Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Winning the battle, losing the war

British politics: All at sixes and sevens

Immigrants are taking the flack right now.  According to Ukip, EU immigration is the reason we now have Eastern European crime gangs on our streets.  This is nonsense.  Y'see the thing about criminal gangs is they break the law.  If they weren't too fussed about laws governing theft, they weren't all that fussy about immigration law either.  The police have been dealing with such long before January 1st 2014.  But hey, at least they're not claiming benefits.  Barely worth the hassle when construction site theft is so lucrative and easy to get away with.  And they're certainly not after my job - or yours.

What we have here is a problem with policing - not immigration. A topic for another time.  But it cannot be denied that immigrants are taking low skilled jobs.  Not just new jobs... existing ones.  Today I spoke with a well connected private security contractor who has just been replaced by cheaper labour.  And it's not just him.  The older, experienced guards with fixed hours contracts are being pushed out in favour of anyone who will take a zero hours contract. (ie nobody with a mortgage to pay or kids to feed - or anything else we would regard as a normal standard of living.)

We hear talk about "defending our British way of life", but thanks to the internet we are now so atomised and independent of each other, with few reasons to congregate (especially in a post faith country) there is no British way of life.  The only thing that binds us in common culture is that we all experience our rainy British life as well off, healthy people - compared with the rest of the planet that is.  And that is what is being undermined for many. But it isn't immigration doing that.

In the boom years, the influx of Polish workers raised a few eyebrows, but nobody complained about cheap Polish plumbers and they weren't taking working class jobs away because a generation of them were safely ensconced in baloney education courses or on welfare, either as job-seekers or written off and parked on the disability register.  This was at a time when you could surf between jobs and take your pick.  But in 2008 that came to a crashing halt.

Jobs dried up, mobility ground to a halt and people stopped taking risks by changing jobs.  The labour market was a grand game of musical chairs and suddenly the music stopped and has remained stopped ever since.  Naturally this has made it a buyers market for labour.  People will take what they are offered, especially with the Job Centre having an itchy trigger finger on benefit sanctions - even if that means taking a zero hours contract.  And zero hours means zero hours some weeks.  No human being can live that way, especially with contracts that forbid being on standby for other employers.

Idiot Tory think-tank economists and bubble dwelling free-market hacks praise these contracts as a sign of market liberalisation, celebrating the fact it makes a more nimble, mobile, flexible workforce.  I have made those arguments myself because I'm one of those "I'm alright, Jack" tossers with no children, no commitments and no special loyalty to my employer.  That's great if you're an IT contractor or engineer commanding an impressive hourly rate - and going self-employed to duck taxes is even better.  But when that dynamic is extended to low-skilled workers, with families, who cannot move cities for a job at the drop of a hat, it becomes exploitation - and a means to duck minimum wage.

Now, broadly speaking, I am against the minimum wage in normal conditions, but with open borders, it must be enforced otherwise British workers with roots and settled lives cannot compete.  But enforcement of this is poor, and next to impossible to police when so many are now "self-employed" and notionally pay themselves from their invoices.  Moreover, the raft of employment paperwork and regulation means such jobs are moving out of the legitimate market altogether and instead are turning into cash-in-hand arrangements with no questions asked.  This is certainly the case with security contracting, I am told.

This is bad news.  It's bad for health and safety, it is bad for health, it is bad for quality of life... and it is bad for the rule of law.  But it is entirely predictable and entirely understandable.  Cameron's recent pension auto-enrollment was yet another regulatory imposition on employers who already negotiate a labyrinthine array of requirements governing tax, NI and things us mere mortals have never even heard of.  I pay an umbrella company to do it for me because if I had to do my own accounts I wouldn't have time to do my job, let alone write these blogs. Employers simply cannot keep expanding their back office operations to cope with the onslaught of red tape, so are turning to alternative means of obtaining labour.

One way to get around this torrent of red tape and avoid paying living wages to play the Job Centre game.  All manner of twisted labour market distortions have been introduced by the Tories that make their figures look good - and make millions for their hard-lobbying corporate friends.  Take a look at this testimony from a Job Centre official...
“The reforms have been designed to hide the numbers of unemployed.  So many have been sanctioned and are not counted in the official figures.  Many are desperate and will take these Mickey Mouse zero-hour contracts to escape the fortnightly gauntlet.  I must also add truthfully that I had never come across a zero hours vacancy until the last couple of years.  That is not to say they did not exist but I never encountered one.  Now they are everywhere.

“Apprenticeships are another tool to hide unemployment figures.  Very cynical.  Older folks will hear the spin – ’1 million apprenticeships,’ and say ‘great!’.   Wrong! Coffee shop apprentices, call centre apprentices etc, are just a way for employers to undercut the minimum wage.  They are doing this in the thousands.  Who can blame them?  £98 per week and then get a new one in after 12 months.  Fantastic! Britain now has a time served coffee shop worker to compete in Cameron’s global race.

“Wage Incentives. This scheme is an absolute disgrace.  Employ an 18 – 24 yr old for 6 months and the taxpayer will give you £2.5k.  Paid at minimum wage you will make a profit even if you get them to lick stamps. Vacancies that were full paid jobs are now changing to Wage Incentive vacancies as Job-centre staff convince employers to accept money for nothing.  This is seriously affecting the jobs market and it is all down to Coalition pressure to increase Wage Incentive targets.  They can then claim falsely that the scheme has created 1000’s of vacancies, when in truth it hasn’t.  The vacancies were already there.  The taxpayer has just paid 2.5k to employ A instead of B.  Economic sense? Nope.”
While I am not in the least bit surprised by any of the above, what interests me is this...  "I must also add truthfully that I had never come across a zero hours vacancy until the last couple of years.  That is not to say they did not exist but I never encountered one.  Now they are everywhere."  The last couple of years huh?  I smell a large furry rodent.

Interesting that this phenomenon coincides with the introduction of the EU Agency Workers Directive - granting full employment rights and employment equality to temporary workers after a mere twelve weeks.  This in itself was a regulatory reaction to the EU laws of the 90's that spawned the perpetual rolling six month contract, which curiously caused an explosion of high street job agencies.  This was the imposition of regulation that put the limit at six months and made it almost impossible to fire a permanent employee.  And so we saw the death of the permanent job.

Perversely, the Tory think-tank types got their wet dream of a more liberal, mobile workforce by way of distinctly illiberal demands of unions lobbying the EU.  It is also Ironic that those who doctored the Ukip poster above (pictured) advocate joining a union, but our ineffectual unions are the ones who lobbied for the Agency Workers Directive in the first place. Now they reap what they have sown.

Many benefited from the explosion in temporary work which suited the zeitgeist of young, flexible people keeping their options open, but this latest intervention condemns the low-skilled to take whatever they are offered and like it.

In the wake of this gradual decimation of our labour market we see politicians from all sides demanding a "living wage" (for council workers) and a bogus promise by Ed Milliband to "end dependency on cheap foreign labour".  Naturally this involves more draconian and stupid law, and gold-plating EU laws that are largely unenforceable.  He proposes:
  • Increasing fines for firms that breach minimum wage legislation
  • Banning recruitment agencies from having a policy of hiring only foreign workers
  • Stopping the use of "tied housing", which allows agricultural firms to pay less to workers who get accommodation as part of their job
Last time I checked, there are already fines for companies that breach minimum wage but it is not a deterrent because it is unenforceable. The labour market is being pushed underground and off the books and off the radar of the state.  Secondly, no recruitment agencies have a public policy of hiring only foreign workers.  The burden of proof falls on the inspectorate - which is even more difficult to prove.

To Miliband's credit, he understands the role of tied-housing in allowing foreign labour to undercut the market, but this can already be addressed by the use of House of Multiple Occupation law and proper Environmental Health enforcement - which is actually the one thing our local authorities do relatively well, not least because it is a revenue source. At present, because it is not enforced as well as it could be, it allows foreign labour to undercut domestic labour.  We Brits are meant to compete by moving out of our homes and bedding down in a sleeping bag in a shared room, in a dangerously overcrowded house with faulty wiring. YAY for the free market!  We are to debase ourselves and our standard of living on the altar of global competitiveness.

What this all points to points to is a grossly malfunctioning labour market that is pushing legitimate labour deeper underground, reducing the living standards of everybody and turning us into a more corrupt society.  It was Tacitus who said "The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws".  Who could argue?  Our culture of fair play, decent living standards and the honour of contracts is being undermined by an onslaught of EU regulation, gold-plated by our own politicians.

On the one hand you have idiot Tories foolishly celebrating the labour market "liberaliation" which allegedly makes us more competitive, and on the other hand a labour party with a full on death-wish, hell bent on making things worse.  Both parities compete with their stunted narratives, completely oblivious to the hollowing out of the British economy and society as we know it, while the EU remains the unchallenged elephant in the room - and neither party has the will or the wisdom to take us out.

As more and more agreements and contracts happen outside of the rules, avoiding oversight and avoiding tax, our country tips over into the state that Greece was in, whereby corruption rules and only public sector "workers" and slave drivers make money - unless you have your hand in someone else's wallet.  It is little wonder then that so many turn to Ukip.  The public understands something is deeply wrong and that the country is changing for the worse.  Yet Ukip is not thriving because it has made the case I have.  It is thriving because it is scapegoating immigration, which is rather like punching the monkey because you don't like the organ grinder's tune.

The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.
It makes the assumption that the public cannot understand what is going on, even though it is those same working class people who are informing this analysis - from the the security guard in the shopping mall to the Job Centre bureacrat.  What is worse is that the more Ukip positions itself as a BNP-lite party the more it paints itself into a populist corner.  Rather than making an intellectual case for leaving the EU it has committed to making the debate about immigration - which will always have a glass ceiling, especially after decades of brainwashing making most people terrified of being branded racist.

What we are witnessing in the run up to the Euro-elections is a bubble. Ukip has sacrificed its intellectual and moral high ground in exchange for rapid expansion based on nothing but scapegoating and populism.  It may be working, but what is it they say about the brightest star? Ukip may be on the up, but polls suggest our chances of winning an EU referendum are shrinking. Euro-sceptics may be winning a battle, but we are losing the war and time is running out.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Boris Johnson: pathological liar

A Muppet - and a creature from Sesame Street.
Boris Johnson in The Telegraph today...
"It may indeed come to that, if we cannot get what we need in a renegotiation: an improved single market, that genuinely works in the interest of British people and businesses. But that renegotiation will not begin for another year, when David Cameron gets the mandate he needs at the general election."
Y'see, this is the Tory lie machine at work. Either Boris is stupid or he thinks we're stupid. The EU has no obligation to prioritise any renegotiation, and any renegotiation of substance would require a treaty change, which is not going to happen this side of 2019 assuming Cameron can get unanimity. The fact of the matter is there is no renegotiation of the Four Freedoms unless we exit the EU via Article 50 which then forces them to "renegotiate".

Moreover, Boris frames it in terms of the "single market" when the EU is a federalist project and the direction of travel is and always has been a European superstate. Boris glosses over this expecting us not to notice. The subtext being that the Tories want to keep us in the EU to eventually become a province of that super-state while feeding us the lie that it is merely a trading block.

This is why the Tories cannot be trusted. They lie to us and they take us for fools. They dangle a referendum in front of us but there is always this baloney "renegotiation" caveat and they are still pushing the lie that Cameron used the "veto". Anyone who knows what the EU is and how is works knows that the Tories are lying through their teeth, and are maintaining a deception that they are eurosceptic.  In the final analysis they want us to remain members of the EU to it's final conclusion - when there is no democratic mandate for it.

As to the substance of his article - does he seriously think the EU would bend to that agenda? If he does then he simply does not understand the anatomy of the EU. And this is the man flirting with the idea of being Cameron's successor: A buffoon and a pathological liar.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The rise and inevitable fall of the Cult of Farage

If you wanted to kow what a party or movement was about, you would go to their website. But if you went to the Ukip website, you would be none the wiser.  Nowhere is it immediately evident what the party stands for.  The website features four images of The Great Leader, and as of today, with only five new stories on the feed, only one is directly concerned with issues of national importance.

In fact, today's feed features two articles on making St. Geroge's Day a national holiday.  For a party on record this week saying it has proven it is not just the party of the South East, it has a funny way of showing it.  St. George's day being very much an English concern.

Go anywhere on the website and you will be confronted with a picture of Nigel's mug.  You have to navigate three tiers down in to get to their local manifesto, which is a rag-bag of unrelated vague ambitions that no councillor can deliver on, because councils simply don't have those powers.  Thus Ukip is playing into the myth that local elections are anything other than a voting ritual and an opinion poll on national governments.

The bullet-point manifesto items, some of which are sensible, are not derived from a consistent set of values or a philosophy.  There is no DNA that informs these suggestions box ideas, and their is no strand of consistency that runs through them.  And if there were, I doubt any Ukipite could tell you what it was. Thus we have a populist shopping list.

Ukip is not selling ideas.  Ukip is selling Farage.  Their website is not promoting an idea or an "ism".  It is promoting Nigel Farage (when it is not defending his reputation). And this is why I think Ukip cannot survive.  The question I have repeatedly asked and as yet have had no substantive answers is; what happens to Ukip after Farage?  Ukip doesn't have any intellectual assets or ideas. All it has is Farage's TV presence. That makes it a cult of personality, not a movement - and the rise of Ukip is largely illusory.

Any anti-EU party would make impressive advances at Euro-elections even if it were lead by a chimpanzee.  The anti-EU sentiment is pan-EU this coming election, and is replicated in all of the major member states.  The "rise of Ukip" is more to do with the EU than anything Ukip did.  Similarly EU elections are regarded as unimportant by the electorate and thus are distorted by highly motivated self-selecting minorities - and is aided this time by a collapse of the Lib Dem vote. But a growing fish in a shrinking pond is not necessarily good news. Looking at the poll progression, the anti-EU movement is looking less likely than ever to win an EU referendum.   

The rise of the Cult of Farage is not connected to EU referendum voting intentions, and even if the Ukip vote doubles in a general election, there is little likelihood of gaining an MP but for the odd fluke.  For the tribalists of Ukip, this does not matter.  They are not cheering on the anti-EU cause.  They are cheering on their tribe and their leader.  They equate the career progress of Farage with the progress of the cause. Thus, Ukip is becoming a dangerous delusion.

Having wrapped itself in the flag and painted itself as the BNP-lite, it has nowhere to go, and sooner or later Farage's past (or his drinking) will catch up with him.  And then we are looking at a cult without a leader, with no ideas to fall back on.  That will be the death of Ukip and the probable death of any chance we had of leaving the EU any time in the next decade. Sadly the tribalists are too enamoured with their golden boy to see that their Waco moment awaits.

A party built on the meandering of sheep will find that their flock wanders away the moment a more fashionable protest comes along. That's why those who want to see a restoration of democracy are better off with The Harrogate Agenda.

Not an extremist, but a crank

Cohen: Often almost right.
Nick Cohen today offers a piece about as thoughtful as you might expect from the Guardian. While billed as a piece about Nigel Farage it is more an offering on the state of British media - and he is not wrong:

"For in the kingdom of the bland, the intolerant man is king. British and US TV have turned newspaper pundits into minor celebrities: a curious addition to the Z-list that makes little sense until you realise that the pundit is free to posture and foam and provide the gladiatorial aggression that will keep the audience from reaching for the remote. Extremist politicians such as Nigel Farage and George Galloway serve the same purpose. They don't have to worry about breaking party lines because their parties are their own private personality cults, which believe whatever they tell them to believe."

This article is rather spoiled with indelicate an lazy language that betrays Cohen's own demented leftism but if you can extrapolate the point, he makes a good one.  But he goes after the low hanging fruit.  He complains that the media have failed to properly scrutinise Nigel Farage or Ukip, but then offers nothing original of his own.

He points to the obvious which carries little weight with the Ukip cultists.  They don't care that their man has a first class seat on the gravy train or that he is a former banker (and just as bent apparently). But even by Farage's own dogma he repeatedly fails to make the argument against the EU.

During the flooding earlier this year, Farage went down to Somerset. Rather than make the case that EU directives were behind the flooding, he instead used the platform to call for a civil defence corps, funded with the money we spend on foreign aid. (Just how many times over Ukip is going to spend this money on other things we don't yet know).  Farage wasted the opportunity and instead offered us a 1950's proposal (from when Britain was at its most socialist).  In Farage's head the Green Goddesses would be manned 24/7! Hardly the thinking of a thrusting libertarian free-marketeer.  It somewhat overlooks the fact that we already have a civil defence force for such eventualities.  It's called the Environment Agency. 

Similarly we had over the course of the Clegg debates Nigel Farage lavishing praise upon Putin, demonstrating he had not fully understood the case made by, Booker or Spiked-Online. There are plenty of credible commentators making the case that the EU has a big hand in creating that chaos, but Farage proved once more that if there is a wrong end of the stick, he will grasp it with both hands - and fluff it.

So even if, unlike Cohen, you don't think that Ukip is racist, and leaving the EU is not an extremist notion, Farage is poor leader and a weak intellect.  If pushed hard by the media on any of these issues, he would fold.  He has only a superficial understanding of the arguments that he himself makes - and doesn't really grasp the fundamental principles of why we should leave the EU.  He has instead turned the EU debate into a debate about immigration, leading the euro-sceptic movement into an electoral dead-end like lambs to the slaughter. To the grown-ups in the euro-sceptic movement, Farage is an embarrassment and a liability.

Thus far, he has had a free ride of it because the metro-girlies (of both sexes) at the BBC are even more witless than Farage, concerning themselves only with whether the billboard campaign is racist or not. Never mind the fact that the claims the posters make are naked of fact.

Cohen's headline "Nigel Farage is a phoney. Scrutinise him and he'll crumble" is more true than he could know.  Farage's career is littered with grubby shenanigans, Ukip's ideas are weak - and they have yet to offer a detailed proposal as to how we would actually leave the EU.  The party stands on no intellectual foundations, and policies made up on the fly by Farage could not withstand a serious grilling, especially were Farage to defend them.  Yet nobody in the media, Cohen included, has dared to wade in. Cohen complains that the media's failure to press home the attack is why we see this party of deadbeats on the up.  Well... physician... heal thyself.

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Tory paper bag effect

It's election time. You can tell because Facebook is insufferable. Normal, rational people have momentarily suspended their critical faculties and now speak only the language of their respective tribes. 

From this burst of bovine activity we learn that "over 100 battle-hardened Conservative activists and Grant Shapps our Party Chairman will join me (Nick de Bois) in Enfield North, to take the fight to Labour."

That's right folks. The Tory grass-roots organisation is in such a parlous state that "activists" have to be bussed in to prop up Nick de Bois's fading electoral clout.  He, the so-called conservative, who campaigned to make Enfield a "Fair Trade" town. A cause célèbre of the Left.

It is from this I am reminded of the scene in A Bridge Too Far where Major General Robert Urquhart details his method of retreat by placing the dead and wounded on machine-gun posts to give the impression that his forces were still in place, while the main force slipped away quietly in the night. He describes this as like a collapsing paper bag.

Essentially, the party and its message is now so weak that they cannot build a team of local people in their own constituencies. So what we are looking at here is not activism but corporate PR.  I am told by a Facebook tribalist that this "battle-hardened" force comprises of "noble volunteer activists attempting to rejuvenate local politics and activism". But from what I've seen, a lot of these young "activists" are young Tory-boys and girlies looking to climb the party ladder and be seen next to party grandees because it suits their vanity.  The Facebook profile pics are hilarious - well groomed men-children trying to look credible while stood next to the sinister, mouth-breathing Tory MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

But this activity is not genuine activism. It is merely shoring up the fading credibility of the establishment parties, seeking to present a false public image; that their ideas have popular traction. Less agents of change and more defenders of the status quo. Tory HQ is rubbing its hands with glee that there are people gullible (and ambitious) enough within the party to do it for free. I guess those Tory think-tank interns have to earn their keep if they expect to be MP's some day.

Though it seems my criticism is unjust (they complain) - because all the parties do it.  So that's alright then.  But actually, this is a good indicator as to how empty politics has become.  Low levels of party membership and local activism is symptomatic of the hollowing out of politics by concentrating power at the centre. Cameron can at any time parachute in buffoons like Boris Johnson, or some air-headed token female like Chloe Smith. Our voices don't matter.

Through managing campaigns entirely through the media, in their arrogance, they thought they could dispense with local activists - and the message from Cameron from the start was that the opinions of the grass-roots did not count as he "de-toxified" the "brand" with eco-fluff and quasi-socialism ("sharing the proceeds of growth").  And I recall back in 2005 a local Tory chairman told me that "We need him because he can win the election for us".  So how's that coalition working for ya Dave?

But this also says a lot about the general disengagement from politics.  Ask anyone who doesn't vote why they don't vote and the most common answer will be "what difference does it make?".  Quite. What is the point of local politics if local politicians have no power to speak of? Councils are merely regional agencies of central government, and MP's can be bought off with junior ministerial roles or over-ruled by EU law. It does not matter who you vote for because the system remains the same.  Who then could be enthused enough to be a party activist? Only a fool.

The whole relationship with government has changed. It rules rather than serves. We are no longer governed - we are managed like livestock - and in the true sense of the word democracy (people power) we have none.  We have elections but the levers of power aren't attached to anything, thus a local election is merely an opinion poll on central government, rather than an expression of the will of the people. They are democratic rituals, but they are not democracy.  

Since our voices are not listened to, it is unsurprising that the old dinosaur parties cannot mobilise any genuine activists. Thus politics is less about selling ideas, and more about tribes competing for supremacy. Just as well, since they have no real ideas. We have not had democracy in any meaningful sense for a long time and that's why you now have to bus activists around; sad little social climbers with ambitions of careers in politics rather than people with a true desire for change. And that's how we end up with the two dimensional non-entity politicians we have, who have barely spent any time in the real world.

If we want to see a genuine rejuvenation of local politics and activism, then the whole system of government and our relationship with it needs to change.  That is why we need The Harrogate Agenda.  Anything else is just corporate spin.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


This is how they spend your money. Good to know.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The slow death of Ukip

Today marks an inauspicious occasion.  Today is the day that Ukip officially consigned itself to the scrapyard of British politics. Yet again Ukip is making the headlines, not for its ideas or its policies, but in defence of its latest fact-free advertising campaign.

The mainstream political establishment calls these posters racist, which is a somewhat crass accusation, but one could be forgiven for thinking that is the direction of travel for Ukip. While not racist, they certainly pander to a xenophobic tendency, manipulating unfounded fears. In other words, populism and propaganda. Hitherto now, I have never seen such obnoxious advertising from Ukip at a national level, green-lit by the leadership.  This is entirely new.

Farage has made no secret that he is chasing the BNP vote and in so doing has cemented Ukip's position as a populist protest party. He has done this because he knows you can fool some of the people some of the time. It will give him the boost he needs to yield a bumper crop of MEP's. But the problem here is that populism has an inherent glass ceiling. One can capture the whole of the disaffected vote, but it is not enough to win seats in the Commons.

This rapid expansion may look good on paper, but it is now facing more scrutiny than ever before.  Up to press the criticism has largely been directed at their poor public image and their poor choice of candidates, but now there is an election coming up people are starting to ask if Ukip is a credible alternative. It isn't.

For a party that wants to leave the EU, you would expect them to have a detailed and credible exit strategy. It hasn't got one. You would have expected it to have accurately diagnosed what is wrong in British politics and formulated a foundation on which to build policy. It hasn't. So the question is, apart from a loosely defined ambition to quit the EU, what is Ukip for? Ask two activists, you'll get three answers.

The answer to that questions is whatever Nigel Farage says it stands for, depending which way the wind is blowing. The other week he was advocating a civil defence force for floods, last week it was intervention in zero hours contracts. There is no uniting intellectual thread to these policies. These are just knee-jerk, sound-good remarks that fold under scrutiny.

What is laughable is that back in 2005, the reason Tories were deserting Cameron in droves to find shelter in Ukip was because Cameron had abandoned Tory principles and chased floating voters.  Now Farage is doing the same, but in the eyes of the Cult of Farage... he can still do no wrong.

So what we are seeing here is the growth of a cult with similar characteristics to Scientology. Dare to criticise The Great Leader and out come the legal threats. It is a bubble based on the cult of personality built up around Farage. That can only end in failure. The simple test being, what happens after Farage?

Ukip is famous for vicious civil wars that make even Tories blush. Sooner or later, and the rumours circulating suggest sooner, Farage will go. Without his tub-thumping speeches and media persona, what of Ukip survives the civil war? Since it has no intellectual foundation, all they can do is grasp for another leader who will be a shadow of the Farage image. Whatever you may think of him, he is a tough act to follow. Without a stronger leader to marshal the sheep of Ewe-kip, the party has nothing to defend and nothing to rally around either. Not even a manifesto.

Many have now made the case that Farage is an effective leader because he has grown the party, but I dispute this notion. He has expanded his followers. That is all. He has not expanded the debate, he has not expanded the intellectual estate and has not broadened the appeal. Instead he has broadened the appeal of Ukip to a small and narrow constituency. That is not leadership.

The two most notable political failures in the last twenty years have been the Referendum Party and the BNP.  The Referendum Party proved that throwing money at the problem does not build a movement. But nor does populism. The BNP had the right strategy because it was a party built on ideology and specifics and maintained a discipline which meant sustained growth. It failed because ultimately a racist message cannot be sold to the British electorate. But they certainly attracted the attention. Ukip is now attracting that same attention, but rather than the public seeing a message they don't like, it is likely that they will see no message at all. Consequently, once Ukip fails to make a splash in the general election, Ukip will dispense with Farage and the bloodletting will begin. Only then will we see what truly remains of Ukip. Very little by the looks.

Dan Hodges in The Telegraph makes the point that, in a way, Ukip may now be worse than the BNP. The point he makes is a point missed by Ukipites. It is not that Ukip is a racist party. It is that they steal the clothes of the racist party but don't stand by even those convictions. To Farage, it matters not if Ukip is the BNP, so long as it looks like the BNP for the time being. Thus it blunders along, devoid of substance with only short term electoral goals, building a cult rather than a movement. Meanwhile, YouGov polls suggest that the chances of Eurosceptics winning an EU referendum are now sliding.

It is for these reasons I believe today marks the beginning of the end for Ukip. Ukip came to a cross-roads as to whether it was going to be a real movement for change or a dismal populist party with limited appeal and a short shelf-life. It chose the latter. I wish that were a bad thing, but with friends like Ukip, the Eurosceptic movement does not need enemies.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Welsh austerity starts to bite

Bryn Parry-Jones: Parasite
Today the Western Telegraph reports that Pembrokeshire County Council chief executive Bryn Parry-Jones will be paid £12,000 as the regional returning officer for Wales in May’s European Parliament elections. It is right that this loyal servant of the public be compensated for this heavy burden, having his regular duties interrupted while scraping by on a meagre £195,164.

This would be the same Pembrokeshire County Council that paid out more than £50,000 in unlawful payments to Parry-Jones to help him and his senior colleagues avoid pension liabilities. Little wonder he looks so pleased with himself.

Meanwhile, on his watch, the Welsh Government has confirmed that EU funding for the Pembroke Dock Commercial Property Grant Scheme has been put on hold. Dyfed-Powys Police has previously confirmed that allegations of fraud relating to part of the scheme are being investigated

Here we have another gilded member of our CEOcracy who we must be ever-so-grateful for.  If we didn't pay them the big bucks, how would we ever attract such lofty talent?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Cash strapped council

Stoke-on-Trent: Spy Hard
A Stoke-on-Trent Council ‘spy’ car has raked in £457,000 in parking fines in just four years.  One of its victims, David Martin of Mow Cop, was hit with a £35 fine last year after parking outside Wright’s Pies, in Tunstall, for less than a minute. He is less than impressed. “Since I had my fine I completely avoid parking in Tunstall town centre. Now I park out of town and walk in because I don’t want to take the risk.” The spy-car rakes in an average £114,000 a year.  At a rate of £35 a pop, that is over 3200 customers deterred from the town each year.

For a city reeling from massive corruption, you would think they would be keen to attract more business rather than engaging predatory behaviour, but the greed of the council must be served first. Presumably as a reward for this master-stroke of leadership, Chief Executive John van de Laarschot recently trousered a £5,400 increase in his basic salary, up from £189,600 to £195,000.  I'm sure Mr Martin of Mow Cop will find that very reassuring.

Monday, 14 April 2014

So how much power do your councillors have?

The view from Cullingworth
With the kind permission of Simon Cooke, a fellow West Yorkshireman, I am reproducing an article of his on this blog because this demands the attention of anyone who claims to be interested in politics - and democracy...

So how much power do your councillors have?


It's not new to say that local government isn't really master of its own destiny. Nor would I be the first to observe that local councillors - the people we elect to make decisions about that local government - have even less control over that destiny. Most thoughtful local councillors know that the big decisions about funding are outside local control and also that many of the ways in which that funding is distributed are not within the local council's gift either.

Back in 1961, when my Dad was first elected to the Municipal Borough of Beckenham, local councils undertook duties placed on them by national governments (e.g. refuse collection) but the funding for those duties, as well as the other things a council chose to do, was entirely raised locally through the rates or through charges. There was no revenue support grant, no centralised setting of business rates and no national fee levels. It was down to the councillors.

Between then and now something changed. My Dad always blamed the 1970 Local Authority Social Services Act for starting the rot but whatever the cause we moved from a situation where local government was controlled locally to a situation where, for most councils, what they do is defined by national regulation and the necessary funding provided by central government. In 2011 local government spent £147billion and £103billion of this - 70% - was central government grant funding (one caveat here - this is a net spending figure not a gross spending figure, the £147bn is the call on tax revenue from local government).

Not surprisingly governments have sought to control this level of expenditure (it is about a quarter of total government spending after all) and to try and direct the way in which the money is used. To understand how this budget works we can divide the activities funded through local government into three areas: education; social services and social care; and municipal services (bins, potholes, parks and so forth). This is an oversimplification but helps to explain how local government actually works.

For education the local council (as 'local education authority') is two things - a route for money to be paid to schools and the provider of services to those schools. The bulk of the funding is in the form of the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) - the formula for distributing this grant is defined nationally but administered through a schools forum rather than, as in times past, a committee of the local council. The schools forum is not an elected body, it is not accountable to the council and its membership is institutional (schools, LEA, unions, colleges, etc.). Put simply, local councillors do not control the funding of schools. So when you blame your local council for not improving education try to remember this fact.

In the case of social services and social care local councils provide services in response to demand - or 'need' if you prefer the approved social care word. The budget is what the US Federal Government would call "relatively uncontrollable". In any given budget period the council has to estimate how many people will require social services and/or social care. That's how many children might be taken into care, how many disabled people will require support, how many of the elderly population will need home helps and so forth. Since education funding is effectively outside the local authority this is the biggest area of council spending. And while councils have some funding flexibility, at bottom they have a duty to meet the need identified.

Municipal services consists of everything else the council does - this includes statutory services such as planning, libraries, youth services and the registrar of births, marriages and deaths. As well as those things we tend to think of as what councils do - empty our bins and maintain the roads, run parks and provide swimming pools. Councillors do have more discretion over these services and over how much funding they receive. For some things - swimming pools and public lavatories, for example - the council has absolute control and can open or close them as it wishes.

The truth of all this is that 80-90% of the spending and activity undertaken by your council (or councils if you live in the shires) is simply given - determined by regulation, set out in statute or otherwise required by central government. And three-quarters of what your council spends comes in the form of central government grant - with all the strings and restrictions that come with this. Ministers and bureaucrats down in London will always want to make sure that, wherever possible, the agenda of the national government is met by the local council. As a result we have had restrictions of borrowing, limits to tax-raising powers such as rate capping, the use of regulation or ring-fencing to direct spending and, if all else fails, simply removing any power for councillors to control or change what the council does. We even got an instruction this year to hold a 'named vote' on setting the council tax!

So when, as we did in Bradford yesterday, councillors get together and "set the budget" bear in mind that what you're seeing is a finely tuned political row about a few million quid out of a budget totally over a billion. The budget debate - "we've found £200,000 to invest in saving kittens", "the Tories are casting old people into the darkness by reducing the walking stick budget by £50,000" and "Labour are failing youngsters by removing the swing seat cleaning service" - this debate isn't really about the budget at all, it's about the tiny bit of the budget that our system of local government allows us to control.

Sometimes it makes me wonder?


This is why we need The Harrogate Agenda.

Number crunching

Just a suggestion.
One of the themes on this blog is the rise of our burgeoning CEOcracy.  Today we have yet another wonderful example of our masters at work...

Calderdale Council is asking local voluntary and community groups for their views on how to cut their funding by £220,000. They will launch an online consultation on their website next Wednesday to help determine how cuts should be made for the financial year starting April 2015. The need to make the savings was identified in the council’s annual budgets in February 2013 and February this year.

But from a piece in the Halifax Courier in May last year, we learn that eight officers at Calderdale Council are earning more than £100,000 a year according to figures obtained by The Taxpayers’ Alliance.  The group obtained the figures for 2011/2012 which show former Calderdale Council chief executive Owen Williams picked up a salary of £147,000 topped up with pension contributions of £23,000 and an additional £1,000 payment. This brought his total remuneration to £171,000 before swanning off to NHS Calderdale.

As to what should be done about this, I couldn't possibly comment.

Hostility, defensiveness and denial

NHS: Indifferent murderers.
Around Staffordshire lie the graves of those who had the misfortune to be admitted to Staffordshire NHS.  Twelve hundred people lost their lives at this death camp, which makes it one of the worst peacetime massacres in recent British history.  And it's not difficult to see how it happened.

In a report released today, the Public Administration select committee highlights a culture of "hostility, defensiveness and denial" where complaints are concerned. It is not limited to the NHS and it has consequences.

"Britain will face another scandal like Mid Staffs, in which hundreds of patients died needlessly, unless there is a cultural 'revolution' (in the public sector)" says Bernard Jenkin.  Presumably this is where we get those recommendations of "radical reform" we have all heard so many times before.

“Unless and until we have a culture of leadership in public services that listens to, values and responds to complaints there will always be the potential for tragedies like Mid-Staffs." says Jenkin. The present culture is creating a "toxic cocktail" where the public no longer see any point in complaining.  "The consumer watchdog Which? highlighted a survey showing that 35 per cent of people who have cause to complain about the NHS choose not to do so."

This mirrors my own experiences complaining to the police and the council. Their approach to complaints is that if they stonewall for long enough, the plebs will simply go away.  And it works. Whenever you make a complaint to any branch of government, the reply will be hastily penned by a press officer or junior official, using corporate-speak phrases which fill a great deal of space - but say absolutely nothing. Though the subtext is always clear: Foxtrot Oscar.

After this report we will no doubt see yet another list of bureaucratic hoops added to the complaints process, with added statutory obligations, but in the end the "watchdogs" will remain toothless, inadequate and unable to exact any meaningful penalty.  This is largely because the measures we need to reform the public sector are politically inconvenient, and require action that no government wants to take: relinquishing power to the people.

In modern Britain the state is our master and we are the servants, so it comes as little surprise that public officials would see themselves more as livestock managers than servants of the public.  They are employees of our masters, carrying out their diktats and playing by their rules. Checking boxes matters more than serving the public.

Until such a time as our services are democratically accountable in the proper sense, ie accountable to those they supposedly serve, we won't have to wait long before the corpses pile up once more - and yet again we will hear the words "lessons will be learned" while our CEOcracy makes off with further perks and pay-rises.

It is that dynamic above all that creates a "toxic cocktail", and the only thing that surprises me thus far is that some enterprising psychopath hasn't put one of these parasites in their grave.  But at this rate, I suspect we won't have long to wait long for that either. When we see news like this almost every week, one can only conclude that these people are either taking the piss, or have simply grown tired of living and are trying to get murdered.

"A number of posts were made redundant- which the council says has saved more than £600,000. But five directors have seen their job titles - and responsibilities - change, bringing pay increases of as much as £25,000 a year. John Harrison, the new Executive Director of Resources, has also been awarded £30,000 in back pay dating back to 2011, when the committee agreed his responsibilities had increased after ruling out tasks he had taken on dating back to 2006."

When we have no influence in how our money is spent, and nobody is held accountable when mistakes are made, the social contract is shattered.  The moral obligation to pay taxes no longer exists (if ever it did).  We are paying taxes for their enrichment, paying more to receive less, and must make do with whatever we are given and never complain. While the natural British tendency is a bovine obedience to officialdom, I fear there are limits to our tolerance. This is why we need the Harrogate Agenda - because the alternative is blood on the streets.

Savage cuts?

Today we learn from the Lancashire Telegraph that "A SERIOUSLY slimmed-down council for Burnley is on the horizon once cuts worth £3m come into play, town hall bosses have warned." - "£3m, must be trimmed from the council’s budget over the next two to three years".

This is a council with an annual spend of £56m a year. Does that sound like a "SERIOUSLY slimmed-down council" to you? I think perhaps Burnley Council has a dictionary malfunction.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

That Brexit Prize

100k: Their money to waste

It is fair to say that very few people outside of the politics bubble have ever heard of the Institute of Economic Affairs. It is a one time influential "think-tank".  It is also fair to say that even fewer people have heard of the Brexit Prize. This was a writing competition to come up with a blueprint for leaving the EU.

Unlike most brand name think-tanks, the IEA is not short of a few bob. You would expect, therefore, such an entity would be quite skilled in promoting such a prestigious event, having its own full-time communications officers.  But apart from a cursory mention in The Guardian, Telegraph and City AM (a tory-boy bubble fanzine), as a publicity campaign - it has fallen flat.

Their hashtag ranking on Twitter is practically non-existent, their Facebook page is a ghost town, and even the UK's premier eurosceptic party has made no mention of it on their website.  They could have accomplished much the same media impact if Lord Lawson had farted and issued a press release about it.  I would be handing my communications officers their P45's by now.

But that is just as well.  The prize was awarded to a thirty-year-old, junior civil servant, who is also a fantasy fiction writer.  His submission is in keeping with that same hobby.  At half the length of more considered works, recommending leaving the single market (practically overnight), it would surely be devoured with glee by Europhiles - had they been made aware of it's existence. It is fortunate then for the IEA that their PR campaign was so lacklustre as it saves them from the embarrassment that will inevitably come with it. Thus, for now, they hang on to their fading influence.

What should have been a political event in itself was essentially a a cocktail party for think-tank wallahs and obsequious hacks, all of whom belong to a disconnected, self-congratulatory inbred circle that is barely aware of life outside the M25.  They have had so many people telling them for so long that they are wonderful, they have bought their own prestige and now consider themselves too important to sully themselves with details. They are aloof, arrogant and complacent.

They may once have had a hotline to Number Ten in the Thatcher years - but no longer it seems. As with our print media, they are a legacy institution from a bygone age. They view the internet as just something the plebs and little people use, and consequently these dinosaurs are fading into obscurity. But if they want to squander a hundred grand on a drinks party, it is their money to waste. Meanwhile, we have plans of our own.

Millergate: A failure of media

Miller: Got away lightly
The resignation this morning by Maria Miller this tells you quite a lot about the state of modern politics and media.  This was a media show-trial in which the BBC have been completely negligent.

In an interview with Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Lansley explains quite well the nuances and complications that precede this debacle.  There is a lot that is plausible in what he says.  If you look at the rules, or indeed any set of laws and procedures from that house, they are opaque. 

I've had a hell of a time trying to work out what these new bailiff laws mean. The amendments aren't coherent sentences. They say things like Section 76B: replace "and" with "or" and in para 2 remove comma and add "with a cheesegrater". Even full sentences have to be read upside-down and facing a mirror to make any sense of them.

MP's can be forgiven for misreading rules, and as Lansley said, even the committee had long debates as to what the rules meant. So the issue here is whether our law-making process is any longer fit for purpose now that it is of labyrinthine complexity.

The second issue is whether the committee scrutiny system works and lastly whether she abused her position in hindering that process. We don't know for a fact that she did, and much of what has been said about that is hearsay, but that was the critical issue here and it required more than whipping up a Twitter mob to get to the heart of the matter.

In the face of that, our inept media refocused on what it can understand - and instead of a proper investigation, did what they could to provoke a populist reaction. So now that she has resigned, it will be because of an evidence-free Twitter mob rather than a detailed analysis of what she actually did. She will now not face any reprimand or scrutiny because of it - and she is off the hook. She has resigned, but not been sacked, and all for the wrong reasons. A trial by media that convicted her for the mugging but not the murder.
We are now in a state where ministers can be hounded out of their jobs not because of evidence, but because of the "smell-test". That's fine for us if we want to get rid of toxic and unpleasant people like Miller, but being a toxic piece of shit like her should not be the lone grounds for their removal. If we applaud this in this instance, then we cannot complain when the left do it to, say, Owen Paterson for some obscure irregularity. We have just witnessed a kangeroo court that totally missed the main concern. But why should they care? The BBC claims another ministerial scalp, Paxman gets his hand-job, and the media caravan moves on. Depressing.

Meanwhile, all this Westminster Village expenses guff is a decoy. It is merely the media entertaining itself, for its own sake, rather than acting in the public interest. We then get a week's airtime filler from the main media circus, completely distracting everyone inside the M25, while stuff like this goes on every other week and nobody bats a fucking eyelid - and I spend a night in the cells for calling 'em cunts.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

That debate

The Great British Snooze-off

I didn't watch The Great Debate.  As I understand it, it was on the BBC and I have long since refused to pay the TV tax.  My review of it would have read much like the first one. Who "won" the "debate" entirely depends on who had the largest self-selecting minority watching, and that in the main, the loser was the electorate. Since Clegg is the punchline of every political joke, and Farage being a cult leader whose every fart is worshipped by the tribe, it's fair to say that so far as the popular narrative goes, Farage claimed a scalp and stands victorious today.

But what good does that do?  Here we have two third-rate politicians bickering over a subject neither they nor we get a say in - and are unlikely to this side of 2020.

But there was an important debate on EU matters yesterday. It just wasn't on the Television. Further upstream from the entertainment industry, there was a more crucial debate.  The writing has been on the wall for the EU for a long time.  Our rulers know full well that without a seismic change in relations with the EU, they will one day lose their grip on power, so leaving the EU is a matter of when and not if.  Consequently, how we leave, and when, is the current preoccupation of the powerful think-tank fraternity, and they are talking as though the decision to leave were a foregone conclusion.  Who controls the message in that eventuality is paramount to the future of the country, and that is a fight we need to win.

That battle raged for some time in the comments of the Telegraph yesterday, with Mats Persson, director of Open Europe, seeking to distort and mislead that debate over the Norway Option. While the masses were distracted with bread and circuses, a fight was going on, with no Ukip dog in that fight. Richard North explains here. That was the debate to be watching yesterday.

But for those who watched the lightweight version, who now think Farage is a man who stands up for Brits and British jobs, we learn from Junius that "Members of the European Parliament environment committee have been voting on plans to charge US, Indian and Chinese airlines a levy for every flight to or from the EU. Up until now they've had an exemption from the Emissions Trading Scheme. But they knew retaliation was threatened. The US Congress has already passed a resolution condemning the scheme."
The Chinese are likely to respond most harshly to the levy. Already they have frozen orders for 27 Airbus A330 aircraft, and an order for 150 more was due to be confirmed at the end of the month. Four-thousand jobs rely directly on Airbus manufacture at Filton, and thousands more in sub-contractors across the south of England. These are high value engineering jobs, which rely on a healthy forward order book from around the world. When it came to a decision, many on the committee argued to end the exemption, to ensure a level playing field on environmental measures. But British Conservatives opposed the measure and had thought they had the edge. Then they realised UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall was not present, and that one vote decided it.
As one of those whose living depends on Airbus manufacturing here in Filton, I would like to thank the Cult of Farage on behalf of myself and my colleagues, who are so grateful to learn you have our best interests at heart.  But Ukip can be forgiven. Such issues are very difficult, and those meetings are often boring - and do not present the opportunity to give a tub-thumping pub speech.  And who needs that with a hangover?