Wednesday, 31 March 2010



I must admit to an equivocal relationship with the Catholic Church. I was brought up as a Catholic and much of my family are still practicing Catholics (although some have moved on to other forms of enthusiasm). But like most observers, I have found the ever more lurid stories of priestly behaviour very disturbing.

I attended Catholic schools from the age of seven, served at the altar, sang in choirs and took an active part in Catholic youth organisations. At no point during that time did I encounter or hear about the sort of behaviour that has filled the newspapers and airwaves in recent times. I don’t point this out by way of excuse, justification or explanation but to provide a little context – the context that will be real for most people brought up as Catholics. We weren’t abused, beaten or exploited by the clergy – or indeed by any other figures of Catholic authority.

So like many brought up in this way, confusion reigns. Whatever we may think of the faith these days, the priests, monks and nuns we knew were mostly caring, supportive and admirable men and women who – it seemed to me – had made a genuine commitment to their faith and to the mission of the church. I don’t doubt that most of the Catholic clergy still conforms to this character whatever has happened around them. These men and women will have been cruelly hurt – even betrayed – by what has come to light.

None of this, however, provides any excuse for the Church’s leadership. That there were – and maybe still are – paedophile clergy is perhaps understandable. What is beyond comprehension is that the church chose to cover up, to excuse and to obfuscate this activity. Had abusive clergy been defrocked, condemned and handed over to the police, the church would have received praise for its positive attitude to child protection. As it stands, though, the behaviour of senior clergy beggars belief – it is simply unforgivable to pretend that the problem could be dealt with by moving abusive priests elsewhere or giving them a gentle pep talk.

The result of this is that the good men and women who have committed themselves to the church’s mission are betrayed. Nobody will trust them. People will equate the priest with the paedophile., the abbot with the abuser. We will doubt all the men of the church – an injustice for the majority who would never abuse or exploit a relationship with any young person. And sadly, the church cannot resolve this problem because the biggest sinners – if we are to use that word – are those who run the church. Those who allowed their desire to avoid embarrassing exposure to poison and corrupt the whole institution.

I have moved on from the church – it does not matter to me. But for many millions – and especially the genuine, caring clergy – the actions of the Catholic hierarchy represents a monumental, appalling and hideous act of betrayal. Others may be able to forgive the church but many will have had one of their pillars of certainty destroyed. And that cannot be set aside with words or prayers.


Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Do you want a Marxist government?

Many folk like to draw a comparison between the leadership of the Conservative Party and "New" Labour. "There's no difference"; these folk cry; "Cameron is just the reincarnation of Blair." After two days in the presence of a collection of avowed (well those I asked) Labour supporters, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. Here's a selection of the thoughts and comments of these people. Ask yourselves whether you think David Cameron believes any of this?

"The triple challenge of peak oil, climate change and financial collapse. Indicative of the crisis of late capitalism."

"We need a new definition of wealth. Common wealth rather than private wealth."

On the suggestion that he meant the nationalisation of land: "Yes, bring it on."

"There is a new paradigm. An end to the rational-economic model." (one presumes it will be replaced by an irrational economic model).

"We need to abolish land value. And replace it with social value."

All of the people expressing these views were academics, policy-makers in government agencies - people not without influence. These were not the ravings of a Marxist fringe. People believe this rubbish. But none of those people are Conservatives, none of those people run private businesses, and none of those people are David Cameron.

However, the labour Party, large chunks of the Liberal Democrat Party and, of course, the ghastly Green Party have been entirely taken in by this dangerous and deluded reincarnation of the Marxist myth of government directed salvation.

So don't blame me if your protest vote results in a Marxist government.


Markets, ownership and the politics of place

I have spent the past couple of days at a Symposium on Place-making and Culture - two days that have been educational and eye-opening. And I say this both positively and negatively.

On the positive side there is a real recognition that places aren't manufactured - indeed that attempts to manufacture great places are often a failure. Linked to this is the concern that our planning system - a rigidly moderated collection of rules, regulations and guidance notes - acts to stifle the creativity and originality of community efforts to create place. Yet sadly, nobody present questioned either the need for a rule-bound planning system or suggested that the term "place-making intervention" is profoundly undemocratic.

Instead we had a species of naive Marxism - the "triple challenge of peak oil, climate change and financial collapse" explained as indicative of the "crisis of late capitalism". This latter is a term I hadn't heard expressed seriously since the early 1980s - perhaps indicating how the debate about economic recovery will play out. Academics from the social sciences and arts seem charmed by the pseudo-economics of the New Economics Foundation and its associated brand of cuddly Marxism. And central to this world view is the search for an "alternative definition of value" - I have heard in the past two days people advocate land nationalisation and the proposal for a 'social valuation of land'.

Now I'm happy that most of this will remain safely contained - mostly harmlessly - within social science departments of newer universities and in the wackier fringes of arts practice. But I am a little worried that no-one is prepared to make the case for private ownership and the free market. Presenters and contributors all started from the view point that there is a "paradigm shift" away from free markets (a statement I find almost entirely without meaning yet glibly accepted by these modern day pseudo-Marxists).

Great places are great places because of the accumulated actions of individuals who 'intervene' in that place - by being traders or customer of traders, by commissioning architects and designers, by being those so commissioned, by renting an office there, by walking round admiring the buzz, by painting a wall, by busking on the a myriad of private actions taken without reference to public authorities and often, in truth, performed in the teeth of opposition by those public authorities that banter on so smugly about place-making.

And at the heart of all this is ownership - private ownership. People who own something tend to care for it, will police the actions of those who make use of it and seek most of the time to maintain and improve that something. Public space - by not being owned - is only cared for through the medium of those public authorities who want to control and direct our lives and activities. The authorities who don't like buskers, peddlers and street traders. The authorities who ban signs, who seek rents and taxes from private actors and who wish to stigmatise pleasure and enjoyment.

So step one in "making" great places is for governments and planners to shove out of the way. Step two is to promote the private ownership of space. And step three is to allow the market to do what it does best - create new activities, attract customers, create excitement and generate the value that makes for a great place.


Sunday, 28 March 2010

How searching for a "new economic model" is a threat to all our futures


I make no apologies for returning to the theme of economic policy and to the ongoing search for a new economic model. Sometimes – as appears, I hope, to be the case with George Osborne’s recent Mais Lecture – this search is driven by the requirements of rhetoric. Osborne is really talking about economic policy rather than the model of the economy:

"Britain has been failed by the economic policy framework of the last decade. It promised stability, prudence and an end to the cycle - it delivered instability, imprudence and the biggest boom followed by the deepest bust.

We need to head in a completely new direction. We have to move away from an economic model that was based on unsustainable private and public debt. And we have to move to a new model of economic growth that is rooted in more investment, more savings and higher exports. This will require new policies and new institutions."

Now while there is a reference to “a new model of economic growth” the context is about things the Government can influence. Things like higher rates of business investment, more savings and manufacturing that must be predicated on having a much smaller government, less regulation and more trust in the citizen.

But a lot of other people seem to think that prior to 1776, there weren’t any free markets and that Adam Smith designed the “economic model” that has driven the unprecedented growth in human wealth and happiness since that time! These people are stupid and live in the same box as the (overlapping) group who want us all to live on smallholdings, grow our own spuds and keep goats. So let’s look at one of the worst offenders:

The New Economics Foundation:

“There is nothing ‘natural’ about our current economic arrangements. They have been consciously designed to achieve a simple objective: growth. But growth is not making us happier, it is creating dysfunctional and unequal societies, and if it continues will make large parts of the planet unfit for human habitation.”

Did you guys actually read “The Wealth of Nations” before you started saying that our economic arrangements were “designed”? Maybe you can point to the time and place of that design, the people involved and how it was implemented? You can’t, can you because what you’re saying is a lie. Our economic arrangements are the consequence of human ingenuity, the triumph of exchange and the wonder that is the free market.

Oh and the answer to this question you pose:

“At nef, we want to break that vicious cycle by building a new macro-economic model that is geared not towards growth, but towards achieving the outcomes that are important to society and that can be sustained by the planet's finite carrying capacity.”

Is really simple too – it’s called “the price mechanism” and you appear to have forgotten how it works (maybe because it was a long time ago in lesson two of GCSE Economics). The price mechanism is a:

“System of interdependence between supply of a good or service and its price. It generally sends the price up when supply is below demand, and down when supply exceeds demand. Price mechanism also restricts supply when suppliers leave the market due to low prevailing prices, and increases it when more suppliers enter the market due to high obtainable prices.”

If you allow environmental and social goods to be owned and traded – rather than carrying on with the myth of “public goods” – the price mechanism will meet all NEF’s needs. Without us having a “new economic model”.

The problem is that NEF are not really interested in individual initiative, innovation or even in any allowance for private action. What NEF wants is a state-directed and mandated programme aimed at breaking the free market model. Despite the rhetoric of sustainability, social justice and well-being, NEF’s agenda (and that of others involved in “green” economics) is philosophically indistinguishable from this:

"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness."

A “progressive” government must take command of the economy and direct it to the benefit of all – as determined by the leaders of that progressive government. Now that worked very well here and here and especially here:

“We do not wish to copy anyone; we shall use the experience gained in the course of the liberation struggle. There are no schools, faculties or universities in the traditional sense, although they did exist in our country prior to liberation, because we wish to do away with all vestiges of the past. There is no money, no commerce, as the state takes care of provisioning all its citizens.”

The green economic model threatens not just the wealth and happiness we enjoy but worse it threatens the future opportunities for millions who do not yet have the pleasures of a free market civilization. And all the “sustainability strategy”, “social outcome measures”, “local multipliers” and “zero growth” that NEF and others talk about do not change the truth that the risks associated with a move away from a free system are too great for us to countenance allowing such people lose on our economy.


Saturday, 27 March 2010

The souls of dead civil servants....

There they are, dressed in their dapper pin stripes. Great flocks of them commuting every day from suburbs into the city. If you have ever wondered where the souls of dead civil servants go, look no further than the starling.


Why are we surprised that private sector workers don't back Labour?


In one respect this is just another opinion poll:

"Members of the far-left Unite union behind the British Airways strike want their bosses to stop giving money to the Labour Party. In a stunning affront to the hard-liners running the union, a poll has revealed that grass-roots members would also prefer David Cameron to Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. "

In another respect it is a reminder to the Conservative Party about where they should be targeting campaigning efforts. The current strategy appears - with historical justification - to have been directed towards AB voters. However, this poll confirms that the new bedrock of support for the Conservatives will be the ordinary workers employed in the private sector and the self-employed.

And - as I said here - there's other polling evidence to support this assertion. Evidence that this Unite poll confirms. And this is what I said about those voters:

"These are the people who were most damaging by the smoking ban, who are irritated by the endless nannying lectures on drinking, eating and, seemingly, everything else they enjoy. These are the people who are roundly cynical about global warming, who want to use cheap flights to warm places once or twice a year. These are the people who’ve seen labour rob their pensions, let them down on education and want to tax them to the hilt for the horrible crime of using their cars.

And let me close by saying this: if Anthony Wells analysis is right then David Cameron has his strategy wrong. Sucking up to middle-class Lib Dem voting public sector professionals and labour-voting social workers by coming across all green simply isn’t delivering – in fact, if we carry on like this, we’ll just alienate those hard-working people who hate labour more than they love the Tories"

Tokenistic posturing...


We are all told we should ‘sign up’ for Earth Hour, stop smoking on ‘No Smoking Day’, celebrate ‘International Women’s Day’ amid many other little campaigning days, hours, minutes and probably seconds across the year. This annoys me.

I know, I know. I should be joining with all the other folk this evening and turn off my lights as part of a call to “…stand up, to take responsibility, to get involved and lead the way towards a sustainable future.” But I’m not going to do that as:

1. It’s tokenistic posturing
2. I don’t like WWF

Plus of course Earth Hour will be bad for the planet:

Even if power stations are turned off, the upsurge in turning the lights back on one hour later will require power stations that can fire up quickly like oil and coal. Energy experts said it could therefore result in an increase in carbon emissions "rendering all good intentions useless at a flick of a switch.”


Friday, 26 March 2010

Friday Fungus: The Italian Pasta Rule

Not sure this has an awful lot to do with mushrooms but one of my less embarrassing dark secrets is a youth spent playing simulation wargames - in the days before all this computer malarkey. And the daddy of the WWII games was, of course, Campaign for North Africa - this was the wargame anorak's delight, the single most complex and involved paper wargame ever devised. Let's set aside that it was almost impossible to play - SPI, the designers, said 1,800 hours to complete and I reckon this was an underestimate!

The game did detail and without doubt the most important bit of detail - the rule to beat all rules - was the Italian Pasta Rule. Meant as something of a joke (according to dear old Wikipedia) this rule decreed that Italian troops moved slower because they had to carry extra water supplies in order to cook the pasta! Brilliant!

Which I guess brings us to spaghetti carbonara - and in this case a version with a mushroom of two added! Carbonara is one of the really classic pasta sauces - simplicity itself: spaghetti, pancetta, garlic, egg. The sort of sauce the charcoal burner could cook in the woods (assuming he'd complied with the pasta rule, of course). I add chestnut mushrooms because they add so much to the woody, smoky bacon sauce.

To make carbonara you'll need:

Spaghetti (about half a typical pack will stuff two folk)
Pancetta (the little cubes are good if you can't find a deli with the real stuff to slice)
Clove of garlic
2 eggs
Salt & black pepper
Half a dozen small chestnut mushrooms

Boil salted water and cook the spaghetti (for one minute less than it says on the packet or else it will go all sticky and horrid).

While this is happening chop up the pancetta and mushrooms into small cubes and mince the garlic, heat a heavy skillet. Add the pancetta and fry until the fat starts to bleed off then add the garlic and mushrooms, mix thoroughly, turn the heat right down and cover - cook for about five minutes.

Beat the eggs with some salt and black pepper.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and put back in the hot saucepan immediately. Add the bacom and mushroom sauce and mix thoroughly. Then add the egg and stir with a wooden spoon making sure the egg coats the spaghetti.

Serve immediately into very warm (only just hand hot) dishes and eat.


Thursday, 25 March 2010

Why Labour is campaigning for a hung parliament


I commented a few times that sometime back in 2009, probably after Labour’s train crash autumn conference, they needed to switch strategy. Campaigning for a Labour victory was turning the voters off – people did not want (and still don’t want) another Labour government. I’m sure that all the private polling, focus groups and other research told Brown the same thing – the campaign was off the rails. Labour was heading for oblivion.

But then some bright spark said: “what about a hung parliament?” Once the high command had stopped beating up on this poor spark, they actually asked the question of some voters. And the answer came back – “yes, a hung parliament’s OK. That’s not a Labour government. That’s not Gordon Brown. We’ll vote for that.” Labour’s new strategy was born. Instead of campaigning for a Labour government, they would campaign (surreptitiously) for a “hung parliament”.

And it has worked – the pinko bits of the press love it, the Liberal Democrats love it. The BBC can’t get enough of it. Everywhere you go folk are talking about a hung parliament. The Liberal Democrats have set out their price. And the polls have moved in Labour’s favour as a response. And even the Dark Lord himself has embraced the campaign for a hung parliament:

Lord Mandelson said: "My appeal is to all progressives in the country – to pause and reflect on where their values lie, and to recognise that they have more in common with Labour than with any other party. And that the difference between Labour and the Liberal Democrats is we can form a government and deliver the values progressive people hold."

Labour reckons that they will be able to do a deal with Nick Clegg – after all Gordon’s sold everything else, selling the heart and soul of the Labour Party to keep the keys of Downing Street is nothing! So a referendum on some sort of PR, a job for Nick & Vince and some weasel words about fairness – job done.

Here’s what Cameron should say:

“The future of Britain – our economy, our security and our liberty – is too important to be decided by some shabby deal behind closed doors. The Conservative Party will not compromise on its principles or on the interests of the British people by selling out just for the sake of the keys to Number 10. I say now that we will not enter into any pact with the Liberal Democrats and I urge you to vote for a strong, focused and effective Conservative Government. By trying to vote for a hung parliament, you just vote for five more years of Gordon Brown.”

That should do the trick!



How we perceive places is often set by what we first encounter. This photograph was taken outside The Grange Club & Community Centre in Pontefract. I guess it's not the first image that springs to mind when thinking of that former mining town.

Rather reminded me that what we think of a place is often guided by what others choose to present to us - good and bad. So Bradford is a riot-ridden city of beards and burkas, Liverpool is a place full of robbing scallies and Pontefract is populated by unhealthy, broken ex-miners.

Just goes to show how wrong we can be and how we should treat media bias (and especially the media's portrayal of the North of England) with contumely.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Wednesday Whimsy: Jackdaws and Red Wine

I tried to take some pictures of jackdaws playing round the towers in Volterra. I say play because - despite the anthropomorphism - I can think of no better word. Swooping, diving and soaring - chasing eachother, making patterns and showing off. Sadly my little camera wasn't up to the job so you get this slightly wonky picture of red wine in a glass!

Sometimes I wish I could slow down a little - stop trying to trim five minutes off the journey home, worry less about cramming in a couple more meetings into a day and just relax. But it ain't like that - life is crazy. We run ourselves ragged with squeezing the last ounce of sweat from the day. Why do we chase around rather than watch the jackdaws playing, sit back in our chair and drink red wine (and, if you wish, smoke a fine cigar or a comforting pipe)?

Perhaps I can see the darkness at the end of our tunnel of light? Maybe changing the world palls a little with realising that it's none of my business? Whatever's going on we do need - sometimes - to step outside, see the sun, the rain and the magic of nature's glory. We need to lift our eyes from grey tarmac, shiny shopfront and showy celebrity. To look on the world and say - this is a fine place, a wonder of beauty, magnificence and splendour. The snowy mountain, the green meadow, the blue lake, the yellow corn, the red flash of a bird or butterfly.

...and watch the jackdaws. They understand the world!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Thoughts upon reading a church newsletter....

Because I have a day off today, I’ve read the newsletter that dropped through my door from the local branch of the Church of England. Now, as my regular readers will know, this local branch and I have differences – mostly over the knocking down of fine old vicarages so the church can get a new vicarage for free (or rather realise a load of cash from it’s asset). That and the church misled me and its local boss wrote me the rudest letter I have ever received in my capacity as a councillor.

As we speak the new vicarage (described on the big sign outside as “A New Vicarage for the Community” – and there was me thinking it was for the vicar) is under construction. A big, ugly, square modern detached house slap in the middle of the village. Does make me wonder why the vicar (or “resident priest” as I gather he will now be dubbed) can’t live in a semi like most of the rest of the folk round here. There’s plenty for sale.

But back to the newsletter. This is a stark reminder of how rapidly the Church of England is declining. It starts with this:

"Rev’d Bob Evans was licensed on the 15th March as the new priest in charge of Cullingworth, Harden, Wilsden and Denholme. He is based at the Harden Vicarage and has overall responsibility for the four churches in three parishes."

So at present this population of 15,000 or so has just one vicar. This suggests to me that there aren’t very many folk attending the churches on a Sunday. And this is confirmed by two further comments:

“Bob has a real heart for the local church and wants to welcome a more diverse age range by providing a variety of styles of worship.”


“The resident priest role will also include a new role working with Harden, Wilsden, Denholme, Cullingworth, Haworth, Crossroads and Oxenhope in their development of mission and outreach to the local communities.”

So Bob is going to create a new funky product and the new “resident priest” will go out and drum up the business for it. I wish them well but am even more firmly of the opinion now that, for most people most of the time, the church is a complete irrelevance. It serves no substantive role in the community other than to have a great big, quite attractive building right in the middle of the village.

The picture in my village just reflects the latest polling on religious belief as reported in UK Polling Report:

“As might be expected from a Theos poll, the other questions dealt with the role of religion in public life. 27% said they had no religion, 33% that their religion was cultural and didn’t really affect their lives. 22% said their religion was important and had some impact on their lives, 16% that it was very important and had significant affect upon their lives.”

This says that 60% of the population aren’t bothered about the church and that more people don’t believe than see religion as important.


Sunday, 21 March 2010

Gordon: you've had your photo op - now make sure these men can vote

The revelation that British troops serving in Afghanistan are unlikely to be able to vote in the forthcoming General Election represents an appalling failure on behalf of this Labour Government. When they changed the law in 2001 requiring annual registration (and also opening up postal voting to scandal and abuse) over 100,000 serving soldiers, airmen and sailors dropped off the register.

This needs sorting. But this suggests it won't:

A recent strawpoll on the British Army Rumour Service, an unofficial military website, found that 57% of those canvassed planned to vote Tory, compared with 7% who said they would back Labour.

After all Mr Brown won't be wanting 50,000 or so Tory votes from service men and women now, would he?


"I wouldn't start from here..."


I have been pondering on our health service - not on the silly yah-boo, back-and-forth debate or the risible "I heart NHS" stuff but on the real question. Do we have the health care standards we should expect as one of the world's richest countries?

So here's a question - if we were starting from the position of 1945 but with the advances in care, surgery and medicine since that time would we set up a centralised, nationalised system? Or would we chose an insurance-based system? Or some form of hybrid?

The answer to this question - substantiated, evidenced and argued - would provide a better basis for future health policy than "ring-fencing" of funding or just plain lying about funding, care, organisation and the extent of externalisation of service.


For Sale: One Liberal Democrat Party (slightly soiled) - further product details


It's a while now since Nick Clegg put his Party up for sale to the highest bidder. Today his dancing partner - St Vince of Twickers - added further impetus to the sale by saying that he'd like a nice cushy ministers job with a car, a fancy house and everything.


Prohibitionist, puritan, anti-business...that's the UK Government for you

Our Government - egged on by leading prohibitionists like Sir Ian Gilmore and its own bigoted grass roots - has targeted the wine business for extra taxes. This is presumably because us middle class wine drinkers are an easier mark and of course we are ruining our children's futures by drinking wine in front of them.
So now the international wine producers are pulling out leading to lost jobs, closing businesses and missed opportunities. No surprise there then!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Smoking, drinking and the buying of pubs

Had a long discussion yesterday evening – fuelled by beer and whisky – with neighbours in the village about The Fleece, which is sadly lacking a tenant at present. Now this isn’t an idle conversation – the local pub is an important institution and some residents are seriously considering taking on the tenancy. The pubco are keen to talk with us and there are maybe a dozen or so villagers who might be up for the project.

The first community run pub was the Old Crown at Hesket Newmarket in Cumbria and there is a growing interest in such initiatives (to the point where politicians are clambering onto the bandwagon). Here in Cullingworth there’s a little more thinking to be done yet (probably with a little less drinking involved) and I guess that there are big differences between pubs and between communities.

However, none of these initiatives and the apparent government support changes the fundamental truth about the pub trade. Over the past ten years or so, the licensed trade has been subjected to the most comprehensive and deliberate attack from the agents of the state. It’s not just the smoking ban where Labour reneged on their 1997 election promise, nor the blaming of pubs for binge drinking - it is the indulgence of the new prohibitionists – men like Ian Gilmore (President of the Royal College of Physicians and militant prohibitionist) and pseudo-charities like Alcohol Concern – that is driving an anti-pleasure agenda.

And when I see Labour MPs getting all weepy over the demise of pubs, I want to scream at them – “It’s your fault, you stupid, opportunistic twit.” Putting up £4 million for community owned pubs is welcome but set against the billions the Labour government is taking in taxes from the business and the damage done by Labour’s smoking ban it is a drop in the ocean.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Is there a case for Green Belt reform?


Having noted the the clown has strayed onto my specialist subject (planning not mushrooms), I find myself needing to make a few observations about the "green belt" and the endless, dreary 'planners are concreting over our wonderful English countryside' comments that each generation of lazy journalist and self-serving local politician succumbs to.

First, let's be clear about one thing - I represent a ward that is entirely within West Yorkshire's 'green belt'. And it is beautiful. And I am incredibly fortunate to be living here. And I want to protect the area's beauty. And that means keeping the Green Belt.

Second, if we scrapped planning restrictions for housing the whole of England's beautiful countryside would not be built all over. The building of 250,000 houses would not bring an end to wood, stream, field and style.

Having done that let's ask why we have 'green belts', what purpose - if any - such restrictions serve and whether there is any need for reform.

1. Green Belts were intended to prevent the spread of large urban conurbations - a limited amount of land close to those cities was identified and granted protection. In effect this represented a transfer of value from the land-owner (now unable to realise the development value of his land) to the home-owner (now living in an artificially scarce commodity - a house in a place where people want to live).

2. Green Belts presume no development other than for specified purposes or under "exceptional" circumstances. This leads to the nonsense of permission being refused for the conversion of barns and outbuildings to holiday lets while permission is granted to an industrial rendering plant.

3. The designation "Green Belt" does not mean that a potential development site is either green or attractive. There are plenty of places within my ward that could be developed for housing without remotely affecting the amenity of the gorgeous South Pennines. My attendance at planning meetings is more often to support applicants seeking to make sensitive and small scale developments making use of redundant agricultural or other rural buildings.

4. The drawing of tight Green Belt boundaries around villages contributes to those villages becoming 'dormitory deserts' unable to sustain local shops, health centres, pubs, post offices and milk deliveries. The same "campaigners" whinging about Tesco and running campaigns to save one or other local service are the same ones fighting even the smallest extension to their village. In truth villages like Cullingworth need to grow and we need to have a sensible, local discussion about how we achieve that

5. The ramping of house prices from the Green Belt policy has resulted in a dearth of affordable housing for rent. So what, you say? But not when it's your son or daughter.

I don't think there should be no planning rules. Just that the current approach serves us all very badly. And the Green Belt has served us well but needs sensitive reform...

...and we do need a load more houses building so ordinary people have an outside chance of living where they want to live.


Thoughts following a short stay in a Bradford coffee shop


Scene: Starbucks.

Present: large numbers of teenagers doing what teenagers do these days – playing with mobile phones, flirting, flitting from table to table. Some are sat in the corner in pairs enjoying young love – one couple even enjoy a surreptitious snog. Others are firmly positioned in groups of boys and girls eyeing the opportunities across the aisle. Girls show off their latest shoes, bags and bangles. Boys chunter about football, cars and, of course, girls.

Nothing unusual about this of course. Perfectly normal teenage behaviour. But for one thing – these kids don’t fit our stereotype. They are Asian. But there’s not a single hat or beard on the boys, not one is in a shalwar kameez with short legs and none of the girls is even wearing a headscarf, let alone a hijab. These are ordinary kids with normal aspirations – good jobs, nice house, decent car, a happy relationship. They are not tomorrow’s terrorists. They are not the thin end of a militant islamist wedge. They are just Bradfordians.

…perhaps we can start treating them as such?


Friday Fungus: A warning and some good advice


This report in the Daily Mail might worry a few of you and it concludes with some truly crap advice from a coroner:

'I do not think it would be appropriate to put up signs everywhere warning about mushrooms as it is a well-known hazard and you do take a risk when you eat anything that grows in the wild.

'The answer is never to do it at all.'

Sorry no Mr Coroner - the answer is to know what you're doing. Which is why I've posted the little video above.


Thursday, 18 March 2010

Some thoughts on free schools, faith schools and the Forster Act

I am not intending here to debate the merits and demerits of Conservative education policies – although as you will all know I see them as a real opportunity to change education for the better. Instead, I want to look at the issue why government funds education and, if we accept the rightness of such funding, what might be the limits of control implied by funding.

First we need to ask what would have been the situation had the 1870 Education Act (the Forster Act) not been passed – this was the act that created school boards (which interestingly enfranchised women) and led to compulsory elementary education. However – as we should note – the overwhelming majority of children already received an elementary education. This was reported by the The Royal Commission on the state of popular education in England (cited here):

“The number of children whose names ought, at the same date, to have been on the school books, in order that all might receive some education, was 2,655,767. The number we found to be actually on the books was 2,535,462, thus leaving 120,305 children without any school instruction whatever.”
The whole structure created by the Forster Act was not put in place to simply address the problem of the children not in school (less than 5% of the total) especially since the Royal Commission had also noted that England’s performance was better than that of Prussia where elementary education was compulsory. The Forster Act structures were there to exercise state control over an education system dominated by the Church of England. And we should note that these were fee-paying schools.

Thus the answer to our question – what would have pertained if the Forster Act had not prompted the nationalisation of schools – is that we would have had a substantial and largely effective education system since the providers (be they church, charity or private business) sought to meet demand for elementary education. This is not to say that the Forster Act was wrong but to observe that it is a myth to say that there was no education available to the poor prior to it passing.

Indeed, we know from the studies done throughout the 19th century that engagement in education related directly to levels of income (something still observable today). Which leads to the conclusion from E. D.West that:

“…since per capita income continued to grow after 1858, both the number of day scholars and the average years of school attendance would have continued to grow.”

What state involvement acted to do was to push aside the extension of private provision for poor children other than that already existing and provided by the churches. As a result of the 1870 Act the provision of elementary education became less diverse and the choice available to parents (which had included evening and weekend schools that fitted with shift patterns) was limited to Board School or Church School – essentially the circumstance that persists today.

So, while I am not arguing for an end to the state funding of education, it is the case the absence of such funding would not have meant the absence of education. We cannot know for sure what that market might have brought about except that it would have met to demands of the vast majority of parents – they would have had choice in education rather than merely a pseudo-choice of school. And that choice would have included the full range of providers – private, charitable and faith – a different array of philosophies –democratic, Waldorf, traditional – and a variety of curriculum emphases – liberal, technical, vocational.

The idea of free schools opens up the possibility to develop – in part – this free market in education. There are risks involved but, given that the current system fails so many children despite record levels of funding, the risk for the individual child of continuing the current system is far greater. And above all, as West concludes:

“What is needed is choice in education. School choice has not and will not lead to more productive education because the obsolete technology called “school” is inherently inelastic. As long as “school” refers to the traditional structure of building and grounds with services delivered in boxes called classrooms to which customers must be transported by car or bus, school choice will be unable meaningfully to alter the quality or efficiency of education.”

I'm alright Jack


I while ago I posted a couple of questions prompted by a "survey" being conducted at my place of work. The second question was:

If there’s a choice between sacking some people or you all not taking pay rises or annual salary increments but you’re not threatened, would you still take the cash knowing someone else will lose their job?

I have discovered the answer - and it's "I'm Alright, Jack". More people indicated that they'd prefer to see someone lose their job than forgo an annual pay increment. So much for the caring, sharing voluntary sector, eh?


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

We need copyright to prevent censorship and promote freedom

Much of the debate surrounding the current Digital Economy Bill focuses on the dissemination of popular culture and the mechanisms to make that culture available – music, film and software. However, there is another business that will be profoundly affected by these proposals – academic publishing. These are some of the world’s oldest businesses – Cambridge University Press was founded in 1534 and Elsevier, the biggest academic publisher in 1580. And to understand the significance of copyright to this industry (a major contributor to the UK’s economy) we must go back to the origins of copyright law in 1709, The Statute of Anne.

Although the official title of this act was, “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned", in truth it was intended to curb the claim of perpetual copyright claimed by publishers under common law (since the previous provisions – registration with the Stationers’ Company - had lapsed). However, the two sources of copyright provision – the 1709 Act and common law – continued side by side up to 1774 when the House of Lords ruled perpetual copyright invalid (Donaldson vs. Beckett). This ruling included this important definition of ‘property’ from Sir Peter Wedderburn, the Solicitor General:

“Literary property had, by those who spoke before him, been said to be so abstruse and chimerical, that it was not possible to define it. The interpretation they had put upon the word, 'property' was, that it implied something corporeal, tangible, and material... He begged leave to differ from this opinion, and to point out how common it was for terms to be misapplied as to their import. The word 'property' had, by the ablest writers, been called 'jus utendi, fruendi, disponendi;' it was therefore. evident that any idea, although it was incorporeal in itself, yet if it promised future profit to the inventor of it, was a property.”

Plus the scoping to the bounds of copyright itself:

“It was absurd to imagine, that either a sale, a loan, or a gift of a book, carried with it an Implied right of multiplying copies; so much paper and print were sold, lent, or given, and an unlimited perusal was warranted from such sale, loan or gift, but it could not be conceived that when 5s. were paid for a book, the seller meant to transfer a right of gaining 1001.; every man must feel to the contrary, and confess the absurdity of such an argument.”

And if a copyright is a property, then we have to recognise the right of that property’s owner to make use of it as he wishes – including the right to sell. Or as we know with academic publishing to give away in exchange for editing, peer review and dissemination – plus of course protection of the author’s interests vis plagiarism. This is the publishing process and it is essential to academia however funded. Under the established – copyright protected – model there is no cost to the author as the subscriber pays. There are open access models based on authors paying for publication but these only work where there is significant and substantial public funding available (e.g. PubMed).

This is an important debate – personally I support only some of the campaigners arguments but the manner in which the bill has been captured by producer interests should concern us (although phrases like “Formula One” and “fox hunting” do spring to mind at this point). Let’s be clear, however, that despite the wonders of the web the publishing process remains important – maybe not to a new Indie rock band from Scunthorpe but certainly to the advancement of academic understanding.

If we enter into a free-for-all on copyright we run the risk of killing the goose laying the golden egg – and I don’t mean Bono creaming off a few more millions for crappy stadium rock. Without copyright there is no basis for publishers to operate – it is a simple as that. We return to the situation prior to the 1709 Act where protection is fought for in the Chancery Court or using common law or where there is protection for some censored publishing but not for uncensored publishing. And, if we deem copyright to be property, we have a duty as a society to enforce the rights to that property whoever they may be held by.

The question for Governments should be to ask what is appropriate, what can be enforced and where the bounds for the protection of copyright actually lay. In my view, the onus should lie with the owner of the copyright and his agents to take action. Government should make it possible for such action to be taken but not through the agency of a Whitehall Department.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Owning a Ferrari is a fundamental human right....

In a major survey, I have discovered that most people believe that owning a Ferrari or similar performance sports vehicle is a "fundamental human right".

“Despite worries about privacy and fraud, people around the world see access to the Ferrari as their fundamental right,” said DodgPoll chairman Billy Beancounter commented. “They think that the road legal performance sports car is a force for good, and most don’t want governments to regulate it.”

Perhaps this will be in the parties' manifestos come May? And they will use taxpayers cash to make sure I get my fundamental human right? Like they plan to do with web access?


Of course the Unions own the Labour Party - they always have...

Why do we act so shocked and surprised at the fact that the Labour Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the trade union movement? Apart from a fleeting moment under Tony Blair the party has always been controlled by the unions. After all, the unions set the party up – it’s their plaything.

Any Labour Government is a government of the unions, by the unions, for the unions. There might have been a day when this came close to being a government representing “the people” but today it is not. According to the Government’s own statistics:

“Private sector union density fell by 0.6 percentage points to 15.5 per cent in 2008, whereas public sector density fell 1.9 percentage points in 2008 to 57.1 per cent.”

And most of that private sector union membership is in privatised industries – air travel, gas, water , electricity. In the rest of the wealth creating sector, trade union membership is rapidly approaching zero. Any private sector employee voting Labour is voting for a Government controlled by and operating in the interests of public sector trade unions. In other words, voting for higher taxes, more regulation and more bureaucracy.


Monday, 15 March 2010

Could not voting be rational behaviour?


As you all know I’ve talked quite a lot about the question of non-participation in our lovely political system. Indeed, I have praised the good idiots who will get on with their lives unhindered and unembarrassed by not having voted. I’ve also argued that the coming election will see turnout fall still further from the levels of 2001 and 2005.

So it was with some delight that I stumbled across (or rather that Bastard Old Holborn stumbled across to be fair) this programme from BBC Scotland. Is not voting a rational choice asks the programme:

"Professor James Mitchell of Strathclyde University's department of government says that, in certain circumstances, not voting may be the rational choice.

It may well be that, now that duty is in decline, people think rationally 'is it worthwhile voting?' And I suspect that for at least a part of the electorate that they calculate it's just not worth bothering.

Not least because in most constituencies, even in years when you get big shifts in public opinion and a big shift in the numbers of MPs, the majority of seats just don't change hands."

It seems to me that the rational argument for not voting extends even further than just not bothering in a safe seat. It must apply where the voter calculates that their vote will not – under whatever circumstances – achieve the change they desire. There is clearly a rational case for not voting if – as is believed by many electors – there is little difference between the parties. Why should somebody waste even 15 minutes of their time voting when the outcome will be the same regardless of that vote? And this applies whether the voter’s expected outcome is positive, negative or neutral.

The only rational case for voting is where the effect of the vote has the prospect of either securing or preventing change. Where someone expects everything or nothing to change as a result of putting a cross in a box, there is little point in toddling down to the village hall or school. Now, since my MP is (much of the time) a rare voice of sanity in a world of robot-like apparatchiks, I will be voting to prevent change (i.e. to keep him there).


Sunday, 14 March 2010

An (almost coherent) look at urban planning, conservatism and libertarianism


A few days ago I wrote a piece about urban planning arguing that we are overplanned – we have lost the momentum of urban evolution replacing it instead with the utopian dreams of whichever planner or architect currently rules the roost. Despite the driving, dog-eat-dog libertarianism of Ayn Rand, I can think of no better example of the sort than Howard Roark – arrogant, unpleasant, all-knowing and dismissive of “lesser men”.

Despite this, I remain unconvinced by planning – or rather by the ideology of planning. And, as someone at heart a libertarian, I faced a degree of confusion about what may or may not be the proper role of planning. It pleased me therefore to find a real debate about planning from a conservative perspective – something other than the pale nimby-ism that typifies the debate in England. And moreover heads to the heart of what we might mean by conservatism – is it a tea party, a revivalist meeting or a return to the managed decline of “butskellism”?

Here is Andrew Sullivan:

"…ideology has infiltrated everything, it has saturated public and private, it has invaded even something sacred like religious faith, in which the mysteries of existence have been distilled in writing or even understanding the churches into a battle between “liberals” and “conservatives.”

People accuse me of pedantry or semantics in insisting that all of this – on the right and the left – is in fact a sign of the death of conservatism as a temperament or a politics, rather than its revival. But I have been arguing this for more than a decade. Conservatism, if it means anything, is a resistance to ideology and the world of ideas ideology represents, whether that ideology is a function of the left or the right."

Planning is important because it lies right at the centre of what distinguishes the ideological left and right. For sure there are confusions in this but it remains the case that the left view the use of state-directed, planned interventions as both essential and morally right. Sullivan looks back to a time when conservatism was not about ideology – there was no structure or form to what we believed. And we liked it that way. There was no great Gladstonian vision to what Tories believed, no better world that would come about from the righteous actions of government.

This is partly the Conservatism of Dizzy – raising the condition of the working man – and partly the scepticism of the Cecils. But at its core is the ideas of Burke and the small battalions – the idea that it is not great men who deliver change or make a better world but ordinary folk, in small places doing things together because they want to.

Above all what distinguishes the conservative from the libertarian is a sense of place. An idea of community. And the belief that things are worth keeping because they are there and we like them. Conservatives do not wander into the urban planning room with the “something must be done” slogan on their t-shirts. This idea – what can be called “Burkean” conservatism is what the ideologists of left and right are killing. And for some the consequences of planning are culpable in the murder of conservatism.

"…but one important and oft-overlooked one is this modern American landscape of sprawl and steel, of suburbs and hour-long commutes, of strip-malls and vast concrete scissures. The distance created by sprawl is both a material and spiritual one. Something is lost when we tear apart the natural, organic community and replace it with long lines of indistinct houses, well-groomed lawns, and endless stretches of highway. The very wrong sort of ‘individualism’ which so infests the modern American left and right is spawned from such distances."

Crucially, we believe that planners cannot know what constitutes a community and therefore cannot design that perfect community. For most of our places what’s needed isn’t grand design but a little tweaking. The equivalent of a coat of paint and some new wallpaper rather than a wholesale redecoration. What Andrew Sullivan was saying – and what I hope informs a little of what our choice will be in May – is that while planning has failed us (and will continue to fail us), what we must rediscover is how to let small places make their own choices unencumbered by central planning. And if those choices are mistaken, those communities know it was their choice that was wrong not the imposed solution of some politician planner or developer.


Barnsley East or How we get the wrong sort of politicians


The story of the selection for the safe labour seat of Barnsley East reminds me of sitting on the kitchen floor, head in my hands, distraught and wondering why I bothered. To be shoved aside by the local party you'd done so much for to suit another person's political ambitions is shattering.

Let's be clear this sorry selection could happen in a safe Conservative seat (and given the ease with which Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne sidled into the safest of Lib Dem seats they aren't any different). But that shouldn't change the concerns I have about the manner in which political parties run their selection processes.

It does seem though that Tim Cheetham has fallen foul of well-connected political ambitions*:

"Front runner Michael Dugher, the prime minister's chief political spokesman, is from Edlington but currently lives in Hertfordshire."

Political parties set up "open and transparent" selection processes that are designed to allow favoured sons and daughters a smooth transition from snug political sinecures to safe seats without having to go through the tough old route needed for the rest of us. Not for these chosen heirs the slog of fighting unwinnable council seats, attending endless boring branch meetings, getting onto the council by the slimmest of margins and dealing with a load of housing repair compaints, school appeals and complaints about potholes.

And doubtless Mr Dugher will - once elected - slide effortlessly into a front bench role and will leave the boring crap of being a MP (the potholes, benefits concerns, immigration issues and such) to a future chosen son or daughter in his office.

And people ask what's wrong with our political system! People like Mr Dugher are part of the problem - political masters of the universe rather than folk grounded in the tough old job of providing representation to ordinary people living ordinary lives in pretty tought times.


*I nearly suggested that Tim not getting selected was deserved for him using the term "third sector" in a blog headline. But have relented!




Leading highways experts may soon be calling for the creation of a new national pothole agency following the failure of local councils to agree on how to define a priority pothole.

"More than two million potholes need fixing in Britain following the winter freeze, but a baffling array of official definitions regarding what exactly constitutes a pothole means that motorists and pedestrians face a postcode lottery of highway standards."

Now the official definitions are entertaining involving as they do an array of crockery, golf balls, dustbin lids and fists But surely what matters is whether the Council fill the bloody things in not when a pot hole may or may not actually be a pothole. Clearly, a national standard administered by an agency -probably called OffPot - staffed by a dedicated ream of tape measure and dinner plate wielding inspectors is essential if the matter is to be settled.


Saturday, 13 March 2010

Urban planning - the quickest route to a dead community

It is one of the oldest debates around - do we have a grand plan or do we let stuff happen. The planners tend to win this argument - sometimes to the extent of the picture above which of a model showing the "finished" version of Shanghai. This will be a planned city - the untidy, cramped neighbourhoods with winding alleys and street vendors will be replaced with great accommodation towers. The crazy shopping streets will be sanitised and tidied up - turned into tourist attractions or into a copy of the west's stale shopping experience.

Be warned this is what planners do to a place.

What planners say is that we can't allow - Jane Jacobs-like - for cities to evolve and adapt to the needs and demands of their residents. This is far too untidy. Cities need to be planned - in the past for an assortment of reasons (traffic management, zoning industry, public transport) but today the planning is need to create "sustainable cities". Here's one view from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI)- what I call the "Shanghai View":

"Spatial planning operates at all the different possible scales of activity, from large-scale national or regional strategies to the more localised design and organisation of towns, villages and neighbourhoods. It affects everyone, making policies setting out visions for places and decisions about matters ranging from the location of major new transport or energy facilities and employment development, through to the development of new shops, schools, dwellings or parks needed by local communities. It considers the things that we value and supports our ongoing use of the environment to maintain or enhance these; from the integrity of the atmosphere to limit climate change, to the provision of habitat for individual species; from the identification of global cultural heritage to locally valued townscapes. It maintains the best of the past, whilst encouraging innovation in the design and development of future buildings and neighbourhoods to meet our future needs."

...or possibly urban planners as little gods? Without the guiding hand of the planner our urban environment would be chaotic, jumbled, unmanaged and unsustainable say the RTPI. But would it? If we did away with grand spatial planning, with national planning guidance, with splendidly pompous urban designers..with all the vast and expensive infrastructure of the planning industry, would things actually be so bad?

Should we not revisit the thinking of Jane Jacobs about the organic nature of cities and remember that:

"There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served."

Planners seek to imposed a false, politically mediated order on communities. Is it any surprise therefore that the public view planning and planners with distrust. Or that the development industry so often see the planning system as an obstruction to economic development, to the provision of homes and to the ability of business to respond adequately to consumer demand.

Planning should be driven by the needs, demands and expectations of neighbourhoods and the people living in those neighbourhoods. Designs about development should be decided democratically at this level - not mediated through and impenetrable, lawyer-dominated, centralised planning system designed merely to obstruct.

Above all we must resist the geographers temptation - the drawing of marks on a map, tidying up of edges. Married to the architect's hubris this had led to cities without soul, places without character. To great squares with no animation, to the replacing of untidy flea markets with shiny malls and to dysfunctional places filled with unhappy people. Planning has done this to us. It's time to reject its ideas, to rediscover the untidy, disordered cities we love.

If we don't learn this all we will do is create our own failing planned cities - and a world of Shanghais would be a bad place.


Friday, 12 March 2010

Friday Fungus: mushroom bhajis from Bingley!

Absolutely nothing to do with the picture above (which is of some very nice looking oyster mushrooms which we ate fried gently with shallots, fresh thyme and served with fresh Italian bread) but Samsa's stall in Bingley Market has started selling mushroom bhajis - and they're lovely.

Essentially this healthy dish is just battered deep fried portobello mushrooms - using the bhaji spiced batter mix. Making this is pretty simple - make batter and mix in some diluted masala paste (or your own eclectic mix of spices). Dip mushrooms in the batter and deep fry. Drop the mushrooms in gills downwards to seal the batter then turn almost immediately to put the gills upwards. This stops the mushroom juices leaking out into the hot fat.



No Ed, private schools aren't staffed by racists...

Leaving aside the foaming at the mouth from various people about BNP-supporting teachers (not least the truly awful General Secretary of the NAS/UWT union), we should concern ourselves a little with the Government’s response. Indeed Ed Balls, the secretary of state has – surprise, surprise – used it as yet another excuse for an unwarranted attack on independent schools:

"Many independent schools belong to associations which have their own membership criteria. The associations provide advice and support, and their individual requirements provide a degree of self-regulation and discipline. All the available evidence suggests that these associations have high expectations of their members and have their own procedures for handling cases where problems arise.

"However, I remained concerned about Maurice Smith's observations about the independent sector and therefore I have asked him to explore further whether the current arrangements strike the right balance between allowing independent schools autonomy, operating in accordance with their ethos and values, and protecting the young people attending those schools from teachers displaying racist or intolerant views or behaviours that could be harmful."

So you see – all those public schools are staffed by tweed wearing, racists. Or worst still Tories! So we’ll have a review about “protecting the young people!!

Ed, not only are BNP supporting teachers not a problem but private schools aren’t a problem either. Maybe you should look instead at the abject failure of state schools – schools where two out of ten kids leave without the basic skills needed to get on in life.


Thursday, 11 March 2010

Build better roads and urban systems...inter city high speed trains are rubbish

The Government - applying it's usual strategy of stealing any Tory policy that's been announced, changing it slightly and spending more money - has announced a new high speed rail link from London to Birmingham. And the usual collection of politicians who wish they had better train sets and the rail network operators were frothing about the wonderment of all this...

Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher said high-speed rail was "a vital part of a modern, dynamic economy". He also said that it would "take cars and lorries off the road, cut domestic flights and release capacity on the existing rail network, transforming services even for those communities not served directly by a high-speed line. It is the low-carbon, sustainable transport of the future."

Inter-city trains are not the solution. They travel from one place you don't want to be to another place you don't want to be. They are expensive. The rails makes them inflexible and route-bound. They are inefficient carriers of small load freight. Yet we seem obsessed by them!

I'm all in favour of urban mass transit systems - trams, local trains...I could even persuade myself to like buses. But super fast trains are a waste of money - £30 billion in this case. When they can't get a train 9 miles from Leeds to Bradford in under 20 minutes and most of us a nowhere near a railway station, super-fast trains seem just another shiny toy.

If you want to spend £30 billion linking our cities. Can I suggest building some better roads?


Today's Gordon Brown Lie...the master at work!


Since the Afghans more or less invented low intensity warfare how on earth does Gordon Brown get away with saying this - without challenge?

"In response to allegations that the Government was slow to replace the soft-skinned Snatch Land Rover patrol vehicles, which are vulnerable to roadside bombs, Mr Brown said that it was not known for some time in either Iraq or Afghanistan that enemy forces would use guerilla tactics, including home-made bombs, rather than facing allied troops in open battle."

Gordon, this is a lie. And you are a liar.

H/T Man in a Shed for the article

...and just to make my point, Parlez me nTory directs me to this little book: Afghan Guerilla Warfare: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet Afghan War (Paperback)


Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Police crime figures not a "reliable measure": Official


Sir Michael Scholar, Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, has confirmed that the official crime statistics are useless.

"But a more balanced commentary on national trends in violent crime would, in the view of the authority, also make reference to the estimates given in the British Crime Survey, which in our view provide a more reliable measure of the national trend over time."

Lets get this clear. Records of actual crimes recorded by the police are less reliable than the ESTIMATES in an opinion poll based on the memory of those surveyed.


Abstentions set to top General Election Poll Again!

Have avoided writing about polls and such like – partly because while I may be obsessed with them most normal folk are not. But mostly because Anthony Wells does such a great job reporting on them that what I add is usually pretty marginal.

However, I was struck by the front page headline in Metro this morning – “Labour loses third of voters”. Now before you all make jokes about Gordon’s carelessness, let’s look at the body of the report which relates to the findings of a Harris Poll for the paper:

“Just 66 per cent of those who backed labour in 2005 intend to vote for the party now, the research showed. It compared with 86 per cent of Conservative supporters who say they will back the party again. The Liberal Democrats have also shed a third of their 2005 voters according to our poll.”

Let’s be clear, if this is literally true that is over 6 million voters who are switching to a voting behaviour other that that in 2005. Polls suggest that about about 1m additional people are planning on voting Conservative. The Liberal Democrat polling figures are all over the place but the poll reported here puts them down 4 point on 2005 – about 1 million votes. And Labour have dropped about 1.5 million on 2005.

We still have 3 million missing voters – people who will not be voting for the main three parties. The Harris Poll shows “others” at 16% - that’s up about 1.5 million votes. So what’s happened to those other 1.5 million votes – about 6% of the electorate?

My guess is they won’t be voting. Expect turnout to drop to its lowest for some while – probably around 55%.

Looks like the good idiots are on course to top the poll come May!


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Public asset transfer to deliver affordable housing for rent?


Although the popular misunderstanding of financial markets now surpasses (thanks mostly to convenient political lies) our misunderstanding of the housing market, the latter remains the one most fiddled with by governments. And the result of this intervention - always done for the best of reasons - is a market than has built into it the most enormous distortions. Distortions that, as these things are wont to do, cause the greatest problems for the poorest and least articulate.

At the root of this distortion is our planning system - at its root, the nationalisation of decisions about property rights. However, as is often the case with well-meant interventions, the beneficiaries of our planning system are not those who that system was intended to benefit. Just as agricultural support goes disproportionately to rich farmers and arts subsidy flows does little to help struggling artists, the planning system acts to preserve and promote rising asset prices for folk like you and me - people living in suburbia, in the holy 'green belt'.

As a result of the planning system's control over the use of land that would otherwise have provided housing, we have higher land values and (subject to periodic shocks) steadily rising housing prices. And - even at the time of recession - the fundamentals of that market environment remain. There are too few houses in places where people want to live - applying upwards pressure on price. And, since I live in one of those places - whoopee!!

There is little prospect (for which read 'not a chance', 'zilch') of a government arriving that will reform this situation - a government that will end land use designation as a tool of social control. So to address the problem - how to provide housing for those people who need to be housed - we need to think differently. And remember, that housing need is not primarily housing for poor people - we've plenty of that and fewer poor folk. It's housing for the son's and daughters of us residents of nice suburbs, dormitory villages and barn conversions. Plus of course dealing with our reluctance to turn assets into cash so as to care for ourselves in old age.

Across all these communities there are parcels of publicly-owned land - not the recreation grounds, playing fields and village greens but pieces of land where the state is behaving speculatively. The former school site in Cullingworth fits this bill, for example. What the public body owning the land wants is to maximise land value, realise that value and secure a capital receipt for use funding a wider 'capital programme'. It is unlikely that the local community will see any benefit from this land disposal.

My suggestion is to require public bodies to transfer such land to housing trusts or associations - for the specific purpose of building affordable housing for rent. By removing land value from the equation, such development becomes affordable even for a small village land trust. If it costs £50,000 to build a house and there are borrowing costs of £5,000 pa a return on capital of 10% can be achieved with rents at well below market levels. Such an approach presents other problems - around allocations, for example, where I would favour breaking the mould and having a stricter local lettings policy - but would provide a stock of affordable housing that remained so because it is unaffected by rising land values.


Monday, 8 March 2010

Corporate Manslaughter and the NHS - why no prosecutions?


In order to allow the courts to bang up bad businessmen who let trains crash or ran leaky chemical plants, the Labour Government introduced the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

Am I alone in finding it strange that - since the problem we're told is people not systems - there have been no prosecutions under the act at Mid-Staffs NHS Trust? Or does the remit of the Health & Safety Executive not extend to running understaffed, filthy hospitals?


Sunday, 7 March 2010

Stumbling towards enslavement...

Iam dominit ut pareant, nondum ut serviant
Back in the first century AD, Cornelius Tacitus wrote these words about the British...
"...being already schooled to obey, but not ready for slavery."
Sadly, we find ourselves in this condition again. Trained to obey - to accept unquestioning the controls our rulers place upon us. And Tacitus, explaining Boudicca's revolt said:

"Once we had one king at a time, but now we get two imposed, the legate to ravage our lifeblood and the procurator our goods, one served by centurions, the other by slaves, all combining violence with insolence..."

Taxation and compulsion - the twin obsessions of our current government. Along with the opium for the masses, the comfortable life that awaits the acquiescent...

"...gradually they were drawn off into decadence with colonnades and baths and chic parties. This these innocents called civilised life, whereas it was really part of their enslavement."

Have we learned nothing in 2000 years?
*Note: Tacitus quotes and translations from "Ad Infinitum" by Nicholas Ostler