Thursday, 31 January 2013

Gold Diggers of 1813

I tried. I really did try. I picked up that book, peered at its small text, checked its heft and began to read. After all, the English Literature folk told us it was THE BOOK. Captivating, challenging, fascinated, filled with wonder and marvellous writing.

I open the page and begin to read:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

A smile crosses my face. I know that bit. Everyone knows that bit - it's the whole point of the book (or maybe those literary mavens haven't read past the first line either). I plod on, characters unfold before me - assorted Bennet's some chap called Darcy and a gaggle of other girls, boys, men and women. I may, of course, be mixing my reading up with glimpses of TV and film adaptations. But whatever, it's just a book about gossip.

It is a dreadful indictment of English Literature that such glory is placed on this elaborately bedecked monument to the trite. Or so it seems to me - how a novel of manipulative gold-digging set in an exclusive, limited world got to be held up as such a paragon escapes me entirely. Yet it sets the tone for our literature - or at least for that literature considered to be "good" by the cognoscenti. A shallow little story - no breadth of vision, no painting of the world, just a pinched, narrow little place filled with gossip and tittle tattle, giggles and frills.

What sort of place are we if consider well-written but shallow stories to be the acme of literature. That 200 years after publication, whole pages in hundreds of newspapers, journals and magazines are given over to polishing a petty little story of 18th century middle-class gossip.

But then one of the moments I will cherish to my grave was the sight of Clive Anderson having to announce that "The Lord of the Rings" had beaten "Pride & Prejudice" to win the BBC's "Big Read"!

The right book won, of course.


Writing elsewhere...on the waste of cash that is HS2


Over at the Culture Vultures you can read me ripping into High Speed Two:

Let’s put is more simply still – if the government put £30 billion on the table for The North to develop its transport network, do you think we’d even think of building a railway to London?

Go read - and comment!


More evidence that Bradford hasn't got a housing crisis...


Despite what Cllr Slater, chief goader of NIMBYs and Labour's planning lead, says!

The cost of renting a home in Bradford is falling, despite a rise nationally, new figures show.

Over the past year, rents have decreased in Bradford by about 0.3 per cent, or £17 per month, a report by the charity Shelter yesterday revealed.

The figures suggest the district is bucking both regional and national trends, which show rents rising faster than wages.

Despite this - and despite yet another delay to the LDF Core Strategy - Cllr Slater and Labour are still gung ho for building 45,000 houses in Bradford. Houses that, given falling prices, falling rents and over 11,000 houses already planned but not built, the District doesn't need.


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

...and they want these all over Bingley Rural?


They burst into flames, they kill birds and the don't generate much electricity.

Oh and the wind blows them over:

The £250,000 tower, which stood as tall as a ten storey building, was hit by gale force gusts of 50mph. 

The structure then collapsed at a farm in Bradworth, Devon, leaving a "mangled wreck".

Yep, wind turbines are such a brilliant solution to our energy problems!


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

How academic public health deceives us...


But the most significant aspect of this story is that the paper is reporting a conclusion based on data which demonstrate the opposite. The paper reports that heart attacks declined after the smoking ban, but the data show that heart attacks did not decline after the smoking ban.

Yes folks, that our public health folk - the facts don't fit what you want? Just ignore them!


This is (largely) true...


From The Clown:

If you look back at anything that the British state has done, it has inevitably taken functioning, competing businesses that delivered good services, nationalised them, let them become an overgrown complicated bureaucratic mess with utterly shitty service and a jobsworth corporate culture and then outsourced it equally badly.


Monday, 28 January 2013

Yep, the Guardian does want poor people to stay poor.


As I observed the other day after a piece of nonsense about Peru and asparagus, the Guardian really does think that poor folk in the developing world should stay poor. A position they share with Oxfam and much of the international aid vampires.

The Guardian has confirmed this belief:

And it is pushing in an established direction of travel. At Davos last week, the World Economic Forum launched a report, Achieving the New Vision for Agriculture, advocating supporting subsistence farmers as "change agents". The peasant, declared dead only a year or two back, has been miraculously revived.

You see, the great and good daren't criticise the "100 charities and religious organisations" - they are sainted, above criticism. Were a prime minister, EU commisar or business leader to suggest that maybe a little more capitalism would be a better idea - that we apply the thing that made us rich to the task of making Africans rich - then a torrent of criticism and abuse would rain upon them.

The problem is that those "100 charities and religious organisations" are wrong and my (imaginary) prime minister is right. The prescription of the aid mafia is to subsidise poverty - to keep poor peasants as poor peasant.  Whereas I know that capitalism made us rich and it will make Africans rich too.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Quote of the day: "they of all people"


From the always readable and sometimes brilliant Heresy Corner:

...however much you disagree with Israeli policy in the West Bank and elsewhere (and I'm not a big fan) there is no valid comparison between an over-the-top security operation intended to preserve the territorial integrity, indeed the very existence, of the state of Israel, and the systematic attempt by the Nazis to wipe an entire people from the face of the earth. None.

Do read the rest of the piece.


Inflation and the ordinary man...and woman, for that matter


The Canadian superstar who is arriving to take over as boss of the Bank of England is dropping some hints about inflation:

...although price stability was central, there were “tolerances” concerning the speed with which inflation would be brought down if the economy was struggling. 

I'm guessing this is posh banker code for carrying on doing what the Bank and the government have been doing - ignoring inflation targeting. There's a really good reason for this, of course, as inflation is a sweet, back-door way of reducing debt. Let's call above trend inflation what it is (especially when it is deliberate as is the case here at the moment), a tax.

Perhaps instead of trying to blind us with banker bollocks, the government should say it's going to do something about the cost of living? Rather than listening to grandees in fancy Swiss ski resorts, maybe the government should come down the pub with me and talk to the people - people with jobs and mortgages - who are being screwed by these policies. People who say things like this:

 "It's all gone wrong - tits up, hasn't it" Says Lewis. In response to my request for clarity he continues, "the economy, the government. Everything has gone up, bread's like 50% more expensive and look at diesel. People can't afford stuff - come March there'll be a real mess. We've got to get prices down."

And I'm sure that I could introduce our lords and masters to a few others with the same problem. Yet the government, stuck in a nonsense of its own making, isn't listening. Or is listening to international banks with huge, dodgy debts.


Now about that cigarette smuggling...


And its consequences:

Among its most prominent beneficiaries is none other than Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed jihadist and smuggler who has claimed responsibility for the mass hostage-taking in al-Qaeda's name.

Nicknamed the Marlboro Man for his lucrative cigarette smuggling empire...

Enjoy the fruits of your prohibition, fussbuckets.


Saturday, 26 January 2013

Hunger will disappear IF...we stop subsidising poverty and promote free trade


This year, many of the world’s most powerful leaders will meet in the UK. They must change the future for millions of people who live with the day to day struggle against hunger. But that will only happen IF we get together and make them act.

So goes the blurb from the latest campaign to feed the starving and hungry. As ever, the campaign has roped in a cavalcade of the great and good – Desmond Tutu, Bill Gates and even pretty pop boys, One Direction. And we are enjoined – nay, demanded – to take part in the great campaign to feed the hungry! To take this message to the G8 – that hunger will disappear if:

    • IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families feed themselves
    • IF governments stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries, so that millions of people can free themselves from hunger
    • IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and we grow crops to feed people not fuel cars
    • IF governments and big companies are honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food
      All sounds pretty good stuff doesn’t it folks! Until of course you actually think about it for a minute.

      Firstly, this is 100 organisations – NGOs they like to call themselves until they ask us for money when they suddenly become charities – that are very interested in how much aid is given. And, of course, most of the aid does very little to “stop children dying of hunger” since governments prefer instead to prop up badly managed national budgets, lecture poor countries about climate change and, more of this in a minute, keep subsistence farmers trapped in subsistence farming.

      Corporate tax-dodging is the issue du jour – no progressive campaign would be complete without a call for action on tax-dodging by “big” companies. It may be the case that large companies aren’t paying enough tax in Kenya or Peru but where is the connection with getting people out of hunger? Unless you live in a sort of Stalinist world where only the benign state can feed people (which didn’t work in the Ukraine or China, I seem to recall).

      Now we get to the big issue – those big companies, secretly backed by the World Bank “behind the scenes”, as Oxfam put it, are buying up land and forcing farmers off that land so they can grow commercial crops (too many of which, because of our bonkers response to climate change are bio-fuels). Yes folks, you’ve guessed it – the reason for all those taxes is so we can pay poor farmers to stay poor farmers.

      This is a monumentally stupid proposal – that very subsistence farming, dirt-scrabble and back-breaking, is the main reason why people in these places fall repeatedly into famine and starvation. We should be encouraging more efficient farming – after all Oxfam and their mates aren’t suggesting that we G8 residents step away from our computers and return to the land! Nor are these NGOs proposing that the big British or Canadian farms are broken up and handed out in parcels to city dwellers – doubtless with a hoe, a horse and a plough.

      So why on earth do these organisations want to condemn this and future generations of Africans to live a short, unpleasant life scraping a bare existence from a tiny farm? Why do Oxfam and others believe that subsidising subsistence is the way to proceed? Why do all the great and good – the bishops, pop stars and philanthropists – think it fine for them to live a comfortable life with soft hands but that those Africans cannot aspire to be web designers, software writers or management consultants?

      Why does this alliance for good not campaign for the G8 to make some changes that really will help those Africans out of poverty – things like removing agricultural tariffs and trade barriers, ending the subsidising of industrial agriculture and promoting trade rather than the dependence of aid?

      I can only conclude that these campaigners believe Africans to be somehow different – that free markets and free trade won’t make them rich as they made us rich. Only through state direction and intervention will people be fed and the resources for this feeding will come from our taxes distributed to the grateful peasants of Ethiopia and Laos through the agency of Oxfam and others in the aid industry.

      So I won’t be supporting this “If...” campaign – not because I don’t care but because the best way to stop Africans – and other poor people around the world – from starving is to do business with them, to set them free from the tyranny of subsistence and to promote free enterprise and free trade.


      Friday, 25 January 2013

      In which David Ward MP gets a little anti-semitic.


      I've no time at all for David Ward MP - I recall when he accused the then Director of Regeneration in Bradford of racism in a letter he bunged through doors in Barkerend. And when he accused me of lying in a speech to Council - when I wasn't present to respond.

      However, today - when we remember the evil of Hitler's genocide - David Ward launches what seems to be a crass, anti-semitic attack:

      "Having visited Auschwitz twice - once with my family and once with local schools - I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."

      The Jews, David? All the Jews?

      And it seems, when asked to explain, David digs his hole deeper:

      “It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated”.

      Oh dear. The Jews, David? All the Jews?


      Thursday, 24 January 2013

      "Prohibition always leads to supply and demand..." Jake Phillips, 15


      As this little unintended social experiment shows:

      Acland Burghley School in Camden, North London, recently decided to implement a "water only" policy in a bid to improve health, pupils' concentration and, as a result, their grades.

      However, some entrepreneurial kids have resorted to sneaking in the banned substances and selling them on to fellow pupils at "speakeasies", just like under Prohibition in the US, which ran from around 1920-1933. However, instead of alcohol, the desired goods are cola, lemonade, orangeade and energy drinks.

      And the enterprising youngster explain why, too:

      "...there is business potential now there's a gap in the market. Gangsters sold alcohol in America when that was banned. Prohibition always leads to supply and demand. That means anyone who sneaks it in can make a lot of money."

      It's a shame that their teachers weren't so bright as to realise that this would be the exact result of their ban!

      Even where it's pointed out the school's boss buries his head still further in the sand:

      “Schools are responsible for showing young people that their own behaviour impacts on their health. We are extremely proud to be Camden’s first water-only school."
      Seems nannying fussbuckets never learn!


      The obesity problem isn't getting worse...or so says the Joseph Rowntree Foundation


      I keep saying this - mostly because it's true. But the nannying fussbuckets are wrong - most recently Anna Soubry, "Public Health" Minister - who also pointed out that poor people* were more likely to be "obese".

      Surprisingly, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in a desire to nobble Ms Soubry, revealed the truth:

      Over time, there is little sign of the inexorable rise in obesity that underlies some of the concern about the issue. Rates for children did rise and peak in 2004 but have since fallen and are now no different to what they were in the late 1990s.

      Got that folks. The obesity epidemic is a complete myth - we don't need to ban advertising, impose "fat" taxes or stop McDonald's opening within 50 miles of a child.

      *We should note that most fat people aren't poor - what Ms Soubry is saying. However, poor people are more likely to be fat than rich people. We should remember that there are lots more people in the category "not poor" than in the category "poor" (despite what The Guardian would like you to believe).


      Wednesday, 23 January 2013

      Will UKIP be a problem for Labour?


      The recent political narrative has focused on whether UKIP presents a problem for the Conservatives and how the party is snaffling votes from disenchanted Tory voters. Indeed the blazered golf club bore became, for some, a caricature of the typical Ukipper.

      However, with David Cameron (sort of) announcing an in/out referendum on Europe there is less incentive for the Tory voter to decamp to UKIP - which isn't to say that those who've already decamped are coming back but is to say that the challenge from UKIP becomes less acute.

      Labour, on the other hand, has come out against such a referendum "now" - or for that matter later:

      The Labour leader said he does "not want an in-out referendum" on Britain's membership because it would be a "huge gamble" that causes uncertainty for businesses.

      Speaking in the House of Commons, he drew a clear line between his policy and David Cameron's promise of a public vote on Europe by the middle of the next parliament. 

      There is an incredibly vague bit of wriggle room for Ed Miliband as his minions scamper around explaining that this may sound like 'no referendum ever' but actually they don't really mean that -  just not now and not when Cameron wants it.

      This is a problem for Labour because:

      Research by ComRes for the Sunday People found 63% of the public want a vote on whether Britain should remain in the union.

      Some 33% said they would cast their ballot in favour of a full withdrawal - including two thirds of Ukip supporters, 27% of Tories, 25% of Labour voters, and 17% of Liberal Democrats. 

      It doesn't really matter what the outcome of a referendum might be - those eurosceptic Labour voters (not to mention the 63% who just want a referendum) might just be tempted by UKIP.

      Could we see the Labour poll lead ruined by Labour defections to UKIP?

      It's a thought!


      Tuesday, 22 January 2013

      David Attenborough - eugenicist


      I was very tempted to title this comment "David Attenborough - fascist" but people might misunderstand my point. Others - via the fine medium of Twitter suggested: "David Attenborough - fabian" in recognition of all those social democrats and pseudo-liberals (and apologists for mass murderers) like Sidney & Beatrice Webb, G B Shaw, H G Wells and J M Keynes who were in favour of government intervention to stop the masses from breeding.

      However, I thing that "David Attenborough - eugenicist" will suffice for that is what he is:

      "We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so,” warns David Attenborough in an interview in the new issue of Radio Times magazine. “It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde,” says the natural history broadcaster.

      And it's not us Western white folk - we're fine (or more pertinently failing to meet replacement levels meaning, but for immigration, negative population growth). It the huddled masses in Africa:

      “We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves – and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a co-ordinated view about the planet it’s going to get worse and worse.”
       A less kind blogger might sniff a little racism there!

      Now David Attenborough - along with the other posh eugenicists in organisations like Friends of the Earth and the Green Party - has a pretty loose association with actual facts about population and indeed about famine in Ethiopia - true there are food shortages most years in this country but no objective observer - or even the development industry - identifies population pressures as the cause.

      The real problem for nasty eugenicists like Attenborough is that economic growth, trade and open markets - by making us richer - are the means to 'control' population. Coupled with sending women to school rather than to arranged marriages. Here are the facts that the eugenicists ignore: the next few years (if it hasn't happened already) the world will reach a milestone: half of humanity will be having only enough children to replace itself. That is, the fertility rate of half the world will be 2.1 or below. This is the “replacement level of fertility”, the magic number that causes a country's population to slow down and eventually to stabilise. According to the United Nations population division, 2.9 billion people out of a total of 6.5 billion were living in countries at or below this point in 2000-05. The number will rise to 3.4 billion out of 7 billion in the early 2010s and to over 50% in the middle of the next decade. The countries include not only Russia and Japan but Brazil, Indonesia, China and even south India.

      Attenborough and his posh eugenicist mates can sod off. Humankind doesn't need him to sort its population growth - getting richer and better educated is doing the job just fine.


      Monday, 21 January 2013

      How to lie with statistics - asthma special


      Today the BBC - and assorted other nannying fussbuckets - have been slavering over a report that claims to show how the smoking ban resulted in a massive drop in children admitted to hospital with asthma:

      There was a sharp fall in the number of children admitted to hospital with severe asthma after smoke-free legislation was introduced in England, say researchers. 

      A study showed a 12% drop in the first year after the law to stop smoking in enclosed public places came into force.

      They are using statisitics (this is perhaps spelled L-Y-I-N-G):

      Yes folks, that's their evidence - evidence that contradicts what Asthma UK say about the problem:

      Asthma UK said the number of emergency admissions had remained unchanged for a decade 

      (Yes folks, the BBC reported that)

      One day a BBC journalist will actually do his or her job and ask some questions, poke a bit at the evidence - anything other than simply reprinting the lies contained in the nannying fussbuckets' press release.


      Sunday, 20 January 2013

      Labour - the party for the wealthy


      Or so it seems.

      Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said the Government had “fallen far short” of a fair solution to the care crisis. “A cap on care bills of £75,000 per person, or £150,000 per couple, will not protect the home and life savings of an average family,” Mr Burnham said. 

      Read that carefully. What Burnham is saying is that the government should pay rather than have people spend those "life savings" or realise the capital value in their home. Labour is arguing for the wealthy to be allowed to keep their wealth rather than use it to provide care for themselves.

      So who pays. Burnham doesn't mention this but it's the taxpayer - thousands of people on incomes below the "poverty line" that Labour folk keep harping on about will be coughing up cash so these people don't have to touch their life savings or sell their valuable house. Lots of low paid workers paying taxes so well-off elderly home-owners - or rather their children - can keep those "life savings" and have (the money from) that "family home".

      Just as we saw over child benefit, we're seeing Labour championing middle-class welfare benefits that will be paid for by higher taxes on those hard-working families - those strivers - that the party is always gibbering on about.


      Saturday, 19 January 2013

      Why Oxfam is wrong...


      Ahead of the annual boondoggle in Davos, international development organisation, Oxfam has made a series of statements about inequality, poverty and development - all contained in a report entitled The Cost Of Inequality: How Wealth And Income Extremes Hurt Us All. This contains observations such as:

      ...efforts to tackle poverty were being hindered by an "explosion in extreme wealth".

      The richest one per cent of the world's population had increased its income by 60% in the last 20 years, Oxfam said.

      It reported that while the world's 100 richest people enjoyed a net income of $240bn (£150bn) last year, people in "extreme poverty" lived on less than $1.25 (78p) a day.

      We are, of course, expected to be shocked - deeply shocked - at the injustice of all this, at how there are some very rich people while others are starving. What Oxfam wants us to believe is:

      "Concentration of resources in the hands of the top 1% depresses economic activity and makes life harder for everyone else - particularly those at the bottom of the economic ladder."

      And that top 1% isn't you and me we're led to believe - it's those evil billionaire capitalists who are stealing the very bread from the mouths of the starving children. Let's leave aside the fact that poverty is largely unrelated to inequality - people do not become rich by making others poor, however often Oxfam want to pretend that this is so. Instead let's remind ourselves who the 1% are in terms of world development and poverty:

      The truth is that the entry level income for the world's top 1% of earners is:
      That's it, in real money not a great deal more that £20,000 a year gets you into the 1% club - sits you among the world's filthy rich, among those to blame for all the sins and evil of the world. Capitalist scum.

      Most of you reading this blog are in the top 1% sucking up all those resources - depriving the poor in Africa and elsewhere of the chance to grow, to get out of poverty.

      Except you're not. Sit back, put a smile on you face - punch the air with joy. You and me - capitalists both - have sat getting a little richer for thirteen years while a billion folk have escaped absolute poverty. All the international trade, all those businesses and those business folk filling the posh seats in aeroplanes flitting across the world - they've done that, they've lifted those people out of poverty.

      Oxfam are wrong. Neoliberalism is making all the world richer. Even the UN celebrates that neoliberal success:

      "For the first time since records on poverty began, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen in every developing region, including sub-Saharan Africa. Preliminary estimates indicate that the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate..."

      This is what capitalism does. Isn't it wonderful.


      We need to talk about poverty...


      There is no poverty. Really there isn’t - or at least that is what the numbers should tell us.  But take a moment to glimpse at reality and you will see poverty. Not just the “relative poverty” that characterises the ‘living wage’ debate but real poverty - people who genuinely don’t know how they’ll afford to put food on the table tomorrow, people who really don’t have anywhere to live.

      Two days ago an old cinema in Shipley caught fire – it’s now being demolished as an unsafe building. One tweet I saw suggested that it might have started from a tramp lighting a fire to keep warm on a cold, snowy night. It may turn out that there was some other cause but, sadly, this suggestion could very well be true. For whatever reason there are people sleeping rough on even the coldest night – and this is poverty.

      Too many of us look at this and throw up our hands in despair. After all we’ve had a welfare system for over 100 years and a welfare state for nearly 70 – and still there are people who end up unable to heat their home, wondering whether they can feed their children and lacking in any hope or aspiration. So when I see people “defending” the welfare state, I want to scream and point to the terrible injustice of poverty. 

      Understand that this welfare system of ours does not work if there are food banks. The welfare system does not work if charities have to pay for kids to get breakfast. And does not work if disabled people have to – almost literally – jump through hoops to get the support they need to play a full part in our society.

      This is not the welfare system created by the current government – for sure, the Coalition has tinkered a bit round the edges - but the substance of the system is an accumulation from decades of responding to poverty. A tweak here, an adjustment there, a new benefit for some ‘problem’ group – single mums, old people, young people: whoever has the loudest voices shouting their case.

      And it doesn’t work. If it worked there wouldn’t be any poverty.

      But there is poverty. And something should be done about it.

      Not just ameliorating its effects when they manifest themselves but answering the question “why?” Why, when we are richer than we’ve ever been, do so many people seem to miss out? And why is that failure – that poverty – persisting down the generations?

      The debate is sterile – on one side we have the advocates of welfarism telling us that we should simply spend more money. That benefits should be higher. That more people should get benefits. And that we should take more money off other people to make this possible. This is a depressing argument – we’re spending over £200 billion on welfare, half of which can be seen as seeking to alleviate poverty. Yet we still have poor people – if that isn’t an indicator of a failed system, I don’t know what is.

      Set against this “just spend more” approach is the contention that the poor are undeserving and that, if you just took away the drip-feed of benefits, they’d all go off and get jobs. And there is a grain of truth there – welfare benefits do act as a disincentive to work for some people. But the substance of the argument is not just uncaring but unjust and irresponsible too.

      It seems to me that, as Conservatives, we need to stop responding to the welfarists’ cries of pain with a sort of “tough love” – payment cards, bans, controls, mandation: ordering the poor about because we can. Instead we should develop our own narrative of poverty – recognising that it exists, appreciating both its scale but also the extent to which each story represents a little human tragedy.

      However, we need first to get across – to repeat until we’re blue in the face – that one person being rich doesn’t make another person poor. Indeed, that man’s success is more likely to get people out from poverty than to push people into that state.

      Secondly we need to explain – on the give a man a fishing rod principle – that we must give priority to stopping tomorrow’s poverty rather than simply dealing with today’s poverty. This means facing down the education mafia who think it’s OK that the children of poor people get a worse education – or rather claim that the education they’re given isn’t worse despite all the evidence to the contrary. And it means that schools must see it as part of their role to get children into work.

      I recall an English teacher from what some would call a “sink school” describing how teaching the bottom set of fifth-formers was soul-destroying until he decided to try and get them jobs rather than push them through an exam most of them would fail. And he did that until the head teacher stopped him – getting the exam results up, rising through the league table was more important than seeing to it that the children leaving at 16 did so with a bit of a start in life.

      The third thing we need to say is that too many people get benefits they don’t really need. This isn’t to say that child benefit, for example, isn’t very useful, a real blessing for many families but it is to say that those families wouldn’t be tipped into poverty – unable to feed the kids – if that benefit was lost to them. And the same goes for a lot of the “in-work” benefits, for winter fuel payments and free TV licenses.

      And then we need to say that we will focus on poverty – on people who, for whatever reason, really are poor. Not just giving them money but sitting down with them, talking about what they want to do, how they got into the pickle they’re in and how they might find a way out. Right now our approach – and this has been true for years – is dominated by nannying, hectoring and finger-wagging. Rather than understand the problem we tell them off for drinking, for smoking and for getting fat.

      This isn’t to say that these lifestyles are good but to suggest that condemning them without offering a route out is wrong. That single mum in a council flat probably hates her life more than the nannies can know – she doesn’t want to be overweight, she knows she drinks too much and the smoking has given her a cough. But just telling her off for these bad decisions doesn’t help – in probably makes it worse. And her life is still crap.

      I don’t know the solutions – for some it may be too late. But I do know that the debate we’re having – whether it’s endless burble about “the cuts” or the language of “strivers” and “scroungers” – misses the point entirely. There are lots of people out there – some working for bits of the government, some for private businesses and many for charities – who are doing creative, thoughtful and productive things to help alleviate poverty. Perhaps we should work a little more with these people – find out what they’re doing, spread the good word and the great work.

      Our current system has failed. You don’t need to go to Easterhouse to find this out – just take a look around your town. But the poverty that failure allows will not be resolved by throwing more cash in to the welfare system – not least because we can’t afford to do that. We need to refocus welfare so most of it goes to the genuinely needy rather than to people for whom it nice but not essential. And we need to give the children of those poor people the tools for them not to be poor when they grow up.


      Friday, 18 January 2013

      Quote of the day....modern government defined


      From Peter Saunders:

      You see, I am your government, which means I care about you and I know best what is good for you. It's my job to nag you and boss you around. That's what living in a free and democratic country means: I force you to vote, then I take your money, then I use it to tell you how to live your lives. You'll thank me for it one day.

      This truth is what we must fight, just as we must fight the misguided belief that all the money exists only because of government - we must try to reclaim what is ours: independence, personal responsibility and command of our own affairs.


      So where is Bradford then, George?

      I got home this evening to be greeted cheerily by Kathryn saying that the Tour de France will be passing by us - through Haworth and Oxenhope on its way to the Calder Valley and beyond. Cheering news indeed on a snowy evening in Bradford.

      And that's the point - Bradford is where I live, where I'm a local councillor and where this great race will pass through. It seems however that some of Bradford's MPs want to redraw our political geography and claim that these places - Ilkley, Haworth, Keighley, Oxenhope, Silsden - are not parts of the Bradford Metropolitan District Council:

      "George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, said the Tour route seemed to "deliberately avoid the city, going to the leafy areas of Ilkley, Otley, Haworth and Keighley instead".

      Bradford metropolitan district council is contributing a six-figure figure sum in order to bring the Tour to the district. Galloway said: "It would be money well spent if it achieved tangible and substantial benefits in tourism and revenues for the city of Bradford, but it seems clear that the Tour caravan and the hundreds of thousands who follow it will spend their money elsewhere."

      Now while this is perhaps the very first time that anyone has described Keighley as "leafy", does George Galloway not think that the rest of us are deserving of tourism, worthy of Bradford Council - our council - support? Will not the thousands flocking to watch the tour along its route through the Bradford District bring substantial benefits "in tourism and revenues"?

      What we see here is Galloway seeking to lay claim to his little part of Bradford being the whole of Bradford - that the parts where 40% of the district's population live are not even to be considered as part of the City. There are many, although I'm not one, who'll take George's comments - as well as the equally daft and divisive remarks from Lib Dem, David Ward - as futher cause for separating Keighley, Ilkley, Bingley & Shipley to create a new Aire-Wharfe council.

      Mostly though, this just reminds us how little George Galloway either knows or cares about the place he represents in parliament.


      Selling girls to old men - it's a shocking world


      And at times I want to scream:

      Olympic Swimmer, Ayouba-Ali Sihame, competed in the 2012 games as one of seven Olympians representing her home country, Comoros. Before Sihame came to London she had been told by her mother that she had been sold to a 60-year-old man who was already married to two women. She was told that if she didn’t cooperate with the marriage she would be subjected to violence or killed.

      This is why we have an asylum system - let's never forget it.


      Thursday, 17 January 2013

      Sorry Ms Moore, I'm right wing and I believe in freedom

      There has, it seems, been some great debate amongst assorted "equalities" mongers - indeed the debate has descended into a row and from there spiralled down into political protest. And all because of something that Suzanne Moore said.

      So the Guardian, seeking to pour oil upon these troubled waters, gives Ms Moore the space to explain herself (as it were). In doing so she launches into a justification founded on a belief in freedom:

      ...I feel increasingly freakish because I believe in freedom, which is easier to say than to achieve and makes me wonder if I am even of "the left" any more.

      Of course, Ms Moore spends the rest of her article explaining how she's still a leftie really and that believing in freedom is a good thing. In doing this she can't resist positioning herself away from those on the right who claim to believe in freedom:

      What we have is a few rightwingers who took some E in a field once and so claim to be libertarians, but are in fact Thatcherite misogynists. We have the double-think of "free schools", which exclude those who most need them. We have "freedom" for the very rich to take from the very poor while lecturing them on their moral poverty. We have women and gay people pushed into the conformity of lifelong monogamy, even though it clearly does not work for so many.

      You see what Ms Moore has done here? That's right, she's parked the idea of free speech (that she claims to support) and sought to redefine freedom as something that cannot reside with the right. Now I'm a right-winger (although I never took an E in a field) and I don't recognise Ms Moore's argument. For sure, I've no time for those patronising sorts who want to judge the lifestyle choices of working-class people - you know the drinking, smoking and shagging. But I don't see this sort of middle-class disgust at such lifestyles as a peculiarity of the right. Indeed, the Guardian-reading left is perhaps more guilty of wanting to make moral judgements about lifestyle.

      The problem for Ms Moore is that she likes the license of sexual liberation and the idea that no-one should have their talent dismissed simply because of their gender, sexual preferences, skin colour or accent. But she can't get her mind round the idea of economic freedom - the free enterprise and free trade bits of the great triumvirate of liberties.

      As a Conservative, freedom is central to be world view. It is what we fought to secure, it is why we stand in silence every November to remember and it's why we get involved in politics. If freedom were secure - and secure for ever - then we could return to the plough and get on with the joy of life. But that freedom is threatened - by the sorts who would deny Ms Moore her words but also by those who would let others starve to protect their own income and position, by those who would create monopolies and by those who would castigate someone for the dreadful crime of creating jobs, wealth and success.

      Suzanne Moore is right about freedom. But wrong to try and suggest - even to hint - that freedom can only be owned by the left.


      I lived a good life....

      I have led a good life full of peace and quiet
      Now I shall have an old age full of rum and riot
      Yes, I have been a good lad, careful and artistic
      Now I shall have an old age coarse and anarchistic

      Once I paid my taxes and followed every rule
      Banker, boss and bureaucrat thought me a willing tool
      I voted Democratic and paid the church its due
      Now all those swine will have to find some other chump to screw

      Of interest, banks and credit, insurance, tax and rent
      Of lawyers, agents, generals and clerics I repent
      With this [mono digital expletive] for corporations and scorn for those elected
      I shall be an old bum, loved but unrespected ....

      But whatever happens I shan't be wearing purple!


      Wednesday, 16 January 2013

      So folk who read the Guardian want poor people to stay poor?


      Or so it seems:

      But in the case of quinoa, there's a ghastly irony when the Andean peasant's staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon "foodprint". Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced.

      There's the clue - "food security". You think that's all about people staying alive, about ensuring supply and such important stuff don't you? You're wring - food security is all about keeping peasants as peasants. Indeed, this is the problem with that Andean agriculture:

      Averaging $3,115 (£1,930) per tonne in 2011, quinoa has tripled in price since 2006. Coloured varieties fetch even more. Red royal quinoa sells at about $4,500 a tonne and the black variety can reach $8,000 per tonne. The crop has become a lifeline for the people of Bolivia's Oruro and Potosi regions, among the poorest in what is one of South America's poorest nations.

      Get this folks - rather than scraping a bare existence with subsistence agriculture those Andean peasants are making a decent living instead selling us rich folk trendy cereals. The tripling of the quinoa price is a huge boost to the Andean economy. It is a good thing - people in these places (assuming they can escape from their hideous socialist governments) have the chance to do something else with their time, to create new ideas, new businesses and new sources of wealth.

      What these ridiculous, protectionists in the Guardian propose is that it's better for Andean peasants to scrat a subsistence living than for the economy of these places to thrive because we want to pay silly money for barely edible grain products. They would rather such folk starved to protect their precious misconception of peasant agriculture.

      These ghastly lefties want poor people to stay poor. Probably so they can patronise them.


      Tuesday, 15 January 2013

      Can we now stop saying town centres are for shopping?

      ‘She kept an antique shop – or it kept her.
      Among Apostle spoons and Bristol glass,
      The faded silks, the heavy furniture…’

      I've felt like something of a lone voice in all this - bashing away at the shiny regeneration on the one hand while pointing out to locovoracious folk that their dream of twee high streets filled with organic independent shops (probably workers co-ops or some other form of trendy model) is just as daft.

      Indeed these people - epitomised by Julian Dobson - still bash away at the idea that there's some magical system of common ownership that will change the high street:

      What’s broken isn’t just the retail model of HMV or Jessops, or the business rates system, or city centre parking, or any of the individual bugbears blamed for the demise of the high street. What’s broken is our own ability as citizens to share in the ownership, management and use of the spaces we occupy. It’s about the whole place, not just the shops.
      I agree that it's about the whole place. I agree that it isn't just the shops. But this idea of us "sharing" the ownership is just so much wiffle. I'm not interested in some sort of 'commons' system where I sort of own it but not really and where we get endless rows and scraps about who should be allowed to do what on that common land. Up here in Cullingworth, the council stopped fifty years of moto-cross and scrambling on the Flappit because it wasn't the right sort of use for that particular 'urban common'.

      If you want things to work, they have to be owned. And right now the only bits of the town centre that are 'owned' are the shops, which is why we're still talking about retail rather than about town centres as the stage on which we perform. In the Portas Review we read how the high street needs to be run more like a business - more like the out-of-town malls in fact:
      “High streets should be run more like businesses. And businesses are run on the basis of strategic vision. However, unlike the sophisticated shopping malls or large retailers, high streets aren’t overseen by a single landlord or professional management body.”
      The retail establishment - the shiny regenerationist - view is that we carry on more-or-less as before - rather as we see in Bradford where the council uses its own funds and Regional Growth Fund to subsidise the business rates of new or relocating businesses. A straightforward bung to businesses will do the trick. Except they don't appear to be flocking to the city.
      As we see, the trendy place-maker view is all around 'commons' or, as Julian Dobson now seems to want, a public corporation approach. I don't think this will work - either we get the tradedy of the commons revisited or we get another pseudo-political corporation that can be captured by the very town centre interests Julian so dislikes.
      My view is that we need to be far more radical:

      A radical approach would be to transfer all that council owned land – the streets, the pavements, the market halls, the offices and the parks – into a for-profit company. Where, as in many places, the council owns freeholds of retail premises these can be added to the pot. And use that asset to create the excitement, the events and the environment – the “21st Century urban entertainment centre” that Ms Portas describes. That would be a radical approach rather than the rewarmed versions of existing – and mostly unsuccessful – strategies presented by Ms Portas.

      The ownership of the company could vary – maybe co-operative or mutual, perhaps the local council or possibly a combination of these approaches. But it is essential – if the town centre is to be run like a business – the company is for profit. For it is the search for profit that makes the shopping malls and supermarkets creative, innovative and focused on getting the experience right for the customer.
      Most importantly this approach isn't founded in shopping - for there is no future in retail as the main determinant of the town centre environment.


      Monday, 14 January 2013

      Open Access: It's not free you know - not even a little bit...

      The Internet I mean. Yet that's what people persist in believing - and worse that somehow forcing it all to be 'free' (it isn't free by the way) is some kind of righteous moral crusade:

      "The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations."

      Now let's deconstruct this argument.

      Firstly, prior to the arrival of the Internet and digital technologies, that scientific and cultural heritage was found typed onto paper stored as journals, books, monographs and so forth in myriads of libraries across the world. Nothing that MIT has done - or for that matter any of the publishers of academic research - changes this situation. Those books and other source materials are still 'locked up' in libraries and archives. Some of which have public access but most of which don't.

      The point of JSTOR and other similar digital archives isn't to wickedly exploit the world's heritage but to ensure that, whatever happens to the current holders of that heritage, it remains available to the world's researchers. And the process of digitizing that heritage isn't cheap but right now is being paid for by the fact that JSTOR is able to recover costs from users (who otherwise might have to trip round the world to view the documents in question unless the holders of those documents were happy to use the well-established 'inter-library loan' system).

      The question for all these self-righteous campaigners for "open access" is therefore, who pays? After all there's still a cost to digitizing content - it has to be scanned, key-worded, indexed, abstracted and stored in a searchable and recoverable way. And funnily enough all that work costs a lot of money. Then it has to be made available, promoted, catalogued and the server space paid for. This also costs a lot of money.

      If the user isn't going to pay - directly through a per-use fee or indirectly via their institution - then somebody else has to cough up. And the only remaining candidate for stumping up the cash is the government - the taxpayer. So, far from being a liberation, so-called "open access" simply involves handing control of the entire system to the government and the costs to a load of people who have no interest in accessing the information.

      So we replace a system where the world's intellectual heritage is largely available when needed to people who want to use it but which costs the taxpayer nothing with a system where everyone - including all those folk who aren't interested - can access but where there's a multi-billion dollar cost to the taxpayer.

      This isn't about copyright but about how we pay for things we want - like saving the world's heritage for posterity. And it's much better done without loads of extra cost on the poor old taxpayer don't you think?

      Finally, let's remember that seeking - through hacking and illegal downloading - to undermine this process serves nobody. It threatens the work of academic societies, it undermines the librarianship and archiving role of libraries and it means that access can only be sustained if it is the government's wish for that access to be sustained.

      However we look at it, Open Access isn't free. Unless of course you steal the books.


      Sunday, 13 January 2013

      Brandon Lewis: celebrating the pub...but doing little to help

      Brandon Lewis MP and Minister writes in Conservative Home about the pub:

      My new year's resolution is to make the Great British pub the hub of a resurgent economy.

      Like most small businesses, life for the local hasn't been easy in recent times. Some have been forced to close down, others have been hit hard by rowdy rabble rowsers.

      Cheers Brandon - thanks for the enthusiasm. But let's look at the facts - pubs are still closing, the government has launched a new round of attacks on drinking. Not just minimum pricing, not just failing to do anything about the beer duty escalator but a new licensing regime that gives 'health authorities' the chance to stop the granting of licenses.

      And while Brandon crows about supporting publicans as 'entrepreneurs', he fails even to mention the one thing that has done the most damage to the pub - that smoking ban. Thousands of people now stop at home or go round their neighbours with a bottle or some cans rather than visit the pub - simply because it means they can smoke.

      Despite Brandon's false bonhomie about the pub, I'm prepared to bet that there will be fewer pubs at the end of 2013 than there are open today. And that the government's anti-alcohol strategy - if imposed - will only make matters worse.

      Or maybe this will be the pub's salvation:

      ...the ideal place to grab a morning coffee break, with over 3 million cups of coffee sold in a year.

      Yes, Brandon - that will work!