centres will fall by the wayside because there won't be the ability to attract the voluntary help," said Martin [, a Labour councillor].

That might, of course, be an indication that libraries and children's centres are not particularly important to the people of Ipswitch and Lowestoft, although I would imagine that the colossal amounts of paperwork, administration, CRB checks, etc. that voluntary workers would require will also not help.

Anyway, as Timmy also says, we don't know if this plan is actually workable.
I don’t know whether this is going to work, you don’t, the council doesn’t and nor do the unions.

True. But we can look at roughly similar plans and see how they panned out. And, in the case of Maywood, in the US, it has gone pretty well.
Despite the public money it saved, the outsourcing project was highly controversial. When it was announced, residents feared anarchy would follow; old people thought they would be mugged in the streets; local storekeepers wondered if anyone who would stop them from being robbed; families presumed parks and libraries would close. "You have single-handedly destroyed this city," the about-to-be-sacked city treasurer told council members, during the acrimonious meeting where the outsourcing scheme was unveiled.

One month on, however, the naysayers have gone quiet. Maywood's parks are still open and greener than ever. The leisure centre is overflowing with excited children. City Hall appears to be running smoothly. And almost everyone you meet says that since the city outsourced everything, services have improved and petty crime and gang violence have – on the surface, at least – virtually disappeared.

"I don't see gangsters on the streets any more," said Maria Garciaparra, bringing her children to the library. "I don't see new graffiti. I still have a park for them to play in and this place to get books, so who cares whether the city employs anyone or not? If this works, then down the line, I'm sure plenty of other places will copy it."


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Important distinction of the day...

... comes from Tim Worstall who points out, for the umpteenth time, that markets are not the same as capitalism—and vice versa.
As we’ve pointed out around here many times, capitalism is a description of a method of ownership, markets of a method of exchange.

And between the two markets are vastly more important than capitalism or capitalists. For it’s the markets which encourage the competition, not the capitalism.

Here it’s mostly a semantic argument: but in the larger world it’s a very important distinction to make. Capitalism and capitalists will, where they can, shut down competition to the detriment of the consumer. Which is why we’re so enamoured of markets which create and maintain the competition to keep the capitalists in line.

This is why your humble Devil doesn't like state-owned monopolies: because they try to remove the really beneficial part of the equation—the markets.

This goes equally, of course, for governments artificially shutting down private markets—usually after lots of lobbying by big businesses—through massive amounts of regulation or through the granting of effective monopolies over such things as infrastructure. Or currency.

That companies attempt to get governments to do this is hardly unsurprising—as Tim points out. But the best way to stop them doing so is to ensure that politicians do not have the means to do it. To paraphrase P J O'Rourke, when legislators decide what can be bought and sold the first thing to be bought and sold will be the legislators.

As such, ensuring that the legislators can do no such thing is the sensible thing to do—but this is, alas, also something that we have not yet worked out how to do effectively...

The Girl In The Fireplace

Unlike The Appalling Strangeness I am not a Doctor Who encyclopaedia, although the show has been with me for most of my life.

Rather than single out a particular Doctor (although I guess that the Fourth was "mine"), through the last few series of the re-booted outings (barring, oddly (and disappointingly), the last) I would cite Steven Moffat's stories as being exceptional.

Since it is being repeated (again) on iPlayer, I watched The Girl In The Fireplace (again); it's a story that I love because, despite the occasional logical flaws, I feel completely caught up in the emotion of it.

And it makes me weep like a small child.

Many reviews have cited various points which made them feel emotional, but no one seems to have pointed out my bit—the one that really clutches at me.

For me, it is the point at which the Doctor realises that the fireplace still links with the spaceship, 3000 years in the future: as he flicks the switch to activate the portal, he cries, "wish me luck!"

And Madame de Pompadour looks at him (at us) in desperation and, with a crack in her voice, simply says:

It's like any time that you have had to say goodbye to someone you love, knowing—somehow—that the relationship is done, or fundamentally changing: that something has been lost and, whilst you know that it must happen you wish that it would not. A last desperate cry to try to change an inevitable event which you wish—with all your heart—was not fixed.

And it gets me every time...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speech as navigation

As readers may know, your humble Devil works as a product manager for a small web software and services company. One of the specialisms of this company—and thus, one of the concepts that I was introduced to when I joined—was that of Web Accessibility.

I had heard a wee bit about it in my freelancing days, but I had never paid much attention to it, but I am now reasonably expert in the various rules and guidelines (although, I must admit that, in my personal projects, I am not always entirely consistent in its application)—some glimpses of which can be seen, for those that are interested, in my critique of the Labour Party website last year.

I have worked with a couple of blind computer users—in organising our company's seminars and so forth—and they have used either JAWS or SuperNova screen-readers on Windows machines. There are a few free or cheap (or temporary) screenreaders out there, but nothing as high-powered.

The internet is a wonderful innovation, enabling the disabled to do things for themselves that they could only have done with assistance before. The addition of a screen-reader can set the blind free but many disabled people do not have a high income—and, tragically, screen-readers are expensive—SuperNova is nearly £1,000.

Given all of this, I really should have investigated Apple's built-in VoiceOver screen-reading software before: to be honest, however, I thought that it was a cheap, knock-down version that would never replace "proper" screen-readers. It appears that I was wrong.

Via Daring Fireball, I have come across a blog written by Austin Seraphin—who is blind—and who has just purchased his first new Mac since the Apple II. And it seems that I was wrong: VoiceOver is a fully functional piece of kit.
This represents the cutting edge of accessible technology for the blind. It cuts! I joyfully look forward to the day when blind people finally catch on and realize that for $700, HALF the cost of JAWS for Windows, the most popular software used or rather pushed on the blind, they can get a fully functional computer that delivers a superior experience and comes with a superior screen reader with superior speech. May the Mac relegate Windows to the recycle bin, where it properly belongs. Don’t worry, they’ll still have their corporate clients. This probably means that we can expect crappier services from these companies, but who cares, WE will have all switched to Macs by then.

Austin's re-conversion has come about—amazingly—because of his purchase of an iPhone a few months ago. VoiceOver on the iPhone, almost incredibly, enables blind users to use a touchscreen device with precision: for Austin, the iPhone has been a life-changing experience.
Last Wednesday, my life changed forever. I got an iPhone. I consider it the greatest thing to happen to the blind for a very long time, possibly ever. It offers unparalleled access to properly made applications, and changed my life in twenty-four hours. The iPhone only has one thing holding it back: iTunes. Nevertheless, I have fallen in love.

When I first heard that Apple would release a touchpad cell phone with VoiceOver, the screen reading software used by Macs, I scoffed. The blind have gotten so used to lofty promises of a dream platform, only to receive some slapped together set of software with a minimally functional screen reader running on overpriced hardware which can’t take a beating. I figured that Apple just wanted to get some good PR – after all, how could a blind person even use a touchpad? I laughed at the trendies, both sighted and blind, buying iPhones and enthusing about them. That changed when another blind friend with similar opinions also founded in long years of experience bought one, and just went nuts about how much she loved it, especially the touchpad interface. I could hardly believe it, and figured that I should reevaluate things.

I went to the AT&T store with my Mom. It felt like coming full circle, since we went to an Apple store many years ago to get my Apple II/E. To my delight, the salesman knew about VoiceOver and how to activate it, though didn’t know about how to use it. Fortunately, I read up on it before I went. Tap an item to hear it, double tap to activate it, swipe three fingers to scroll. You can also split-tap, where you hold down one location and tap another. This makes for more rapid entry once you understand it. It also has a rotor which you activate by turning your fingers like a dial. You can also double triple-finger tap to toggle speech, and a triple triple-finger tap turns on the awesome screen curtain, which disables the screen and camera.

Many reviews and people said to spend at least a half hour to an hour before passing judgment on using a touchpad interface with speech. I anticipated a weird and slightly arduous journey, especially when it came to using the keyboard. To my great surprise, I picked it up immediately. Within 30 seconds, I checked the weather. Next, I read some stock prices. Amazingly, it even renders stock charts, something the blind have never had access to. Sold.

Austin's issue was that iTunes on other platforms is not Accessible, and this was one of the primary reasons for his purchase of the new iMac—now he has full Access to all of the software that hooks into VoiceOver.

I know that many will see this post as simply another puff piece for Apple (disclosure: I no longer hold shares in the company) but I am seriously excited: now I know that I can start testing the sites and software that I build in a fully-functional screen-reader, I shall make every effort to do so.


Because I have seen, at first hand, how immensely liberating the digital world is for those who are disabled—especially those who are blind. Since I rarely get out and about to seminars these days, and work less than I used to with our partners, every now and again, I need reminding of how a little effort in software development can, quite literally, change someone's life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

EU tussle and systems of government control

N.B. This has turned into a massive 3,500 word post containing ramblings, conpiracy theories and general codifications of disparate but oft-articulated thoughts. You have been warned.

It was inevitable, of course, that my slightly throw-away post on Our New Coalition Overlords' meaningless EU "referendum lock" should be commented on by the redoubtable Nosemonkey.
Psst... the Lisbon self-amending thing is nonsense, based on a misunderstanding of Article 48.

This is designed for very minor amendments (primarily small changes of phrasing to prevent misunderstandings in application, should these arise), and has numerous checks and balances in place. Read it for yourself here.

It’s also very difficult to change the treaty. It would require:
  1. consultation with the Commission and European Parliament (and in some cases the European Central Bank)
    [Consultation by whom? I am sure that the Commission—the only body that can initiate EU law—are more than capable of consulting with themselves. And the European Parliament is a toothless distraction—DK]

  2. a majority vote in the European Council

  3. the formation of a Convention to examine the proposed changes

  4. a conference of representatives of the governments of the member states to examine these the Convention’s findings

  5. a “consenus” to be reached (implying unanimity under existing EU working methods)

  6. ratification by all member states according to the requirements of their own national constitutions

  7. if, after 2 years, not all member states have ratified the amendments, they are to be re-assessed

In addition, Article 48.6 explicitly states that this “shall not increase the competences conferred on the Union in the Treaties”.

In other words, Lisbon has a self-amending clause, but not one that could confer more powers on the EU. For this, a new treaty would be required – and under ongoing EU rules, this would still require a unanimous agreement from the member states.

But let's not let facts get in the way of hyperbole, eh?

Indeed not. But we have also seen how the EU is in this project for the long term, and what seem like insurmountable odds when listed above are, quite demonstrably, not.

We know this because larger, more disruptive and more bureaucratic undertakings have been successfully undertaken by the EU machine—not least the formation and ratification of the Lisbon Treaty itself. Sure, there were hiccoughs along the way (as far as the elites are concerned), but the Lisbon Treaty is substantially the same as the EU Constitution in all meaningful aspects.*

EUReferendum further enunciates the pointlessness of the Coalition's fig-leaf referendum legislation, in typically trenchant language... [Emphasis mine.]
The terminal flaw in the initiative is that its authors fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the EU and how it works. Thus, they blather about requiring a referendum whenever there is a proposed transfer of power, in which context we are promised a referendum in the event of another treaty.

Where the understanding fails is that the treaties are more in the nature of enabling acts, which hand over rights to make legislation in particular policy areas, or "competences". The actual transfers of power come when the EU exercises those rights and actually makes the legislation, be it regulations or directives or whatever.

Thus, "lock" or not, the transfer of powers will continue regardless, most often with the approval of the Tories who are as a matter of policy wholly supportive of the "project". But then, they have never understood the EU – and never will. Their corporate stupidity is famous throughout the land, and it is not going to change now.

It is a simple fact that the range of EU competencies is astonishingly wide, and are prone to mission creep: an EU competency in "green" issues, for instance, becomes a plausible excuse for EU meddling in energy generation policy.

In passing laws to combat "climate change", for instance, the EU can put massive taxes on coal-fired, carbon-emitting power-stations, mandate that power companies must pay huge carbon-emission fines (of about £6 billion per annum, currently) or insist that member state governments subsidise "renewable energy".

Thus, whether or not energy generation is officially an EU competence (and, offhand, I cannot recall whether it is—although this is, as I say, immaterial), it effectively becomes one through EU measures designed to combat "climate change".

Of course, as far as people like Nosemonkey are concerned, this is A Good Thing; for whilst NM is not a huge fan of the EU as currently constituted, he is a believer in supra-national governments.
In 17th century Britain and 18th century France and America, the call was for no monarch to be above the law. In the 21st century the call should be that no government—or, to be precise, no state—should be above the law.

I’ve long argued that this is one of my key reasons for favouring some form of supranational governmental structure:
I for one would welcome legal restrictions on the ability of the state to interfere in our lives through unjust laws. I would like there to be lines in the sand, over which no government can step.

The trouble is, rather obviously, the age-old question of quis custodiet ipsos custodes—who guards the guards themselves?

Let us take, for instance, the United Nations—which is, arguably, the nearest thing that we have to a world government or final arbiter of international relations. Does this organisation break the law that it sets for others? Well, possibly (just search for UN whistleblower)—and its agents most certainly do (as I have pointed out many times, UN officials seem to specialise in pimping and otherwise sexually abusing vulnerable children). And the UN is certainly ineffective (although some might see this as a good thing).

In any case, the point is that a supra-national government is going to be no more inclined to obey "the law" than any other powerful body. Laws are, in any case, made by governments; retrospectively making past actions legal, for instance, is something that governments are rather fond of (New Labour did it a number of times—most famously in making the wholesale slaughter of animals in the food and mouth epidemic a legal act after the fact). Further, the bigger and more powerful the governmental body, the more difficult it is to enforce any kind of laws against them anyway.

These are all points that I have brought up in person with Nosemonkey: eloquent though he is, I have yet to receive replies that satisfy me. I'll admit, I'm a hard person to carry when one is talking about giving any kind of government more power but I simply don't see that a massive government is any less likely to break laws than smaller ones: in fact, given that it is far harder to constrain a larger force than a smaller one, I can see larger governments being considerably more likely to arrange things to their liking than not. "All power corrupts," etc...

In any case, when Richard at EUReferendum maintains that the EU does not aim to be a super-state, he is probably correct.
The first and foremost requirement of any campaigner is to "know your enemy"—Wellington's finding out what is on the other side of the hill, and all that. And the most crucial thing you will ever learn about the EU is that it is not a super-state, has no ambitions to become one and will not become one. But it is, increasingly, a super-government—and that is where it intends to go.

Primarily, the EU is a means by which the political élites in each of the member states by-pass the democratic institutions in their own countries, imposing their rule without the inconvenience of people participation. That is why the construct is so popular and enduring. The élites have created their own government without the interference of the pesky people.

In short, the EU is not an external agency imposed on us by foreigners (the UKIP/little Englander paradigm) but a conspiracy in plain sight, so glaring and obvious that it is ignored by all. It is the mechanism by which the political élites of Europe by-pass democracy and keep themselves in power. Thus, the EU is what the power élite in the British establishment impose on their own people—replicated in each country of the Union of Elites.

As you know, your humble Devil is far from enamoured of democracy—for it is simply a way of entrenching the tyranny of the majority into the political system—but it does have the advantage of enabling the people to get rid of governments that they do not like.

(This system of democracy is, of course, slowly but surely destroying the West: the entitlement culture and quite deliberately tutored ignorance engendered by government education programmes mean that the demoi of the developed countries consistently vote for more money and services for themselves, whilst ignoring the fact that the state has no money but what it extorts from wealth creators—hence the fact that almost all Western countries are social democracies up to their eyeballs in unsustainable levels of debt.

At the same time, taxes and regulations on business—although, since our states are at least partly corporatist and large companies are able to buy themselves loop-holes, the lion's share of these burdens fall on the SMEs that provide the vast bulk of employment and wealth creation—have become so burdensome that economic growth has slowed to minute percentages.

As such, to take Britain as an entirely typical example, the government is caught between a Scylla (of huge debt, which, including future liabilities, renders the state effectively bankrupt) and Charybdis (of a population continuing to vote for universal service provision requiring high taxes that stifle economic growth). This country is, to use technical term, fucked.)

Unappetising and, let's face it, near-indistinguishable as our reasonable options for government are, democracy does allow us to remove one bunch of corrupt bastards and replace them with another, very slightly different, bunch of corrupt bastards.

The EU has no such mechanism. The only body that can initiate EU laws is the EU Commission, and the EU Commission are appointees—they are not directly voted for and they often do not represent anything that the demoi actually desire in a government.

If you doubt me, simply look at some recent British Comissioners: Neil Kinnock—a Labour Party leader decisively rejected by the British people twice times in elections—and Peter Mandelson, an engaging but poisonous little weasel who had to resign twice from government for corruption.

Do either of these appointees make you believe that our elected representatives are sending the very best quality people to serve on the EU Commission? No, me neither.

One of the things that government is very good at is maintaining a positive narrative—often through recurring state-sponsored events, parades, bank holidays and other nationalist "bread and circuses"-style distractions.

For instance, As EUReferendum points out in a hugely interesting post, far from helping the British people during the Blitz, the state—where it did not actively endanger its people by, for instance, refusing to let people shelter in Underground railway stations—failed to help the hundreds of thousands who were injured and rendered homeless. Similarly, during these horrific days, the RAF were of little help, and yet the state has been able to maintain the fiction of the heroic Few saving Britain from invasion.
After the tube trains have finished running for the night, it remains policy to lock the stations and mount police guards to keep people out. And the police did as they were told by their bosses.

In a few stations, though, there were people sheltering overnight. This is so unusual that a Guardian columnist actually writes about it in his paper – he is one of the lucky ones. But it is only because the people turned up en masse with crowbars and swept the police aside. They broke into the stations and secured shelter, in defiance of the authorities and their prohibitions. The people decided and, shortly afterwards, the government caved in and lifted the prohibition.

It was the same elsewhere on other issues. Shelter management and organisation was set up not by the government but by volunteers. When the government decided to put its own people in, they were swept aside. Local vicars, WVS volunteers, and many others, started making sense of the rest centres, and gradually order—and humanity—prevailed. And, in each case, the government fell into line.

Indeed. In this pattern, Richard sees hope for a way out of the shit state that our democracy is in—in the form of a people's revolution.
In other words, the collapse of society was averted—and the safety of the people assured—more or less, not by a beneficent government but by people power. It was their endurance, their good sense, their organisational skills and perseverance that saved the day—not the dead hand of a corrupt, inefficient, lethargic public bureaucracy.

That is why the Battle of Britain still matters now. The carefully crafted official myth perpetuates and sustains the political status quo, a centralist, statist, top-down myth that suits both the left and the right wing of British politics. It is the myth that government is a force for good, that it works and that it has the interests of the people at heart.

The real message, therefore, is the one that needs to be taken up and replicated—because it is totally relevant to today's conditions. And that is stark: no one is going to come to our rescue and save us from the messes the government has created—any more than they did in 1940. We are going to have to do it ourselves. When the going gets tough, the only thing that matters is people power.

This may well be the case—and I am seeing, on blogs and in comments, an ever-increasing frequency of calls for some sort of revolution. Alas, I do not share Richard's optimism about its likelihood—although I do share his faith in human beings, as autonomous individuals, in general.

However, it is the concept of autonomy that leads to my lack of faith: I don't believe that the vast majority of people in this country are autonomous in any meaningful sense—and certainly not as regards their political ideas.

Because it seems obvious to me that successive governments took careful note of what happened during the Blitz: as Richard puts it, "in each case, the government fell into line". Now, I may get accused of conspiracy here, but I think that the state learned there—and that lesson was not that people could do it for themselves (and so the state should remove itself from their affairs) but that, if allowed, people would do it for themselves.

And if they did so, then the power of the state was reduced—and this must never be allowed to happen again.

And no, I don't think that this driver came mainly from the politicians—they are, in the main, too stupid, venal, ignorant, vain and (surprised at their good fortune and knowing that it cannot last) concerned with lining their own pockets.

No, such an agenda could only be pursued by the Civil Service—that body of shadowy mandarins that Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance, for one, has identified as a core enemy of any libertarian movement.

Can't you see it? Imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby, crying indignantly, "the people cannot be allowed to organise themselves! There would be anarchy!" And now, more silkily, "besides, the people don't want to be bothered with all the administrative tedium of governing themselves. They want to be guided by the government into leading fulfilled and happy lives." And, decisively: "And the government, Bernard, is us."

I'm sure that it all began with the best of intentions—the National Insurance (although that was, as we know, corrupted long before it even became a reality), the child support, the tax credits and, most crucially of all, the state-sponsored schooling—but what a panicked government found was that all of the fenceposts for a system of societal control were already in place. All that the post-War government needed to do was to connect them and the people would cage themselves.

With the government having controlled almost all sickness and unemployment insurance since 1911 and most schooling since 1880 (with control tightening in a series of Education Acts in 1902, 1918, 1944, 1964 and up to the present day), it was relatively easy for the post-War government to extend itself into the provision of almost all healthcare, education and insurance—thus tightening its grip on the people through near-universal service provision.

Milton Friedman famously said...
I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible. The reason I am is because I believe the big problem is not taxes, the big problem is spending. The question is, "How do you hold down government spending?"

one of the prime reasons for holding down government spending—apart from the fact, as we see today, that governments spend profligately and unwisely—is that money, especially vast amounts of it, is power.

Of course, universal service provision enabled the government to demand, legitimately, far more money from taxpayers whether those taxpayers used the services provided or not. And so we have taxes rising steadily, from some 8% of GDP in 1880 to the situation that we have today—in which the government spends over 50% of all of the wealth generated yearly in this country.

By the end of the Second World War, many people were dead and the Friendly Societies (as an example of people having organised their own lifestyle insurance) had been all but wiped out (largely thanks to private corporates and the British Medical Association) for some thirty years.

As a result, the concept of voluntary collectivism and self-help was fading rapidly in the public consciousness—ably helped along by the narrative of the government as saviour of the British people from the Nazi threat (largely through the fetishisation of Churchill and other national bodies, such as the RAF).

With the state now in charge of the schooling agenda of well over 90% of British children (and, through regulation, influencing the curricula of the rest), the narrative of the state as protector—a benign body in loco parentis—was not difficult to seed.

As the narrative became more obvious, the teaching profession (already largely people by left wingers) became even more saturated by socialists, Communists and other statist cheerleaders. As the state ramped up Welfare payments from being simply a basic payout in extremis to being a cushion for lifestyles choices, the entrapment of the masses became complete.

And so here we are, where those who value liberty over security are in the minority (vocal though they may be in this blogging medium), oppressed and milked by the vast mass of state-aid recipients through the ballot box—behind which stand the politicians who are only too happy to buy the votes that keep them in their cushy jobs.

Revolution? Don't make me laugh. There will be no revolution in our lifetimes, either at the ballot box or in the streets.

The bovine population have been educated—nearly from birth—to believe that the state is the people's friend, and that the way in which we do things now is not only the most efficient but also the most morally correct way to run a society.

Those who are in receipt of handouts will not vote for their withdrawal, and will vote for more if they can—indeed, such is the tax burden that even those who are working could simply not afford to live were their state life-line removed.

And most of those who are not in receipt of such monies have been educated all of their lives to believe that said "benefits" are a moral certitude and that to even consider other systems a heresy.

This attitude is, of course, predicated on a patronising middle-class contempt for the "working classes"—by which, of course, they mean the non-working classes—who, like Sir Humphrey, they see as being so stupid, ignorant and feckless that the chances of said working classes being able to organise a piss-up in a brewery, let alone create ordered community insurance for themselves, is a concept to be treated with a bray of hollow, cynical laughter.

The sad pity being, of course, that as the people become ever more used to the handouts and the state molly-coddling, and ever less able to even conceive of the kind of self-help that was in such abundance only a century ago, this mirth is ever more justified.

As for trying to change this state of affairs, it is difficult enough to try to organise and motivate a band of the willing—let alone fighting against a majority of the unwilling. So you'll forgive me if I feel that the outlook is bleak, and that the only path that our societies tread is that of decadence and decline, finally fading into senescence and death.**

* There is one crucial difference, though, which people such as James Higham and his friends at the Albion Alliance don't seem to understand: unlike the EU Constitution, which was designed to replace all previous treaties, the Lisbon Treaty is an amending treaty.

As such, it references and requires all previous treaties to be extant, and the mechanisms by which those treaties are enacted in member countries also must be in force. As such, the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act would remove us from the legal obligations of the Lisbon Treaty in a way that would not have been possible under the EU Constitution.

** And I haven't even covered the role of the corporates and the media in all of this...

The decadent West

Browsing through the Total Politics Top Blogs 200–101 List, I came upon a blog that I have not perused for some time—Cicero's Songs. I appeared a few times on 18 Doughty Street TV with Cicero (who has been writing almost as long as your humble Devil) and he is a very interesting person—well travelled (especially in the Baltic States), a good writer and possessed of a keen sense of liberty.

This last trait is much informed by the first, but I was again reminded of the second and third as I browsed the blog. I particularly enjoyed a post entitled The Ninny State—a comparison of China's slow to inexorable progress towards freedom, whilst in the West it declines—not because Cicero's reasoning and conclusions are particularly ground-breaking, but because they are framed in such a clear, forceful way. Here are some highlights, but do wander over and read the whole thing...
In the West where what passes for full democracy is already in place, it is clear that the promise of democracy in terms of personal freedom and fulfilment is not being met. The rights of the individual have often been subordinated to the limited private interests—and corporations can often dictate their will to the supposedly democratic organs of state.

However the key element in the weakening of the West has been the actions of the State itself. This is especially true in economic affairs. The power of the state over matters of employment, personal economic welfare choices, and certain aspects of social behaviour has grown, is growing faster, and needs to be reduced.

The past decades have seen the emergence of a society where freedom of action of the individual has been generally reduced in order to improve economic security. The problem is that rescuing the poor from impoverishment through the "welfare state" apparatus has ended up so limiting individual freedom, in the field of entrepreneurship for example, that the overall wealth generating capacity of society has fallen to a level where the welfare state itself can not longer be sustained without impossible levels of debt. In this I am not talking so much about a system of progressive or even redistributive tax, but rather the creation of a clientele of individuals and families that do not work at all.

We do not consider the cost side of any cost benefit analysis—only that benefits—however minor—should be pursued regardless of cost.

This is essentially decadent. We can not impose our own self indulgence upon the next generations- who most certainly will not be able to maintain the fiction that all things can be afforded. It is not necessarily the case that society need do without many of the positive things that the welfare state may offer, but that these things can no longer be offered by the government. More to the point, maintaining oneself and one's family can not be done at the cost of the rest of society. It is necessary that welfare claimants provide some contribution in return for the benefits that they receive: unemployment is corrosive, and once the discipline of work is lost, it is hard to regain it—as we see on too many sink estates.

We have allowed the ambition of too many individuals to dwindle to their next giro—so it is hardly any wonder that out of boredom and frustration, our barely educated underclass resorts to drink, drugs and violence. By fencing in its citizens—over protecting them—freedom has been diminished to enhance safety.

Those who sell freedom to gain security end up with neither, and that at the economic and social level is what has happened in too many places in the West. The price is an inexorable decline in wealth for the next generations—unless we can wean ourselves off the culture of economic dependency that has been fostered by the misguided good intentions of the current system.

There really isn't much that I disagree with there—and I am sure that most of my readers would agree with Cicero's assessment. The big challenge is not only to find the remedy, but also to be able to enact it—and this last is far, far more difficult than the first.

I think that it is pretty obvious that the Coalition are certainly not going to make any significant changes and Labour most certainly will not. As such, I fear that our long decline will only continue...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lefty Thinking Fail

Ok. So you're a certifiable GROLIE (but I repeat myself) and you've worked yourself up into a lather of righteous - oh the irony - indignation about the cost to the taxpayer of the Papal visit.

So what do you do?


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Smoke and mirrors

David Lidington MP, Minister for Europe, is pleased as punch to be deceiving you all...

Our New Coalition Overlords™ have enacted their promise to save us all from the nasty foreigners kow-tow to the European Union through a piece of meaningless legislation.
The Government will announce plans for a “referendum lock” on any future surrendering of British powers to the European Union.

The change has been hailed as one of the most significant attempts to protect the sovereignty of Britain over the EU for nearly 40 years.

Ministers will introduce the right to hold a referendum by amending the original 1972 European Communities Act under which Britain joined the Common Market.

The amendment, which could be law by next year, will allow for a vote if there is “any transfer of powers away from the UK and towards the centre”, according to a Whitehall source.

It would cover any future treaty—successors to the previous Maastricht, Nice and Lisbon treaties—or any large scale transfer of power outside those treaties.

"Oh, Devil!" I hear you cry. "How can you be so negative? This is a significant step in protecting the British people from the predations of the evil EU empire!"

Well, yes, it would be. Except that, as we all know by now, the Lisbon Treaty is self-amending, so there will be no other treaties. It is, if you like, the treaty to end all treaties.

As such, no referendum will ever happen because the "referendum lock" only kicks in if powers are transferred in "any future treaty". This legislation is just smoke and mirrors—the government are playing us for fools.

Go back to bed, Britain—your EU government is in control...

More rent-seeking

It seems that—in addition to Ian Arundale (who ponces about somewhere in Wales)—yet another rent-seeking policeman is warning us all that the cuts that aren't cuts will bring Armageddon.
A top police officer urged ministers on Tuesday to protect forces from the worst of the public spending cuts so they can deal with potential social and industrial unrest arising from them.

Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett, president of the powerful Police Superintendents' Association, warned of "consequences" in a speech he is due to deliver at the body's annual conference in Cheshire on Wednesday.

So, one bunch of corrupt thugs who regularly break the law and intimidate law-abiding citizens are warning us about another bunch of corrupt thugs who regularly break the law and intimidate law-abiding citizens.

Why don't we just lock them all up and have done with it?

A culture difference

Over in the US, a certain Paul Karl refused to be intimidated and questioned by US border guards—insisting, instead, in pursuing his right not to be interrogated.
“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country,” I said.

This did not go over well. She asked a series of questions, such as how long I had been in China, whether I was there on personal business or commercial business, etc. I stood silently.

It's worth reading the whole post; it's even more worthwhile reading Paul's response to commenters, in which he lays down the rights that he possesses, as an American citizen: one extract struck me particularly...
  1. A U.S. Citizen Cannot Be Denied Re-Entry To Her Own Country.

    A federal judge in Puerto Rico—a territory sensitive to the rights and privileges of its residents' U.S. citizenship—said it best: "The only absolute and unqualified right of citizenship is to residence within the territorial boundaries of the United States; a citizen cannot be either deported or denied reentry." U.S. v. Valentine, 288 F. Supp. 957, 980 (D.P.R. 1968).

No, it is not the re-entry that I wish to highlight, but the deportation aspect. I did write, quite extensively, about this at The Kitchen, but our government does not have the same attitude to its citizens' protection as that of the USA's.

Not only did it sign up to a grossly unfair and one-sided treaty with our American cousins, but our state also signed up to the increasingly infamous European Arrest Warrant. In respect of that, Dan Hannan once again highlights the case of Andrew Symeou.
You would have no such consolation in the case of Andrew Symeou, a young man from Enfield who has lost three years of his life because of what looks like a straightforward case of mistaken identity. Andrew is in Greece, still waiting for his trial on manslaughter charges, although the only evidence against him rests on suspiciously worded witness statements which have since been retracted or contradicted.

And he is far from being the only one.

Our government is failing, and has failed for some time, to fulfil its primary (and only worthwhile) role—to protect British citizens. Our MPs signed away that power—in favour, it sometimes seems, of just about any arbitrary justice system in the world.

The European Arrest Warrant a fucking travesty which we should remove ourselves from at the first fucking opportunity. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen under the jackboot velvet glove rule of Our Coalition Overlords™—something that we can establish from the fact that, not only have they failed to remove us from this oppression, but they have also signed up for yet more intrusive foreign legislation, in the form of the European Investigation Order.

Leaving aside the fact that she is obviously a fucking traitor, why did Theresa May decide to sign up away yet more of our rights? It is unclear.

So, admirable trouble-maker Douglas Carswell MP has decided to ask her directly.
'm genuinely curious as to why Theresa May, Home Secretary, signed us up to the European Investigation Order. She didn't have to. She could easily have said no. But she chose to make British police forces subject to them.

I've tabled some Parliamentary questions to ask her to publish the advice she received before she made her decision, as her statement to the Commons still leaves me a little curious.

Perhaps it was because senior officials in her department wanted it - in which case we should be told. Maybe it was because ACPO - the Association of Chief Police Officers - wanted it? But if we did all that that ACPO asks, we'd probably be wearing compulsory ID tags. I'll keep you posted when I get those answers...

Now, since I am pretty sure that Theresa's reply will not include the words "because I'm a disgusting, hypocritical, lying traitor who couldn't give two shits about the British people whom I am supposed to represent", we shall simply have to see what her answer is.

But I shall tell you this now—no excuse is going to be good enough.

It's time to start sharpening the cockroaches again...

Time to kill the unions

Bob Crow: thug.

As I have pointed out a number of times, there are no real cuts in prospect: in fact, spending will be some 9% higher in five years than it is now.

For those who don't understand, the Adam Smith Institute has published some handy figures, the textual highlights of which I reproduce below...
As this table shows, the government's proposed cuts are pretty small beer. In nominal terms, spending will rise every year. In real terms (assuming 2 percent a year price inflation) this equates to small cuts in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14, followed by small rises in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Compared to the c.60% real terms public spending rise that took place under the previous government, this is, frankly, insignificant.

Current spending meanwhile (and almost all 'vital, front-line public services' fall into this category) will rise every year between now and 2015-16, even in real terms...

Now, OK, these are not exactly big rises - but nor are they swingeing cuts that will (a) have any significant effect on the economy or (b) on the public services-using population at large. What the coalition's spending plans really amount to is a five-year, real terms freeze of current expenditure, combined with three years of significant falls in capital expenditure. The overall impact of that is a a very small, real terms drop in TME (roundabout 1.5%) between now and 2015-16.

Now, personally, I don't think that there is any real reason to be calm, since this doesn't solve the problem of our fucking enormous deficit: as the Cobden Centre points out, the government is already effectively insolvent.

Leaving that aside—for the problem is so big that it boggles my tiny mind—one cannot quite see why the unions are making such a fuss; regardless, the leaders of the trades unions are gearing up for some seriously militant action.
A ‘call to arms’ for workers across the country to go out on strike in protest at Government spending cuts will be issued by a senior trade union leader today.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, will also urge employees in both the public and private sectors to take part in civil disobedience during a wave of 1930s-style all-out general strikes.

In a speech at the RMT annual conference in Aberdeen, he will say that “a sustained campaign of generalised strikes” was necessary due to the “fiscal fascism” being imposed by the Coalition Government.

So, the unions will go on strike and everyone will realise how much they don't need these people. If public transport is at a stand-still, people will drive to work (or wherever). If there is no other way to get to the office, the internet and access-anywhere applications will enable people to work from home.

The vast majority of people—especially those who are employed and productive—have very little interaction with the agents of the state services (which, of course, are rather more dominated by union members than private companies are).

The people who will be hit hardest will be those whom Bob and his fellow union buddies profess to be so very concerned about—the poor and the feckless.

Nice one, Bob.

What is doubly irritating, of course, is that we are paying for the unions' war against ourselves; and these chunks of cash are, as Mark Wallace points out, substantial.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has produced a crucial report on the Trade Unions today [PDF]—exposing the true scale to which unions are subsidised with taxpayers’ money.

As well as the Union Modernisation Fund, which lives on despite its growing notoriety, the TPA have uncovered 2,493 full time Union employees who are paid for by public sector bodies at a cost of £67.5 million a year.

This is crucial for two reasons. First, it means that key union overheads like recruitment and organising of branches are funded by the general public without their knowledge or approval. Even more importantly, it means that the levies raised from union members are freed up for campaigning war chests.

It is bad enough when politicians use our money to conspire against us, but what the Coalition is doing is insane.
Poilitically, and most importantly, what should be done about the Unions’ taxpayer-funding, and their political activities as a whole? It is telling that the payments to the union movement rose by 14% in Labour’s last year in office – they chose to buy union support (and donations) using taxpayers’ cash.

Some Conservatives may believe that by continuing these payments they will be able to keep the unions sweet. Far from it. The union movement as a whole is bitterly, eternally opposed to the essential spending cuts that must be carried out. They’ll merrily pocket cash from a Tory Government – but they certainly won’t change their tune just because the enemies they love to hate are foolish enough to appease them.

Continuing to make these payments would mean that the Coalition is actively subsidising groups who intend to apply political pressure against Coalition policies. Worse, when the inevitable strikes begin, those 2,493 paid officials will be manning the pickets, rallying the troops and helping to organise the disruption of public services. This is worse than appeasement – it’s helping to pay the wages of the opposing army.

Our New Coalition Overlords™ are effectively throwing our money at the unions, who then conspire to make our lives a misery—and to bring down the government which is authorising the payments.

Further, since union demands are almost always for shorter working hours and more pay, the government is paying these bastards large chunks of our money so that they can afford to lobby the government to be given even more of our hard-earned cash for doing even less work.

It is barking fucking insanity. And, frankly, it's deeply fucking insulting.

Still, it is time for the government to be libertarian: quite simply, the antiquated laws that prevent employers from sacking striking workers must be removed—as I proposed to Brendan O'Neill at the IEA debate.
In conversations afterwards, in the pub, I pointed this out to Brendan. I was consistent, I maintained, because—like him—I did not want the government propping up (and being lobbied by) business. But trades unions are just as much of a vested interest as the corporates. If one truly believes in libertarianism, then one should not support the laws against sacking strikers. In fact, there should be no government interference on either side.

The whole point of a trade union was to be able to motivate large numbers of workers so that, if an employer behaved unjustly, then they would have to negotiate because otherwise they couldn't carry out their business. This is far more true now—when most workers are skilled and require considerable training—than it was when the trades unions were first formed (when much of the work was repetitive manual labour).

In the end, Brendan appeared, at least, to agree with me that the state should be involved on neither side, although he still maintained the right to strike was one of the most fundamental. I countered that everyone has the right to strike, law or no law—they just don't have the right to remain employed if doing so.

I suspect that workers would be far less happy to vote for strikes if they were fully aware that there might be no job for them to return to. And all we would be doing is levelling the playing field.

As usual, I don't expect Our New Coalition Overlords™ to do anything so bold. However, I would hope that they would stop paying the union danegeld: history shows that giving into blackmail never works for long...

Banking on your savings...

Blog mascot Steve Baker MP appears to be earning his salary...

There has been an awful lot of rubbish talked about banking over the last few years, including the idea that banks should be split into the nice, solid, reliable "High Street banks" and evil, risk-taking, "casino" banks.

Fair enough.

Except that the evidence simply doesn't bear out this analysis, as A Very British Dude points out very succinctly.
Nowhere did investment banking losses pull a retail bank down, or requrire one to take government bail-out money: let's look at the UK banking sector:
  • Lloyds TSB: Safe, solvent, straighthforward Retail bank, until it was persuaded to buy HBoS by Economic Jonah, Gordon Brown.

  • HBoS (Halifax, Bank of Scotland): mainly retail, Large Mortgage Business, which went belly-up and took Lloyds TSB with it too.
  • Royal Bank of Scotland, very small investment bank, Largest UK retail operation, big Corporate loan book, whose purchase of ING ABN Amro strained its balance sheet to breaking point. It's failure was hubris, not Investment banking.

  • HSBC: Universal Bank, large global retail and investment banking operations, now trading at the same shareprice it was before the crisis, and is still paying dividends.

  • Barclays: Large UK retail bank, overseas operations, buccaneering and ambitious investment bank, who were raised funds from private investors and just managed to keep out of Government hands.

  • Standard Chartered: International corporate and retail bank, mainly Asia and Africa - no problem at all.

  • Northern Rock: Ex Building society turned Mortgage and Retail, bailed out by a Labour government because they couldn't bear to see anyone make money and wanted to save jobs in key marginals.

  • Bradford & Bingley: See Northern Rock. Eventually bought by Spanish banking group, Santander.

Let's look at the evidence: Of the two "universal banks" listed in the UK, neither had to touch the UK taxpayer for money. HSBC was able to cope with the crash on it's own resources and Barclays was able to use its contacts from the investment bank to touch sovereign wealth investors, who have now been paid back. The banks which had got into trouble were either Mortgage banks without a large retail business from which the Mortgages were funded: Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley, or they were banks who sailed close to the minimum Capital adequacy ratio like Royal Bank of Scotland. Or, like HBoS, Both.

So, the conventional wisdom simply isn't on the money.

However, that doesn't mean that there are not problems with the banking industry—there are. And one of the most fundamental wrongs is the fact that once you put your money in a bank, it no longer belongs to you.

No, really.

The Cobden Centre outlines the background.
The key case is Carr v Carr 1811 (reported in Merivale (541 n) 1815 – 17). A testator in making his bequest said “whatever debts might be due to him…at the time of his death”, the key question in this case being whether “a cash balance due to him on his banker’s account” passed by this bequest. The Master of the Rolls, Sir William Grant held that it did. He reasoned that it was not a depositum; a sealed bag of money could be, but this generally deposited money could not possibly have an ‘earmark’. Grant concluded on this point, “when money is paid into a banker’s, he always opens a debtor and creditor account with the payor. The banker employs the money himself, and is liable merely to answer the drafts of his customers to that amount.” For the legal scholars among you, Vaisey v Reynolds 1828 and Parker v Merchant 1843 both affirmed this position.

In Davaynes v Noble 1816 it was argued in front of Grant that a banker is a bailee rather than a debtor. Rejecting that argument, Grant said “money paid into a banker’s becomes immediately a part of his general assets; and he is merely a debtor for the amount.”

In Sims v Bond 1833 the Chief Justice of the Queens Bench Division affirmed in judgement “sums which are paid to the credit of a customer with a banker, though usually called deposits, are, in truth, loans by the customer to the banker.”

The House of Lords, then the highest court in the land, had its say on the matter in Foley v Hill and Others 1848, duly reported in the Clerk’s Reports, House of Lords 1847-66 (pages 28 and 36-7). In summary, the appellant in 1829 opened a bank account with the respondent bankers. Two further deposits we added in 1830 and in 1831 interest was still added. In 1838 the appellant brought proceedings against the respondent bankers seeking recovery of both the principle and interest. The counsel cleverly tried to argue that it was the duty of the respondent bankers to keep all the accounts up to date at all times and thus there was more to this relationship than that of debtor and creditor.

The Lord Chancellor Cottenham said the following in judgement
Money, when paid into a bank, ceases altogether to be the money of the principal; it is by then the money of the banker, who is bound to return an equivalent by paying a similar sum to that deposited with him when he is asked for it. The money paid into a banker’s is money known by the principal to be placed there for the purpose of being under the control of the banker; it is then the banker’s money; he is known to deal with it as his own; he makes what profit of it he can, which profit he retains to himself, paying back only the principal, according to the custom of bankers in some places, or the principal and a small rate of interest, according to the custom of bankers in other places. The money placed in custody of a banker is, to all intents and purposes, the money of the banker, to do with it as he pleases; he is guilty of no breach of trust in employing it; he is not answerable to the principal if he puts it into jeopardy, if he engages in a hazardous speculation; he is not bound to keep it or deal with it as the property of his principal; but he is, of course, answerable for the amount, because he has contracted, having received that money, to repay to the principal, when demanded, a sum equivalent to that paid into his hands.

That has been the subject of discussion in various cases, and that has been established to be the relative situation of banker and customer. That being established to be the relative situations of banker and customer, the banker is not an agent or factor, but he is a debtor.

Thus the settled position of the law is that when you deposit, the bank becomes the owner of the money deposited and you become a creditor to the bank.

This is, of course, not an entirely satisfactory state of affairs: what should happen is that when you deposit your money, you retain ownership. If one chose, one could loan the money to the bank (in return for a higher rate of interest, for instance) but it should be a choice by the customer.

Douglas Carswell: making a nuisance of himself—in a good way...

The increasingly busy Douglas Carswell, supported by this blog's mascot—the thoroughly excellent Steve Baker—is tabling a Ten Minute Bill that proposes precisely this. Douglas lays out the BIll's proposition succinctly on his own blog.
To be clear, this Bill does not stop banks from treating your deposit as a loan. You just have to make clear that you give them permission to do so. There would, in effect, be two types of bank account; one where it was made clear that you owned the money (and probably paid for banking services in fees), and one where the bank was free to lend on your money like they owned it.

And Steve Baker outlines the motivations and consequences in a Centre Right column, correctly pointing out that—whatever your opinion on the benefits or otherwise of fractional reserve banking—this is not only an attempt to stop the distortion of capitalism, but also an issue of property rights...
While banks maintain clear property rights in securities on deposit, the same cannot be said of monetary deposits. Thanks to a base of judicial decisions, when you deposit your money on demand at the bank, ready for immediate withdrawal without penalty, it is not your property, but the bank's. Banks can lend money held on demand and of course they do so.

This is fractional reserve banking and it may not be the good thing most bankers think it is.

Fractional reserves on demand deposits allow banks to extend credit in excess of real savings. That leads to the creation and destruction of fiduciary media: claims on money for which there is insufficient money to meet all claims. It is what makes bank runs possible. It means that, as the great economist Irving Fisher wrote in 1935,
our national circulating medium is now at the mercy of loan transactions of banks; and our thousands of checking banks are, in effect, so many irresponsible private mints.

As I explained in my maiden speech:
Unlike the situation in respect of any other commodity, in the case of money, price controls do not drive the product off the market. Artificially lowered interest rates increase the demand for credit, and decrease the supply of savings, but the legal privilege granted to banks means that they can meet demand by extending credit that is unbacked by real savings. There is a good argument to say that that causes the boom-and-bust cycle, the misdirection of resources in the capital structure of production, and over-consumption by consumers.

And since the money supply contracts when banks lend less, we find central banks injecting new money through QE, further distorting an economy already distended by excess credit expansion, in an attempt to cope with the anarchy of money creation and destruction caused by fractional reserve banking.

To repeat: demand deposits of money are not subject to the same principles of property and contract as any other commodity. Banks enjoy the legal privilege of open access to money which they are liable to return on demand. In concert with the central planning of interest rates and a range of government interventions, this is what is wrong with capitalism.

Whilst—as Brian at Samizdata points out—a Ten Minute Bill is unlikely to succeed in passing, it does show a fundamentally sensible way to approach this patent injustice, and deliver a more morally and economically sound banking and capitalist system.
Ten Minute Bills seldom pass. But they are a chance to fly a kite, put an idea on the map, run something up the flagpole, shoot a shot across the bows (see above) of some wicked and dangerous vessel or other, etc. etc., mix in further metaphors to taste. Were this particular kite actually to be nailed legally onto the map (which it will not be for the immediately foreseeable future) it would somewhat alter the legal relationship between banks and depositors.

Quite. But it is more than that...

Attendance for and voting on this Bill will show us just how determined Our New Coalition Overlords™ are to serve our interests. It is our money; and if the consequences of this Bill would be both to enshrine that in law and to provide more stability to the banking system—which they are—then a low attendance and votes against would show us that the Coalition care more for the comfort of the bankers than for the property rights of the people that they purport to represent.

We, the people, could sharpen our scythe blades—secure in the knowledge that this government is just another collection of corporatist scum who couldn't give a shit about property rights. And sharpening our scythes would be a worthy past-time because, if the above is the case, then we would be better killing the lot of them than enabling their apathy and wallet-books to undermine that which has made our economy and society successful...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Top 100 Right Wing Blogs

Iain Dale's continues to publish his top blog lists and your humble Devil is happy to be at #12 in the Top Right Wing blogs.

There's no placing for last year so I assume that I wasn't in this category then; I'm not sure what has changed, but I'm not complaining.

Once again, thank you all for reading, commenting and voting...

In other news, I have yet another product launch coming up next week at the NHF Conference, so I am still frantically busy—blogging will continue to be highly intermittent.

I'm hoping for a rest after that...

NHS Fail Wail

I think that we can all agree that the UK's response to coronavirus has been somewhat lacking. In fact, many people asserted that our de...